Tag - thai

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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Koh Yao Noi

Koh Yao Noi, Thailand
Koh Yao Noi, Thailand
Koh Yao Noi, Thailand

You don’t have to spend very long on Koh Yao Noi to start to feel like you have stumbled upon that elusive traveller dream “the best kept secret”.  Why aren’t there more people here you wonder?  While also secretly hoping they don’t suddenly arrive.  Even locals working in resorts and restaurants obviously built for tourists ask, “how did you find us?” with a touch of surprise in their voice.  Like someone who has decorated their home for a party but never actually sent out the invitations.
 
The answer to their question?  Well, how does anyone find anything these days?  Google!  Qualifying our search of the Phang Nga region with words like “remote”, “peaceful” and “away from the crowds” Koh Yao Noi is where we happily found ourselves.
 
Koh Yao Noi (meaning small long island) and it’s sister island Koh Yao Yai (big long island) are located in the Phang Nga bay between Krabi, to the east, and Phuket, to the west.  Koh Yao Yai is the larger of the two islands but Koh Yao Noi is the more developed and more tourist friendly of the two.  It covers an area of about 50 square kilometers.  Speedboat ferries leave Bang Rong Pier in Phuket around 6 times a day and will whisk you out to this tropical refuge within an hour.
 
Most of the accommodation is on the east of the island where perfect little sandy strips of beach look out across tranquil water to a group of impressive limestone karsts a few kilometers from shore.
 
The majority of Koh Yao Noi’s 3,500 or so inhabitants are Muslim.  Their attitude is open and moderate.  Many, but not all, of the local women cover their heads.  You will still be able to get a beer or a cocktail if you desire, though bacon with your morning eggs might be harder to come by.
 
While crowds of holidaymakers have inundated nearby Phuket, Krabi, Phang Nga and Koh Phi Phi in the last decade Koh Yao Noi has escaped any significant development.  Tourism contributes to the islands economy but it’s not the only source of income.  Traditional industries like fishing and rubber plantations remain important.  Locals are laid-back, friendly and quick to greet you with a warm smile.  This feels like a very tight-knit, authentic rural community and you feel privileged to be welcomed into it.
 
So what can one do here?  Well it’s the type of place you can quite happily do very little.  Slow down your pace, quieten your mind and breathe in the beauty around you.  Let the days drift by with a bikini, a sun lounger and a good book as your companions.  Take intermittent dips in the warm ocean floating on your back admiring the changing colours of the karsts as clouds waft in and out.
 
You’ll more than likely get the urge to have a closer look at these nature-made monuments, and that can be easily arranged. 
 
Most accommodation providers will be happy to arrange boating excursions for you, but you might save yourself a few baht by booking directly with one of the local operators. 
 
Husband and wife Kong and Poom run Saferoh Tours close to Tha Khao Pier.  They offer a range of day-trip options to nearby islands in their traditional Thai dragon boat and can supply snorkelling and fishing equipment and/or a kayak on request.  Lunch is also provided on daylong excursions and you can expect tasty home-cooked delights like chicken with cashew nuts and crunchy tempura vegetables.
 
Your first stop should be Koh Hong, about a 20-minute boat trip from Tha Khao Pier.  “Hong” translates as “room” and refers to the islands large interior lagoon walled by towering limestone cliffs, which can be accessed by boat at high tide.  But this islands real gem is its picture perfect white sandy cove where clear turquoise waters reveal a dazzling array of tropical fish.  In fact you don’t even need your snorkel to see some of them as schools of little black and yellow fish swim around your legs in the shallows.  Koh Hong has a small picnic area and toilet facilities and although it’s popular with day-trippers remains surprisingly quiet considering it’s beauty.
 
Hopping in a sea kayak for a leisurely paddle is a great way to explore these archipelagos even closer up as you’ll be able to get into nooks and crannies your dragon boat can’t.  Around Koh Panak is particularly interesting to explore, as there are a number of sea caves you can paddle into. 
 
If you’re starting to miss the crowds take a daytrip to Koh Ping Kan (better known as James Bond Island).  This narrow pillar of rock has been attracting visitors since it starred alongside Roger Moore in The Man with the Golden Gun in 1974.  A constant stream of boats pull in from Phuket and Phang Nga and it can be a bit of a shock to the system after the peacefulness of Koh Yao Noi.  In high season you’ll have to queue to get your photo taken in front of the famous rock.  Unlike the other small islands there are a number of stalls here selling jewellery and touristy trinkets (but surprisingly little James Bond memorabilia).
 
After your 007 pilgrimage it’s a short trip to Koh Panyee, a 200-year-old Muslim fishing community whose stilted homes rise out of the sea clinging to a rocky outcrop for support.  These days there are a number of large restaurants on the waterfront that cater to the boatloads of tourists who disembark for a look around.  There are also numerous souvenir stalls vying for your tourist dollar, but it’s an interesting little place and still worth a wander.  Check out the small floating soccer pitch built from old scraps of wood and read the community’s list of rules (and punishments).  You don’t want to get caught with a beer in your bag here - the fine is 5,000 baht plus a goat.
 
Back on Koh Yao Noi the sun loungers beckon, but if you’re feeling a bit more energetic there are also opportunities to try rock-climbing, Muay Thai boxing, yoga or a Thai cookery class.  Or rent a scooter and seek out secret beaches down traffic free dirt roads.
If your idea of a perfect holiday involves shopping and nightclubbing this isn’t the place for you.  But if you want blissful relaxation combined with a bit of healthy activity, in a place that still has a firm hold on its traditional way of life, then this is it.  Locals are happy they’ve avoided the rapid development seen on other islands and are proud of the relaxed piece of paradise they have to share.  You get the impression they intend to keep it that way.
 
Leah Carri is an Irish freelance journalist currently based in Australia. She has kindly shared her experiences in Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com visitors. If you’d like to check out her blog you can see it here. Leah is currently available for writing projects and can be contacted by email.

KhaoSanRoad.com enjoys promoting the work of new writers and writers new to Thailand. If you would like to see your work on this site, contact us and we will see what we can do.

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DARE 1/11 – Thailand’s First Mixed Martial Arts Championship

Jussi Saloranta Interviewed DARE 1/11 Mixed Martial arts Championship, Bangkok, Thailand
Jussi Saloranta
DARE 1/11 Mixed Martial arts Championship, Bangkok, Thailand
DARE 1/11 Mixed Martial arts Championship, Bangkok, Thailand
DARE 1/11 Mixed Martial arts Championship, Bangkok, Thailand
For me, one of the reasons to move to Thailand was an interest in the local martial arts. Like Karate in the 60s, and Kung Fu in the 70s, Thai boxing - or Muay Thai as it is known in Thailand - has experienced a phenomenal growth in popularity over the last 20+ years. It seems Muay Thai has spread to almost every town and city in the world, and virtually every country has a range of Muay Thai associations, leagues, and federations. But living in Thailand, and plugging into the local cable TV on a regular basis, I became aware of a parallel (and equally meteoric) rise in the popularity of another martial arts genre – Mixed Martial Arts.

Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, started in its modern form in 1993 with the launch of the Ultimate Fighting Challenge (UFC) in the USA. UFC brought fighters with different combat styles to the same arena – an “Octagon” – an octagonal cage where full contact fights took place under the scrutiny of a referee, a doctor, and under a comprehensive set of rules. These were no blood fests or street fights; these were professional, organized events with global TV coverage.

