Tag - traveler

Animal Rescue – THE BEACH DOGS

Animal Rescue the Beach DogsKoh Tao is a small island surrounded by the calm expanse of the Gulf of Thailand. This may be a tropical paradise for visitors but for the many ownerless dogs that live there it is far from paradise. Ravaged by mange, hungry and often frightened, they parade the beach in packs each tribe fiercely protecting their self-designated territory. This is a place where the law of the jungle pervades, survival of the fittest. But the only food source is that provided by humans - the scraps from the restaurants. The dominant male pecking order often means that the weakest get no food at all. In fact these dogs at the lower end of the scale are often cast out from the tribe.


Noi's story

In April of this year myself, my friend Miranda and her eight year old son Jordan visited Koh Tao. On our second day we met a small black mongrel that we later called Noi - which is Thai for little one. She had been rejected by the pack because she had weak back legs and a clubfoot, she was starving and infected by maggots. We fed her up and managed to enlist the help of the pharmacist to procure some anti-biotics from the nearby Koh Samui island. After I jabbed her she ran off and we didn't see her for three days. We thought she was dead. Then one evening when we were walking along the beach in the sunset she appeared from nowhere. At first we weren't sure if it was the same dog because she looked so much better. She followed us around faithfully from then on and spent the nights on our balcony. By now we were completely hooked and wanted to take her home with us but it seemed impossible. We would have to leave her behind.

When we came back to the UK we couldn't stop thinking about Noi. I discovered that there was a Dog Rescue Centre on the nearby Koh Samui island and we made contact with Bridget and her husband Hans who run the centre. After another month of deliberation we decided that the only thing to do was to go back and get Noi. Bridget put us in contact with another Brit who had done the same thing - Roger Cooper. Roger had had a similar experience with his dog Gypsy. He had become attached to her during a holiday and when he and his family returned thirteen months later the dog recognised them instantly. The clincher was when they got into a taxi for a sight seeing trip and the dog ran after the taxi for a mile and a half and then sat in the road howling.

Miranda can speak fleunt Thai which was to be a great help. When we arrived there we took the photo we had taken of Jordan and Noi around to the different restaurants but no one had seen her. There were a few heart stopping days when we thought she was dead. Then she suddenly turned up but she was in a pretty bad state. She was sicker than before and was covered in mange and wouldn't eat. Over the next few days we fed her up and gave her some anti bioitics and Vitamin C. But now there was another problem. Whilst they were looking for Noi another outcast had attached himself to us another black mongrel who we called Star. Since we'd first met Star someone had thrown stones at him and he was now hobbling on three legs. We decided that we would take him with us to the vet at the dog's home in Koh Samui, fix him up and return him to the island.

The only way from Koh Toa to Koh Samui is by speedboat and it's a pretty rocky journey. The journey by jeep to the jetty and then the crossing to Koh Samui with two dogs, a kid and luggage was a challenge particularly as the dogs wouldn't walk on leads and had to be carried. But probably most challenging of all was the continual vomiting of little Star on the speed boat that reached such a pitch that we wanted to throw him overboard!

Arriving at Koh Samui we were met by the motorbike and sidecar from the dogs home. The dogs were loaded up and Star howled all the way the rescue centre. We had to go between two different vets to get the dogs injected, get their vaccinations and get Star's leg fixed and then take them back to the rescue centre. By the time we arrived our hotel we were exhausted. We stayed on Koh Samui for the next few days visiting Noi and Star and generally helping out at the rescue centre. By now we had another dilemma. Star was really attached to us how could we take him back to the life of a beach dog where anything might happen? After much soul searching we decided to bring Star home.

To prepare for the next leg of the journey - the flight from Koh Samui to Bangkok, the airline had insisted that the dogs be sedated until they were asleep. The quarantine kennel here in the UK had expressly said not to sedate them because of the danger of hypothermia. A double dose of tranquilliser was administered to Noi because the first one didn't seem to work.

When we arrived at Bangkok the dogs were actually sent out on the conveyor belt with the luggage!!! Miranda and I went off to sort out some documentation and whilst we were away Jordan, thinking that Noi didn't look too good, put his hand into the cage and in her drugged state Noi bit him and wouldn't let go. He started screaming. It took a security guard to prise her off. We came back to find Jordan in tears and blood all over the floor. We had to bundle the two dogs, still in their cages, Jordan and the luggage off to the nearby private hospital where Jordan had to have rabies and a tetanus injection and get his wound cleaned and his arm bandaged. We dropped the dogs off with Tai - the contact in Bangkok that Bridget from the rescue centre had arranged and dragged ourselves off to the hotel.

At nine o'clock the next morning Tai rang the hotel. There was a problem. The excessive dose of the tranquilliser may have caused Noi to go blind. We rushed to Tai's. Things didn't look good. Noi's eyes were completely blue. Thankfully over the next few days her sight returned.

Noi and Star came out of quarantine in February and there were quite a handful - to say the least! But now they are house trained and understand basic commands. Star is very nervous of other dogs and this makes him quite aggressive to them but both of the dogs are great with humans. Soon they are going off for an intensive four week live in training course with Brian from Just For Dogs. He has a fantastic reputation for non aggressive training methods with amazing results.

This experience has led me to start a charity the Noistar Thai Dog Rescue to help the hundred of dogs still on the island. The Noistar Thai Dog Rescue intends to introduce a neutering and education programme to bring the dog population under control and thereby improve the quality of life for both the humans and the canines who inhabit the island. We will involve local people directly in this programme as well as targeting tourists to act more responsibly.

There will be a clinic on the island, which is already running with a bare staff of volunteers, this will be the focus for the medical and educational activities.

Koh Tao should be a refuge for the beach dogs that live there. With help they would be able to exist in harmony with the islanders and the many thousands of visitors that go there each year. We may not be able to change the world but we can change an island.

If you are interested in helping out contact Laura at laura@hummingbird-films.co.uk

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Yangon, Burma

Yangon, Burma
Yangon, Burma
Yangon, Burma
Formerly known as Rangoon, this large, vibrant city is full of gleaming temples, markets and interesting buildings. The focal point of any visit to Yangon will probably be the much photographed Shwedagon Paya. This ancient Buddhist shrine is said to be more than 2,500 years old and gigantic golden stupa can be seen from all over the city, much like the Taj Mahal in Agra. 

There are many sides to this fascinating city. Wander along the waterfront and you will discover aged streets full of British colonial-era architecture, while other streets such as the Strand or Pansodan Street have been renovated and have an ultra-modern feel.

In many ways Yangon feels like a Western city with tree-lined avenues, picturesque lakes and colonial architecture. A trip to Chinatown offers a different dimension to the city and this is a particularly good place to get an evening meal and wander through the bright lights and colourful decorations.

Most tours of the city will start with its temples and pagodas and there are certainly plenty to see. Top of the list should be the ancient Sule Pagoda, the mirrored maze inside the Botataung Pagoda and the Maha Pasan Guha.

Despite its often chaotic feel, there are plenty of places to relax in Yangon. Take a walk through the Mahabandoola Garden and you will find a beautiful rose garden, while there is a water fountain and informative museum in People’s Park.

Take a boat trip on the large Inya Lake before viewing the traditional Burmese royal boat at Kandawgyi Lake.

Those interested in the city’s history can visit Aung San’s house, which has been turned into a museum of sorts, before visiting the place where Aung San Suu Kyi was held under house arrest for so many years. 

There is plenty to see just outside Yangon such as the Naga-Yone enclosure near Myinkaba. Here you will find a large Buddhist statue, while the Golden Rock Pagoda at Kyaik Tyo is an 18 foot high shrine built on a gold-plated boulder on top of a cliff.

Take the The Dallah Ferry across the river to visit the pretty village of Dallah. The ride itself is beautiful and provides an interesting inside into country life as people try hard to sell their ways and compete for attention.

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Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran


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Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran
Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran
Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran
Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran
Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran
Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran
Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran
Bokator Vs. Muay Thai Boran
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What is Bokator: Bokator is the ancient Cambodian martial art, which was nearly wiped out during the Khmer Rouge genocide. Through the sacrifices of Grand Master San Kim Saen, the art was reborn. After surviving the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime, he returned to Cambodia in the late 1990s. Scouring the country, he found less than ten Bokator masters who had survived. He later opened his school in Phnom Penh, where he teaches Bokator to about three hundred students. Several have been promoted to black karma (belt). Derek Morris and I are the only foreigners to have earned a black karma. Mine is in fighting only, Derek's belt and certificate make him an instructor. The Grand Master hopes that a foreigner will open a Bokator school outside of Cambodia, so that the art will spread and survive. Unfortunately, I don't accept students. After training in Muay Thai Sangha, with Kru Pedor Villalobos, Derek went to China to learn San Da (Chinese Kickboxing).

What is Muay Thai Boran: Boran means ancient. It is actually a Khmer word which was absorbed into the Thai language. Long ago, Thailand raided Cambodia, capturing masters of various arts, from religion, to dance, to martial arts. Khmer words and culture were adopted into Thai culture. Today, in Thai language, all words associated with religion, royalty, martial arts, science, and government come from Khmer. The Khmer claim that they invented kickboxing. The original Khmer kickboxing art is called Bradal Serey (Pradal Serey).

Today, Muay Lao, Muay Thai, Bradal Serey, and Burmese boxing (Lethwei or Lethawae) are quite similar. The cultures of these countries are also quite similar, with the people following Theravada Buddhism, which originated in India and then Sri Lanka and Cambodia.

Neighboring Vietnam is always the odd-man-out. The culture is Chinese. The written language was Chinese, until the French forced them to use the Latin alphabet. And the predominant ancient martial art, Tieu Lam, is a form of Chinese Kung Fu. There are rumors that Vietnam once had a kickboxing art similar to Cambodia. Today, this art seems to have disappeared, but even in Tieu Lam, we see some elements taken from kick boxing, such as shin kicks and elbow strikes.

The point here is that the fighting arts of all of the Indochina countries are quite similar, and clearly come from the same origin. In Thailand, however, martial art developed into a massive professional sport. Kickboxing is also the national sport of Cambodia, but there are less than 400 registered boxers. In Thailand there are close to 100,000.

Muay Thai Boran is a word which is often given to the original, military fighting art, which was later watered down into a sport art, used in a kickboxing ring.

What is the difference between Bokator and Muay Thai Boran?

Muay Thai Boran ad Bokator clearly share a lot of similarities, but one primary difference is that Bokator is a system. Muay Thai Boran is not. You study Muay Thai, and if your teacher knows Boran, he teaches you some movements in isolation. For example, he advocates kicking with the bottom or side of your foot, instead of just shin kicks. Or, he teaches you spinning back kicks or heal kicks, instead of just roundhouse.

Muay Thai Boran and Krabi Krabong get lumped together. Karbi Krabong is the weapons training:just staff and doubles swords. If you see Thai practitioners using double sticks, the sticks represent swords. There is, to my knowledge, no Thai double stick art like Arnis in the Philippines.

Bokator, on the other hand, is a complete system, like a traditional martial arts. There are belts, and you learn movements, forms, and techniques in order. The weapons include the double stick, double swords, long staff and scarf.

