Monthly Archives - April 2010

Khao San Road in Spanish

Khaosan Road, una pequena calle donde se juntan todos los caminos. Dicen que todos los caminos van a Roma, pero en el siglo XXI, se podrna decir que todos los caminos van a Khaosan. Este pequeno callejnn situado el la parte Oeste de Bangkok, Tailandia, se ha convertido en el cruce por excelencia de los viajeros de Asia y del mundo entero.

Hace 20 anos era solo un albergue que brindaba alojamiento barato para los primeros mochileros. Y a travns de los anos ha evolucionado hasta llegar a convertirse en una de las calles mas frecuentadas de todo el mundo. Y ha crecido hasta propagarse a las calles y barrios adyacentes. Se puede decir, sin temor a equivocarse, que es el Estado Mayor de los viajeros.

Khaosan Rd. es indudablemente el mejor lugar en Bangkok para descansar despuns de un largo viaje por Viet Nam, Laos o Cambodia. Desde aqun, uno puede prepararse para el prnximo destino. Sea cual fuere, en la misma calle se pueden encontrar todas las opciones de viaje (desde las mas baratas), no importa si Ud. quiere ir a Malasia, Filipinas, la India, Espana o Argentina. O si quiere viajar a una de las maravillosas islas de Tailandia, sea Ko Samui o Ko Chang, para bucear entre los arrecifes coralinos. Pero no olvide pasarse unos dnas en Khaosan Rd. En pocos lugares podrn encontrar tal afluencia de culturas y viajeros de todo el mundo. Durante el dna puede ir de compras por Khaosan Rd y los alrededores, y de seguro encontrara lo que esta buscando (y a buen precio).

Souvenirs tailandeses manufacturados y todo tipo de productos tradicionales, joyerna, tiendas de mnsica, ropa y calzado de cualquier tamano y para toda estacinn, tatuajes, peinados, masaje, etc., etc… Tambinn puede encontrar a minutos de distancia a pie muchas de las principales atracciones culturales de Bangkok. Como el Museo Nacional (The National Museum), el Gran Palacio (The Grand Palace), la Galerna Nacional de Arte (The National Art Gallery), la Montana de Oro (The Golden Mountain), asn como innumerables templos budistas celebres por su arquitectura. Asimismo, es muy sencillo trasladarse desde Khaosan Rd en bus hasta cualquier parte de Bangkok. Igual puede utilizar los numerosos botes que circulan a travns del rno Chao Phraya, que se encuentra a solo 10 minutos de Khaosan.

nTiene hambren Solo tiene que caminar dos pasos. En el nrea puede encontrar literalmente cientos de opciones para satisfacer su apetito y bolsillo. Desde, por supuesto,todo tipo de delicias tailandesas, pasando por la comida china, hindn, malaya, vietnamita, coreana hasta los platos nrabes, mejicanos y europeos y bueno, los consabidos McDonalds, Subway y Pizza Hut.

Pero la vida nunca se detiene en Khaosan. El lugar esta lleno de bares, restaurantes y clubes donde por la noche puede encontrar todo lo que necesite. Lo mismo puede bailar una salsa o un reggae, que tomarse una cerveza bien frna mientras conversa con nuevos amigos de todo el mundo, e intercambiar historias y experiencias de viaje. La juventud tailandesa tampoco falta en Khaosan, muchos prefieren pasar su tiempo libre acn. Podrn estar al tanto de la vida cultural moderna de Tailandia tambinn y sumergirse en la diversidad repleta de nuevas experiencias, emociones y amistades.

Y si pasa en abril por acn, le tocara mojarse si sale a las calles durante la celebracinn del Festival de Songkran. En esos dnas Khaosan Rd. se convierte en un campo de batalla con todo el mundo tirnndose agua mutuamente, celebrando el Nuevo Ano tailandns. Asn que traiga un impermeable. Y la gente regresa siempre a Khaosan Rd. Ano tras ano. Por que no hay otro lugar como este. Es unico e irrepetible. Un destino obligado para todos.

 

Guiding Jumbo

“You’ll have to jump, she won’t listen to me,” came the inspired words of the mahout. I was somewhat dubious of clearing the space between the rickety platform and the leathery back. The giant eye looked me up and down, and then gave me a mischievous wink. I figured it was only a matter of time before the platform would collapse, so I took my chances. This was my first experience with elephant rides, over a decade ago. Today, visitors to Thailand are no longer required to content themselves as pachyderm passengers with no control.

Beyond those flirty eyelashes are intelligent creatures with their own thoughts, memories and even a sense of humour. These old souls form a unique bond with the mahouts that guide them – and this world is now accessible to visitors of the National Elephant Institute (formerly known as the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre), a division of the Forestry Industry Organization, in Lampang. Working with these clever creatures is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most tourists.

Homestays and mahout training courses help people to get closer to elephants and learn more about the mahouts’ way of life. The homestay programme has been going for approximately five years and has become especially popular with foreign visitors. “There are about 100 participants each month coming from the UK, Australia, America and other far away destinations,” says Wilawan Intawong, Homestay Coordinator. Visitors can choose to stay from just one day, up to three days and two nights.

The institute tries to provide each customer with their own elephant for the duration of the programme, however, sometimes guests must share if there is a large group. “There are only 10 elephants in the homestay programme at this time,” says Intawong. “We only use the best trained elephants to ensure the safety of our customers.” The 50 or so elephants at the institute are raised ‘semi-wild’: they work at the centre during the day and are returned to sleep and feed in the jungle at night.

Homestay guests sleep in one of three rustic homestay bungalows, each with three bedrooms – one for the mahout and two for guests to share. The open-air common area and kitchen come together to form an ideal space where the group can cook with the mahout and everyone can get to know each other in the evenings. “We have many guests who say the accommodation is too comfortable,” chuckles Intawong. “They are looking for a rougher experience – but they all have a good time anyway.” Other activities include: watching the mahouts as they make woodcarvings of elephants, visiting the Elephant Hospital, learning how to make elephant dung paper, and participating in the elephant show. “Many homestay participants become repeat customers in following years,” says Intawong, testifying to the quality of the programme.

A slightly different, but equally exciting programme is provided by the Mahout Training School, which was established to train real mahouts – not just tourists. Today, the centre receives significant interest in mahout training from visitors, who can take part in programmes lasting from one day to one month. Mahout trainees sleep at the school and in the jungle with their elephants. The school allows those interested in experiencing the life of mahouts and elephants firsthand to do so in a natural but relatively safe environment. Guests not only learn how to ride an elephant but also how to care for it. One of the most important aspects of the course is learning elephant behaviours and commands used by the mahouts. Mahout trainees learn actual commands in Thai so they can communicate with their charges. Intawong says “It takes about three days to learn all the commands, but putting them into practice might take longer.”

“There are typically two mahouts to each elephant,” says Intawong. The word for ‘mahout’ in Thai is kwaan, and there is a kwaan kaaw (neck mahout) and kwaan theen (foot mahout). She explains, “This dates back from the logging days, when there was one mahout on the elephant’s neck to guide it and another by its feet to coordinate the movement of the timber.”

There are no women mahouts at TECC, and in fact, Intawong has never seen a female mahout at all. She says, “Being a mahout is like being married to the elephant, and this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to have a [human] family.” Mahouts form a deep bond with their elephants, spending the majority of their lives with them. When the elephants are chained in the jungle at night and one of them cries out, that elephant’s mahout can distinguish its voice from all the others and will go to its aid.

A mahout at the centre for 20 years, 55-year-old Pbun is now working with his third elephant since the age of 15, when he first started training to be a mahout at another village. He says, “I wake up at 5am every day to collect my elephant Tantawan (‘Sunflower’ in Thai) from the jungle and then bathe her.” Tantawan, along with many other elephants at the centre, has the important task of giving rides to tourists and other visitors. She works a few times a day, taking turns with the other elephants and finishing at 3.30pm to head back to the jungle. Mahouts at the centre only get four days off per month to go back to their hometowns. “Being a mahout is fun, but it takes a lot of dedication and true love of your elephant,” says Pbun.

Thai Elephant Conservation Center
KM 28-29 Lampang-Chiang Mai Highway
Hangchat District, Lampang 52190

Tel. 054-247-875

Email

By Chantana Jasper

Khao San Road in Italian

Certo, leggendo semplicemente il nome potrebbe sembrare una via o una strada come tante altre: potrebbe essere adornata da eleganti vetrine, ingiallita dallo scorrere del tempo o allietata da viali alberati. Potrebbe trovarsi ad Hong Kong, Londra o Berlino, forse in una tranquilla provincia del sud dell’Inghilterra. Ma non è così.

Khao San Road è una strada con una propria identità ed una propria storia che la rendono diversa da qualsiasi altra via. Anzi, definirla strada è certamente riduttivo, perché in fondo Khao San è un piccolo mondo con i propri attori, è la terra delle mille culture e delle molteplici nazionalità, dove tutti sono benvenuti.

Khao San Road è unica e si trova nel cuore di Bangkok.

Alex Garland la definisce come il passaggio obbligato per tutti coloro che sono appena giunti in Thailandia o che si apprestano a lasciare la terra del sorriso: per molti, in fondo, è davvero così, perché a Khao San non si vive, si transita.

Può affascinarti, puoi detestarla o esserne infastidito, ma non puoi ignorarla.

Al primo impatto Khao San Road ti stordisce: le mille luci, gli odori forti, la moltitudine di persone attraverso cui riesci a stento a muoverti, le bancarelle stracolme di ogni bene, i soldi che passano veloci di mano in mano, le guesthouse e i locali che ti invitano ad ogni passo. Si stabilisce un rapporto, non necessariamente dagli aspetti positivi od esaltanti, perché le contraddizioni sono parte di Khao San.

Poi inizi ad avere confidenza con quell’ambiente così particolare e forse inizi anche a sentirti a tuo agio, quasi fossi a casa tua o comunque in un luogo amico.

Ma come nasce questa Mecca dei viaggiatori? Nel 1982, nel bicentenario della fondazione ufficiale di Bangkok, il governo Thai lanciò una serie di iniziative per festeggiare la ricorrenza, attirando nella capitale migliaia di turisti stranieri.

Molti viaggiatori, che non potevano permettersi il lusso di una stanza d’albergo, convinsero gli abitanti di Khao San Road ad affittare le proprie stanze, tanto per avere un piccolo guadagno extra. Il business delle guesthouse generò in brevissimo tempo dei profitti impensabili fino a poco prima. Nel girò di pochi anni fiorirono centinaia di guesthouse, ristoranti e negozietti di souvenir.

Dal lento brulicare delle prime ore del mattino fino al rapido e vorticoso crescendo che porta in strada migliaia di viaggiatori, Khao San rimane immobile eppure sempre in movimento. Tutti se andranno, l’abbandoneranno carichi di sacchetti di plastica ricolmi di magliette e costumi, uno zaino sulle spalle e pochi soldi, ma altri giungeranno e molti torneranno, perché Khao San, come la Thailandia, non si dimentica, rimane con noi come una sensazione o un ricordo vago che ogni tanto riaffora e, solo per un istante, ci fa viaggiare nel tempo.

Meditation in Bangkok

Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok
Meditation in Bangkok

There’s no doubt about it, Thailand is a genuine draw for the spiritually inclined. Every year, thousands of people visit the kingdom to step away from the material and gain an insight into themselves and the world around them. While many “spiritual tourists” might envisage gaining enlightenment through fasting and sitting cross-legged under the torrents of one of Thailand’s many crystal-clear waterfalls, few might consider a trip to Bangkok’s main business/entertainment area a step down a spiritual path. And that just might be a shame… because it just might be what they are looking for.

Sukhumvit Road in the center of Bangkok is more recognized as street of excess than a place of retreat. It’s where people work hard, play hard and enjoy the bounty of riding the back of one of Asia’s more successful tigers. Yet, like elsewhere in the capital, pockets of spiritual resistance exist providing a ongoing reminder of just what is important in life. Fortunately, for visitors and expats wishing to learn more about the spiritual elements that forge this kingdom’s unique identity, there are people around that are willing and able to offer tutelage and guidance in a language many foreigners understand – plain English.

I recently visited a one-day meditation workshop held at Ariyasom Villa Boutique Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 1 in Bangkok. Unlike many of the hotels in the area, Ariyasom is genuinely fetching – built in 1942 as a family home it is still owned by the family that built it, and they really have made the most out of everything they’ve got. The hotel grounds are not huge, yet their design gives the impression of a vast area that you can wonder through and get lost in. Ariyasom’s gardens offer various nooks and crannies that you can walk around and find yourself a bit of personal space – probably one of the reasons this is an ideal location for a mediation workshop.

As a Brit, and a northerner at that, I haven’t made too many sorties into the world of the spiritual. Although it’s got a few Thai restaurants and Chinese takeaways, there aren’t that many temples or the like in mid-Cheshire. So, although I didn’t know what to expect from this workshop, I did, to some extent, expect to be a fish out of water. It was then very reassuring then to find out that Pandit Bhikkhu, owner of Littlebang and one of the organizers of the workshop, was in fact not Thai like I thought, but from Altrincham, a small town only a few miles from my home. In addition, David Lees, the broadminded owner of Ariyasom, proved to be a foreigner from Mere, which is even closer to my home than Altrincham! At that point in time, the three of us standing there was probably the only incidence of three Cheshire Cats being in the same room at the same time in the whole of Southeast Asia… well, at least I thought so.

Aside from its splendor, Ariyasom has even more surprises. Whereas most hotels in the area push restaurants and “discos” into every spare inch available, Ariyasom offers a spacious, dedicated meditation area replete with a bedroom for visiting monks… That certainly is a first for me.

“My wife is Thai and has been involved in meditation for a number of years,” suggested David Lees. “In fact she runs a blog about meditation. We rebuilt Ariyasom with meditation in mind. With a dedicated facility it’s easy for us to run events on a regular basis. There’s a decent-sized community of English-speaking Buddhists in Bangkok, and we help cater for them. Our events also extend to visitors to Thailand looking to learn more about Thai-style meditation. We get a good mix of people and I think people enjoy our workshops and benefit from them.”

David and his wife obviously talk the talk and walk the walk. While other hotels in the area might squeeze every cent out of their visitors, arriving at 08:30 before the start of the meditation workshop, I was greeted by hot coffee, Pa Thong Ko (the deep fried doughnuts that are a traditional Thai breakfast) and juice – all free of charge. As the day progressed, hot coffee was on tap and a vegetarian lunch was provided, again, free of charge. At the end of the day a variety of Thai fruit was on offer. Alongside offering a huge air-conditioned room for the comfort of meditators, catering for around 30 people in this way was not likely to be a cheap affair.

The workshop itself was also free of charge, and like David said, attracted a mix of backpackers, tourists and well-healed expats, although as the bulk of people seem to know each other, the latter did appear to dominate. The workshop was, not surprisingly, insightful – the Vipassana meditation being taught is better known as “Insight Meditation”. The instruction was provided by Aussie Mike Sansom and German Helge Sansom. Both are trainers at Wat Kow Tahm (Mountain Cave Monastery) International Meditation Center on Koh Phangan in southern Thailand. Mike and Helge walked beginners and veterans alike through the techniques and methodology of Vipassana meditation and the instruction proved both accessible and pragmatic.

Basically, mediation offers the opportunity to reflect. We were told to sit, eyes closed and consider the in and out of our breathing. Directing my awareness towards my breathing proved both easy and difficult at the same time. Becoming aware of my breathing generated a stillness that was immediately accessible, but it was also very easy to drift off into a reverie of thought without really noticing where my mind was going. It’s was sometimes very hard to pull myself away from thoughts of bills, work, commitments, family, and curiously, the theme music to 1980’s British TV program, “Black Beauty” – quite where that came from I dread to think. Obviously some deep and dark place. However, as Mike pointed out, any awareness was beneficial, and as Helge suggested, making a mental note of the mental distractions put them in their place and allowed you to revert to concentrating on breathing. In fact, this for me was the most valuable thing I took away from the day… Just sitting quietly like this, acknowledging the thoughts that entered my head allowed me to really understand exactly what was on my mind. 
    
Later, we were introduced to walking meditation. Although I followed the instruction and understood the technique, the sight of people walking around and meditating at the same time was a little spooky I thought. The technique is intended to be used while you are in motion and with your eyes open. It requires full awareness of your body, its movement, and even the ground beneath your feet and the feeling pressure stepping on the ground creates. I honestly couldn’t do it in front of people, not for fear how I looked, but genuine fear of how others looked. To practice this I needed to find a bit of space well away from others, and fortunately this was possible at Ariyasom.

We were also introduced to guided meditation leading to compassion and understanding. Helge introduced the meditation using an everyday scenario: You are in a shop; the check out desk is slow and you are being inconvenienced. This causes anxiety and perhaps even rage. You might even be moved to complain. However, although these emotions appear to be driven by external events, they are, in fact, only your reaction to external events. Changing your perception, through an injection of compassion, will help alleviate YOUR anxiety. Perhaps the checkout girl is having a bad day; perhaps she has financial problems or other problems at home; perhaps even she has just found out she has lost her job and today is her last day. Each of these possible scenarios would account for today, and each, with compassion, would be fully understandable.

At the end of the day’s workshop, I can honestly say I felt very refreshed – a similar feeling to that you get after having a weekend away, and yet it was really only a few hours. I really did feel I had been given some tools that would help and enrich my daily life. I felt better for the workshop. Our introduction to compassion and understanding was though immediately put to the test. During the latter stages of the workshop, a freak thunderstorm dumped what appeared to be thousands of tons of water into Soi 1. Not surprisingly, given the downfall, the Soi was completely flooded… and just to be fair – this really is the exception rather than the rule in Bangkok these days.

Even if you are only Bangkok for a couple of days, likelihood is there will be something happening that will provide you with the type of experience I had on Sukhumvit Road. Key places at look for events have already been mentioned – the Littlebang website gives broad details on what’s happening in Bangkok while mind.matters.at.ariyasom will provide you with specific details of what’s happening at Ariyasom.

I really recommend that you get involved in something while you are here. At the very least, you’ll take home with you a greater understanding into what Thais find commonplace, and that in itself, will be much more of an understanding of Thailand than some take home with them.

Staff Writer

Flying Trapeze Adventures

Flying Trapeze Adventures
Flying Trapeze Adventures
Flying Trapeze Adventures
Flying Trapeze Adventures
Flying Trapeze Adventures
Flying Trapeze Adventures

There are many different activities to fill your day if you stay on Koh Tao. Most people come to dive or snorkel but you can rock climb, cliff jump, kayak, play mini golf, go 10 pin bowling, take a cookery course or even shoot your mates in the jungle playing paintball.

Recently a flying trapeze rig has been erected which means that for at least an hour you can pretend that you really have run away with the circus. Rather than being a clown or a lion tamer though you can be a powerful trapeze artist yet without a sequin in sight! Located in the popular area of Sairee and close to many bars and restaurants it’s easy to get to and fit into your plans.

The rig is full size and exactly that which is synonymous of big top shows and the basis for a Cirque du Solei performance. Just looking at the rig will give you shivers of anticipation and draw you in.

Flying Trapeze Adventures are offering hourly lessons to those thrill seekers wanting to learn this adrenaline loaded activity. Lessons last an hour, cost 950B and skilled performers from all over the world are your instructors. They teach you techniques that will have you flying through the air and performing tricks in no time.

Instruction starts with a demonstration of a position called a knee hang. The flyer hops off a 10m high pedestal holding onto the fly bar and once at the top of the swing, they hook their legs around the bar, let go with their hands and fly back to the top of the swing dangling from their knees. You’ll be surprised, it’s easier than it looks and really nothing to do with strength but all about timing.

Hit the right beat and the tricks are a simply matter of gravity, or lack of it, because at the top of your swing you are weightless making it simple to master the techniques. Of course you have someone shouting instructions to you while flying but harnessing the laws of physics is up to you!

Your first attempt of this is on the practice bar suspended just over 1 meter high, where you are able with the assistance of your instructors, to have a go at getting this position statically, from there you move up. Ascending, up the ladder, to the pedestal, wearing your safety belt can be a vertigo work out in itself and once there you certainly see life differently. You are well above tree height and look down on the roofs of the surrounding buildings and your mates suddenly look hobbit sized.

Safety lines are attached as you chalk up your hands before assuming your pre-flight position. Leaning forward over the catch net with your arms straight and hips forward is akin to teetering dangerously on the edge of a cliff. This suspension last seconds before you are instructed to fly. Sailing through the air is such a rush that it’s very easy to forget that you are supposed to be trying to get into position, but once remembered, flying upside down is higher octane. You get to practice this a few times, along with a back-flip dismount from the bar which is far easier than it sounds and looks wicked.

Nail it and then you are up for a catch.

One of your instructors will fly from the bar you were just using and get some incredible height from the swing. He’ll drop to the net and use the bounce to grab on to the second trapeze. With some cool-cat moves he’ll slide onto the bar which is called the catchers trap and then time his swing to match yours. You’ll meet mid-air at the top of your swings and he’ll catch you by the wrists and you’ll sail together to the end of the rig. This is the pinnacle of achievement and an awesome feeling that will have you buzzing for days and wanting more.

Trapeze has become popular all over the world with the biggest school located in New York and those Sex and the City addicts may remember a certain episode where Carrie was finding it difficult to let go. Rigs have been part of summer camps and large resorts for some time but the one on Koh Tao is one of the few independent schools and is open to everyone with a little bit of dare-devil in them.

It’s a great activity if you happen to find yourself at a loose end while your mates are off learning to dive and a better kick start to a night out than a vodka-red bull. Beware though as the rush is addictive, the more you fly the more you want to fly and learn more tricks. Flying Trapeze Adventures know this and have a frequent flyer program so that you can develop your skills and learn new tricks.

Your mates will certainly be amazed when they return from diving and a team of videographers are on hand to capture your style for eternity. It’s certainly a video to send home to scare the pants off mum!

If you are the type of thrill seeker who would love to bungee jump or freefall then this is certainly for you but it easier on the budget, lasts longer and has way more style.

Flying Trapeze Adventures is located on the north side of Sairee Beach. It is situated right next to Oasis Pool Bar, directly behind Choppers Pub and Grill. There are two main entrances to Flying Trapeze Adventures, one from the beach front path opposite Silver Sands Resort and the other from Sairee Main road, just next to Sairee Plaza.

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Eating Your Way Through Bangkok

Eating Your Way Through Bangkok
Eating Your Way Through Bangkok

Whether you are visiting Thailand for the first time or have been living there for longer than you can remember, there is always something new, interesting and exotic to experience. What has always been the most dear to me is the multitude and availability of local dishes and cuisines (both traditional and fusion style) that really express Thailand’s culture and the Thais flavor and attitude towards life.

The Misnomer of Street Food: So often when I host an overseas visitor they are amazed at the sheer number of people eating on the street asking me “How safe is it really and do people get sick?” If you’ve been to India, then eating fresh fruits, noodles, grilled chickens and other curiously looking meats from the street vendors in Bangkok is nothing. I’ve been eating from food stalls/street vendors/push carts for years and find that dining in this manner is no more dangerous than eating in a restaurant except for the fact that you are eating in plastic chairs, perhaps share a table with another hungry patron or breath a little exhaust from passing cars here and there; but generally the food is fresh, well prepared, very tasty and overall fairly safe to eat-street vendors don’t like to carry a lot of over-head; most cannot afford to so everyday they go to the fresh markets buying only the amount of ingredients that they anticipate using in a given day; very seldom do they store meats and vegetables like a restaurant.    
     
When trying to decide which food stall to eat from (as there are many to choose from) it’s best to observe where the locals eat (of course using your judgment to a certain extent) and if there is a line, a lot of chaos, and definitive smells that draw a curious sense and hunger; then you are probably at the right place.

Sukhumvit Soi 38 has a plethora of street vendors hawking various dishes such as Moo Grob (crispy pork belly with Chinese broccoli, chili and oyster sauce), Ca Pow Gai (Thai Basil Chicken Fried Rice), and Kuaytiaw Raat Naa (Fried Noodles with Pork & Vegetable Gravy) among others-my favorite is Ba Mee Puu (Egg Noodles with Crab) served from a push cart about 20 meters on the right hand side of Sukhumvit Soi 38 when coming from Thonglor BTS. At the corner of Soi Convent and Silom road (Friday and Saturday nights only) P’ Uan (meaning fat in Thai; not to be construed in a negative sense as in the western culture) serves up the best Moo Ping (Pork Thai Barbecue) in Bangkok-the pork is grilled and caramelized to perfection where the robustness of each bite intensifies leaving you not just tasting the Moo Ping, but experiencing it.

My Pad Thai and Noodles: The first meal that many Bangkok “first timers” order is either Pad Thai or Fried Rice as they want to compare these dishes to the familiar dishes that they get in their own home country (an normally associate these dishes as not being too spicy). Pad Thai is made up of stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, fish sauce, tamarind juice, and a combination of bean sprouts, shrimp, chicken, or tofu; for a slight variation of Pad Thai from the traditional sense, I recommend Pad Thai Thip Samai (Salaya, Puthamonthon, Nakornpathom, Bangkok, (0) 81630 6444); established in 1966 that serves two definitive dishes such as the Pad Thai with large prawns enclosed in an egg omelet (Pad Thai Kai Ho) or the Pad Thai Song-Krueng where the Sen Chan or grass noodle can be laced with crab meat, ground cuttlefish and/or sliced mango.

Located in Pranakorn, Somsrong Pochana’s kitchen creations originate from the Sukhothai Province serving Sukhothai noodle consisting of BBQ pork with green sprouts in the noodles and delicately sprinkled with dried chili’s for taste and intensity—for a less spicy flare the Thai Spaghetti with coconut milk, pineapple, & dried shrimp (Kanom Jeen Sao Nam) is a safe bet. Soi Watt Sangwej (Opposite Sangwej Temple), Pra Atit Rd., Pranakorn Bangkok, (0) 2 282 0972.
If you like Duck and happen to be in the Phaholyothin area, a must try is the Steamed Duck Noodles at Yothin Duck Noodles food stall (#1301 Soi Paholyothin 11 (beginning of the Soi), Paholyothin Rd., Bangkhen, Bangkok, (0) 2 278 1738) where the duck meat effortlessly falls off the bone releasing the succulent juices and natural ripeness of the duck.

Don’t Be Scared – Just Eat it!: Bangkok has lots of hidden delicacies and interesting cuisines that are often overlooked as newcomers and veterans of Bangkok tend to stick to the same restaurants over and over again. There is so much great food out there to be eaten that I encourage everyone to venture away from the more touristy areas into the more unknown or ‘less frequented by foreigner ones.’ Talk to locals, people watch, read online reviews, get yourself lost in China town. Whether you have a strong passion for food or just like to enjoy a good meal, get out and do a little exploring. You won’t like everything you taste as you’ll have good meals and bad meals, but who cares-it is all part of the experience! The main thing is that you have fun and learn a lot about the Thai culture, people and food along the way.

The above are just a few examples of some places to enjoy while dining in Bangkok. For more information visit www.PekoPiko.com featuring Bangkok’s Best Restaurants, Street Food and Hidden Cuisines along with restaurant information, user reviews, and saver promotions-everything you need to guide you on Where to Eat and What to Eat in Bangkok. If you like what you’ve read above I recommend PekoPiko’s ‘Old Bangkok Eateries’ section for other similar restaurants.

Written By Jason Buckalew, Bangkok Foodie Photos By Pukky Churuphant.

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City of Angels and Beyond

City of Angels and Beyond
City of Angels and Beyond
City of Angels and Beyond

Thailand has so much to see with so little time. Why not begin in Bangkok, a fast, busy, smokey and smothering city, with thousands of restaurants, shopping meccas and hotels that rank from ultra cheap to ultra extravagant. Start in ‘Bangers’ as it is known to Expats and experience the hustle and bustle; head on down to Khao San Road and experience the haggling among the street vendors.

Bangkok holds the record for the longest place name! In Thai, Bangkok is known as Krung Thep; and over time has been referred to as ‘The City Of Angels’ and enmasse Thailand as ‘the Land of the Smiles’ (as it’s citizens have that famous enduring smile). Why not also head north-west to Kanchanaburi City – where Australian, British, Dutch and American soldiers endured years of torment and hardship building the Thai-Burma Railway for the Japanese Imperial Army in 1942-5. Whilst there visit the Tiger Temple, Sai Yok Waterfall or drive to Sangklaburi and visit the Mon people on the border of Thailand and Burma. There is so much to see and do.

Sightseeing

The Grand Palace in Bangkok is pure opulence; Thai and western style buildings share the opulent rai’s (acres) and are utilised for ceremonial and administrative purposes alike. The gold leaf tiles and attention to every minor detail in design is exceptional – the man hours that are invested here is incredible, something a westerner could not probably fully understand nor would our unions allow. Guards stand out the front and are not permitted to move – the heat and humidity must be so oppressive standing to attention in all their regalia. There is a lot to see at the Grand Palace for your 200 baht entry cost, the palace has an area of 218,400 square metres, the length of the four walls totals 1900 metres where construction began in 1782. There is a group of canons that is worth a look as well as swords and weapons of a bygone era. You can visit an active Wat (temple) inside one of the Thai style temples and see how the locals pray and are humbled by their god – Lord Buddha. It is interesting to note that even Thai teenagers and younger Thai adults also participate in the religious homage in all of these and many other Thai Wats.

Wat Phra Kaeo is situated within the grounds of the Palace; it is a two storey Wat with many antiques and valuables to see; including scale models of the Palace grounds today and of a century ago – you can see how it has progressed over the years by the many influences of the Kings.

Wat Phra Kaeo houses the most revered Buddha image in all of Thailand – the Emerald Buddha (known in Thai as Phra Kaeo Morakot) it is carved from a large piece of Jade. The Emerald Buddha is 48.3cm in width across the lap and 66cm in height, the three seasonal costumes for the Emerald Buddha consist of those for the hot and rainy seasons donated by King Rama I and one for the cold season donated by King Rama III.    
  
Shopping

Pra-Tu-Nam is an excellent market and one you can easily get lost in – but this is a good thing right? It is basically below the Bai Yoke Sky Hotel and the silk, clothing, watches, and all other nick nacks etc are very cheap compared with other more ‘touristy’ venues, a lot of locals shop here so you know it is good value. For a side trip whilst at Pra-Tu-Nam, visit the Bai Yoke Sky Hotel and their observation deck on level 78 (cost 120 baht), there is an inside and outside deck with one revolving – the cityscape continues up there as far as the eye can see.

Silk products, especially silk in rolls for dressmaking etc can be purchased cheaply at ‘Porn Phaisal’ 288/6 Rajprarop Road, Opposite Golden Gate Plaza, Pra-Tu-Nam. On the way to Pra-Tu-Nam is a shopping centre called Panthip Plaza – this is a popular multi level shopping centre for all your electronic and computer related needs, including software and accessories, digital camera memory is very cheap here. Remember to haggle prices and keep receipts. The big daddy of all the tourist markets is of course Patpong Night Market. The name Patpong comes from the family who owns it, a must visit in Bangkok and whilst it caters for the tourists who flock here some bargains can be found but generally it is way overpriced. There are two alleys known as Soi’s dedicated for the market and it gets packed full of tourists on most nights especially weekends. Stop off at the Tip Top Restaurant (in the middle of Patpong 1) if the ambience of the market becomes too smothering, remember to haggle and offer a smile. Have a beer in a ‘bar’ there and you will see some interesting sites.

Remembering

Allied Prisoners of War were utilised as forced labour by the Japanese Army and sent by ship, train and marched to Kanchanaburi and beyond to begin the Thai-Burma Railway in 1942, to create a rail link from occupied Thailand to current day Myanmar – to feed supplies to the Japanese fighting in Burma. As a consequence 2,710 Australians died all along the railway and as one writer has said – ‘A Life for Every Sleeper.’ If it wasn’t for the Australian tenacity, mateship and medical legends such as Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop and Sir Albert Coates, many more of our soldiers would have perished. Kanchanaburi is two hours by bus from Bangkok (from the Southern Bus Terminal), there is the Don Rak War Cemetery to see – the southern cemetery for the railway with approximately 7,000 war dead including 1,362 Australians. Adjacent the cemetery is the Thai-Burma Railway Centre, a museum on the railway with many wall panels etc describing events on the railway plus a cafeteria overlooking the cemetery. Two kilometres north is the Bridge Over the River Kwai – built by POWs and destroyed in 1945 by United States Air Force B24’s on a bombing mission. Next door to the bridge is a floating restaurant, spend a night having dinner here and have the famous bridge as a backdrop and toast the men who are still there. Another 80 kms north following the Kwai Noi River is the infamous Konyu Cutting or Hellfire Pass. It is said it got it’s name from POW’s standing at the top of the cutting looking down during the night with the bamboo bonfires and oil lamps burning with hundreds of men toiling in the balmy night and their captors ready to pounce with a bamboo stick at the ready – men likened this ‘to the jaws of hell’ where it subsequently became known as Hellfire Pass. It took three months to cut a way through this solid rock and it has been said cost some 700 lives. Without men of this calibre, tenacity and spirit we certainly could be speaking ‘A Different Brand Of English’.

Dining

‘Prik’ and ‘Phed’ or hot and spicy, that’s the way Bangkok food has been since the traders introduced chilli some centuries ago. One top restaurant among hundreds is the Nipa Thai Restaurant on level three inside the Landmark Hotel near Soi 5. Attention to detail at the Nipa Thai is to be commended; the Thai decorations down to the carpet make for a pleasant and classy surrounding. For AUD$50, two can dine until stuffed like a Christmas turkey, with several lagers to wash down the well presented and flavorsome Thai (aharn) food. This restaurant would make a small fortune if nestled in uptown Collins Place; this is one where any good Aussie Shiraz or Merlot would dazzle the palate against the spices of the Bangkok cooking. For starters try ‘Toon Ngern Yuang’ or Fried Minced Pork and Prawns wrapped in a Bean Curd Pastry’, these little packets come with plum or sweet and sour sauce for dipping and tantalize the taste buds, they are certainly equal to South Melbourne Market’s ‘Cricket Ball Dimmy’ only a smaller size but equal on taste. This restaurant out does itself with ‘Kao Ob Sabprarod’ or Fried Rice served in Pineapple, the half pineapple is finely cut by the chef and beautifully produced with other delicately sliced vegetables including carrots that resemble an award winning ‘David Austin Rose’ and finely shaped cucumber and tomato, perfectly laid out on a presentation Thai style plate with accompanying dipping sauces – perfect. These dishes alone would overprice such treats in Melbourne with all the time taken to present them with their intricately cut vegetables and service staff that hover like on-ballers at the centre bounce at the MCG. Don’t forget Thailand’s favourites like the Green Chicken Curry, the Panang and Musaman curries – delish.

If you enjoyed your dining experience and fell in love with the ‘Prik’ and ‘Phed’ of Thai aharn, then try the cooking course offered by this restaurant. You can choose the one day or full week of cooking all types of popular Thai cuisine, both fun and rewarding; where else could you cook, consume and learn without having to do the dishes? (Landmark Hotel at 138 Sukhumvit Road Bangkok, 10110, Thailand, Tel: (662) 254 0404).  

Staying

The Montien Hotel Bangkok is a four star hotel and was opened in 1967 by Queen Sirikit, inside it has been lovingly renovated and cared for – the grand staircase is golden, long and made of marble, it sweeps up to the business floor area adjacent the bar where they serve expensive but delicious cocktails. The doorman wears a white military style suite and pith helmet and the majestic lobby borrows the stately name ‘Montien’ meaning Royal Residence. This hotel has everything from an inviting pool to a bakery, Chinese Restaurant, all you can eat buffet breakfast which has all types of dishes from salmon to fresh local fruits and bacon – lots of bacon, Club 54 to it’s cigar bar and karaoke booths. It is a five minute walk to the Skytrain and is directly across the road from the market of Patpong – I mean you could throw a stone and hit a tout in the head (don’t get any ideas!) Travel brochures all mention the real estate catch phrase for this hotel: ‘location, location, location.’ This is the hotel that you can spend time in, swimming, smoking a cigar, having a smooth ‘Jack and Coke’ at the lobby bar listening to the ‘Tinglish’ piano singer whilst the Pong people set up their wares ready for you to start with your bargaining skills. This is relaxing!

When on the expressway heading for the airport, don’t look back; planning for your next Thailand adventure starts there – on that fast expressway home. Was it all an action packed dream? Mai Pen Rai (She’ll be right).

Andrew Mason is author of a published travel guide for Thailand, titled, ‘A Different Brand of English’ and is available at: www.poseidonbooks.com/a_different_brand_of_english.htm.

Full of security tips, travel advice and staying safe in Thailand and Singapore. It has what the other travel guides miss – heart & history.

Cafe Democ – Back to the Source

Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Cafe Democ, near Khao San Road, Bangkok, Thailand

Khao San Road is renowned as one of the best places for nightlife both in the Bangkok capital and elsewhere in the Kingdom of Thailand. Sitting alongside excellent restaurants and pubs, KSR’s clubs now rank parallel with Sukhumvit 11 haunts as some of THE places to visit when in town. Given the importance of the strip’s role in catering to global club officiados, the fact that Cafe Democ is seldom included in any foreign clubber’s itinerary remains a mystery wrapped in an enigma.

For those in the know, a trip to Cafe Democ is very much a trip to the source – to where it all began. Despite its unimposing architecture and presence (by Bangkok club standards anyway), Cafe Democ is the spiritual home of Bangkok’s club scene. Opened in 1999 and located on a corner of Democracy Monument (hence its name), Cafe Democ is no more than a 10-minute walk from Khao San Road and is where the seed of local DJ talent was nurtured into the vibrant scene that exists today.

As I sit outside the club with owner Mr. Apichart – or Tui to his friends – we talk against a backdrop of some killer homegrown Drums and Bass. “This is not really a club to me,” suggests Tui wistfully. “I also own club Culture, a big club in the center of town. That to me is a club – this (Cafe Democ) is my home! This is where I was brought up,” he enthuses.

Now in his 40s, Tui started life as a DJ at Diana’s in 1984, one of Bangkok’s leading clubs back in the day. There he pumped out Madonna, Michael Jackson, and any other commercial sound his undiscerning audience fancied. At the time the local talent for even this was limited, and UK companies would send DJs out to Thai venues to entertain the masses.

The DJs brought a smattering of club sounds that although established in the west, represented something of a revolution in Thailand. Rubbing shoulders with these DJs, Tui’s tastes changed, as did that of his audience. Slowly, seamlessly, pockets of resistance to commercial music emerged and along with it local DJs experimented. Thailand’s first real underground music scene was born.

“15 years ago Bangkok was the leading place for club music in Southeast Asia,” adds Tui. “DJs from places like Singapore and Hong Kong came over here to sample the scene. Unfortunately, as with other places in the world, in 90s the club scene became synonymous with drug culture. Drugs pretty much killed the underground. The police closed venues, and Bangkok became a bit of a wilderness. Hip Hop changed that.”

“Local artists like Joey Boy made Hip Hop respectable and brought it into the mainstream,” he continued. “Once there, the scene emerged again – it was a safe environment where people could experiment with sounds. Clubs and DJs started to flourish again, and Cafe Democ was there to help things along. Local DJs came here to play exactly what they wanted, with no commercial pressure. We brought over the occasional international act, but primarily, Cafe Democ was for local DJs”.

The scene grew to the extent that Cafe Democ DJs turned professional and a number of venues emerged to cater for the increased demand for club music. RCA flourished and places like Astra (now Club 808) went from strength to strength. Many of those venues though stuck to a more traditional format, catering for Bangkok’s party scene.

“Cafe Democ is no Route 66,”suggested Tui, talking about a famous RCA club where patrons dance around small tables to top 30 US tunes alongside more commercial local sounds. “There’s a genuine sub-culture around these days. This sub-culture has had to be resilient. It’s faced ‘Social Order’ issues that placed curfews on clubbers, political uncertainty, and of course bouts of economic downturn. Despite all of this, the scene remains healthy and you can experience it at Cafe Democ.”

These days Cafe De Moc serves up an eclectic assortment of sounds – Electro, Mash Up, Drums and Bass, and despite its proximity to KSR, caters to a predominantly Thai crowd (often based out of Thammasat University) and a few expats who speak a smattering of Thai. Things warm up around 23:30, but before that people sit around and enjoy the great local food Cafe De Moc offers its punters.

“We don’t have the marketing budget,” suggested Tui when asked why Cafe De Moc doesn’t compete with some of the brasher places on KSR. “Nowadays foreigners only stay on Khao San for a couple of days and then they are off. It’s not like before when they used to stay up to a couple of months and really get to know the area, including this place (Cafe De Moc).”

Cafe De Moc does though have a small but loyal foreign clientele. DJ Curmi (?) from Brighton, UK was there the night we visited. He wasn’t playing; he was just hanging out. “I love this place,” he confided. “This is where it all started and it’s still going strong. I come here every time I am in Thailand. It’s not like one of the big Sukhimvit clubs – it’s very intimate”.

Cafe De Moc opens nightly until about 1:30 in the morning. If you are looking for a slice of the local scene, it’s well worthy of a visit. It’s usually free to get in and there’s a solid line up of acts.

Check out the much less than pretentious Cafe De Moc website to see what’s on offer.

Check out the toilets for excellent graffiti!

cafe-democ_map