The spectacle of watching Muay Thai fighters, Judo, Jujitsu and Karate exponents, pugilists and wrestlers test each other’s skills had immediate appeal, and as with Muay Thai, MMA went global. It produced a number of stars - Royce Gracie, whose particular brand of Brazilian Jujitsu dominated the early years of the sport, and since then the likes of Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz have become household names in the West (the latter appearing in movies, and curiously, Donald Trump’s ‘Celebrity Apprentice’). 

Given the strong element of Muay Thai in MMA, a question on many people’s lips was “Why hasn’t MMA come to Thailand?” The kingdom has for a number of years had a variety of Mixed Martial Arts clubs, but it has never had a full-fledged MMA tournament to boast of… Not until now anyway.

June 25, 2011 sees the launch of DARE 1/11, Thailand’s first MMA championship under adapted UFC rules and with experienced MMA referees. Initial fights take place at Club Insomnia on Sukhumvit 12 with winners of this event moving on to the quarter finals of the DARE championship. The prospects of this event taking off are good, so we caught up with organizer Jussi Saloranta to ask more. Here’s what he had to say.

KSR: Jussi – thanks for meeting up with us like this. First, let’s get some personal details – where are you from and how long have you been in Thailand?

Jussi: OK – well, I am from Finland, and I have been living in Thailand for about 4 years now. I first came here in 2004 for a holiday and just fell in love with the Kingdom and its amazing people. I decided that this was the place where I wished to live. My involvement in the DARE Championship is handling the foreign fighters and public relations, and I also assist our Thai owners with international promotion. Our team includes both Thais and foreigners, each with years of business experience in Thailand and in Scandinavia.

KSR: How did DARE Championship get started? 

Jussi: Ever since I came to Thailand I’ve wanted to create something for local sports – something that would feature local MMA talents alongside international competitors. There are a limited number of professional MMA fighters in Thailand and there’s been very few fight possibilities in the country, so I thought I’d contribute in that direction. Right now the timing seems right, so led by our President Mr. Thitidonpipat, we decided to launch the DARE Championship with the goal of becoming the number one pro-MMA event in Thailand and the region. We believe that like everywhere else in the world, MMA will catch on in Thailand sooner or later, but making it a reality has involved a lot of people doing a lot of hard work – our organizers, promoters, trainers, camps, gyms, fighters, other dedicated individuals… They have all done tremendous work.

KSR: Are you are martial artist yourself?

Jussi: Yes - I have been involved in the martial arts since I was 10 years of age. I have also been a huge fan of MMA since the end of the 90's when MMA / NHB first came to Finland and we saw the first UFC fights on VHS. Ask any of the members of our team and they will probably tell you the same thing. 

KSR: Tell us a bit more about the tournament. How many people are involved and what’s the format?

Jussi: The DARE Championship starts with opening preliminary fights and the winners of these in each weight class move on to the quarter-finals. After that winners go on to the semi-finals and ultimately the finals. In the first event, DARE 1/11, we will have a total of 6 fights with 12 fighters from 8 different countries. Initially it will be an "open tournament" and later it will transform into something more similar to the UFC structure where you have a champion and guys fighting to move up the ladders and become the number one contender in each weight category.

KSR: So when can we expect the follow up events?

Jussi: We are looking to have the next event - DARE 2/11 - three months after the first one. This way, we would be looking to see the next part of the championship around September 2011.

KSR: And where will the finals be held and when?

Jussi: All of the weight classes are moving forward at their own speed. We will probably see the first DARE Champions crowned early 2012. We are very happy to be working with Club Insomnia Bangkok on Sukhumvit Soi 12 – this is where the first events will be held. The venues for the championship events have not been decided yet.

KSR: So, the fighters – are they locals or international? Are there any names involved?

Jussi: DARE 1/11 feature fighters from Thailand, Brazil, France, Korea, Malaysia, South Africa, the UK and the USA. These fighters include a black belt Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Champion from Brazil, a Judo black belt and Olympic competitor from France, a South African Muay Thai champion, a local Thai MMA fighter with over 150 Thai Boxing fights - who’s now fighting MMA - and a number of other interesting fighters. We have two fighters from Thailand competing in DARE 1/11 - Ngoo Ditty, probably Thailand’s best known Thai MMA competitor (read more about him here) and Detchoot Detsuriyan, the Thai Amateur MMA Champion (read more about him here). 

KSR: Is there likely to be much coverage; TV, etc.

Jussi: All the fights will be recorded in HD and released for public viewing after the event via a range of selected broadcasting channels. The footage might also be shown on Thai TV after the event. Future DARE events will have an online mobile application in place which will allow us to stream the fights globally. In this way the DARE Championship will be available globally, coming live from Bangkok, the fight capital of Southeast Asia. (Follow updates here)

KSR: On your website it says that the event will be under “adapted UFC rules”. How will the Thailand event differ from a standard UFC event?

Jussi: We are using the "Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts" followed by all major MMA promotions in America – UFC, Strikeforce, etc. These are the same rules that have been approved by the various State Athletic Commissions in the USA. These rules are in place because they protect our fighters’ safety. DARE events will though only be a fraction of the size of the UFC events and are also designed to be more exclusive in their set up. We only have 300 tickets available for each of the first events and we advise all those interested of coming to book a ticket in advance as we might sell out quickly. You can book a ticket at our website or pick tickets up at any of our sales points in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket or Hua Hin. The information is on our website. 

KSR: So what goes and what doesn’t go – what are the rules?

Jussi: The rules are designed to protect the fighters. Basically, all techniques that seriously injure an opponent are prohibited. For example, techniques like hitting the back of an opponent’s head or his spine are not allowed. Kicking the head of an opponent who is on the ground or trying to attack the groin, eyes, and fingers of an opponent are also strictly against the rules. It is also important to remember that all of the fighters in DARE are professionals. They have all been training for years and each of them has fight experience. Most of them have been operating as a professional fighter for several years and understand the risks involved. Importantly, they also know how to respect their opponents. DARE will only promote professional Mixed Martial Arts where the fighters are trained, prepared and experienced, and therefore understand MMA rules.

KSR: So if any KhaoSanRoad.com visitors are interested in going to event, how do they get more information?

Jussi: You will find more information from our website and our Facebook page.

KSR: And what about tickets?

The tickets for the first DARE event on 25 June 2011 are priced in two categories: Standard tickets are 1,100 THB in advance and 1,500 THB on the door, while VIP Podium tickets are 2,000 THB in advance and 2,400 THB on the door – these tickets provide a better view and offer some catering. Again, tickets are available from our website or our sales points in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket and Hua Hin. Tickets can be booked from our website. Doors open at 4 p.m. and the action starts at around 5 p.m.25 June 2011.

KSR: What are the chances of bringing DARE to Khao San Road?

Jussi: We will have to see about that. If there is a big demand for it, we are always happy to consider it as a possibility… 

KSR: Well, good look with the event – it’s going to be very interesting to see how this pans out.

Jussi: Thank you very much and best regards to all KhaoSanRoad.com visitors. Your support is very much appreciated. See you all at DARE 1/11.

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Penang, Malaysia

penang_malaysia_1
penang_malaysia_2
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penang_malaysia_5
Situated just off the mainland of Malaysia to the very north, the pretty island of Penang – known as Pulau Pinang in Malay – is a great place to spend a few days. Bordered by Thailand to the north, many people head straight to Penang after taking the train through Thailand and across the border.

There are many reasons to visit Penang. With its beautiful beaches, Kek Lok Si – perhaps the largest and finest Buddhist temple in Asia – and spectacular scenery, it is easy to see why the island has earnt the nickname Pearl of the Orient.

Don’t miss Kek Lok Si, the terrific pagoda-style temple situated atop Penang Hill. Not only is this a great place to relax and meditate, but the views from the top are spectacular as well. Another good place to visit is the Botanical Garden. This 30-hectare garden was created in 1884 and features a sparkling waterfall as well as beautiful wild Rhesus monkeys.

Also known as Foreigner’s Rock, Batu Ferringhi is a picturesque beach resort. Take a break from temple hopping and trekking through the jungle to simply lie back on the sand a soak up the sun for a while. The Penang Butterfly Farm is located nearby at Teluk Bahang. The butterfly farm is set in picturesque tropical gardens and has thousands of species of butterflies and insects.

In 2004 Time Magazine announced that Penang had the ‘Best Street Food in Asia’, a fact that many dedicated gastronomes have known for some time. People flock from all over Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand to sample the wide range of cuisines available, which include Malay, Chinese, Indian, Nyonya, Thai and a sprinkling of Western dishes such as pasta and hamburgers.

As you walk through Penang’s Indian area, you are greeted by the scent of dozens of stalls and small shops cooking up spicy biriyanis, masalas, daal and dosas whilst meat marinated in tandori spices roasts on spits and in ovens.

If you fancy a treat, take a spin in the Revolving Restaurant on 25A Lebuh Farquhar. It takes an hour for the restaurant to make a complete revolution, allowing you to enjoy spectacular views of Penang.

Some of the best and cheapest accommodation can be found in Georgetown, especially on Lebuh Chulia, where there are several guesthouses offering rooms from RM 200 per night.

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Western Cambodia

Western Cambodia
Western Cambodia
This picturesque region of Cambodia stretches from the capital city of Phnom Pehn to the Thai border. The area is marked by two dramatic mountain ranges, namely the Cardamom Mountains located in the southwestern corner and the Dangrek Range to the north.

There are a number of picturesque villages located in this region of Cambodia, especially in amongst the Cardamom Mountains. Although not many travellers visit western Cambodia, those that do will find waterfalls, caves and traditional villages, where the way of life has stayed more or less the same for centuries.

This is a great place to rest and unwind away from the tourist scene. Although you won’t find many bars or beaches in this area, there is still plenty to do. Hike through the forest, discover traditional craft skills at tribal villages and take a boat trip from Battambang to Siem Reap.
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Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand


Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Koh Pha-ngan, Thailand
Famous for its lively full moon parties at Haad Rin Beach, Koh Pha-ngan has a chilled-out hippy atmosphere that combines nightly hedonism with day time water sports and lazing on the beach. Situated in the south of Thailand 20 kilometres north of Koh Samui in Surat Thani Province, this is an ideal destination for travellers who enjoy less crowded, more private beaches. The best way to reach Koh Pha-ngan is from Koh Samui and the boat trip takes about an hour.

Haad Rin is Koh Pha-ngan's most popular beach. Lined with beach bars playing a wide assortment of music, the white sands can get pretty crowded. Luckily, Koh Pha-ngan offers many more secluded stretches of white sand for those who prefer a little privacy. Ao Thong Nai Pan is perhaps the second most beautiful beach on Koh Pha-ngan reachable by boat or songthaew from Thong Sala Pier.

Another extremely beautiful and tranquil beach is Ao Si Thanu, whilst the nearby tiny island of Koh Tae Nai can be reached just 5 minutes by chartered boat. This island offers jungle-covered hills, a long stretch of golden sandy beach and colourful coral reefs, perfect for diving or scuba diving.

Koh Pha-ngan has some extremely pretty jungle waterfalls waiting to be discovered including Than Sadet Falls, Phaeng Falls, Than Prapat Falls and Than Prawet Falls. A great way to see the falls and the rest of the island is to take a guided boat tour. Boat trips usually take around 10 people, last all day and include snorkelling and lunch. The boat trips are also a great way to meet fellow travellers and exchange tall tales and travelling tips.

Wat Khao Tham is a cave temple located on the hilltop of Khao Kao Haeng. There is a monastery here that is ideal for meditation amidst the well-preserved nature. The monastery offers 10 days meditation retreats and can be found near the pretty village of Ban Tai.

Another interesting temple is Wat Madio Wan, where a replica of Lord Buddha's Footprint is enshrined on the hilltop Mondop, whilst jungle trekking up to the island's largest mountain of Khao Ra is a great way to see the island.

Many people stop at Koh Pha-ngan for a day or two before heading on to Koh Tao, which lies 45 kilometres north of Koh Pha-ngan and is known as the best diving site in the Gulf of Thailand. Koh Tao, which means Turtle Island in the Thai language, is very small and covered with palm trees and pristine white sand, the perfect exotic island.

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Koh Phi Phi, Thailand


Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
An area of incredible natural beauty situated in Krabi Province, there are actual two main islands of Koh Phi Phi; Koh Phi Phi Don and Koh Phi Phi Leh. The Phi Phi Islands are believed by many to be among the most beautiful tropical islands in the world and have become one of Thailand's most popular tourist attractions.

Koh Phi Phi Don is the area's tourist hub. This is where you will find the majority of the hotels, beach bungalows, bars and restaurants. Koh Phi Phi Don covers an area of 28 square kilometres and features the twin bays of Ao Ton Sai and Ao Lo Da Lam with their stunning curving white sandy beaches, the perfect picture of an exotic tropical paradise. A great way to get an idea of the island's true beauty is to tackle the 1000 foot vertical climb to Viewpoint. Although slightly challenging, the climb, which takes you through a lush leafy jungle, and the view more than make up for it.

There are many interesting activities to engage in on Koh Phi Phi Don, and it is easy to spend a week or more there. Fire jugglers and beach bars make up the evening entertainment, and there are plenty of restaurants showing western movies throughout the day and late into the night. There is dancing on the beach most nights. To experience a true touch of hedonism, visit the island around the full moon.

The sunset yoga classes on the beach are a good way to unwind, and you can learn a new skill and impress your friends by taking Thai cookery classes.

When it comes to food, just about every taste can be catered for, whether you fancy a fish barbecue on the beach, an all-you-can-eat feast or traditional Thai cooking. There is also a small market where you can eat with the locals at dramatically reduced prices and this is a good place to buy fresh fruit.

The clear waters, beautiful coral and colourful fish mean that the area is popular for diving and snorkelling, whilst many visit the island to climb the limestone cliffs. Boat trips are extremely popular and are usually combined with snorkelling and a visit to the extremely striking island of Koh Phi Phi Leh.

Koh Phi Phi Leh is famous for Ao Maya - the location where the movie "The Beach" was filmed. The island covers a mere 6.6 square kilometres and is surrounded by limestone mountains and sheer cliffs, which plunge hundreds of metres to the sparkling blue sea. The sea is around 20 metres deep and the deepest point to the

south of the island is approximately 34 metres. There is no accommodation on Koh Phi Phi Leh, and the only way to see it is by an arranged boat trip.

Koh Phi Phi Other islands in the area to explore include Koh Jam (also know as Koh Pu) and Koh Si Buya. Although extremely pretty, both of these small islands are less popular with tourists and are great places to stay if you want to avoid the crowds.

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Krabi, Thailand

  • Krabi, Thailand
Krabi, Thailand
Krabi, Thailand
Krabi, Thailand
Welcome to Krabi, said by many to be the 'most beautiful province in Thailand'. Located approximately 814 kilometres from Bangkok, Krabi Province can be found in the south of Thailand and consists of more than 150 attractive islands and beaches.

There is plenty to see and do in this province, and it is easy to lose yourself here for more than a month as you hop from island to island and beach to beach. Popular activities are sea kayaking and canoeing, whilst diving and snorkelling are always popular in Thailand's crystal clear waters.

Ao Nang is the closest beach to Krabi Town. This area is mainly occupied by large, upmarket beach resorts. You can hire a sea kayak or long-tail boat and explore the uninhabited island of Koh Hong.

Just 6 kilometres away from Ao Nang is the well loved are much talked about Hat Noppharat Thara, which is a famous 3 kilometer long white sandy beach, perfect for taking it easy and soaking up some rays. Elephant trekking is popular in this area, while the hot springs at Khlong Thom are a good place to ease aching muscles. Whilst there, check out the informative Wat Khlong Thom museum.

Railay is perhaps the prettiest beach in this area. This is a great place for rock climbing, and the sunsets at Hat Rai Leh West are spectacular.

There are some interesting limestone cliffs to explore. Tham Phra Nang is named Princess Cave after a local legend. The cave is hidden in the lagoon of Sa Phra Nang (Holy Princess Pool). Climb the cliff top for spectacular views.

Nearby, Tham Phra Nang Nai (Inner Princess Cave) is a series of illuminated caverns of high beauty. A feature point is the unusual 'stone waterfall', which is made of sparkling golden quartz.

Khao Phanom Bencha National Park consists of 50 square kilometres of virgin rainforest and a whole host of pretty waterfalls including Nam Tok Huay To, Nam Tok Huay Sadeh and Nam Tok Khlong Haeng and it is possible to swim in most of the waterfalls. The park is also home to the cave of Tham Khao Pheung, which contains stunning shimmering mineral stalactites and stalagmites.

Another area of natural beauty is the large Than Bok Khorani National Park, where caving is the main activity. Caves of interest here include Tham Hua Kalok, Tham Lawt and Tham Sa Yuan Thong. If you need a break from the beach, there are many interesting temples in the area to explore. Look out for the monastery of Wat Sai Thai, which is a particularly auspicious place and very interesting around Buddhist holidays.

There are many places to get a good meal, and of course seafood is top of the menu. Barbecues can be found all along the beach and western food is widely available. If you are looking to save a few baht, the night markets are generally the cheapest places to eat and these are the best places to find tasty, authentic Thai food.

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Beung Kan, Thailand

Beung Kan, Thailand
Beung Kan, Thailand
Beung Kan, Thailand
Situated in Nong Khai Province to the northeast of Thailand, Beung Kan makes a good stopping off point on the way to Laos. This is a quieter alternative to the interesting yet sometimes overwhelming bustling city of Nong Khai. Baung Kan may be quaint, dusty and slightly sleepy, but there is still plenty here for the adventurous to see and do.

A great attraction is the temple of Wat Phu Tok. This temple features six levels of steps, which can be slightly difficult to climb in the heat of the day - it is best to visit early in the morning or late in the afternoon. However, the spectacular views over the surrounds countryside from the top more than make up for the effort. This is a absolutely enchanting place, and people are offered the opportunity to get to know it better by staying overnight in one of the dormitories.

A pleasant day trip from Beung Kan is the charming little town of Sangkhom, which looks out on the Lao island of Don Klang. This is the home of several beautiful flowing waterfalls such as Nam Tok Than Thip and Nam Tok Than Thong, which is a great place for swimming and cooling down after a hike through the countryside.

Whilst there, make sure that you check out the pretty little temple of Wat Pa Tak Sua, which is located 4 kilometers from the town and another great hiking destination. Another point of interest is Wat Silawat. Beung Kan, a great place to hire a bicycle and go exploring or go trekking to.

This peaceful village is also a good place to be lazy for a few days and just soak up the stunning scenery, fresh air and tranquility. There are a few local guesthouses where you can indulge in delicious Thai food and practice the simple art of doing nothing.

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Phrae, Thailand

Phrae, Thailand
Phrae, Thailand
Welcome to Phrae, an old and important community in Northern Thailand. Phrae was founded shortly after Chiang Mai had been established as the capital of the Lanna Thai kingdom. The province has one of the largest reserves of teak forests in the country and is located on the banks of the Yom River, 555 kilometres from Bangkok.

Phrae has a slightly sleepy feel and is a great place to escape from the hustle and bustle of life for a day or two and simply relax. This is an area of intense natural beauty and there is plenty to explore if you're feeling active.

Wiang Kosai National Park is a great showcase for the area's nature. Another immense area of natural beauty is the Mae Yom National Park, which is situated around 48 kilometres from the town of Phrae. A popular feature of the park are the Kaeng Sua Ten rapids, a two-kilometre-long stretch of rock formations which is best visited during November-February when the weather is cool and scenery at its prettiest. Visitors are permitted to camp along the river banks, making this a great place to simply relax for a day or two.

Scattered around the province are some pretty sparkling waterfalls and haunting caves to explore. Take a trip to Tham Pha Nang Khoi 40 kilometres north of town, Namtok Huai Rong and Namtok Tat Mok.

The area's temples offer an interesting insight into the traditional culture and style. Wat Luang is the oldest temple in Phrae and includes an interesting museum. Also look out for the 400-year-old chedi of Phra That Phra Lo, Wat Sa Bo Kaeo, Wat Phra That Chom Chaeng, Wat Phra That Cho Hae and Wat Phra Non, located near the old city wall.

An interesting day trip is Phae Muang Phi, which is located about 12 kilometres out of town. This is an unusual natural feature which subsidence and erosion of the soil has created rocks in the shapes of exotic-looking mushrooms.

Another interesting local feature is Vongburi House, which is a private museum. This teak house was the residence of the last Prince of Phrae. Another interesting old teak house can be found in the village of Ban Prathap Jai.

A good place to get a feel for the local culture is at the Folklore Museum, which is located three kilometres from town. Here you will see different types of wooden houses, which demonstrate the different status of the local people. There is also market and shop houses of the ancient traditional style.

When it comes to eating, a great place to get a good, cheap meal is at the town's large night market.

Phrae province is well known for its lively and interesting festivals. The Phra that Cho Hae Fair is held around March and involves a procession to carry robes to cover the local chedi. The procession follows the Lanna style and all participants are decked out in traditional Lanna attire.

The Kin Salak Fair is an old Buddhist merit-making event. Villagers prepare offerings and carry them in a procession to present to the monks. The fair is held around September each year.

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Lamphun, Thailand

Lamphun, Thailand
Lamphun, Thailand
Lamphun, Thailand
lamphun_4
Situated to the south east of Chiang Mai, Lamphun Province is steeped in history and culture. The province capital is the quiet town of Lamphun, which can be found 670 kilometres from Bangkok. The town is located on the bank of the Kuang River and contains many interesting attractions including ancient sites and relics, forests, mountains and pretty lakes. Lamphun is also well known as a producer of longans, the extremely sweet and delicious Thai fruit with its hard, yellow shell.

Lamphun is an area of great natural beauty. Particularly picturesque is the Mae Ping National Park, with its lush forests and the Ping River running through it. The park is also home to the seven-tiered Namtok Ko Luang and a limestone cave full of stalactites and stalagmites.

Another area of intense natural beauty is the Doi Khun Tan National Park, with its pretty orchids and lilies as well as impressive bamboo and pine forests. Namtok Tat Moei is an imposing waterfall in this park and an interesting feature is that it can be reached directly by train from Chiang Mai.

Lamphun is blessed with a large number of sites of highly respected historical and cultural importance. Wat Phra That Hariphunchai was built during the reign of King Arthitayarat, a descendant of Queen Chamthewi, around 800 years ago. Principal features of this temple include the 46-metre tall golden chedi and the Khmer-style Buddha statue. Other interesting temples in this area include Wat Phra Yuen, Wat Mahawan, Wat Chamthewi and the highly revered Wat Phra Phutthabat Tak Pha, where according to legend the Lord Buddha once stayed, leaving a likeness of monk's saffron robe and his footprint imprinted in the stone ground.

The impressive Hariphunchai National Museum is a good place to discover the area's rich and interesting history. The museum features displays of prehistoric human skeletons and objects of arts from the Dvaravati, Hariphunchai, Lanna and Rattanakosin periods. There also some interesting displays of temple art, which has been carefully collected and displayed over a period of several years.

Another way to get an idea of the area's history and culture is by visiting Ban Hong, which is the site of a warm and welcoming 1,400-year-old community dating back to the Hariphunchai Kingdom.

If you are interested in handicrafts, the cotton weaving village of Pasong makes a good day trip. Whilst there, pay a visit to Wat Chang Khao No and the bustling market places, where you can buy a wide range of cotton products.

There are a large number of interesting celebrations in Lamphun Province. Particularly vibrant is the Lam Yai Festival, which takes place in the second week of August. Also known as the Longan Fair, the objective is to promote the area's sweet and succulent the fruit. The festival features a parade of floats made from longan fruit and the Miss Lam Yai contest.

Another popular event is the Song Nam Phra That Hariphunchai which is held to celebrate the province's principal religious site and takes place in May.

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Sukhothai, Thailand

Sukhothai, Thailand
Sukhothai, Thailand
Sukhothai, Thailand
Sukhothai, Thailand
The name Sukhothai means "Dawn of Happiness" in Thai and this is an interesting province in northern Thailand located in the valley of the Yom River. Sukhothai is approximately 427 kilometres north of Bangkok and covers an area of around 6,600 square kilometres. The province was established in the 13th century and was the first independent Thai Kingdom - the Kingdom of Sukhothai.

Today, most visitors come to see the spectacular Sukhothai Historical Park, which is full of interesting temples including Wat Si Chum, Wat Saphan Hin, Wat Si Sawai and Wat Trapang Thong. There are twenty six temples in all and Wat Mahathat is the largest, although all are worth a visit. Both the excellent Ramkhamhaeng National Museum and Sangkhalok Museum are good places to get to grips with Sukhothai's intriguing history. Exploring the temples in the sunshine can be hot and sticky, but the sunset bicycle tours, which run daily, can be a good way to see the sights whilst beating the heat.

But Sukhothai isn't all about temples and history. In fact, there are plenty of other dimensions to this province which cause travellers to extend their stay and visit time and again. If you are suffering from the relentless sun, you can cool down and enjoy a quick dip in the swimming pool at Suan Nam Premsuk, or get fit at the nightly aerobics classes opposite Wat Rachthani.

The night stalls opposite the Poo restaurant are a great, cheap place to sample the local cuisine, whilst indulging in a drink and a spot of people watching. Simply buy a food voucher and make your selection.

The Si Satchanalai-Chaliang Historical Park, 50 kilometres to the north, makes a great day trip and highlights include Wat Chang Lom, Wat Khao Phanom Phloeng, Wat Chedi Jet Thaew and Wat Nang Phaya. While you are there, stop in at the informative Sawanworanayok Museum and if you are interested in the ancient art of pottery don't miss Swankhalok Kilns, where you can learn all about the skill and how it has developed over the ages.

Another great day trip is Ban Hat Siaw, where you can bargain hunt amongst the colourful collection of textiles.

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Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Situated in the north of Thailand, Chiang Mai Province is full of natural beauty spots such as Doi-Suthep-Pui National Park, Thap Lan National Park, Buak Hat Park and dozens of inviting waterfalls, among which Huay Kaew falls, Mae Sa Waterfall and Wachiratharn Waterfall should not be missed. The area is also a great place for bird watching, so make sure you bring your binoculars.

The capital of Chiang Mai Province is Chiang Mai city, which is the second largest city in Thailand and forms the focus point for travel to the north. Thousands of people visit Chiang Mai every year, drawn by its rich culture, cool climate and wide range of entertainment options.

Chiang Mai boasts over 300 temples, of which Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, situated atop Doi Intanon - Thailand's biggest mountain - is probably the most famous. Other temples worth seeing include the ancient Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang and the tranquil forest temple of Wat U-Mong.

The city of Chiang Mai was founded by King Mengrai in 1296, and a tribute to the great king can be seen in the Three Kings Monument. Both the informative Chiang Mai City Art and Cultural Center and the nearby Chiang Saen National Museum are good places to discover more of the area's interesting history and you can take a course or use the facilities at Chiang Mai University.

Often referred to as the 'Rose of the North', Chiang Mai is a great place to lose yourself for a week or two. The Old City is a great place to explore, where surprises wait around every corner, or why not go on a cycling tour with the Chiang Mai Cycle Club.

With prices often markedly less than in Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a great place to go shopping. Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is world famous and definitely should not be missed. The quaint umbrella village of Bo Sang makes a great place for a day trip and Talat Warorot is a good place to buy local produce, with prices to match.

Chiang Mai is a good place for self improvement and there are numerous courses and classes available. This is a great place to cook up a storm in a cookery class, and meditation courses always prove popular, whilst the sporty can learn a new skill at the Muay Thai Boxing Camp.

The stunning local scenery also provides a good backdrop for a range of sports such as Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures, and both Chiang Mai Flying Club and Oriental Balloon Flights provide a new perspective on the area.

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Northern Thailand

Northern Thailand
Northern Thailand
There are 17 provinces in Northern Thailand, all featuring stunning scenery, grand temples and a range of activities and opportunities to engage in extreme sports. Chiang Mai is the capital of Northern Thailand and is certainly the largest and loudest, although all the provinces have something to offer the tourist with a sense strong of adventure and an interest in the diverse history of the region.

Northern Thailand displays heavy influences from the neighboring cultures of Myanmar (Burma) and Yunnan (China). The kingdoms of Lanna and Sukhothai were the first historical Thai nations.

A series of Communist insurgencies and the effects from Myanmar's drug battles and civil wars has meant that recently a large portion of northern Thailand was off limits. However, these problems have now been mostly resolved, and safe, easy travel is possible throughout the north.

Although standard Thai language is widely understood, the people of Northern Thailand have their own Thai dialect called Kham Meaung. The hilltribes also have their own languages, and if you wish to make extensive contact with them it may be a good idea to employ a translator/guide.

The main airport in Northern Thailand is Chiang Mai, which serves both domestic and international flights. There are also small domestic airports at Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Pai, Phitsanulok and Sukhothai.

Spicy and bitter, Northern Thai food is quite different to that eaten in the rest of the country. There are dozens of local specialties and this is a great place to sample the traditional food of the hill tribes as well. A regional specialty is thick, slightly spicy sausages stuffed with raw garlic, the pride of Chiang Mai Province.

Other dishes to look out for include:

kaeng hang le - Burmese-style pork curry

khanom jiin naam ngiew - rice noodles with pork ribs and thick sauce

khao soi - a Burmese curry noodle soup served with shallots, lime and pickles to add as required.

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Money Matters in Thailand

Money Matters in Thailand
Money Matters in Thailand
Money Matters in Thailand
Money Matters in Thailand
The currency used in Thailand is the Baht. Baht notes come in denominations of 20 (green), 50 (blue), 100 (red), 500 (purple) and 1000 (brown). All notes feature pictures of the current king, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, and you must be careful when handling the notes not to tear them as it is an offence to defile his image. Coins are large 10 Baht coins, 5 Baht, 2 Baht and 1 Baht. The two Baht and 1 Baht coins look very similar, although the 2 Baht coins are slightly bigger and have a picture of The Golden Mount on the back.

Satang coins are much smaller and bronze coloured. There are 100 satang in one Baht and these coins are available in 25-satang and 50-satang pieces.

Compared to the West, Thailand is actually a very inexpensive country for visitors. If you are willing to dine at small street stands or markets, you can eat a good meal for less than 50 Baht. Public transport is very cheap too, as are clothes and accessories.

For those travelling on a tight budget, 500.00 Baht a day should be enough anywhere in Thailand. If you want to stay in comfortable hotels and eat at restaurants, you should increase your budget to around 600.00 - 1000.00 Baht a day outside Bangkok and major tourist hot spots such as Phuket, where you can expect to pay around double.

For those with deep pockets, there is no end to the luxury that you can find in Bangkok and key tourist destination. Bangkok boasts some excellent dining options, top of the range hotels and shopping opportunities.

Changing Your Money

Banks or legal money-changers offer the best rates. ATMs that accept Visa and other credit cards are easy to find throughout Thailand, although an obvious exception is small villages to the north of Thailand. Many exchange booths will give you a cash advance on your credit card.

When buying Baht, US dollars are the most eagerly accepted currency and it is a good idea to have a supply of travellers' cheques as they receive a better rate than cash. British pounds are the next-best alternative. Credit cards are becoming increasingly acceptable in shops, hotels and restaurants, with Visa being the most useful, followed by MasterCard.

Sample Prices:

Pad thai on the street: 40 Baht
Bottled water: 10-12 Baht
Bus fare: 6-16 Baht
Small Singha beer: 70-100 Baht
Souvenir t-shirt: 200-300 Baht
Cinema tickets: 120-170 Baht +

Average Room Prices Baht:

Budget: 130 (limited number) -600 Baht

Mid: 600-1500 Baht

High: 1500+ Baht

Tipping

Tipping is not generally expected in Thailand, although change is often left at the end of a large, expensive meal. However, most Thais will generally only leave a token tip of 20 baht or so.

There is often a 10% service charge will be added to your bill at many top class restaurants and in this case tipping is not expected.

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Survival Tips for Thailand

Survival Tips in Thailand
Survival Tips in Thailand
Survival Tips in Thailand
Survival Tips in Thailand
Generally, Thailand is a very friendly place to visit, however a few precautions and a measure of common sense can go a long way to making your experience smooth and enjoyable.

It is a good idea to carry a selection of change such as 20 baht notes and coins as many people cannot change large notes, especially in small towns and villages. If you are stuck for change, buying an inexpensive item at 7/11 or a similar shop usually does the trick.

Touts at airports and other tourist areas are there for one reason only: to make money. Unfortunately, this usually involves parting unwary travelers from their cash. You should always question any offer that seems 'too good', and get a good idea of average hotel prices before agreeing to go with someone.

Always use the meter in taxis or, if taking a tuk-tuk or motorbike taxi, makes sure you agree the price before hopping on board.

Young, fresh coconuts are much more refreshing than water, great if you are spending the day on the beach or suffering from a hangover.

Although the tap water is drinkable in large cities, it is best to stick to bottled water. The larger bottles of UV treated water are the cheapest, although not the healthiest. It is worth paying a few baht more for brands such as Singha or IO.

In Bangkok, the entire city becomes gridlocked during peak commuting hours of 8-10 am and 5-7 pm. It is best to try to avoid travelling at these times.

Essentials such as suntan lotion and mosquito spray tend to be a little bit more expensive on the islands, so it is a good idea to stock up before you go. Internet access is often much more expensive as well.

Guesthouse owners a generally a good source of local information, it is worth getting to know them.

Make sure you check the expiry date of your visa carefully as there is an overstay fine of 500 baht per day.

Many bathrooms do not provide toilet tissue, so it is a good idea to carry some with you. Remember to throw it into the bucket provided rather than into the toilet.
 
Sarongs are an essential item as they dry much quicker than towels and can also be used as a blanket, a privacy screen and an item of clothing.

Learning a few words in Thai can go a long way to getting what you want and forming friendships. Compliments and jokes are always effective.

It is a good idea to carry a photocopy of your passport, especially when going out drinking as police perform random checks and may ask to see it.

It's easy to become dehydrated, make sure you carry water and drink small sips frequently.

If you need to get away from the heat for a while, cinemas, expensive hotels and even 7/11 shops provide sanctuary.

A small dab of perfume or aftershave under your nose is a great way to avoid suffering from bad smells.

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An Introduction to Thai food

An introductin to Thai foodEvery self-respecting city in the world has a Thai restaurant. Happily, this is the extent of how international and pervasive Thai food has become. Therefore, no trip to Thailand is complete without an appreciation of this great eating experience and this short article hopes to introduce the newcomer to it.

Long before the term 'fusion cuisine' appeared in the vocabulary of food lovers, such a culture had already been well established in Thailand. Thai food incorporates other Indochinese food styles. Its larger neighbours especially China and the Indian subcontinent contributed significantly to the evolution of Thai food. Chinese cuisine introduced stir fried dishes and deep fried dishes. Rice noodles, a prominent component of Thai cuisine, is distinctly Chinese. Curries are certainly evidence of Indian influence. The Portuguese are thought to have introduced the use of chilli. There are also regional differences in Thai food, though this may not be immediately apparent.

A simple dish such as a soupy noodle with meat and vegetable slices is commonly eaten as a no frills and quick meal by individuals. Families or groups are more likely to enjoy a more elaborate meal whereby several dishes are ordered and portions shared out. This is ideal when trying out different categories of food e.g. meat, soup and vegetable dishes. Diners have a serving of rice or noodles which act as an anchor dish to which portions from the several dishes are added and eaten.

Unlike Western cuisine where food is served in courses, Thai food is served simultaneously. Shortly after placing your orders, the selected dishes would make their appearance, a colourful and aromatic display. The presence of multiple dishes allows a myriad of tastes and textures, mild or overpowering, to assault the senses all at the same time. Interestingly, as in many eastern cultures, soup is consumed concurrently with the rest of the food.

The culinary experience should be a treat for all the senses. From the colourful and perhaps curious mix of a papaya salad to the pungence of kapi, to the ultimate assault on the tastebuds from a tom yam and concluding with the pretty, dainty dessert snacks, eating Thai food ought to be a sensory experience. An ideal meal should achieve a blend of subtle, spicy, bland and sweet and sour.
  
The concept of ying and yang (simplistically, hot versus cold, warm versus cool, strong versus mild) is clearly featured in Thai cooking. Some dishes are 'cool' e.g. salads. They represent refreshment to the palate and the rest of the body. The use of strong chilli or spices, which make the dish fiery and 'hot' (in abstract terms, create a burning sensation to the gastrointestinal system) would represent the 'yang' component. Soups, traditionally 'ying' or 'cooling' (since water, even when warm, is considered a 'cooling' agent), can be subverted by the strong spices added to it as illustrated in tom yam or curried soups. A 'ying' salad may be garnished with strong, fiery spices, hence having a 'yang' component and consumed with a mild soup or a curried dish. Hence, Thai food creations exercise a concept of compatibility and harmonization individually and between dishes.
  
Nick Lie - Singapore

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Muay Thai

Muay ThaiI remember not so long ago, I was sat around a table with an American, a German, an Aussie and a Thai bloke. It had got to that stage of proceedings when we were missing our home lands and the ugly sceptre of patriotism raised its' head. The theme of the conversation turned itself to what our homeland had brought to the world. Being a Brit I put soccer, rugby and cricket on the table. The American offered baseball, basketball and American Football, the Teutonic one offered BMW's and lager, the Thai mentioned excellent food, Red Bull and Muay Thai. When it came to the Aussie's turn he blushed a little and with more than a hint of embarrassment he muttered, "Errr. Well umm. Rolf Harris and Dame Edna."

Now I could be evil and vent my sarcasm on a certain member of that group but because I'm in a good mood I'll focus on my personal favourite sport of "Muay Thai" or "Thai Boxing" as it's know in some quarters. It's been described as the "Art and Science of Eight Limbs" and by another writer on a different site as "The most graceful way in the world of beating the snot out of some one". Personally I wouldn't have used the word snot, but I'm an ungracious Northerner. The Thai's are justifiably very proud of their national sport and at some time in their lives, most schoolchildren will undergo some form of tuition in this ancient art. On a personal front Thai Boxing helped me stay on the straight and narrow when I could have got involved in less savoury parts of society, and when I'm in Thailand helps me work up a healthy thirst before I go out and undo all the good it's done me.

Muay ThaiThe Muay Thai of today has undergone a metamorphosis from its original form. Its exact provenance is a little vague, as the country's records were destroyed when some bad tempered guys from Burma decided to set a torch to the ancient capital of Siam (Ayuddhaya) in 1767, destroying the country's Royal Archives, so what we know of the history of the sport is pieced together from manuscripts found in the adjacent countries.

The earliest written record is in 1411 up in Chiang Mai. After that the "fistic art" goes unmentioned until around 1590, when King Naresuen got a look in for heralding it as a form of self defence and unarmed combat against invaders, and documented some of the moves that characterise it today. In 1703 "The Tiger King" continued encouraging his countrymen to partake and was rumoured to fight himself (incognito) in a number of villages.

No article on Muay Thai would be complete without mentioning Nai Khanom Dtom, a Siamese soldier who famously won freedom by beating twelve of his Burmese captors and won national respect in doing so. From 1703 onwards the sport carried on merrily with the only change being the swapping of leather hand bindings for ones made of cloth, which if both parties agreed could be dipped in glue and ground glass. In the old days it was a sort of "last man standing" type of contest but in the 1930's after a few too many fatalities they introduced rules and regulations, which have remained mainly unchanged to the modern day.

Muay ThaiThe changes of the 1930's were to insist the contest took place in a ring, break the fight into five rounds of three minutes, replace the hand wraps with gloves, insist on mouth and groin guards and let a referee get in the ring to ensure fair play.

If you're in Bangkok and want to enjoy the spectacle there are two different stadiums, Rajadamnern (five minutes walk from Khao Sarn Road) and Lumpinee where there are bouts staged most nights of the week. It's a commonly held belief that the Lumpinee fights are of a slightly higher standard although it is hard to separate them. Whichever you chose, you'll experience a night of true sporting excellence. The sport is still steeped in superstition and spiritualism. When the fighters enter the stadium, they'll be dressed in silk gowns with garlands of orchids round their shoulders and a "Mongkon" (a ceremonial band) around their head.

On entering the ring (over the top rope if tradition is adhered to) they will remove the gown and perform what is known as a "Wai Kru" it's a dance which is designed to pay homage to their mentors, family and Buddha but it also helps them focus and warm up. Often the competitors will have spent the day praying, meditating and being blessed by monks.

During the bout, the fighters wear a "Kruang Ruang" or "Ring of Charms" around their bicep, which usually contains a Buddha image. The fight itself is accompanied (as is the Wai Kru) by music from a three piece band made up of cymbals, drums and an oboe.

As the tempo of the fight raises and falls, so does the tempo of the music. Uninitiated spectators are often taken aback at what they see as the "brutality" of the fight. The competitors are allowed to strike each other with fists, feet, shins, elbows and knees. It can look a little scary, but the guys in the ring are highly trained in defensive techniques as well as offensive.

In the early rounds the fighters will typically "fell each other out" looking for gaps in their opponents defence. In the later rounds spectators are usually treated to a spectacular display of pugilist technique.

At the end of the five rounds if neither fighter is concussed, the winner (as in Western Boxing) is the one who has attacked and defended most effectively. Putting the fight's themselves to one side for a moment it's important to understand the enthusiasm of the crowd. The Thais live and breathe Muay Thai. When you attend the stadium the atmosphere is similar to a Premiership Football Game and if you chose to flick through the channels on a TV in Thailand, it's unusual not to find at least one fight being shown.

Despite the brutality of the contest, the combatants have a great deal of respect for one another. They are highly trained sportsmen. Most of them start early, at the age of around seven or eight, and if they are accepted to a gym or "Camp" the Thai word is "Sit" they will often take on a "fight name" which encompasses the name of their gym or their mentor. They live in the gym under a Spartan regime and spend as much as seven or eight hours daily training.

To outsiders it may seem harsh, but Muay Thai offers an escape from poverty and a more healthy alternative to drugs or alcohol for a great many young Thais. The fighter's career is often over by the time they're in their mid twenties, with a successful fighter often having some two hundred fights under their belt. It's hard to classify "Muay Thai" as either a "Martial Art" or "Sport", I tend to put it in a box of it's own and call it a "Martial Sport". It differs from the more "conventional" Martial arts like Karate or Wing Chun, where participants receive grades and practice "forms", it can seem a lot less formal, although the spiritual aspects of the fight separate it from a traditional sport.

On the international scene Muay Thai remained in the shadows for quiet a while, but films like "The Man With the Golden Gun" and "Kickboxer" have done a great deal of good in opening western minds to its potential.

If you've seen the James Bond classic, Golden Gun, 007 visits Lumpinee. The two fighters who were paid to perform for the cameras (Master Woody and Master Toddy) along with Master Sken were among the early pioneers to take the sport abroad. Towards the end of the seventies they settled in Manchester (where the rainfall must have reminded them of the monsoon, but I'm not sure what they made of the temperature) and went about training westerners in their art. They acted as ambassadors for Thailand, and have done a great deal of work in promoting the sport worldwide.

During the mid nineties Muay Thai was going through something of a slump, but was cast into the limelight again by Noong Tom, the famous lady boy boxer who competed wearing lipstick and nail varnish, until he was bared from competition when he underwent re assignment surgery.

In the martial arts field Muay Thai is universally respected as being one of the most complete forms, I don't want to get into the "if a karate expert and a Thai boxer got in a scrap" type of conversation, but there are well documented examples of other disciplines trying to compete under Muay Thai rules and failing.

If having seen a few bouts and you fancy giving it a whirl there are plenty of gyms dotted around which welcome novices, and don't be put of by the brutality of the contests. If you attend a gym the professional trainers are well versed in tailoring the sessions to an individuals capabilities. I can personally recommend Sor Vorapin on Chakrapong (the Gullivers World end of Kha Sarn behind the watch shop), Jitty's (Soi 49 Sukumvit), Sityodthong (Nakula north of Pattaya), Sitpholek (Weekender Resort 2nd Rd Pattaya) and Jungle Gym (Haad Rin Kho Pha Ngan). Other's which enjoy good reputations, that I can't comment on personally are Fairtex (Trok Kai, Th Anuwong Bangkok), Chitlada (Rama IV Bangkok) and Lana (Chiang Mai). If you fancy competing you need to put aside a lot of time (years) to attain the levels Thais attain and foreigners don't have good record of attaining a comparable level, although there are some noteable exceptions including Ronnie Green of England, Raymond Decker and Ivan Hippolyte of Holland, I also believe the Japanese are putting forward some serious contenders.

To conclude if you're passing through Bangkok and want a taste of culture you could do a lot worse than to spend anevening of watching fights (lots of sexy bodies if you're a lady and a good scrap if you're a bloke) and if your worried about getting fat, pop down to a gym, they won't hurt you but you might ache a bit the next day.

Dominic Lavin

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Essential Beer Snacks

  It doesn't take visitors to the Kingdom long to find out that there's a lot more on the menu here than Tom Yam Gung (Spicy Lemon Grass Prawn Soup) or an often life saving early morning Pad Thai (Thai Noodle Dish) from along KSR. However, while knocking down a few medicinal cold ones on KSR this weekend, I noticed the trouble is that unless it can be seen cooking or there is a picture of some food for visitors to point to, many great Thai beer snacks and dishes are never experienced.
Tom Yam Gung
  It doesn't take visitors to the Kingdom long to find out that there's a lot more on the menu here than (Spicy Lemon Grass Prawn Soup) or an often life saving early morning

som_tamHowever, while knocking down a few medicinal cold ones on KSR this weekend, I noticed the trouble is that unless it can be seen cooking or there is a picture of some food for visitors to point to, many great Thai beer snacks and dishes are never experienced.

So what are the Beer Essentials? Well we've had a think and have come up with our six of the best most commonly ordered bar food; both veg and non veg, to go with the laughing liquid of your choice.

Som Tam (Spicy Shredded Mango Salad) (veg) is made two ways. Som Tam Boo (with small crabs) and is a little sour or Som Tam Tai (with small dried shrimp) which is sweet.

Both are usually very very spicy (if you don't ask for non spicy) and served cold with raw vegetables and Khao Neo (Sticky Rice). A truly great tasting Thai snack that goes well with just about anything.

moo_yangYam Moo Yang (Grilled Pork Salad) (non veg) 
A more western looking salad dish again made spicy (if you don't ask for non spicy - "Mai Pet"), occasionally served warm and eaten on its own. Goes down a treat and can be made with beef or chicken as an alternative.

Gai Pad Med Mar Muang (Chicken & Cashew Nuts) (non veg)
A dish of small deep fried chicken pieces with spring onions, cashews and sun dried chillies (not spicy) served hot. Compliments any of the above salad dishes really well.

nua_thodMoo / Neua / Gai Thod (Deep Fried Pork, Beef or Chicken) (non veg)
A dish as simple as it sounds. Your choice of either deep fried pork, beef of chicken, not spicy at all, served hot and usually with a sweet chilly dip. A quick excellent snack to have with a cold beer and always tastes like more!

Yam Pla Duk FooPla Duk Foo (Deep Fried Shredded Catfish Salad) (Vegish)
Yeah, sounds a little over the top, but believe me once you've mixed up the traditional looking salad with the shredded cat fish and sauce, it's a taste explosion that's quite unique. It can take a short while to prepare, but its well worth the wait. Usually served cold, in large portions. A great dish to share with a friend.
 
moo_gai_manowMoo/ Gai Manow
(Grilled Pork/ Chicken in Lime, Chilli & Garlic) (non veg)
Commonly ordered with lean cuts of pork, but chicken breast cuts are a great alternative. Served warm with a few raw fresh vegetables, made a little spicy (if you don't ask for non spicy - "Mai Pet") and eaten just as it comes. A popular dish found on many Thai tables!

So there you go. The above are just a few Thai delights that you may well be missing out on, and at around 100 Baht a dish they'll meet anyone's budget. Enjoy.

And remember...

Keepitreal

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Energy Drinks in Thailand

Lipovitan-D Thai Energy Drink"Red Bull, M150, Lipovitan-D, Carabao Dang - can you feel it? You will the next day if you aren't careful about your intake and how you drink them….to mix or not to mix that is the question? It doesn't take long for the visitor's curiosity to take over before trying these popular Thai potions. However, take note because a good night out in the city of angels can turn pear shaped if you miss use or over-consume these energy drinks. Individual responses to caffeine vary, and these drinks should be treated carefully because this sweet tasting nectar packs a powerful punch." Keepitreal lets us know about Thai energy drinks.  (more…)
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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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Khao San Road Restaurants and Cafes

Khao San Road Restaurants and Cafes
restaurants_on_kha_san_road_8
Khao San Road Restaurants and Cafes
Khao San Road Restaurants and Cafes
Khao San Road Restaurants and Cafes
Khao San Road Restaurants and Cafes
Khao San Road Restaurants and Cafes
The area on and around Khao San Road offers one of the widest selections of restaurants in the entire city. Diners can choose between a large variety of both traditional Thai and international cuisine, and most of the restaurants in this area have menus written in English, Thai and a few other languages. The waiters in this area are used to dealing with customers from all over the world, which makes dining here a simple and pleasant experience.

When it comes to Thai food, the options are endless as most restaurants on Khao San Road serve a selection of the most popular Thai dishes. It is possible to order dishes to taste. Simply ask for ‘mai pet’ if you don’t like chilli, ‘pet nit noi’ for medium spicy or ‘pet pet’ if you want to enjoy eat Thai curries, soups and Thai salads at their full fiery strength. If you’re not sure how much chilli you can handle it is best or err on the side of caution as fresh chillies can always be added when eating to increase the firepower. 

Khao San Road and the surrounding streets are perhaps the best place in Bangkok to enjoy Indian food, as there are most than a dozen different restaurants in this area serving traditional Indian fare. Most restaurants employ Indian cooks and waiters and the food is served fresh. These Indian eateries here come in all shapes and sizes, from cheap and cheerful street stalls to luxuriously decorated restaurants.

There is also a wide selection of other cuisines available here including a handful of Israeli restaurants, Japanese restaurants, Italian restaurants and eateries specialising in authentic British grub such as fish and chips.

Vegetarians will find plenty of places to choose from in this area as well. Not only do many of the restaurants offer a large selection of vegetarian dishes, there are also around half a dozen restaurants that serve purely vegetarian and vegan food. These restaurants often serve as meeting places for like-minded travellers and the atmosphere inside is relaxed and friendly. Vegetarian travellers can choose between Thai, Indian and international cuisine and some of the eateries offer extra services such as a bed for the night, cookery courses and massage.

One of the great things about eating in this area is that there are plenty of places for the budget traveller to dine. There are dozens of different street stalls to choose from, which serve light bites and meals from as little as 25 baht. Many of these stalls provide tables and chairs to allow customers to eat in comfort. Simply grab a table, place your order and watch the world go by while you tuck into dishes such as som tam, pad thai, vegetarian food and Indian cuisine. Many of these street stalls also serve beer to those who want to relax for a while and indulge in a spot of people watching.

Sometimes it is nice to be able to treat yourself to something familiar and travellers will also be able to satisfy their food cravings at one of half a dozen different well-known fast food restaurants.

When hunger strikes, Khao San Road is definitely the place to be.

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