While Muay Thai Boran includes a bit more grappling than sport Muay Thai, it is still stand up grappling from the head. And you are wearing gloves.

Bokator includes Khmer traditional wrestling (jap bap boran khmer), kick boxing (bradal serey or pradal serey), and weapons. In true Bokator fights, you don't wear gloves and you can fight on the ground, with bouts ending in submissions or chokes.

The ground fighting is not nearly as effective as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or western wrestling, but it is arguably the only ground fighting art in Southeast Asia. I have trained in nearly every country in southeast Asia (except Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunai) and there doesn't seem to be any ground fighting at all.

At this point, a reader asked me how ground fighting changes the landscape of fighting, both in Muay Thai Boran vs. Bokator and in MMA.

This is my take on the dominance of ground fighting. A good street fighter, a tough biker dude like Tank Abbot or Sony Barger, could probably hold his own against most strikers. If you see the youtube clips of the bare knuckles pro fighter named Kimbo (I think that is his name). He is a huge, strong, American guy who makes his living knocking guys out in parking lots. He probably never had any training. And if he went in UFC and got matched with a striker, he could hold his own and might win on a KO because in professional street fighting the goal is to keep the fight short and get a KO.

I've done only one of these fights. Coming into it, the mistake I made was in trying to box and move, and win in a later round. I got hit once in the eye, it opened me up, and I realized there is no later. You have to win NOW. I did win. And the fight probably only lasted about twenty-five seconds, but it was too long.

So, the answer is a tough street fighter, big and strong, used to going for the knock out would be hard to beat in a ring. The best strategy would be to drag the fight on as long as possible to make him tired. But he would be landing bombs on you the whole time, and that wouldn't be a very pleasant experience.

With grappling, the rules change. An untrained grappler stands zero chance against a trained grappler. It's that simple. I pound a bag every day in the gym, but I know if I come against the right street fighter, he could knock me out. But a guy who trains grappling every day would instantly take down an untrained grappler or a street fighter and that would be the end of the fight.

The smartest strikers, like Mirco, have learned to escape. He was smart enough to just ignore the grappling and hope to win on a kick KO. And he was smart enough not to try and win on submissions. He learned to avoid the take down and to escape back to his feet. But he had to learn that. You have to train specifically to avoid the grappler. If you look at early UFCs the grappler nearly always won because they always got the take down and then once on the ground, there was no escape for the striker.

So, comparing Muay Thai Boran with Bokator, because Bokator has the ground fighting, it is the better fighting art. The issue in Thailand vs. Cambodia right this minute, however, would be that the Bokator school has only been reopened for about five years. So, the guys don't have a lot of fighting experience. When I prepared for my black belt I went out to the village and learned Khmer wrestling with the farmers. I was the first one to do this. The team isn't ready yet to fight all comers.

In Thailand there is a lot of interest in MMA now. When I am training there, they all tell me how they would just it for the shoot and then take the grappler out with a knee to the face. This is ludicrous because their entire game plan rests on a single technique. Yes, if you shoot and run head first into a knee thrown by a pro Muay Thai fighter you will get knocked out. But what if the Muay Thai guy misses? Or what if the grappler deflects the knee with his hand? Or what if he just absorbs the knee? Or, what if he shoots and executes the throw from the waist or the hip?
We have played around with this scenario in the gym quite a bit in Bangkok. And anyone who has seen my youtube knows I am no grappler. My shoot looks like an old man bending over to pickup his change. Even with that, I am able to take them down. And of course, once I get on top, I am so much bigger, that is the end of the fight.

The throw I usually use to take down a Muay Thai fighter is actually a technique from Muay Thai Boran. You shoot in with your forearm in front of your face. Instead of hitting the hips or thighs, you hit the opponent's shin with the forearm and then scoop his heal with the other hand.

To sum up: Bokator is a complete art which, if learned would be a better fighting art than Muay Thai Boran. But at the moment, there are no battle-hardened Bokator guys to fight. And in grappling vs. striking. I believe an untrained striker may stand a chance against a trained striker. But an untrained grappler stands no chance against a real grappler. Grappling would be one of the biggest determinant in who would win between a Bokator guy and a Muay Thai Boran guy. Since Bokator has ground-fighting and Muay Thai Boran doesn't, Bokator would win.

About the author:

Antonio Graceffo holds a black karma in Bokator. He lives in Thailand and has practiced Muay Thai for a number of years. He trained in Cambodia for several years in boxing, Bradal Serey, and Bokator. In Philippines he has studied Kuntaw and Yaw Yan. IN Lao he studied Muay Lao. He has also trained at the Shaolin Temple, in China, and in schools and gyms in Vietnam and Korea. He is a frequent contributor for both Black Belt and Kung Fu magazines. His book, The Monk from Brooklyn, available on amazon.com tells about his experiences at the Shaolin Temple.

He is a qualified Emergency Medical Technician, as well as an adventure and martial arts author living in Asia. He is the Host of the web TV show, "Martial Arts Odyssey," Currently he is working inside of Shan State, documenting human rights abuses, doing a film and print project to raise awareness of the Shan people. To see all of his videos about martial arts, Burma and other countries: http://youtube.com/results?search_query=antonio+graceffo&search=SearchAntonio is the author of four books available on amazon.com. Contact him - see his website. Antonio is self-funded and seeking sponsors.

Antonio

"If you wish to contribute to the "In Shanland" film project, you can donate through paypal, through the Burma page of my website."

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Extreme Sports in Thailand


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Extreme Sports in Thailand
Extreme Sports in Thailand
Extreme Sports in Thailand

Just how extreme is this?

The only thing more amazing than the rapid development of extreme sports in Thailand is its roots. Thai extreme sports didn't emerge from grunge culture or a pursuit of hedonism and excess, but from a gauntlet laid down to society's youth at risk - those dabbling with drugs, underperforming at school or otherwise losing their way. The challenge was for change... The challenge was for greatness.

The man in charge of extreme sports in Thailand is the same man responsible for promoting them here in the first place - Khun Apichat Rutnin, former drugs rehabilitation officer, gymnast, and Secretary General of the Extreme Sports Association in Thailand. To him extreme sports represented an opportunity to challenge rule breakers to push the envelope and in 1994 he scoured department stores and other youth hangouts to invite youngsters to take part in informal in-line skating programs. Whether slum kids or middle-class errant youth, it made no difference - these kids got the right kind of addiction and with it the life changing drive and self-imposed discipline that comes from a passion for something good.

Fast forward to 1998 and the Asian X-games were held in Phuket. Out of nowhere, Thailand established its credentials as an extreme sporting nation and began a series of achievements that saw the country's extreme sportsmen and women travel the world in pursuit of competition and victory.

Today, the success of Khun Apichat's programs for the young at risk have guaranteed their continuation, but with 2,000 youngsters on his books, things obviously haven't stopped there.

"These days our focus has changed," suggested Khun Apichat. "Thailand's extreme sportsmen and women are at a level where they are competing with the best of the best. Our emphasis now is on 'sporting excellence' - on ensuring extreme sports in Thailand keep developing at the rate they have over the last years. What we need now are people with skills and experience willing to devote their time and energy to help us get to the next level and further."

And that's where you might come in…

If you have the skills and experience to offer (and you will know if you are good enough), this is a chance for you to turn your trip to Thailand into a genuine contribution both to extreme sports and the development of Thailand's youth. You will teach them the tricks you have learned and also pass on English language skills. In return you will learn Thai and get an insight into the Thai way of life few will ever experience.

At this stage the details have not been hammered out, but it might be possible to assist those able to stay for an extended period with visa arrangements, but even a couple of days will do. Although free accommodation won't ever be part of the package, it may be possible to arrange home stays for those offering training at centers outside Bangkok.

Think about this… does it get much better? At this stage we'd like to hear from people who are planning a trip to Thailand and feel they might have enough to offer to help out. Use the form below to let us know when you might be heading out this way.

Click here to contact the Thai Extreme Sports Association of Thailand.

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Fairtex Bangplee Muay Thai Training Camp in Thailand

Fairtex Bangplee Muay Thai Training Camp, ThailandLike, Red Bull, Fairtex is one of those Thai brands that has gone global. Unlike its compatriot, the Fairtex name has become such an international brand, that to some extent it has just as much associated with the US as with Thailand. Truth is, despite its international appeal, Fairtex is just as much at the heart of Thai boxing as it has ever been. Fortunately for those with a passion for Muay Thai, the Fairtex training camps in Thailand are open to foreigners as well as Thais. The organization's Bangplee center offers training options to meet all needs.



Click here for more about Thai Boxing (Muay Thai) Training Courses at Fairtex Bangplee Muay Thai Training Camp, Thailand.

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Nima Chandler of Nancy Chandler Maps

Nima Chandler of Nancy Chandler Maps: Khao San Road Map
Nima Chandler of Nancy Chandler Maps: Khao San Road Map
One thing there is no shortage of in Thailand is maps… Big ones, small ones, pocket sized ones. You know the sort of thing… They are often a pointless exercise that contribute nothing to the quality of your visit… The immediately disposable giveaways probably most functional in the rainy season as an alternative to the umbrella you didn't think you'd need to bring. Usually found at your guesthouse reception, these maps feature places you already know about or wouldn't really want to visit. Invariably, they carry countless adverts for "Rahiv's and Sanjay's Bespoke Tailoring Shop", restaurants offering the best Pork Knuckle this side of Baden-Werttemberg (or even Lower Saxony), and diving lessons from the local Swedish diving school (why are there so many in Thailand?). They contribute nothing to the quality of your visit… unless of course you are talking about Nancy Chandler Maps.

Created by Nancy Chandler Graphics, and turning the genre on its head, Nancy Chandler Maps are no throw away irrelevancies, but items visitors to Thailand cherish and actively seek out to purchase. Advert free and uninfluenced by 'tea money', they act as a surrogate guidebook, which they often rival for pertinent information. Nancy Chandler Maps are not only useful, but they are the sort of thing people take home as souvenirs. This month saw the organization cross into KhaoSanRoad.com territory with a detailed map of "Khao San Road & Old Bangkok". Before the Bloods and Crips kicked off a turf war, we sat down for a powwow with Nima Chandler, who researched the map.

Here's the result:

KSR: Nima - thanks for meeting us like this. First of all, why don't you give us an overview of Nancy Chandler Graphics and its history?

Nima Chandler: My mother Nancy Chandler founded the company in 1974 when she produced the first detailed map of Bangkok, initially meant to be for expatriates. Handrawn and handletttered, it included special little craft outlets, the only western supermarket, English langauge bookshops and the like about town, while also trying to make some sense of the chaos that were the Sunday Market (then at Sanam Luang near Khao San) and Chinatown. All much the same as was what we do today, although Bangkok has grown immensely since then.
 
KSR: So, you've lived in Thailand all your life?
 
Nima Chandler: It has been home since I was one, the chaos of the city something I thrive on. Visiting the US, I am always amazed at the lack of street food vendors, loud music, mega malls around every corner... It's much too quiet and sane for me there.
 
KSR: And you have maps for Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Suan Lum Night Bazaar… how do you research your maps?
 
Nima Chandler: We clip and file anything we read or see of interest year round. Come update time, we collate all notes before setting out to research specific areas, then either walking or driving up and down streets, keeping one eye open for things on the list, another eye open for things not on the list. One thing you'd never want to do is walk behind me in the Night Bazaar or Chatuchak Weekend Market as every stall gets a once-over before I head home with my notes to pick and choose what might be of interest to the visitor or expatriate.
 
KSR: It must be an ongoing task updating them?
 
Nima Chandler: In a city like Bangkok, it's exciting. There's always new places to visit, old places to toast for surviving, and closed places to keep an eye on to see what comes next. Each city map does take about 6 months to properly update, which is why we only do so every year and a half normally. Luckily I have help now, with my assistant Manapiti Ramasoot, who calls around to confirm hours and the like, while also taking on some of the on foot and road research as well.
 
KSR: …and now Khao San Road... what drew you to Khao San?
 
Nima Chandler: We added an inset map of Khao San to our Map of Bangkok back in 2003. I personally loved the color of the area, its vibrancy and energy, not to mention all the great bars, shopping and attractions of the area. (As my mother jokes, there weren't many bars on her map at all until I joined her in the business. When I did, Khao San was not an area to be overlooked for all it had to offer nightlife lovers.) Since then, we've held several fun scavenger hunts in the area and I've co-hosted several wild hen's nights and Khao San pub crawls for expatriates that rarely tour this part of town. Pictures would be provided, but my friends would not speak to me if I shared, sorry.
 
KSR: We have to say it's a totally detailed little map - everything you need is there and it's going to be really useful for people visiting the area. How long did it take to research?
 
Nima Chandler: Approximately 6 weeks. We had just updated our Map of Bangkok so our notes were pretty up to date before we focused on the area in more detail. We then spent 2 weeks of researching on foot in the area - I actually moved to a hotel on Phra Athit for the week - hunting down places we'd heard about but had yet to pinpoint for the map, after which it took another 2-3 weeks to map, index and double-check. Nancy meanwhile was working on all sorts of sketches to go with the map - of backpackers looking for hotels, shopping, drinking, etc - which sadly never made it onto the map for lack of space! Hopefully, we'll be able to use them in another format in the future.
 
KSR: Most people who come to KSR leave and come back again after a couple of weeks and say "I hardly recognized the place"! Isn't keeping your map of Khao San and the area relevant going to be a particular challenge given how quickly things change here?
 
Nima Chandler: Our website offers free updates online, something we started years ago with our other titles. Updated at least once a month, we highlight great new additions, mention places that have closed and things to keep an eye out for, as well as list upcoming events people might be interested in. In short, if we've heard about or seen any changes, they'll be noted online at www.nancychandler.net.
 
KSR: Give yourself a plug - where can people buy your maps on KSR? What's the current price?
 
Nima Chandler: Nancy Chandler's Map of Khao San & Old Bangkok is available online at www.nancychandler.net and at bookshops in the Khao San Rd area (including Shaman, Sara Ban, Bookazine, Aporia, Moonlight and others). Our suggested retail price is B 125* in Thailand. For those overseas, our website offers the map at US$ 7.95* including delivery by airmail (we don't believe in quoting one price then adding on huge delivery charges without notice when people go to check out).
 
KSR: Most of the maps you find around Thailand are merely excuses for advertising. But of course, you don't accept advertising. So this means you recommend everywhere you mention?
 
Nima Chandler: No, we don't recommend everything on the map - there's too much on the map to do that. On our Bangkok and Chiang Mai maps, recommended places are highlighted in the directories that accompany the maps if not on the maps themselves. On the map of Khao San & Old Bangkok, our favorites are generally given a special mention on the map itself and within the directory. For our nightlife listings, however, we provide short descriptions, leaving the user to decide what kind of scene they are into. For example, we're not particularly keen on hip hop ourselves, but if you are, you'll find a place you'll like on the map. You can read between the lines too, as in the case of one pub where we note "mind the drunken yobos" and another we describe as with "loud live band 9pm on, chill earlier".
 
KSR: And you don't take 'tea money'?
 
Nima Chandler: No 'tea money', no free rooms, no free meals, no discounted drinks. We usually don't mention who we are or what we're doing either, unless contacting people by email.
 
KSR: So what are the 'must do' places on KSR right now?
 
Nima Chandler: Hmmm. What's 'in' changes regularly and really depends on what kind of crowd you're into - I love the streetside cocktail bars which are located in front of what will be a big new mall and hotel, in other words, a remnant of the past likely to disappear soon. Thais meanwhile are currently flocking to the streetside cafes and clubs on Rambuttri just north of Khao San which has a flavor all its own after dark. If I had to list five places that would 'surprise' the visitor to Khao San, they would include a visit to the restored mansion that houses Starbucks for a coffee, a browse for the most unusual title you can find at Shaman Books (there are some truly bizarre ones), a pre-party drink anytime from 6-8 pm at the rooftop Gazebo, dinner anywhere on the street, and then a few more drinks at the Roof Pub on Khao San (great oldies music and a buzzing crowd), the Old Phra Athit Pier on Phra Athit (a much quieter, almost refined ambience for the area) and/or the Ad Here blues bar on Samsen (for the non-claustrophobic).
 
KSR: And if you were writing a back of an envelope itinerary for someone staying on KSR, where are the key places they should visit in the area? I am sure Wat Phra Kaew must be on the list?
 
Nima Chandler: The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Po and Wat Arun are on everyone's itineraries. Special suggestions we would make would include: Sunset drinks and/or dinner at The Deck of the Arun Residence, a wander down the back alleyways to the simple shack-like riverside cafes near Tha Phra Chan, maybe a wander through the crowds at the market in front of Siriraj Hospital on the other side of the river, for sure dinner in the Phraeng Phuton area at Chotechitr. If you're vegetarian, we'd recommend May Kaidee's and Rub Ar Roon. If you're a student, we'd recommend a visit to Thammasat University's bookshop and uni market. I could go on and on. In short, we recommend personalizing your visit, something we believe our detailed map enables people to do.
 
KSR: What about little novelties - markets, oddities… places people might not necessarily read about in a guide book but should visit while they are on KSR… got any suggestions?
 
Nima Chandler: Besides the many mentioned above, wander by the Sor Vorapin boxing gym when classes are in session - who knows, you might find yourself signing up for a few hours of training. The Lofty Bamboo crafts shop is our favorite relatively new outlet, with great little hill tribe textile baby shoes that jump off the shelves among other items. Sticking your head in Nittaya Curry's shops for Thai kanom (sweets) and snacks can also be a unique experience...
 
KSR: So, what projects are coming up… what new maps can we look forward to?
 
Nima Chandler: Let's see. I am supposed to be on holiday, resting up after updating the Bangkok map and releasing the Khao San & Old Bangkok map, but someone who shall not be named has us now toiling away on a map for this very website... As for other projects on the table, we'll let you know when we're ready to announce!
 
KSR: OK - well… good luck with all of that and let us know how things work out.
 
Nima Chandler: Will do.
 
*Prices June 2008
 
See the map of Khao San Road provided by Nancy Chandler Maps.

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Backpacking and the Environment

Carbon OffsettingAs global warming kicks in and climate change becomes recognized less as a theoretical consideration than a hard fact, the amount of carbon we as individuals put into the atmosphere has a direct impact on all our futures. Of course, we can all cycle to work and turn off our air-conditioning to reduce our carbon footprints, but when it comes to traveling, what are we supposed to do? Travelers can abandon air travel and choose bus or rail, but of those living in Europe or America, only Rambo types are ever going to get to see Thailand or beyond. And that's never going to happen - realistically people just aren't going to sacrifice their trip of a lifetime.
To overcome what is clearly a serious dilemma and keep people traveling, a creative solution has emerged - carbon offsetting. According to WikiPedia.com, Carbon offsetting is "the act of mitigating ("offsetting") greenhouse gas emissions. A well-known example is the purchasing of offsets to compensate for the greenhouse gas emissions from personal air travel". But exactly how does it work? Today we talk to Kathrin Dellantonio, of myclimate, a Swiss-based non profit foundation with a range of carbon offsetting products.

myclimate talk the talk and walk the walk... we asked lots of companies to do this interview and they were the only ones to step up to the plate - well done myclimate.

We ask Kathrin about the mechanics behind carbon offsetting, and the extent to which it really will have an impact on our futures.

Carbon OffsettingKSR.com: Kathrin - thank you for taking time out of a busy schedule like this to talk to KhaoSanRoad.com… It's very kind of you. Perhaps you could start by giving our visitors an overview of myclimate and your role in the organization.

Kathrin: myclimate is a nonprofit foundation based in Zurich and active since 2002. We are among the leaders in the international voluntary carbon offset market and known especially for the very high quality of the projects.

We offer offsets for individuals (flights, cars, households); companies, events, products etc. We also have several projects of environmental education where we sensitize people for climate change and try to give them tipps on how to make their behavior more climate friendly. I have been working here for the last two years as head of sales, marketing and communication.

KSR.com: And just so we can get a background to your company's activity, what is the current situation as far as the environment is concerned? Global warming, climate change - are these buzz words and sounds bites or should we really be concerned?

Kathrin: Gobal warming is something we should be concerned of because it is proven that mankind has a very big impact on the climate system. The IPCC, the highest scientific panel on climate change stressed this in its last report.

KSR.com: Just to get the full picture… Theoretically, if we wanted to see positive changes in the environment in five years rather than twenty, what would the human race have to do right now? It would mean some pretty radical changes in the way people live and earn a living, wouldn't it?

Kathrin: Yes, changes are requested from all of us. However, the climate system is a very slow system. Emission reductions realized now will bring down the atmospheric CO2 concentrations much later.

KSR.com: For the uninitiated out there, can you give us a broad overview of carbon offsetting and how it works.

Kathrin: Offsetting means that emissions caused at one place are offset somewhere else. For example, with offset money, it is possible to build a biomass power station instead of a coal power station. The biomass station produces much less CO2 than a coal power station, this avoided amount of CO2 is sold.

KSR.com: What sort of carbon offsetting products do you offer?

Kathrin: For individuals - flights, cars, households… For companies - a whole company or parts of it… events, products.

KSR.com: Taking for example a trip from London Heathrow to Suvarnabhumi Airport, how much carbon would that put into the atmosphere and how do you calculate it?

Kathrin: A return economy flight produces 4.508 tons of CO2 equivalents (i.e. also other climate relevant emissions are counted). This is calculated using the distance, fuel consumption and average number of passengers in a plane.

KSR.com: How much would it cost to offset that amount of carbon?

Kathrin: EUR 108

KSR.com:
And if I engage your services for this purpose, what specifically might myclimate do to offset this carbon?

Kathrin: We invest the amount into our projects where the same amount of CO2 is reduced by replacing fossil fuel energy sources with renewable ones and implement energy efficient technologies. For examples please see our website.

KSR.com: I recently saw a program on the BBC where the presenter was flying around the world enjoying himself, and buying carbon offsets to lessen the impact of his travel on the environment. From what I remember, the company that sold the offsets paid for more efficient light bulbs and gave them to a hotel in the Caribbean. Realistically, how long would it take to offset the amount of carbon a trip from London to the Caribbean puts into the atmosphere through the use of more efficient light bulbs? It would be years, wouldn't it?

Kathrin:
I can't say anything with regard to this project as I don't know it. However in our projects we guarantee that the emission reductions are realized and retired from the market no later than 2 years after the purchase.

KSR.com: This is where I get confused about offsetting. If it is going to take a period of years, or even up to a year, to offset the impact of a flight, it's going to take at least that amount of time for the benefits to kick in. Meanwhile carbon is going into the atmosphere. Isn't the immediate threat from increased amounts of carbon in the atmosphere greater than the balancing impact of carbon offsetting?

Kathrin: Yes, definitely the amount of CO2 produced now is much bigger than the emission reduction in offset projects. It won't be possible to offset all CO2 with offset projects. Therefore we all must try to reduce the CO2 emissions.

KSR.com:
I am just playing devil's advocate here, and I have to askÂ… Isn't there a danger with your products people feel the more they buy, the more they save the planet?

Kathrin: To counteract this we also do a lot of environmental education in order to show people how they can change to a more climate friendly life. Because for the climate it is course the best if emissions are not produced at all.

KSR.com: So, alongside offsetting your air travel, what advice would you give to the traveler who is concerned about the planet? What can that guy walking down Khao San Road with a backpack on do right now to help the world tomorrow?

Kathrin: When it comes to traveling, he should try to travel with the the least negative impact on the foreign country. Apart from traveling, he should try to reach a more climate friendly consumption pattern, i.e. use public transport, use energy efficient appliances, etc.

KSR.com: Last question - are you a half empty or half full type of person? Are enough people doing enough? Or aren't we going to make it?

Kathrin: A half full type of person, an optimistic person. I think that we can counteract climate change, but we all need to contribute our part, rethink our consumption patterns and take emission reducing measures.

KSR.com:
Kathrin - thanks for this. Let's hope that people take into account their impact on the environment and start making the changes we all need.

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Malaria Map of Thailand

BNH Hospital is has sent us this malaria map - a useful source of information about areas in Thailand where you have to take precautions against malaria.

Thailand Malaria Map

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Koh Chang Notes

Koh Chang, Thailand
koh_chang_notes_2
Koh Chang, Thailand
Koh Chang, Thailand
Koh Chang?

Yes, you know you've heard the name before, most travellers to Thailand have.  It's that big island near the Cambodian border, about 300 km from beautiful downtown Bangkok.

So it's busy then, loads of tourists?

No, although the name is now well-known most people seem to follow the herd to Koh Tao or Koh Phi-phi  - the backpackers' Costa del Sol.  Even in high season Koh Chang rarely appears busy.

Why?

No idea. I'm the wrong side of thirty-five (just) so relating to the minds of youthful backpackers who's idea of a goodtime is to blow their wads of eurodollars on buckets of vodka + Redbull and then boogie the night away to underground dance noise is beyond me. A small Heineken, 'Sex in the City - series two' DVD and I'm all set for the evening.   But, to hazard a guess at answering your question,  I'd blame a combination of Leonardo Di Caprio; a love of small, dark bungalows and the allure of well-chiselled Scandinavian scuba instructors of both sexes.

That sounds enticing, I mean the booze, tunes & Scandiavians rather than a sad evening in. . but why should I go to Koh Chang instead? 

For a start you wont be subjected to a screening of the 'The Beach' every evening during which the hippy next to you will claim loudly to a) have been paid $100 a day as an extra and b) that Leo is an OK guy for a movie star.  the other islands: decent fruit shakes, ticket agencies, Thai food made for farang palates, real coffee, a wide choice of new accommodation, ATMs, dive schools, a private clinic and the chance to hear the latest Coldplay album in every restaurant on the island.

Plus you will find that all your traveller requirements are catered for on Koh Chang as on You can also purchase souvenirs e.g. t-shirts bearing the still hilarious 'McShit' slogan or with the name of your favourite Thai beverage emblazoned in Thai script on them.

The difference is that Koh Chang is a 'real' island not just a dot on the map, therefore you won't be walking around the island or even walking from beach to beach as on the smaller islands.  This means that the scenery is big: big hills, big jungle, big waterfalls.  This also means you can't see all the island in a day.  Rent a motorbike, you will be able to find a beach, waterfall or fishing village to yourself simply by getting off your arse and doing a bit of exploring. You won't get lost as there's only one road. 

That doesn't sound too bad . . . how serious is that big badly written roadside warning sign on way into Whitesands beach?

When not to go? The 'Oriental Eden of the East' welcomes visitors to paradise 365 days a year!  More realistically, high season is from December - April.  But you'll find that you'll almost certainly have good weather and no crowds at all in October, November and May.  Unless you have a backpack full of paperbacks; enjoy spending every other day feeling warm and wet; or can find ways to amuse yourself within the confines of your 6 square metre hut, it might be better to stay away during the rainy season which runs from June to September.
 
I've heard 'The Treehouse' is the place to stay, is that true?

Seemingly for most travellers the choice of accommodation is a toss up between The Treehouse on Lonely Beach and The Treehouse on Lonely Beach - so it was a pity it closed in Aug 2004.  Yes, it was a nice place to stay and five years ago it was a very nice place to stay but there are now plenty of alternatives for anyone wanting to sleep before 4am or who would rather not have to endure their fellow guests, overloud retelling of their riveting traveller's tales during breakfast.  It's extremely rare that you can't find a room on Koh Chang, so take a look around before checking into the first cheap hovel you come across. Unless you're on a really tight budget, why not choose a bungalow with glass in the windows, a bathroom and walls which aren't paper thin?  It'll only cost you 100 -200 baht / night more than a mini version of the Black Hole of Calcutta.

Briefly . . .

On Whitesands beach, cheap beachfront bungalows, 150-200 baht/night, a stone's throw from a 7-11, are available at 'KC Grande Resort' as are aircon bungalows for around 600 baht/night.

The long and almost always deserted Klong Prao beach is home to 'KP Huts', an ever expanding assortment of over 30 huts of varying styles, sizes and prices right in the centre of the empty beach. 

Moving on Kai Bae offers a mix of tourist & backpacker accommodation, you wont find too many flophouses but there's plenty of nice beachfront bungalows to choose from although the price is at the top end of a traveller's budget (400 baht/night & up) 'KB Bungalows' is convenient, friendly, clean and affordable.

If it has to be Lonely Beach you'll find that you can find a place to lay your head for 100 baht or less/night but you get what you pay for i.e. f&%k all in terms of decor, ambience, location and service.  A couple of decent places to stay are 'Nature Beach' has a wide expanse of beach on its doorstep and the clean, airy, cheap and new 'Paradise Cottages'.

Bailan Bay is the quietest stretch on the west coast and is a good bet if budget peace and quiet are what you're looking for.  New resorts are springing up here all the time, all within 10 minutes walk of each other and all after your custom as comparatively few visitors stay in this area.

At the very south of the island there are a few hut complexes near Bangbao, but as the 'songtaews' (converted pick-up truck taxis) rarely venture as far south as Bangbao you're forced to hire a motorbike if you don't want to be confined to your immediate surroundings.

And would it be correct to assume that there's a veritable host of mid-price accommodation, including some very nicely designed boutique hotels and resorts, for anyone not into skimping and saving in order to stretch out their meagre savings for as near to eternity as possible?

Not surprisingly, it would.  'The Mangrove' on Bailan Bay, 'Saffron on the Sea', 'Keereeta' & 'Remark Cottages' on Hat Kai Mook beach,  'Bhumiyama Resort' on Lonely Beach, 'Tropicana' on Klong Prao beach and Bang Bao Sea Huts, beautiful but pricey wooden huts built, as the name suggests in the sea at Bang Bao, to name but a few.

OK, so 'beaches', 'accommodation', 'beer', 'stuff to do' . . . I've just got 'culture' and 'food' to tick off my checklist.  Can you help?

Sure.  There are a few temples on the island, none of which merit a visit unless you plan on cremating a close relative.  So culture wise we're left with modern Thai culture in the form of the karaoke lounge.  The flyers, in Thai, for the 'Milky Way' karaoke pub on the outskirts of Whitesands promise visitors footie on a 150" TV screen.

Being an island, seafood features almost as prominently as banana pancakes on restaurant menus but it's worth remembering that a seafood meal for two will probably cost the same as a three nights accommodation in a moderate backpacker bungalow.  'Cookie' restaurant on Whitesands beach is deservedly popular as it serves decent sized portions at decent prices.  Down in Bangbao, 'The Bay' restaurant is my favourite place for a 40 baht lunch in laid back surroundings.  Wherever you are staying it's worth venturing further than your resort restaurant to eat as you'll always be able to find a good local eaterie where you can get a meal for 20-25 baht.  If my missus doesn't feel like cooking then we always get food from a no-name restaurant in Kai Bae.

As you head into Kai Bae from the north, go past the 7-11, on the opposite side of the road you'll then pass 'Oxygen bar & restaurant' (itself a nice place for an evening meal), 'Bee's Coffee', a tailors shop, a hairdresser's and then a small open sided restaurant on a corner plot.  Try it, you won't be disappointed, the menu's in English too.  Also located in Kai Bae is 'Papa's Deli' - the only place on the island you can get a baguette that not only looks, but also tastes like a baguette, a not inconsiderable feat.

Well, you've convinced me.  How do I get there?

Depending on how much of an independent traveller you really are you can either:

Pop down to any travel agent's office on Khao San Road, say the magic words 'Koh Chang', point at the photo of a minivan designed to comfortably seat six but refitted to seat ten, hand over around 250 baht and then return at the day and time stated on the ticket to board the van.  The drive to the ferry pier will take around 5 hours by which time you'll have probably lost all feeling in your legs.

Or

Find your own way to either Ekkamai or Morchit bus stations, buy a ticket to Trat, it'll be about 170 - 190 baht.  The bus takes around 6 hours to get to Trat, depending on the number of toilet stops the driver requires.  From Trat, the passenger ferry pier at Laem Ngop is a 20 baht, 20 minute songtaew ride away.  Bus company staff will point you in the direction of the songtaews.

The ferries to the island takes around 40 minutes and once on the island you'll see the white pick-up songtaews which are the island's poor attempt at providing public transport.

Thanks for the info.  Can I buy you a beer?

Of course you can, I live on the island.  If you need more comprehensive info on Koh Chang please visit www.iamkohchang.com , or, if spending some of your time clad in a skintight rubber outfit is a prerequisite of your travel plans, you'll find all you need to know about scuba diving off Koh Chang at www.divekohchang.com.

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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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Tropical Fruits

Thai FruitTropical fruits are abundant in Thailand. Some are vaguely familiar; others are curious and worrying even to look at. Have you heard of Bael fruit? Most probably not, let alone taste a juice made out of it.

Bael tree is indigenous to Indochina and South East Asia. The fruits have a firm outer surface that turns yellow when ripe. The inside of the fruit has a hard central core and triangular segments, filled with a pale orange, sweet pulp. Seeds enclosed in a mucoid sac are lodged in the pulp.

Ask for ma-tuum or matoom which is the local name of the fruit. The Bael fruit drink is an effective thirst quencher. It tastes rather bland, with sugar added to taste. It created no remarkable impression when I first tasted it.

I would not suggest having the drink together with food because by nature of its very bland taste, drinking it after a mouthful of curry or any other spicy morsel can actually overpower its taste so much that the bael fruit juice can be rendered tasteless.

The very helpful waiter brought me a little sachet of brown Matoom powder from which the drink was prepared. Just the addition of water and ice! I learnt that it was available at herbal and medicinal shops, since bael fruit, considered as having health giving properties, is used variously for digestive, laxative and tonic properties. Quite useful if you are a backpacker!

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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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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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Welcome to Pattaya/Jomtien

This well-known beach resort area is only 145 kilometers from Bangkok and would compliment anyone's holiday to Thailand. The delightful area is nothing less than a tourist's playground, and for that reason it should not be missed. The beaches are vastly improved and all sorts of attractions are in the area for your interest and pleasure.

The economy is strong because of tourism, which allows the provincial government to continually upgrade facilities and the city has grown steadily over the past 30 years. Pattaya residents are well adjusted to the 'farang' behavioral habits, yet they have genuine regard for tourists, and make them welcome wherever they go. The whole area is mushrooming at an alarming rate, and it seems to be a city of hotels, bars and restaurants; indeed from one visit to another, you can see many developments from entrepreneurs and Government recourses.

Pattaya is an exciting place for the visitor, some going there for 'action' and others wishing only to relax on the beach. The clean, white sand, warm water, tropical palms, and shore lined umbrellas all add to the attraction. While you are resting on the beach why not partake in refreshments and possibly a massage or manicure or just a stroll along the waters edge. Water activities are always popular which include skiing and swimming, banana rides, snorkeling, and paragliding.

All the beaches have a number of professional attendants that provide an excellent variety of services and ensure you do not want for anything. From time to time beach peddlers, ice cream and food vendors sometimes interrupt this tranquility, but at least these services are made available to everyone.

Shopping is for everyone and is highly diversified by the different types of markets, bazaar's, shopping malls and department stores. Many concentrate on the 'farang' influx and prices can be pricey, however if you search around, then you will discover other outdoor markets that are very cheap [at least to western standards]. Pattaya has a huge variety of excursions and attractions to keep the tourist happy and interested. Temples and gardens, extreme sport activities, boat cruise, hang gliding, golf, cooking classes, museums, wild life parks, small islet excursions, which are all priced very well.

Evening entertainment is electrifying-- restaurants, disco's, karaoke bars, clubs, massage, all offering the best of times. And for something different why not try those in the outer roads that the Thai's usually frequent, they are delightful, cheaper and less pressure than the ones in the tourist belt and best of all-- welcome 'out of Towner's --- In fact there is everything that you would expect to be available in a city devoted to tourism.

Jomtien beach is only 4 kilometers south and is a lot quieter and not the pressure of Pattaya, but it certainly does not suffer in the service stakes. Great hotels, guest houses, bars, clubs, parlors, vehicle rentals, restaurants, and of course wonderful beaches, equal to, if not better than other areas.

From time to time, the police in Pattaya and Jomtien crack down on motorcycle riders. All riders that do not wear their helmet are fined, even if you are the pillion passenger. The bike is impounded until you pay the fine. Strange thing is that after you have paid the fine they don't care if you put your helmet on. This crack down only applies to 'farangs' and you will see thousands of Thais without a helmet, and they don't get fined - funny that!

I have visited Pattaya /Jomtien more than 30 times and always find something new and interesting to keep me occupied.

Cheers from Down Under, Garry

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Why the River Kwai?

Why the River Kwai. A sense of joy filled my head as we neared Kanchanaburi some three hours from Bangkok. As a young boy I viewed a movie and the memory has never left. While I was excited to see the famous bridge and associated attractions there was a small let down, as the bridge of my childhood resembled little to the real thing, however I was soon overwhelmed by the beauty and tranquility of the area.

My friends and I stayed at a resort of floating huts on the river about 40 kilometers from Kanchanaburi in a town called Sai Yok. We negotiated the price, which included all meals, but alcohol was extra. We were left alone all day to do our own thing, and at meal time the owner returned and prepared the food. The menu choice was good and we were able to have three different dishes all of course with rice.

The experience was without doubt the best that I have had in Thailand. We stayed for 5 nights, initially by ourselves but after the first day others arrived, we all sang and drank and had a great time checking out the local attractions and markets for souvenirs. Tourist operators from Bangkok have daily trips or you can have a few days with accommodation, its up to you.

The whole area is fantastic, ---- don't think that the bridge, and museums are the only things of interest. There are several waterfalls, golfcourses, caves, fishing, rafting, elephants, and wild life parks, all within a short distance.

Do yourself a favor and stay a while and feel the beauty of Thailand, you will never forget the experience.

Cheers

Garry

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Santa Comes to Thailand

Unfortunately tourists, backpackers and travelers never get the real spirit of Thailand because they are not in country long enough. For those who stay or have relationships with families, you may relate to the following event.

When my wife and I decided to return to Thailand for Christmas, we decided to give the kids of the village something that they never had before -- Santa Clause. Most nationals in Thailand are Buddhist and don't celebrate Christmas, but they certainly have heard of Christmas. But do they understand its meaning? No not really.

In preparation, we purchased a Santa suit in Australia, together with Santa sack, beard and many presents. We arrived in my wife's village [sub village of Nakhon Sawan] and were greeted by the family. It was nice to see them and they were all keen to receive gifts. We had to explain that the gifts were not going to be given out until Christmas Morning. It was also decided to have an Aussie barbeque for lunch on Christmas Day.

My wife organized all the food and we prepared it for our family and friends. This was my Christmas gift to everyone, as they would never have had anything like it before. We borrowed a barbeque from a local restaurant and purchased the refreshments. My mate and his wife joined us from Korat and we commenced the activities.

I had brought music tapes from Australia and everyone was amused to see two farang's singing and dancing to tunes that they had never heard before. The most rewarding thing was when a local restaurant owner kept on repeating 'aroy, aroy' - she certainly loved the marinade pork steaks, and chicken salad.

Christmas day fell during the week and all the kids were at school, so naturally Santa had to visit the school. He arrived bells ringing on the back of a shiny new red motorcycle. Santa explained through the teachers about Christmas and the birth of Jesus in the Christian Faith, and the belief in Santa Clause and its origins, then he gave lollies to every child in the school. The children then responded by giving Santa a truly fine dancing and drum exhibition. The experience was great for everyone and Santa was asked to return next year. Who knows!

Later in the day Santa went through the village and gave lollies to all the kids that he saw. All-in-all a very satisfying day.

Cheers,

Garry

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Bangkok or bust – a further episode from down under!

OK fellow travelers, you have decided on a holiday to Thailand. You have prepared yourself by buying books and looking at travel brochures. Spoken to your friends who have been there before, and you are ready to experience all that is on offer. Well now I will let you know the things that you don't know.

This report is generalities because your age, sex, budget, mode of transport and destination are unknown. Therefore for this episode we will concentrate on Bangkok and feature other destinations later. Is that OK? We also assume that you are flying in to Bangkok.

As you approach and prepare for touch down, you can see the size of Bangkok from the window. But only night flights can heighten the sense of excitement as you stare at the fairy lights of the city, which disappear into the distance. Bangkok is immense and not to be taken as a sleepy backwater. After you disembark it is easy to follow the directions or just follow the other passengers to the immigration area where they check your passports, visas etc.

Depending on the time of arrival the duty free shops may be open as well as cafes and retail shops. Toilet and shower facilities are available for your convenience, and very important, there are Automatic Teller Machines located in the walkways. You should use these machines to obtain Thai currency. These machines are connected to the banking system and you will get the best possible rate of exchange without any additional fees.

Once you have passed through immigration descend the stairs and collect your luggage. Now you are required to pass through customs, and lets hope you are not the one with contraband and get caught. Every thing is going good right? As you exit the door to the public area persons offering taxis or cars will swoop you on. If at this stage you have not changed money at an ATM then there is a moneychanger near the door. They don't give a good rate and charge a fee. Try to avoid this situation.

Now proceed outside and you will see the 'taxi meter' stand with lots of cabs. You go to a booth to organize the ride to your destination and there is a surcharge. You [the customer] also have to pay the toll. Now if you arrive on a Sunday tell the driver not to take the toll way, as the traffic is light and no quicker. The shuttle bus is also located in this area and around 70 baht for a ride into town. The train station is across the road, and once again depending on time of your arrival dictates what mode of travel you should take.

For those who are traveling on organized tours someone may pick you up and spirit you away to your hotel. But for the budget or backpacker where every dollar counts, it should be made aware to you that there are thousands of rooms available?everywhere. After check in, it may be time to explore or snore. Factors of age, time and jet lag will determine your activities on arrival. However lets say after 2-4 hours you are ready to explore. Armed with your translator or dictionary or what ever, out you go full of confidence. Use your brains ask the management of the hotel about the immediate area and a few places to see. Perhaps they will suggest a private car or tour. It is not a bad idea for the first day until you get your bearings.

Remember there are some unhappy experiences to be had as well if you fall into the wrong company. But you are an adult now and can handle anything, right? Wrong? Not in a country that speaks a tongue other than your own. Bangkok is not a city for the faint hearted but its vibrancy and love for fun is hard to be beaten. Many beautiful sights can be seen in this city devoted to 'Sanuk'.

Good Luck and I hope this story adds a little to your life.

Garry

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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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Beer and ### and chips and gravy

bscgThose of you of a certain age and gender who hale from the North West of England shouldn't really need the title explaining, but as I like to be as inclusive as I possibly can I'll add a bit more information for people who've had the nerve not to be brought up in Lancashire or Cheshire. Back in the glorious nineteen eighties, what might loosely be described as a "pop group" called The Macc Ladds thrived on the periphery or should that be the underbelly (or an even more iniquitous part of the anatomy) of the music industry in the UK.

Beer and Sex and Chips and GravyThey did little for the furtherance of political correctness and got proscribed from a number of venues before they even played them. One of their better known tracks (which is rumoured never to have graced the hi-fi system of the Vatican) was/still is called "Beer and ### and chips and gravy". Out of politeness I've omitted the second component of "what a Macc Ladd" wants although if you can't work it out it starts with "s" and ends in "x".

Now I know that by mentioning the Macc Ladds, there'll be sensitive principled caring types with a feel for environmental issues and a concern for the welfare of the less fortunate who'll be screaming blue murder and rapidly botching together voodoo dolls of me (I'm short, a little overweight have blue eyes and shoulder length brown/black hair if you want my likeness to be accurate), and those who like to become part of their host nation by immersing themselves in the culture and eating the local food will be marking me as an outcast and Philistine by admitting to my need for good honest chipped fried pomme de terre in a rich brown sauce. Now before I continue, and before I die from a million pin pricks, I do actually like Thai food. It's great.

Phad ThaiI would wholeheartedly encourage those of you making your first visit to Thailand to try as much of it as you possibly can (and I don't just mean a banana pancake). The most basic explanation I've heard of Thai food is that it's a sort of mix of Chinese and Indian, although to be fair that's something of an over simplification.

The main thing that characterizes Thai food is the chilli, when you eat in a restaurant virtually every meal will be accompanied by four pots of different types of chilli to liven up your repast. Thai's like their food spicy and us northerners (if we're real northerners that is) like it bland, if you've tried Thai food in a restaurant back home you're more than likely to have been served something that's been toned down for the western pallet, so prepare yourself for something with a little more squeak when you get here.

There are a large number of dishes available in the Land of Smiles, and the ingredients that give Thai food its distinctive zest include lemongrass, ginger, chilli, fish sauce, shrimp paste, garlic and coconut.

There are a huge range of dishes available, generally speaking (and I'm being very general) the stuff in the south tends to have more of a seafood/coconut slant, while the stuff in the north tends to have more of a meat/chilli slant.

Thai breakfast if it's not fruit, tends to be a dish called Khao Tom, a litteral translation is "rice soup", which really leaves little room for a description except to say that it isn't that spicy unless you add too much chilli and is available as Khao Tom "Gai" (with chicken), "Moo" with pork,"nuen" with beef "plah" with fish or "Kueng" with prawns.

Personally I rarely get chance for breakfast in Thailand and I can just see you thinking "Wow what a diligent guy, he's so busy he doesn't take a morning meal." Those of you who know me however realize that I do sometimes take a morning snack known as a "Lay" (ridge cut fried potato) available at 7/11 stores flavoured either as "Extra barbeque" or "nori seaweed". I have on several occasions been spotted at 6:30 am breezing my way home with a couple of bags of "Lay" after an evening discussing the Premier League in an establishment that as a mere oversight forgot to close it's doors at 1am.

Daytime dishes vary greatly. If your not keen on spicey stuff Pad Thai's a safe bet. It's sort of a mix of fried noodles, vegetables a bit of rice and "gai" or "kueng", when you get it the granular stuff on the edge of the plate next to the lime is ground peanut. It's meant to be mixed in along with the lime juice to add flavour.

The curries are also well worth a try I'm not well up on the actual difference in types, but there is Kaeng Daeng (red curry) or Kaeng Keo (green) and Massaman (which has a slightly different flavour) all of which are available as beef, chicken, pork or prawn dishes.

My current favourite, which I find excellent for a hangover or head cold is "Tom Yam", it's a spicy soup that can contain chicken, fish or prawn. Broadly speaking there tend to be two types, it can be a clear soup or an opaque dish, usually served with rice. The opaque variety tends to be red in colour and although I could be wrong I've a feeling the pigmentation in the dark variety comes from shrimp paste.

If your tongue, the roof of your mouth and other parts of your digestive tract are made like most westerners of human skin, you may want to exercise caution and finish any food order with the phrase "Pet nid noi" it means "a little bit spicy" or "mai pet" which means "not spicey". However if your innards are made of asbestos, kevlar or the type of heatproof bricks they use to line the test sites at atomic weapons research establishments you might want to try the phrase "pet mahk" which means "very spicey" or "pet mahk mahk", although when you sit down to bid your lunch a fond farewell, don't say I didn't warn you.

There's also a great deal of fried dishes, i.e. fried rice with a meat or fish of your choice or fried noodles (which are sometimes sheets of flat noodles) in a similar style with a variety of sauces. One of my personal favourites is a dish called Laarb. It's traditionally a dish from the north of Thailand; it can be found in Bangkok/Central Thailand, but rarely so in the south. It's made of ground meat (of your choice) and seared with chopped chillis, onions and beans. The salads here are also highly recommended as an option for those who wish to maintain an enviable physique. I'd also be doing you a disservice if I failed to mention the different type of food outlets you'll encounter over here as well. Back home your probably used to restaurants where they come and serve you at the table then you pay and go about your business, or shops where you can buy food (prepared or otherwise) then take it home and do what you want with it.

However in Thailand, what can pass as a restaurant is four Formica tables in the road, an old lady with no teeth, a camping stove and two pans that don't know what a brillo pad looks like. There's also a great variety of stalls, handcarts, grilles welded to motorbikes and old women with a six foot bamboo pole with baskets on either end, all of whom are prepared to sell you some form of nourishment.

Most of the stuff is usually fine to eat even off roadside stalls, however as a word of warning be careful of the "street barbeques", the places that have piles of small satay's that they grill on half an oil drum filled with burning coals. I used to love the chicken and beef from those places, but curiously seemed to be plagued with bouts of dyspepsia, however since I've steered clear of them I can still be described as a "frequent visitor" to Thailand although my visits of another nature seem to have become less and less frequent.

As a word of warning one might be advised to try and stick to static catering establishments rather than the mobile ones which have been known to leave people in hospital. The worst ones I've learned from anecdotal experience are the "hot dog stall welded to motorbike variety". A friend of mine was lying in hospital in Koh Samui where he was receiving medical attention for torn knee ligaments, a dislocated arm and various cuts and grazes, when he had the following telephone conversation with his travel insurance company in the UK.

Agent, "Why are you in hospital Mr xxxxxxx ?" My Friend, "Becuase I've had an accident." Agent, "When did the accident take place ?" Friend, "5:45 am Thai time on the 17th." Agent, "And what happened ?" Friend, "Well I was riding my motorbike home from a beach party when a catering establishment crashed into me." Agent, "Where you drunk Mr xxxxxxx?" Friend, "No but the man driving the restaurant was drinking a bottle of whiskey at the time."

In a similar vein, if you want to make use of this website for cautionary purposes I'd steer well clear of a dish called Som Tam. It's actually supposed to be very healthy, it's a sort of salad made with shredded pappaya, chillis, lime juice, chillis, fermented crab meat, chillis, uncooked meat and chillis. It actually tastes quite nice at first, but I dare any westerner to eat more than four or five forkfuls. As with all great designs it is bi functional, it has a medicinal use which medics stationed in Thailand during the Vietnam War discovered. Some GI medics stationed in Khorat ran out morphine to treat soldiers who'd recently lost limbs and were clean out of ideas as to how to treat their patients when they saw local ordelies rubbing a concoction on the recently dismembered stumps of the victims. They noticed that the profuse bleeding stopped immediately, the severed veins healed themselves and skin of a harder than usual variety grew over the wound. When asked what they were using the orderlies replied "Som Tam."

On a serious note, much as it tastes good, and can be a challenge for "chilli heroes" because of the uncooked element in the meat and fish, it can be the cause of some severe discomfort and should only be sampled by the very brave, the very well insured or the severely constipated. No dip into a country's ingestible delights would be complete without a look at the local liquid refreshments, and I can honestly look you in the eye without wavering when I say, "I've done a fair amount of research on the topic."

The first phrase that comes to mind when discussing Thai liquor, is "all that glitters is not gold." Look at it objectively; these statements apply to virtually all Thai brand liquid intoxicants. It's cheap, it's strong, and it tastes delicious. It has a nice label on that makes me look well travelled. However what they don't tell you in the brochure is that it'll give you the hangover from hell. The two main indigenous beers, are Singha and Beer Chang. Singha is brewed by the Boon Rwad distillery and has a very full hoppy taste; it was taken from a German recipe that was used by some German Engineers who were working here in the earlier part of last century. Chang is a much smother drink and both taste very good when chilled however their strengths run at around 6 or 7% proof, which makes them a little harder to manage over the extended periods of immersion that us westerners tend to favour whilst here on holiday. Personally (and you can called me a heretic for this) I prefer the foreign beers brewed here under license such as Heineken and Tiger, they're 5 or 10 baht more expensive, are less volatile and the morning after are less likely than their local counterparts to see you up before the local judge.

There are two types of people in my opinion who should consider venturing onto Bangkok's busy streets with a Singhover or Changover, either people with assertiveness problems or those with very hard mates.

It's rumoured (although not confirmed) that Mother Theresa was once in Krung Thep on an aid conference when she was treated by local dignitaries to the region's fare. The morning after and 6 big Chang down the line she staggered towards the conference, kicked a beggar who asked her to spare the price of a cuppa around the head then beat him with her stick shouting, "Get a ####### job you lazy ####."

We all have days where we feel like that, some more than others and its on those occasions that we get strange spiritual urges to seek out the type of food that our forefathers were raised on. It's no coincidence that complimentary therapists, when helping in the treatment of cancers look at a patient's lineage and asses the type of food their ancestors were nourished with so they can prescribe the type of diet that they're genetically predisposed to thrive on.

When I had a little health scare a while ago I went to see a complimentary dietician who after a week or so of DNA testing and family genealogy suggested I should try and survive as far as was solely possible on chips, Hollands Pies, chip shop gravy, salt and vinegar crisps and dandelion and burdock. I managed to adhere rigorously to his suggestions and the proof as they say is in the pudding, with the fact that I stand here proudly in font of you 100 kg in weight and with no foolish delusions towards exercise.

The treatment did have a slight side effect in that it shrunk the waistbands of all my trousers but it was a small price to pay to rid myself of a potentially fatal verouca.

Although I regularly stray from my regime and can be seen eating curry, tom yam, pad thai and fried rice I often feel it my duty to seek out good proper chips, gravy and pies. Now I do actually feel that I've been reasonably diligent in my quest for a decent chip supper, but I'd like to throw it open to the readers of KSR.com and see if they can come up with any better establishments than I've been able to source.

I must point out that meat pie chips and gravy is more than just a meal. It’s a religious experience. For a northerner it's got greater spiritual significance than a trip to Mecca (or the Gala Bingo Halls now that Mecca have lost market share).

The food being presented to you is only part of the experience. The person partaking in the sacrament should be if not blind drunk, at least half cut, defineitely not sober, preferably with a couple of betting slips from William Hill in his or her pocket and if not bloodied from a fracas outside a nightclub the recipient of the mana should at least be in the mood for a fight. He must queue up for his food, be abusive to the staff (who will be wearing white and blue checked aprons that have not been washed for 3 months) and complain about the price and size of the portions.

There are few places outside the UK that offer this service.

"The Chippy" on Lamai Beach Rd, Koh Samui fails miserably. OK the chips and pies (made by Big Joe's English Food Company) it sells are as close to damit as you'll get to the real thing back home, however the staff are polite. I've never seen a fight in there and the food (including chip barms with gravy) is reasonably priced.

I'm told that the Offshore Bar, Soi Nanai in Patong offers a very similar range of food to the chip shops in England, but lacks an offensive owner, does not have a plate glass window to throw queue jumpers through and doesn't have a calendar, stuck on last months page with a picture of a cottage in the Yorkshire Dales on it.

Pattaya being the strong hold that it is of mainstream British culture has several options for chipsomaniac, my favourite are The Pig and Whistle and Rosie O'Gradies, both on soi 7, they probably fail in offering the fully chippy experience as the food is closer to restaurant standard than necessary, but will leave you with a high cholesterol count and the need to buy some bigger shorts.

There is however one establishment in Bangkok on Sukumvit Soi 23, which bears the signage "Fish and Chips". It comes very very close to the real thing, almost indiscernably so. The flooring is worn brown lino. The salt cellars have a single grain of rice in them. There are posters depicting Lancashire Life in the early 20th Century. The food is of a standard which could be the envy of any friery in Greater Manchester. The staff there although Thai and diligent have that half shocked, half weary look that says, "That's the bloke that dropped his trousers and asked me to marry him last week." and best of all there are fights in the queue.

If anyone has any further offerings that can be put into the hat for Thailand's Chippy of the Year, I'd be very happy to hear about them. Happy hunting.

As for the Macc Ladds, I've heard they all went down Torremelinos although rumours are that one of them isn't a million miles away.

Cheers

Wan' a chip luv ?

Dominic Lavin shares his time equally between the United Kingdom and Thailand. A writer, poet and mystic, Dominic is available for small parties and special occaisions. Contact his agent to establish his current schedule. http://www.myspace.com/140525510

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Essential Equipment for a Backpacker’s First Trip

Essential Equipment for a Backpacker's First TripA couple of years ago a female colleague of mine had decided to take a career break and spend some time in South East Asia before taking up a new job in Australia. Stop number one on her journey planner was Bangkok. As I was the office aficionado on all matters Siamese she asked me what she should take. I sucked my lips, thought for a moment and replied, "It's more what you should leave behind". She gave me a look that said, "What sort of answers that? He's finally gone gaga."

Thailand is a country of many faces. Wherever you go in the country they'll be smiling. Bangkok has some very wealthy inhabitants who spend their time sat in very expensive cars with the windows up and the air con on full while they watch their poor cousins scooting by. It also has some seriously impoverished rural parts, and the whole gamut of socio economic grades in between.

There are no material things I can think of that you can't get in Thailand. Most of the things one might need are considerably cheaper over there than they are in the West, the only exception being up-to-date electronic goods. So if you really can't live without your twenty-six inch wide screen TV or Intelligent Washer Drier, take it with you. I'm not sure on the charges you'd incur at the airport but I'm sure the airline would be happy to supply you with that information.

You can buy most thing's that you'll need when you're there but people like to feel prepared and take things like toothpaste, sun tan oil, mosquito spray etc with them although you'll be gutted when you see the price of them there. I think the only thing that's more expensive over there is deodorant. I'm told the Tampon's available there are bit like hand rolled cigarettes if you are used to buying them in packets, but being a bloke it has rarely been of any great consequence to me. The condoms available in Thailand are at best described as a little "snug". A friend of mine who isn't well regarded in feminist circles described the usage of a Thai brand condom as "Like fitting a roll of carpet in a babies sock".

So stock up on Johnnies and Tammies before you go, although there are branches of "Boots" dotted around the larger conurbations selling Western Toiletries and medicines for Western pallets at astronomical prices. I think the best way for me to go about explaining things is to make a list for you.

Appendix a

Take:

1) A smile (or the ability to perform one)
2) Common Sense
3) Paranoia
4) Your time
5) A tolerance to alcohol (Although one can be acquired in situ)
6) The ability to communicatesee ( "An extensive glossary of phrases, colloquialisms and head movements essential for visitors to Thailand"

DON'T TAKE 

  1) Your ego
  2) Gullibility
  3) Paranoia
  4) Impatience
  5) Bad Temper (although this may become history if you take it with you)
  6) Lots of clutter         
  
Appendix b

AN EXTENSIVE GLOSSARY OF PHRASES, COLLOQUIALISMS AND HEAD MOVEMENTS ESSENTIAL FOR VISITORS TO THAILAND

1) Yes - a positive affirmation used in a linguistic context

2) No - a negative affirmation used in a linguistic context

3) Move your chin and the rest of your head fifteen degrees to the left, back to centre and fifteen degrees to the right then back to the centre in a continuous movement-a negative affirmation in a non-linguistic context. (If you are Peter Beardsley completing this correctly may prove difficult so stick with "No")

4) Move your chin upwards fifteen degrees along the vertical axis, back to the centre, down through fifteen degrees then back to the centre - a positive affirmation in a non-linguistic context

5) Mai ow crap - it means "No Thank you" in Thai. If you are female say "ka" instead of "crap" (Yes Thai men do walk round saying "crap" all the time. Stop giggling at the back)

6) Mai Pen Rai - it means it doesn't matter

7) F**k off - catch all phrase which can be used if item "5" on the "Don't Take" list has found it's way into your hand luggage. Also comes in handy if you miss packed item "2" on the "Don't Take" list thinking it was item "2" on the "Take" list, and have been taken to a jewellery store where you can make a fortune buying discounted emeralds.

Thai people differ greatly from Westerners. They're nice. Nothing is too much trouble. I suppose I should explain the list. Thailand is a chaotic place. The idea of planning isn't something they're comfortable with. We're starting to get the picture. In the West you'll have got used to things happening within five or ten minutes of when you expect them to. Thailand is similar just replace the word "minute" with the word "hour" or possibly "day". Now lets run through a few scenarios:

Scenario 1

Yesterday you booked into "Smiling Guesthouse/Internet Cafe/Massage Parlour (traditional of course)/Restaurant/Travel Agent/Laundrette/Motorcycle Repair Shop" and paid the handsome sum of $5.50 US to spend the night in the room where "Ducky" from "The Beach" killed himself (it's true you can still see the bloodstains). You also booked onto a "Luxury Air Conditioned Coach" to Surat Thani for $10 US. From there you will catch the ferry to Kho Samui or Kho Pha Ngan. The coach is due to leave at 10 am.

Today you've woken up. You have a cold shower (good for the soul) dress and go and wait for the "Luxury Air Conditioned Coach".

It's 09:55, you have an American Breakfast (it's good to get into the customs of a country) and wait. Some other people with back packs turn up.

It's 10:25. You ask the Lady in the apron you bought the ticket off for the coach, who served you your breakfast after fixing the Internet connection where the bus is.

"Is coming soon" she smiles.

10:55 a 15-year-old Toyota Hi Ace pulls up. It only has one headlight. The rear bumper is held on with blue string, it has a large "Manchester United" sticker in the back window. One of the rear tyres is almost flat and one of the front ones looks like it was stolen from a handcart. The people with rucksacks jam themselves into the vehicle. You go for a slash. When you return the vehicle is trundling off in a large black cloud of diesel smoke.

The lady you bought the ticket from sees you laughs uncontrollably points at the vehicle through the smoke and says, "You miss bus."

Take item "1" from the "Take" list. Use it as genuinely as is physically possible. Make sure item "5" from the don't take list doesn't rear it's ugly head and use item "6" from "Appendix b".

Scenario 2

You have established that no refund is available. Your ticket is valid for tomorrow. You have decided to stay another night. Have a walk round. The traffic is very busy. You become thirsty. Ensure that item "5" from the take list is fitted and functional. Sit in a bar and try some of the local beer Singha is very good. Once you've tried seven of them try a Beer Chang or 6, then move on to the Mekong the Thai's call it a whisky (but is technically a rum for all you grog snobs out there).

Walk around in the sun. Come very close to being killed by a scooter. Use item "1" from the "take" list liberally. It must be pointed out that failure to fit item "5" from the take list correctly will seriously interfere with function of item "6" on the take list and may lead to item "2" on the "Don't Take" list creeping up on you.

You wake up the next day having misplaced item "6" from the take list. You check your rucksack again. You look at your watch it's 11:45 am and realise your "Luxury Air Con" has left again without you. Stroll downstairs for breakfast.

Scenario 3 Run back to your room. Unfortunately you brought item "1" from the "Don't Take" list and it has been torn from your back and stamped on by a family of laughing Thais. Say to your self, "Fuck this for a game of soldiers". Get a taxi to the airport and pay $130 US for a flight to Kho Samui that afternoon. Whilst on the plane use item "3" from the "take" list while wondering if it is possible to catch Aids when using a condom and mulling over that article you saw on the telly about a plane crashing at Samui Airport killing all but two of the passengers.

The pedantic among you may notice that item "3" on the "Don't Take List" also appears on the "Take" list. Paranoia can save your life and also ruin it. I believe there are different brands available in the west. If you can only find a brand which must be fitted like a steel plate in your knee and can't be removed don't bother. If however you can find a brand similar to Bic Razors, which can be used once and thrown away this is ideal. Carry it with you at all times.

Once you've got to Kho Pha Ngan. If someone stops you in the street and offers you something/anything grab item "3" quickly out of your pocket and wave it at them in conjunction with item "7" from "Appendix b". If your dancing away at the Full Moon Party and your vision has become distorted after a shake, try and get one of your friends to look after "item 3" for you.

Enjoy your trip!

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Triggerfish and Turtles

diving_ko_taoI'm 28 years old in the year of Our Lord and I can say that very rarely do I finish a day on this lonely planet with a smile on my face the size of China. Yesterday I ate my evening meal whilst grinning from cheek to cheek. Why? Because I had become a scuba diver! Koh Tao, about 50 km from the east coast port of Chumphong in the Gulf of Thailand was the location for my first experiences under the sea. Tao is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth. Resident population 2000, 21 km square, main industries: diving, fishing, diving, growing coconuts and er, diving.

Rich with turtles (Koh Tao = Turtle Island) the flat sea around this utopia shimmers with a thousand shades of blue which change as the ever-present sun drenches the white beaches. Once a political prison and for a long time uninhabited, Tao seems like a place not long-discovered and now exploding into a Mecca for self-indulgent divers. Few laws govern this totally chilled environment but no buildings higher than the ubiquitous palm trees are allowed. Under royal patronage, the island's only tourist attraction is a large rock inscribed with the late monarch's initials. The Thai population is trying to maintain it's roots whilst welcoming tourist dollars by accommodating westerners with European cuisine. Hollywood blockbusters and the latest Fat Boy sounds in bars and the 2 clubs mix with the tinkling tunes of the waves on the shore in the evening. In all, a pleasant sense of harmony prevails and I felt as though I had found a special place.

The best was yet to come. Day one of our 4 day PADI Open Water diving course brought us to Ao Chalok Ban Kao, a secluded bay on the southwestern shores of Tao. We dived to a shallow 2m and completed the first job any diver must do- breathe! Taking off our respirators and masks underwater and then replacing them was quite a frightening experience as we felt like humans out of this world instead of fish out of water. And it is another world. Until this week I had only seen the amazing life that flourishes in tropical waters in tanks. In their own environment and illuminated by glowing sunlight, fish all sorts of sea life seem to emanate a beautiful aura which is difficult to describe.

Dives 2 and 3 brought me more confidence in my equipment and abilities underwater until I felt as though I could fly. Adding the 3rd (vertical) dimension reminded me flying and I immersed myself in the joys of swooping up and down from 5 to 10 metres, aiming for stunning coral then chasing my bubbles up towards the bright surface. Looking at my friend Paul, we made our "OK" signals every 2 minutes- as much wanting him to know I was not drowning as much as seeing that he was alright. As our minutes under water stacked up we soon started feeling like Jaques Custeau. We saw a stingray, which expertly dashed away from us when we disturbed it and a couple of triggerfish. These 40cm long fellas are common to Tao and are known for their ferocious defence of their territory. Once a pair of triggerfish (who are monogamous for life) nest, they create a conical exclusion zone with the base of the cone where they spawn and the large circle on the surface. The tactic of the sentinel male is to front you out until you leave his territory. A diver had 4 stitches in his forehead last week as he tried to stand up to the Daddy triggerfish. Happily, the 2 that we saw were happy enough to let us swim on by unheeded.

Our last dive led us to 18 metres and we played football with a rock surrounded by an audience of unbelievable coral, stingrays and Everton mint fish (?) Paul scored an amazing goal with a logic-defying overhead kick which beat the keeper in extra time. I sat on the marine subs bench feeling rather left out. On our way back to the dive boat we saw the captain of our boat with his harpoon in hand and tattoos over every part of his skin. At the surface he was proud to show off a red fish which was easily 2 foot long and would no doubt pay for his family to do whatever Thais do on a Saturday night.

On Thursday night, myself, Paul and 4 assorted Brits (90% of westerners in October are apparently British with the majority becoming French in April!?) took a 4 X 4 roller coaster ride to the top of one of Tao's two peaks. Venus Park is a nightclub on a cliff face-come-jungle which is as close to Enid Blyton's Land of the Faraway Tree as I can imagine. Try and imagine this: 1000 westerners and Thais full of cheer dancing until dawn. It was: EXTREME!

And so we had to leave Koh Tao. It was too fun. It was so beautiful. It has captured me and I will return. For now, we have continued on our way to the next adventure.

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There was that moment of panic…

thai_elephantThere was that moment of panic when the man and his baby elephant came strolling towards our table. 'What should I do? Should I buy a Bag of food and feed the poor pachyderm? Will he go hungry or have to walk even longer today if I don't? Or will my feeding him perpetuate the cycle?'; My mind and heart were battling it out. Months later, I discovered a place they could both agree on.

The National Elephant Institute (formerly the Thai Elephant Conservation Center) was founded in 1991 by the Forest Industry Organization and has since provided care for more than one hundred elephants as well as jobs and housing for mahouts and their families who were displaced after the ban on logging in 1989.

The Elephant Hospital at the institute currently cares for 15 elephants. I and my companions had the great fortune of receiving a tour of the hospital by a resident volunteer, Janique von Kanel. Originally from Switzerland, Janique has been living at the Elephant Hospital for over a year and is founder of The Elephant Hospital Society, a non-profit organization. Janique's other passion is working with children who have leprosy in India. Can we call her 'saint' yet?

Janique introduced us to Babar, a baby elephant suffering from paralysis in his hind legs and back due to a fall. The 'little' guy hangs from a sling during the day and sleeps with a volunteer on a bed of stuffed burlap sacks at night. His mother comes to the hospital to feed him and he receives acupuncture treatment.

We also met Councy, a 45-year-old female elephant severely injured by a land mine while being used for illegal logging activities near the Burmese border.

True animal lovers can experience genuine mahout training, complete with stylish baggy pants. The institute offers programs ranging from 3 to 30 days and starting at 4,000 Baht.

Entry to the institute and hospital is free. Nominal fees are charged For elephant rides and show tickets. See how elephant dung paper is made and purchase some cards, paper or photo frames. I quite enjoyed ending my letters with, 'Guess what you are holding...'

The National Elephant Institute:

Highway Chiang Mai-Lampang km 26-28, Amphor Hang Chat, Lampang 52000.

Elephant Hospital Society: elephanthospitalsociety@hotmail.com  

Events and activities, Elephant Donation Project:

www.changthai.com

Elephant dung paper:

www.elephantdungpaper.com

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Leuk Krueng

Tata YoungFor those of you who don't know, a "Leuk Krueng" is someone of mixed heritage. Famous Leuk Kruengs include Tiger Woods, Tata Young (American/Thai), and David Usher.

(American/Thai), (Canadian/Thai). My mother is Thai and my father is American, so I seem to fit the bill. I was born in the States and grew up in various countries around the world, and although we spent many holidays in Thailand, I never really lived here. I was brought up going to American schools and speaking English with everyone except my mother. After having lived in many countries, including the US, and nearing my 30th birthday, I decided to embrace my inner Thai-ness and move to Thailand for a while. I've been here a year now and it's taken me that long to really feel at home, although I loved it here pretty much from the first day.

When I was a child, I actually hated Thailand, and for a short time as a teenager I even hated being half Thai. It probably began with not being allowed to go out with my young cousins to the market, since my mother was afraid of me getting kidnapped since I was so white. I wasn't allowed to eat the same foods as the other kids either, since my Western stomach couldn't handle it. The joy of being so pale though, was that I was my grandmother's favourite grandchild. Of course, the downside to this was intense jealousy from my cousins, who liked to call me "farang kee-nok"  (farang bird poop because of my skin colour).

Fortunately, some of the other kids living nearby didn't seem to care, so I had playmates anyway. But, as we grew up, I was no longer allowed to play with them on my holidays because we were all settling into our class roles and they were not of my class. This was all back in the day when there were no bilingual schools and I felt like I was the only leuk krueng in the world.
 
On holidays to Thailand I spent a lot of time digging in the yard for chik-goong (crickets) to eat, picking the ticks off the six guard dogs, and tying strings to dead scorpions and throwing them at the maids. It was always fun to go out to eat and have my mother try to force me to suck the eyeballs out of the fish to improve my brain. My father was often mediator in these situations, and I think every mixed-heritage kid needs that kind of balance.
 
Growing up in an American society, although not always living in the US, it was at times strange having an Asian mother. Looking back though, I can see that I was incredibly fortunate. Thais are very concerned about their families and it's a beautiful trait that you don't find so much in America. My mother was at every single school event I ever had and baked treats for me to take to class often. I was the envy of my classmates for her dedication and my birthday parties were especially fun and clever events. Even though she wasn't that great at English herself, she taught me to read in English before I even went to school. 
 
It was really wonderful to grow up bilingual. My mother tells me that I kept speaking a mix of Thai and English in kindergarten and really frightened the teacher until she found out I was bilingual. Many Thais who marry foreigners stop speaking Thai and I think it really puts kids at a disadvantage. I am so happy I can speak Thai now that I live here, and only wish that I had learned to read and write as well.
 
Growing up, there were small arguments about how a nice Thai girl should act and how I acted too American. Since I'm very fair-skinned I fit into the Western world better. Even now, in Thailand, people speak English to me before they speak Thai. Sometimes I get the Thai price and sometimes I end up paying the farang price but that's okay. It's interesting how in Thailand I've had people ask to have their photo taken with me, while in America I've been called a "gook" more times than I can count.
 
I recently went to our family reunion and there were 300 people I had never seen in my life there. Everyone was really nice and the oldest members of the family sat in a line and sprinkled water on everyone else for blessings. You can see that Thai people really care about their families. Since I've been here, my family has taken care of every need I've had, from taking me to get my drivers license to sending bowls of food over to the house that they gave me to live in. I know people in America whose families won't even let them stay over when they visit!
 
My father loves the Thai family structure. He comes from a typical American family where no one speaks to each other anymore except when they want to borrow money from him. Here my mother's family treats him like one of their own, even though he still doesn't speak Thai after 35 years. I think he's happy to know that he doesn't have a typical American kid that's going to leave him in a nursing home when he gets old.
 
Being a leuk krueng is really great. I feel like I have the best of both worlds. Although I am still learning about Thailand, I grow to love it more each day and to feel genuinely patriotic about the country. I'm not ashamed to admit, Thailand makes a great national anthem, and at the movies it makes me cry with pride every time. I actually feel closer to Thailand after one year of living here than in the ten or so years combined that I lived in America. I am annoyed when America bullies my new home and sometimes I am even embarrassed to be half American - my how things change.
 
Thai people have a unique spirit that I am so proud to be a part of. I dont feel like I'm half of two things anymore, but instead, I am two wholes. It's no wonder I ended up marrying another leuk krueng of sorts South African/British. We joke about how we unite four continents. It really would be great though, if the world kept on mixing.

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More than Muay Thai

Aside from Thailand’s obsession with English Premier League football and the ever popular “Muay Thai” (Thai Boxing), the Kingdom has a variety of home grown “sports” enjoyed by Thais in their own very special way. 

takrawTakraw

Said to have originated in southern Thailand, which is probably why the Malays play it too, this competitive and truly acrobatic team sport involves knocking a light weight ball, made from Ratan, back and forth over a badminton net. This highly skillful game is all about speed, acrobatics and for me, the defiance of gravity as aside from their hands players can use any other part of the body to keep the ball up and launch it back over the net. Matrix style moves are common place as players often somersault in the air to kick the ball. Friendly “knock ups” can be seen everywhere with players standing around in circles, heading, kicking and keeping the ball aloft. However, if you want to see some serious bouts, visit either the National Stadium or the Hua Mak Stadium.

Kitefighting in ThailandKite Fighting

Kite flying, “chak-wow jula” is enjoyed not only in Bangkok, but all over the Kingdom between March to May each year. However, during this period the serious business of “kite fighting” competition in Bangkok is focused on Sanam Luang (the large open area beside the Grand Palace) where at weekends spectators will see amazingly hand crafted kites of various shapes, sizes, colours and designs in aerial combat. Funnily enough, these airborne battles match “male” and “female” kites up against each other with the winner knocking their opponent out of the sky! 

fish_fightingFish Fighting

The beautiful, but raving mad, Siamese fighting fish, locally known as “Pla Gat”, has been cross bred so much that aside from its stumpy looking fins and the fact that it will insanely attack its own reflection, it is not easy to identify one from an ordinary fighting fish. Nevertheless, once bets are placed on this widespread local sport, competition between combatants couldn’t be simpler with two male fish placed into a glass jar and thereafter must fight to the death or at least until one tries to do a runner! Although most fights are typically over within minutes, some victories have been known to take hours. 

Bull Fighting in ThailandThai Bull Fighting

Down in Hat Yai local farmers have their own, safer, form of bull fighting. Unlike the deadly Spanish style, Thai farmers simply get their bulls to “lock-horns”, in a test of strength with the winner being the animal still standing in the centre of the ring or the one that hasn’t fled. Almost comically, in a well matched contest you will see owners actually giving their bulls a helping hand, push and even a kick up the backside! You can catch the action on the first Saturday of each month at the Khlong Wa Stadium. 

Makruk Thai ChessMak Ruk (Thai Chess)

“Mak Ruk” is more like the western style chess game rather than the Chinese one. Although the object of the game is the same; to get checkmate, it’s played a lot faster than its western counterpart. In general, the size of the “Mak Ruk” board, the number of pieces and the rules of capture are the same. Kings cannot castle and aside from the queens and bishops, which can only move one square, all other pieces move in the same ways as those in the western style of the game. