Tag - rice

Chaiyaphum, Thailand

Barely heard of and even less touristed Chaiyaphum makes the ideal base for nearby stunning national parks.
Barely heard of and even less touristed Chaiyaphum makes the ideal base for nearby stunning national parks.
Barely heard of and even less touristed Chaiyaphum makes the ideal base for nearby stunning national parks.

Though not as rich in attractions as its neighbouring provinces, barely heard of and even less touristed Chaiyaphum makes the ideal base for nearby stunning national parks, and has a few worthy spots of its own too. CHRIS WOTTON gets under the skin of this undiscovered slice of Isaan.
 
Never heard of Chaiyaphum? That’s little surprise, as few people have. Tucked up in Thailand’s north-eastern Isaan region and bordered by Khorat and Khon Kaen, this largely untouristed province barely registers a foreign face. Still very Thai in appearance and character, the main industries here are rice and sugar production, while the province is also renowned as a silk centre. The capital city of an otherwise largely rural province shows the signs of some limited urban development, but venture here and you will still discover somewhere pleasingly quiet and low-key, the perfect antidote to the Bangkok lifestyle.

The primary attractions here, the Jao Pho Praya Lae monument and Prang Ku, are largely unimpressive and at most worth a passing glance. In fact, you will probably pass the former several times before even realising what it is. Jao Pho Phraya Lae was the eighteenth century Lao ruler of Chaiyaphum, and this statue in his name is the centrepiece of a roundabout in the centre of town on Bannakan Road. He switched sides to fight with Bangkok when Vientiane declared war on Siam at the start of the 1800s.

Jao Pho Phraya Lae lost his life in the ensuing battles, but was kept in high esteem in Chaiyaphum and today has two annual festivals celebrated in his name in January and May.

The Khmer Prang Ku further along Bannakan Road past the entrance to Siam River Resort, meanwhile, is really equally disappointing as a sight. Poorly preserved and not much to look at at all, in its heyday it was a temple on the route that connected Angkor Wat with the (far more impressive and better restored) Prasat Muang Singh just outside of Kanchanaburi.
Today, if nothing else it serves as a reminder of just how small Chaiyaphum proper really is – particularly at night, by the time you’ve walked just a short way east to this site, you feel like you’re well out of the city and into Isaan village life.

Tat Ton National Park makes for far more of a reason to visit Chaiyaphum. Twenty-three kilometres away and easily reached by 30 baht public songthaew share taxi from a stand at the north end of the city on Non Muang Road, it boasts amongst other sights an impressive waterfall that stretches to 50m wide in the rainy season – take care as it is easy to sip by the water’s edge. Group tours aside, you are likely to be almost alone in the park, and pretty much certainly the only foreigner. The 100 baht entrance fee gets you access to the whole park, which also includes the smaller Tat Fah waterfall.

The park as a whole is the perfect spot for a dose of back-to-nature relaxation sure to enliven the senses, and if you want to drag it out a little longer there are bungalows to rent too. The return journey to Chaiyaphum is a bit more of a pain than getting there, since songthaews don’t take this route after the morning - but you can hitch a ride back to Chaiyaphum quite easily. If all else fails, walk some way along the road you came down, make yourself look tired and wait for a few women to start shouting, asking if you need a lift back to Chaiyaphum (for a price). They came to our rescue, so they’re bound to for you as well.

Back in Chaiyaphum proper, picnics are the order of the day at a secluded, peaceful spot at the side of a small lake in the streets behind the Tesco Lotus supermarket on Sanambin Road. Roll up on a bike or on foot, having stopped at food stalls on the lanes nearby for giant Isaan-sized grilled chicken skewers and fresh pineapple with dried chilli and sugar, and soak up the goodness of some fresh Chaiyaphum air from the shade of the many trees lining the lake. As is the beauty with so much in this city, aside from the odd local fisherman you will likely have the place to yourself.

GET THERE: Buses run by at least three different companies connect Chaiyaphum with Bangkok’s northern Morchit bus terminal in about six hours. On the return leg, the three companies unhelpfully all have their own departure terminals dotted around town, but there are also local bus connections to Khon Kaen and Khorat, both linked to Bangkok by trains and planes.

WHERE TO STAY: Most western tourists stay at the five-star Siam River Resort, towards the far end of Bannakan Road, where 990 Baht will bag you a plush room with balcony and breakfast, and access to the pool. There’s free wi-fi and bike hire and staff are excellent. The Deeprom Hotel is also worth a look, with its pleasing pastel exterior, though staff speak little English. Expect to pay 800 Baht for a double air-con room.

MOVING ON: Khon Kaen is two and a half hours away by local bus – great for foodies, it also boasts the Bueng Kaen Nakhon lake which makes for a great walking spot. Buses to Khorat take two hours.

CHRIS WOTTON is a twenty-something crazy about Thailand. After a first visit in 2008, he fell in love with the country and has since travelled its length and breadth, searching out local life – and local food! – while writing and researching for SE Asia travel guides and magazines. When not discovering and writing about Thailand, Chris studies French and German in his native UK, and runs an online shop selling authentic Japanese and Thai cooking ingredients.

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Northern Laos

Northern Laos

Northern Laos
With lush forests, high plateaus, sparkling waterfalls, caves, mountains and rice fields, northern Laos is intensely beautiful. This area of Laos is very diverse and offers travellers a range of different experiences. Although travelling through this region is challenging, the rewards are significant and a warm welcome awaits those who venture off the tourist trail to explore the villages and small towns scattered throughout northern Laos.

This is where you will find the mysterious Plain of Jars, the enormous stone containers that cover the landscape. This is the perfect place to go trekking, especially around Luang Namtha and Phongsaly, while the Gibbon Experience offers visitors a rare opportunity to view these magnificent creatures in their natural environment.
This region of Laos is home to many of the hilltop tribes, each with their own unique styles of dress, culture and belief systems. Exploring northern Laos provides to opportunity to get to know a little about this interesting people and discover traditional village life.

Although this area has only been open to tourist for around 10 years, there are already a number of vibrant tourist hangouts in northern Laos. Top of the list is Vang Vieng, where travellers can indulge on Western food, explore the caves and float down the river in a large rubber tube. The nearby temple town of Luang Prabang is also particularly tourist friendly and there is plenty to see and do here.

Adventure sports are popular in northern Laos and this is a good place for white water rafting, hiking, cycling, rock climbing and a number of other activities. Simply walking through the countryside is a great way to spend a day or two as the scenery is always striking and many surprises await the adventurous.

The mighty Mekong River flows through northern Laos and into Thailand. A good way to continue exploring is to take a slow boat from Luang Prabang along the river into Thailand. The journey offers spectacular views of Laos and the chance to stay in the pretty village of Pakbeng along the way.

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Food and Drink in Malaysia

Food and Drink in Malaysia
Food and Drink in Malaysia
Food and Drink in Malaysia
Malaysia is a great place for people who love to eat and experiment with food. There are a wide range of Malay, Chinese and Indian dishes available through the country and some interesting mixtures of culinary styles. As you travel through Malaysia, look out for regional specialities and try to experience the full range of Malay cuisine.
Hawker stalls and coffee shops are good places to find a cheap and tasty meal. Hawker stalls tend to be very clean and open until late in the evening. Curry dishes and other meals in western style restaurants, while seafood restaurants serve fresh fish prepared in the Chinese style. For western food, head to the shopping malls, where you will usually find a large food court with a number of well known fast food restaurants.

Here is a selection of the numerous dishes you will find on your travels in Malaysia:

Nasi lemak – the most common Malaysian breakfast dish consists rice cooked in light coconut milk with anchovies, peanuts, a slice of cucumber and a little chilli.

Rendang – usually made with beef, this dry curry dish consists of stewed meat in a spicy curry paste.  

Chilli crab – a whole crab is covered with a generous amount of sticky, strong chilli sauce.

Laksa – this dish varies from place to place but is basically a coconut both with seafood or chicken.  

Bak chor mee – this noodle dish is cooked in a chilli-based sauce with minced pork, fried anchovies, vegetables and mushrooms.

Popiah - these delicious spring rolls can be either fried or raw. Filled with boiled turnips, fried tofu, fried shallots and garlic, chopped omelette, chopped stir fried long beans, there is usually a sweet chilli sauce to dip them in.  

Hainanese chicken rice - usually found on street stalls, this steamed chicken dish is served with special gently spiced rice and tasty ginger.

Bubur cha-cha – a traditional Malay desert with cubed yam, sweet potato and sago added to coconut milk soup.

Kuih – this sweet desert is made with coconut milk, coconut flesh and either glutinous rice or tapioca. It is often made into cute and colourful designs.

Avoid drinking tap water and drinks with ice in Malaysia. Bottled water is cheap and easy to find.  

Coffee – known as kopi – and tea – teh – are both popular and tasty drinks in Malaysia as well as a local variation known as teh tarik. Tea and coffee usually comes hot, with condensed milk to sweeten it. If you don’t want milk ask for teh o, while teh ais will get you iced milky tea.
Also popular is a drink known as kopi tongkat ali ginseng, which is a mixture of coffee, a local aphrodisiacal root and ginseng served with condensed milk.

Despite being a predominately Muslim country, alcohol is widely available throughout Malaysia. Beer and other alcohol can be bought in bars, restaurants and 7-11 shops. The local brew is tuak, which fermented rice wine that comes in many forms. Usually served lukewarm, tuak is often flavoured with sugar or honey.
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Food and Drink in Laos

Food and Drink in Laos
Food and Drink in Laos
Food and Drink in Laos

Food in Laos is similar to northern Thai food, yet with its own unique twist. Rice is as popular here as in the rest of Asia, although in Laos sticky rice known as khao niaow is served instead of long grained rice. Sticky rice comes in bamboo containers and is eaten with your hands, usually dipped in a selection of spicy sauces.

The French influence in Laos can be found in the cuisine and baguettes filled with pâte known as khao jii pat-te are delicious at any time of the day, especially for breakfast served with kaafeh thung – rich and tasty Lao coffee. Lao coffee usually comes with a thick layer of condensed milk at the bottom, or black - kaafeh dam.

International food is widely available in tourist towns and in Vientiane, the country’s capital, where you will also find a great selection of gourmet French restaurants.

Here is a selection of popular Lao dishes to get your taste buds tingling.

Laap – the national dish, an extremely spicy salad made from minced meat, herbs, spices, lime juice and a LOT of chilli. This dish sometimes uses raw meat.

Tam maak hung – know as som tam in Thailand, this is fresh, spicy grated papaya salad, where the flavours are pounded with a mortar and pestle to combine them.

Foe – Vietnamese noodles, often served as a snack or at breakfast time.

Khai phaan – this Mekhong River weed is served in Luang Prabang as a delicious side dish.

Padeck – fish preserved with salt and stored for anything up to three years. Padeck is usually eaten with sticky rice.

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Sekong, Laos

Sekong, Laos
Sekong, Laos
Sekong, Laos
Sekong is the ideal place for those who really want to step off the well worn tourist trail and get to know the real Laos. This pretty area is situated in the southeast part of Laos in the Sekong River Valley, and the river is a good spot for fishing and swimming and perhaps even a boat trip down the river to one of the nearby villages.

This is a great place for hiking and trekking and as you walk through the countryside you will wander through lush rice paddies, fruit orchards and tropical forests which are home to a large number of unusual animals and pretty plants and flowers.

A number of different ethnic tribes live in the Sekong River Valley and the countryside is full of small villages belong to people such as the Lave, Lanam, Kaleum, Dakchung and Thateng. This is a good place to get to know the different tribes and discover their unique lifestyles.

A great way to pass the time is by getting up at around 5a.m to watch people fishing in the river and walking along the banks. The Buddhist monks wander through the villages early each morning to receive alms and you will see processions of orange robed monks carrying large metal bowls.

 Part of Sekong’s appeal for most people is its remoteness and the fact that not many travelers make it this far. Don’t expect to find a large number of fancy guesthouses or restaurants selling international food here. But for those who do decide to stay, the gentle pace of life and friendliness of the people can be very addictive. However, people who need their creature comforts will be able to find a hotel or two here and it is possible to hire a motorbike to explore.

Sekong is blessed with electricity around the clock, but if this seems a little too decadent pay a visit to the nearby village of Tha Teng, which is extremely picturesque and without electricity or running water offers a real insight into the traditional Lao way of life.

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Khammouane, Laos

Khammouane, Laos
Khammouane, Laos
Khammouane, Laos
This very pretty Lao province is surrounded by amazing limestone formations, caves, rivers and dense jungle. The population of the province is around 260,000, with people coming from several different tribes such as Phuan, Tahoy, Kri and Katang. Most of the settlements in Khammouane province are small villages with collections of houses built from wood in the traditional Lao style. Everywhere you turn in Khammouane you are surrounded by intense natural beauty. Rich dark soil is covered with colourful plantations of rice, cabbage, sugar cane and bananas, while the Annamite mountain range is to the east and sparkling rivers, forests and caves are just waiting to be explored.

Khammouane province is easy to reach by bus from Vientiane in just five or six hours. There are plenty for visitors to do here such as kayaking, rafting, and caving. There are a large number of caves to explore and some of the highlights include the Buddha cave and Tham Nang Aen cave, while the Tham Xieng Lap caves are so pretty that they are worthy of a day trip by themselves.

Another great day trip destination is That Skihotabang, which is a large and interesting stupa commissioned by King Nanthasen in the 10th century.  The stupa was carefully restored in the 1950s and is an impressive sight.

The province’s capital is Tha Kek and this is a good place to stay for a night or two while you explore this lush and leafy area of Laos. While in Tha Khek take the time to explore the striking French colonial architecture in the city and sample the delicious range of Lao dishes, which is slightly different to those found in the rest of the country.

Nature lovers will want to explore the Nakai-Nam Theun Biodiversity Conservation Area, where you can spot a wonderful range of animals such as elephant, tigers, lemur and turtles. For excellent views over the jungle climb the Khammouane Limestone, which is a maze of limestone karst peaks.

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Sayabouri, Laos

Sayabouri, Laos
Sayabouri, Laos
Sayabouri, Laos
Sayabouri, Laos
Also known as Sainyabuli, this pretty province is situated in the northwest of Laos, to the west of the Mekong River. Surrounded by limestone mountains, rice fields and forests, this is a great place to explore the countryside and experience the traditional Lao way of life.

Most travellers overlook Sayabouri on their way to nearby Luang Prabang and Vientiane, but peaceful Sayabouri is a great place to relax and discover the natural beauty of the areas such and waterfalls, caves and forests.

As you wander around Sayabouri you will discover a large number of pretty temples to explore, and Wat Ban Thin, Wat Ban Phapoun and Wat Ban Natonoy are probably the largest and most popular.

A great day trip destination is the Nam Phoun National Biodiversity Conservation Area. This enormous forest contains a large number of high peaks and climbing to the top provides excellent views of the region. The conservation area is also home to a large number of animals such as the Asiatic black bear, elephant, gibbon, Malayan sun bear and Sumatran rhino.

The people of Laos have been using elephants in the forestry industry for centuries and Sayabouri is one of the few places where you can still see this practice in action, which makes a refreshing change from viewing the mighty beast from behind bars.

A good time to visit Sayabouri is during the annual elephant festival, which is held over two or three days in the middle of February by the Lao PDR National Tourism Authority to encourage the use of elephants in tourism-related activities. There are around 200 elephants in Sayabouri and during  the festival more than fifty of them take part in a procession through the town. The festival is a vibrant affair with much drinking, dancing, fireworks and boat races.

More than 10,000 people travel from all over Laos to take part in the elephant festival and this is a great time to see Laos people at their best as they dress in traditional costumes, share food and drink.

Although Sayabouri is much quieter the rest of the year you will find a warm welcome whenever you arrive and there are some interesting places to sleep and eat.

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Houa Phah, Laos

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Houa Phah, Laos
Houa Phah, Laos
The former base for the Lao People's Revolutionary Army, Houa Phan province is located in the northeast of Laos. Now free from trouble, this pretty province is surrounded by natural beauty such as caves, waterfalls, mountains and rich rice fields.

Few tourists step off the tourist trail long enough to experience Houa Phah’s gentle charms, yet there are wonderful rewards in store for those who make the effort. Pristine emerald green forests and limestone mountains are just waiting to be explored and there is a good variety of wildlife to spot.

There are more than 100 caves located in Houa Phanh. Available in all shapes and sizes, visiting the caves is an interesting experience and also a good way to keep cool. Perhaps the most famous of all the caves is Tham Than Souphanouvong, which was once the home of Prince Souphanouvong when he was forced into hiding.

Other caves worth visiting in the area are Tham Than Kaysone and Tham Than Khamtay. Both of these caves were the residences of leading Lao political figures and are very grand in scale featuring meeting rooms and reception areas.

After a busy day of climbing through the caves, visitors to Houa Phah can soak away their aches and pains in the local hot spring in the Xam Tay district, where the waters reach temperatures of 40?C. Cool off afterwards in the pretty Xam Tay waterfall and explore the surrounding forest.

There are a large number of villages dotted around Houa Phah and the talented villages are well known for their craftwork skills. This is a good time to watch weaving, which is still done using traditional methods. The textiles made here are thought by many to be some of the finest in Asia and make great souvenirs.

Hintang Archeological Park is one of Laos’ more important prehistoric sites and a great place for a daytrip. Wander through the ruins and discover the foundations of this picturesque region and pay a visit to the large and inviting Keo Nong Vay temple.

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Borikhamsay, Laos

Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos
Borikhamsay, Laos
If you want a place to relax and unwind surrounded by stunning natural scenery, Borikhamsay is the place to be. Borikhamsay province is located in central Laos, about a three hour drive from the capital city of Vientiane. Borikhamsay’s close proximity to Vientiane makes it a good destination for a day trip, although it is also a good place to pause for a day or two and discover the natural beauty of Laos.  

Also known as Bolikhamsai, Borikhamsay is an important pilgrimage site and people travel from all over the country to visit Wat Phra Baat, which contains a footprint believed to have been made by Lord Buddha as he travelled through the countryside. Laos was once home to a large collection of Buddhist monuments but sadly most have been decimated by war over the years, making this footprint all the more precious.

Another good day trip is the stone forest at Poupha Mane, where the large collection of rocky pinnacles are a striking sight. To the south it is possible to spot wildlife such as the hatinh langur, mable cat and the Asian forest tortoise in the pristine forests of Nam Thuen, while the National Biodiversity Conservation Area is Laos’ largest conservation area. Here you will find many endangered animals including the Asiatic black bear, clouded leopard, elephant, giant muntjac, guar, Malayan sun bear, and tiger. There are guides available to lead you through the forests and explain all about this amazing area.

The capital town of the province is Paksan, and here you will find plenty of places to stay as well as some good restaurants and of course the famous Laos hospitality. A good way to get around this area is by hiring a bicycle or simply walking, talking the time to share smiles and greetings with the people you pass along the way.

Paksan is also a good stopping off point for people travelling to Vietnam as it is situated close to the Vietnamese border. The majority of the region’s population is comprised by tribes such as the Thai, Phuan, Tri and Hmong. This is a good time to learn more about these interesting tribes and their alternative lifestyles.

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Food and Drink in Burma

Food and Drink in Burma
Food and Drink in Burma
The people of Myanmar love their food to be hot and spicy, with most dishes liberally dosed with plenty of chilli, garlic and ginger. Local food is actually a blend of traditional dishes with influences of Chinese, Indian and Mon culinary styles. Characteristic dishes are curry-based with chicken, seafood and mutton as pork and beef tend to be avoided. Rice is the staple dish and vegetarian food is widely available throughout the country.

Food in Myanmar tends to be cheap and tasty, making this a great place to experiment. There is plenty of fresh fruit available in the markets and food stalls can be found on practically every corner in the towns.

Although coffee can be hard to find, tea is popular, served with brightly hued spices. Most bars and select restaurants sell locally produced beer, whiskey and gin. Toddy juice is made from fermented palm sugar and tastes a lot like rum.

There are a large number of Chinese and Indian restaurants throughout Myanmar and Western food can be found in most hotels and an increasingly growing number of independent restaurants, although there are no fast food chains in Myanmar, which is probably a very good thing.

It is not safe to drink the tap water in Myanmar, but bottled water is cheap. It is also best to avoid ice as this may be made with tap water.


Here is a selection of the dishes you are likely to discover in Myanmar:

Lethok son – a very spicy salad using rice and vegetables.

Mohinga – filling fish curry soup with thin noodles.

Onnokauswe – a slightly sweet and creamy dish of rice noodles, chicken and coconut milk. This curry is strong and pungent.

Mee swan – noodles in a thick broth served with herbs and meat.

Palata – known as paratha in India, this thin bread is fried and served with sugar for breakfast and curried meat at lunch and dinnertime.

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Food and Drink in Cambodia

Food and Drink in Cambodia
Food and Drink in Cambodia
Food and Drink in Cambodia
Travellers who suffer from a chilli intake problem will be pleased to discover that the food in Cambodia is much less hot than in the neighbouring nations of Thailand and Vietnam. However, that doesn’t mean that the dishes here are bland, as they are seasoned instead with herbs such as coriander and lemongrass, giving them a unique tanginess. The main staple here is rice, which is served alongside most curry, soup and stew dishes.
Those with a strong sense of adventure who want to sample authentic local food should check out the food stalls that crop up at Cambodia’s night markets. These are also the cheapest places to dine, while those who are looking for a taste of home will find a wide range of international restaurants in tourist hubs such as Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh.

Here is a selection of dishes that you will discover as you travel through Cambodia:

Amok trey – one of Cambodia’s signature dishes, featuring fish, pork or chicken in a rich and lightly spiced curry sauce.

Lou – short, thick noodles with added egg and chicken.

Caw – this is a slightly sweet dish of braised chicken or pork and egg stew flavoured with delicious caramelized palm sugar.

Bai cha – a delicious dish of Chinese sausage fried with rice.

Somlah machou khmae – a sweet and sour soup dish that is made with tomatoes, pineapple and fish.

K’dam – a speciality from Kampot, this is a delicious dish of crab cooked in pepper.

Visitors to Cambodia should avoid drinking tap water as well as drinks with ice in them. Bottled water is cheap and easy to find throughout the country and should be used even for brushing your teeth.  

Green tea is popular in Cambodia and served free of charge along with most meals in restaurants. Tea lovers will also want to try the local drink known as dtai grolab, which is created by brewing tealeaves in a glass with a saucer on top. Both Indian tea and coffee are readily available in Cambodia, although they are usually served with plenty of ice.  

Those who like to relax with a beer or two in the evening will find bars located all over the country, while beer also tends to be served in restaurants and at night market stalls. However, the local tipple of choice is a type of rice wine that is extremely strong an should be approached with caution.
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Ubon, Thailand

Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand
Ubon Ratchathani Province is located in the southeast of the Isan region of Thailand. The capital city bears the same name, but is more commonly known as Ubon. The name means Royal Land Lotus Blossom in the Thai language and refers to the exceptional natural beauty of the area.

The city, which sits on the northern bank of the Mun River, was originally founded in the late 18th century by Lao immigrants and still retains many aspects of Lao style and culture. For an insight into the rich and interesting history of this area, pay a visit to the Ubon National Museum.

Ubon Ratchathani is best loved for its stunning national parks. No visit is complete without seeing the spectacular Phu Chong Na Yoi National Park, which covers an area of 687 square kilometers, featuring stunning views from the cliffs at Pha Pheung and the huge Bak Tew Yai Waterfall.

Another area of great beauty is the Kaeng Tana National Park and don't miss the Pha Taem National Park with its pre-historic cliff paintings showing scenes of fishing, rice farming, figures of people and animals.

There are many beautiful waterfalls in the area, and it is possible to swim in the clear waters of most. Some of the best include Nam Tok Saeng Chan, Nam Tok Thung Na Muang and the magnificent Nam Tok Soi Sawan.

It goes without saying that there are many interesting temples to explore, embodying design features of both Lao and Thai temple art. Look out for Wat Tung Si Muang, Wat Supattanaram, the rectangular chedi of Wat Phra That Nong Bua, Wat Si Ubon Rattanaram and many others.

Koh Hat Wat Tai is a small island in the Mae Nam Mun which is great for swimming and sunbathing. Another attraction in the area are the Warin Chamrap District Temples. These are two temples where people from all over the world gather to study meditation. Wat Nong Pa Phung is reserved for Thai people, while Wat Pa Nanachat is for non-Thais.

The silk weaving village of Wat Nong Bua is located 18 kilometers from the city and makes a great day trip, while many people travel to ride the Kaeng Saphue rapids or take a boat trip on the turbulent white waters.

Ubon has a large night market, which is a great place to get a cheap meal and buy some local produce.

If you are in the area during the festival of awk hansaa in July, make sure you stay for the Candle Festival, when processions of wax religious images are carried through the city on floats.

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Sticky Rice with Mango

Mango and Sticky RiceDo have a go at this rather interesting Thai dessert. It isn't as dainty as the usual Thai sweets one is familiar with, and quite unusually, it can be more filling than the entire meal. And if one knew just how tasty Sticky Rice with Mango is, one would surely have to leave room for dessert.

What is most curious is the combination of a staple food, rice, together with mango, a Thai tropical fruit, to create this delicious sweet dish.

This popular dessert is served as a large clump of sticky rice, with a sprinkling of yellow beans known as Mung beans. By the side of the plate are sliced chunks of ripe mangoes, to be eaten as an accompaniment to the rice. This dish comes with a small saucer of seasoned coconut milk that is poured over the sticky rice as a rich and so creamy topping.

The sticky rice is steamed with the leaves of a particular plant (Pandan) which imparts a characteristic but lovely fragrance. It has a tinge of sweet since the rice is boiled with some sugar. This coupled with the rich salty, creamy coconut milk, allows for the contrast of tastes which makes Thai food so unique.

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Try a Thai Set Meal

Thai Set MealOrdering a set meal for dinner may appear to be the lazy way out of ploughing through a foreign menu. But there are certain advantages. One evening, three of us decided on a set meal each at a restaurant in Patpong. The price for each set meal ranged from 255 to 400 baht. Each set meal included FIVE dishes and white rice."

Unlike Western set dinners, the Thai set did not come with dessert and coffee, which was fine since there wasn't much room left after the meal. Each of us ordered a different set and yes, FIFTEEN dishes appeared quite promptly. And yes, the table was big enough indeed.

Although each dish was small, there were enough contents for the three to partake, and more. The set comprised a starter ( salad, dressed crab, spring roll ) a soup ( spicy shrimp soup, chicken with coconut soup ) a vegetable dish ( asparagus fried with shrimp, baby corn fried with shrimp ) a meat dish ( fried chicken with chili and cashew nuts ) and a curry ( green curry with chicken, curried pork ).

There were dips and sauces for the dishes, hence more palate-challenging experiences. Since I am no food critic, it suffices to state that the meal was thoroughly enjoyed by all. We felt we had tasted a wide range and style of Thai food, and this was all the more enjoyable without the tedium of a buffet meal which would normally be where such a wide selection can be sampled at one meal.

So, to the purists who feel that set menus are for the unimaginative, lazy or indifferent, Thai set dinners can alter your mindset. It is good value, exciting and allows a sampling of the foods you've always read about but never had a chance to try out. And allows you to pick out that special dish to order at future meals.

Nick Lie - Singapore

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And yet another coconut goodie!

Yet another coconut goodieCoconut and its derivatives are used in many aspects of Asian cooking, and this is no exception in Thai foods. Coconut-based foods include coconut rice, curries which use coconut as a milky base for the chillis, fragrant coconut oil, desserts and drinks.

The creative ways in which coconut is used for cooking never fail to amaze. I had ordered a 'coconut juice' one night during dinner. Expecting a cool glass of cloudy coconut water, I was surprised when I was brought a glass of thick, milk-white liquid. What I tasted impressed me so much I felt the recipe ought to be shared.

Crack a young coconut; pour the coconut water into a blender. Use a spoon to scrape the tender white flesh from the inside walls of the coconut. Place some scraping into the blender. You may add sweetened condensed milk for a sweeter, creamier drink. Blend the mixture thoroughly with some ice into a smooth thick drink.

Very simple to procure, elegant to create and excellent for the palate!

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Isaan Life – New Year

New Year in Issan
issaan_new_year_2
New Year in Issan
New Year in Issan
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There are places along Isaan's Korat Plateau, framed by the wandering Mae Khong, dotted with centuries-old rice paddies, lumbering, long-horned water buffalo and forgotten villages influenced by the Lao culture to the north that are so stunning, so awe-inspiring that words are inadequate to describe them. Phachnadai Cliff, 45 kilometers from Khon Chiem and a six-klick hike straight up from Ban San Som, a sleepy 200-member farm community of wooden huts built on long poles, is an unusual place to greet the New Year. But then Isaan is an unusual place, a special place and teetering and shivering through the night toward dawn in a brisk, cold wind on the edge of a 15 meter black cliff with a dozen friends and 200 strangers was the perfect way to greet the New Year, a year sure to be filled with beauty, adventure and opportunity.

Our journey began 175 kilometers away at my home in Ubon Rachathani in southeast Isaan on the north bank of the Mun River, a tributary of the Mae Khong. We traveled north by motorcycle toward Ban San Som, a village that does not appear on any western map buts sits less than an hour from Laos. Neither Ban San Som nor Phachanadai Cliff produce even one hit on a Google search. It is not a destination resort. It is however a very special place to welcome the New Year.
 
Ban San Som in January is surrounded by freshly harvested rice fields and wandering water buffalo, eyeing the newly harvested rice strewn through the fields. In theory, there are two ways up the mountain. It's a six kilometer hike straight up or a 13 kilometer overland trek by motorcycle. In reality, the hike is probably the way to go. A combination of laziness and rapidly disappearing sunlight produced a quick decision; the motorcycle seemed a quicker, less strenuous option. Unfortunately we were not ready for the unbeaten, unmarked track that lay in before us.
 
There is no visible road up the mountain. There are ruts and rocks and roots that slowed our progress to a crawl. Deep sands as shifty and slick as sheer ice blocked our path in places reminding me it's the heart of winter back home in Vermont, USA. And at times murky brown water covered the track making it impossible to know how deep and passable it was at any given point. Nittaya Saebut, a fourth year student at Ubon Ratchathani University, described the journey charitably as "unpredictable." Surasak Witton, a third year at Ubon Rachathani University, carried Sukie, a second year student from Rachabhat University who knew the area quite well. He said his rider made it hard to focus on the path. Surasak explained, "It was hard for me having Sukie on the bike because she would tell me about different areas of the mountain and if I took my eyes off the road for one second conditions would change and a different type of terrain would jump up in front of me."
 
We made it to the top in darkness; the view would have to wait until morning: the New Year. A sheer black rock covered the peak, a lava-like geological formation though there is no volcano near Phachanadai Cliff. The difficult path to the summit didn't keep some 200 others from making the journey to greet the New Year. Camp fires fueled with wood scavenged from nearby forest sprinkled across the black rock lit the landscape like lights on a Christmas tree. There was even New Year's entertainment on the top of that mountain. A stage set up in the midst of the waving fires offered an assortment of colorful dancers and songs through the evening. There was even a "Cow Gee" eating contest which I entered immediately as the journey produced a severe hunger deep in the pit of my stomach. Cow Gee is sticky rice grilled with egg. I stuffed my face full of the deliciousness
and finished second among 16 other contestants. My stomach full I realized I'd won 200 baht! Being paid to overeat; Isaan is a wonderful place!
 
Sleeping was impossible! The wind howled constantly sending a chill deep into my spine. At 5:30 a.m. everyone that wasn't knocked out from the New Year celebration, clustered on the 15 meter cliff to watch the sunrise. The cliff drops straight down to the ancient Mae Khong. The rising sun slowly revealed the misty mountains of Laos covered in early morning fog and produced an immense cheer from the crowd. It brought a tear to my eye, and I wished everyone "Sa Wa Dee Bee Mai." Happy New Year 2008/2551.
 
About the author:
Eli Sherman is a graduate of Montpelier High School in Montpelier, the capital of the state of Vermont, USA, and a "young blood writer" living in Ubon Ratchathani, Isaan - Northeastern Thailand. He's been to Isaan four times in his short life. Once on a cross cultural exchange with Montpelier to Thailand Project; once coming for five months as an exchange student at Benchama Maharat school in Ubon; and again coming as a guide for Montpelier to Thailand Project. He now works as a volunteer at the Institute of Nutrition Research Field Station, Mahidol University in Ubon Ratchathani and is writing to present Isaan Life to the world, and especially KhaoSanRoad.com visitors.

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Isaan Life – Harvesting Rice

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Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand
Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand
Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand
Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand
Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand
Isaan Life, Ban Ku Muang, Ubon Ratchathani, North East Thailand
BAN KU MUANG, UBON RATCHATHANI: Last week I found myself hip-deep in the sun-drenched rice paddies of northeast Thailand, 13,000 kilometers from the snow-covered fields of my home in Vermont in the northeastern United States. Overcome with curiosity about the labor-intensive, harvesting process that produces one of the world's most plentiful crops, I decided to see how it's done first hand. Well let me tell you, it's back breaking work! I have a new found respect for everyone that works in those rice paddies. It was two of the more uncomfortable, difficult, backbreaking days of work I have every experienced in my life.

Aidan Curley an English teacher here in Isaan, contacted a family and asked if I could work for a couple of days in Ban Ku Muang, a small farming village encapsulated by rice fields. They were more than happy to have an extra pair of hands, even if they were unskilled. I had no idea what I was getting into. Waking up before seven a.m. for school back home had always been a struggle, but waking up at five a.m. to harvest rice seemed like a suicide wish. Bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, I trudged off to work at dawn and soon found myself surrounded and submerged in a sea of tan rice plants sticking up from the soggy earth. I wore a pair of mud boots, unfortunately too small for my feet, a hat to shelter my pale face from being burnt to a crisp, wool gloves to provide small protection from the razor sharp sickle used to cut the crop and a jacket to keep the sun off my arms.
 
My co-workers, all dressed the same, were part of an extended family including the mother, Youanji; father, Naiton; son, Naicheng and a daughter, Nangdam. They had twice the energy and resolve that I had that morning even though they had been working the fields for almost four months straight, every single day!
 
For the first hour of 'Gee Ow Cow', as the rice harvest is known, Naicheng guided me through the painstaking cutting ritual that is repeated a thousand times each workday. He spoke no English, but my Thai is good as I spent a high school semester in Ubon Ratchathani and studied the language intensively back home as well. As a first-time harvester my job was simply to cut the stalks and leave them on the ground for others to process. Using my sickle I would gather the rice plants into my hand and then slash the stalks just centimeters away from my fingers. I would repeat the process until my hands were full. Twice in the first hour I cut clean through my glove taking skin off of my hand. My co-workers were amused but encouraged me in my effort.
 
By the eight a.m. breakfast break I was fully awake and beginning to work into a rhythm. I was also exhausted. Breakfast was enjoyable, it included a dish called 'Sok Lek' which is raw meat soaked in blood, and 'Lao Cow' a white whiskey. Naiton explained: "The Sok Lek will make you strong, and the whiskey will make you forget about how hot it's going to get." This sent the other three into a fit of laughter causing me to feel nervous.
 
Sure enough the blistering heat came and so did a killing back pain. Bending down for hours each day for months, I wondered why my co-workers weren't all hunchbacks. After only half a day I was beginning to feel ancient myself. Naicheng and his family had beautiful spirits; he turned to me after a while and asked, "Does your back hurt?" I returned his question with a smile: "A little bit." He smiled back and asked: "Are you hot from the sun?" I laughed through the sweat pouring down my face: "A little bit." Naicheng looked at me knowingly and said: "That's why we must talk to each other because talking will make you forget about the pain in your back and the heat from the sun." It was a very sweet thing to say and he was a right. After talking about my country and his, his life and mine, I began to forget the pain and heat. I was into the rhythm of the harvest. The back pain was unbearable however when we quit for the day at five p.m. I dragged myself onto Aidan's motorcycle and collapsed exhausted in my bed. I was fast asleep by eight thirty.
 
The following day was much like the first however I moved a little faster. I was confident but still a novice. I was also foolish. I wore a short-sleeved shirt and by mid morning I had a horrid, painful sunburn. The conversation turned to food. Youanji was very interested in the foods I had eaten in Thailand. I love Thai food and back home am considered an expert by my friends. Even my brother, a professional chef asks me questions about Thai spices and cuisine. Youanji asked me: "Have you ever eaten field mouse before?" Thinking that she was joking I replied, "No, but I'd love to try it." She seemed excited and invited me to dinner the next night. I was skeptical thinking perhaps she was teasing me.
 
To be polite I accepted but sure enough as soon as I arrived to her home a glass of whiskey and a big platter of roasted meat was placed in front of me. I could see it was a mouse or at least a rodent; it had a long tail that Naiton snatched and crunched into his mouth. My image of a field mouse was the tiny creature that hides in the lush green grass back home. This mouse was more like an oversized rat; it was the size of my forearm. Not knowing what to expect I picked up a meaty looking piece and slowly put it into my mouth. Bam! Steak, chicken, beef all thrown together into one delicious bite! I couldn't believe I was eating mouse. I was converted from a doubter to an addict in one bite.
 
Harvesting rice is something I will not choose as my life's work. I probably wouldn't ever want to do it again; the long hours are too much for too little. However, the people that do this everyday, some seven days a week, are generous, hard working and fun loving and I respect them deeply.

Eli Sherman is a graduate of Montpelier High School in Montpelier, the capital of the state of Vermont, USA, and a "young blood writer" living in Ubon Ratchathani, Isaan - Northeastern Thailand. He's been to Isaan four times in his short life. Once on a cross cultural exchange with Montpelier to Thailand Project; once coming for five months as an exchange student at Benchama Maharat school in Ubon; and again coming as a guide for Montpelier to Thailand Project. He now works as a volunteer at the Institute of Nutrition Research Field Station, Mahidol University in Ubon Ratchathani and is writing to present Isaan Life to the world, and especially KhaoSanRoad.com visitors.

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Veggie Delight

Vegetarian Restaurants around Khao San Road and Bangkok, Thailand
Vegetarian Restaurants around Khao San Road and Bangkok, Thailand
Vegetarian Restaurants around Khao San Road and Bangkok, Thailand
Travelling in Thailand can be tough if you're a vegetarian. Your senses are constantly assaulted by the myriad of meats on sticks barbecued on every street corner and the scent of fried chicken fills the air as you wait patiently for a bus to whisk you away.

Vegetarianism is definitely a lesson in tolerance, and I have learnt to turn a blind eye to the invasions of the meat loving society. Well, almost. Even more difficult, however, is finding decent veggie food, especially if you are on a budget. I spent my first six months in the Land of Smiles surviving mainly on pad Thai and boiled corn, not exactly a rich and varied diet.

But the truth is there are some excellent places for vegetarians to eat in Bangkok, if you know where to go. Here are some of my favourites:

May Kaidee, located 33 Samsen Road (Soi 1) and tucked away on 1117/1 Tanao Road, behind Burger King at the end of Khaosan Road is probably the most popular vegetarian restaurant in the area. Offering an incredibly diverse range of vegetarian Thai, Chinese and Japanese dishes, this is a great place to meet friends. All the dishes are freshly prepared and cooked, with flavours combined to perfection.

The pumpkin soup is simply fantastic, especially with ground ginger on top, and the organic brown rice is healthy and delicious. Dishes are affordable at around 50 Baht each and cooking courses are also available. Open 9 a.m - 11 p.m. daily.

Situated at the end of Soi 2, just off Samsen Road, Cafe Corner is also a great place to unwind. Converted from a traditional Thai shop, the cafe opens right onto the street and has a unique Bohemian feel.

Unusual, uplifting music is played in the background whilst you tuck into baguettes, pancakes or vegetarian Thai food. The range of cocktails makes this the perfect place to gather in the evening as well.

All the vegetables used are organic and come from farms in Suphanburi, Ratchaburi and the cafe's own garden.

Just a ten minute walk from Khaosan Road, the recently opened Tham-na Home Restaurant can be found at 169 Samsen Road. The restaurant offers deliciously healthy vegetarian and vegan food served in a light and stylishly decorated restaurant. The restaurant's motto is; "Vegetarian food for meat lovers," and is a real treat for anyone who appreciates good food. The menu is filled with international favourites such as Japanese dishes, Thai food, hearty breakfasts and fresh, organic salads. There are western staples such as roast potatoes, or you can try the fried lotus root for an exotic alternative. Highly recommended is the baguette with mozzarella cheese and tangy sesame mushrooms.

Tanao Road is becoming a haven for vegetarians and Ethos restaurant brings a slightly Bohemian and cozy feel to the area. The menu is full of vegan and vegetarian dishes featuring flavours from around the world. Customers get to choose between the western style dining tables or sitting on the floor on pretty patterned cushions. Gorgeous red lamps made from red paper hang over the tables and complete the scene.

The Thai vegetarian dishes are a vibrant blend of colours and textures, fresh, crisp vegetables and tasty tofu chunks. The restaurant also serves large portions of western food such as lasagna, falafel and comfort food such as apple crumble and custard. Ethos offers free wifi, making this a great place to spend an afternoon trying the incredible selection of teas and the rich and creamy fruit lassis.

The vegetarian section of Chatuchak Market is one of Bangkok's best-kept secrets. Also known as Chamlong's Restaurant after Bangkok's former governor K. Chamlong, this area features a collection of over thirty stalls selling delicious Thai, Chinese and Western dishes. Each stall offers its own speciality and fake meats are used to create dishes such as "fish" curry in banana leaf and "chicken" skewers.

Best of all, these delicious dishes are incredibly cheap, ranging from 10-20 Baht each, so you can afford to try a whole range. Run by the Santi Asoke monks, food is served daily from 8 a.m. - 2p.m.

Finding Chamlong's Restaurant can be tricky at first. Take the subway to Kamphaeng Phet (exit 1) and turn right. Walk for five minutes and follow an alleyway between bars to a large warehouse. You can also take bus no 3 from Banglampoo.

If it is authentic Indian food you crave, look no further than Soi Rambutree, opposite Khoasan Road. Here you will find quite a few eateries offering eastern promise, all with an extensive vegetarian selection.

As you can see, there is vegetarian food to suit every taste in Bangkok. Don't forget to try the Thai speciality Pad see-u Pak (rice noodles with egg and broccoli). Whatever you choose, remember to say arroy maak (tastes very good) at the end of your meal.

About the author:


Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!

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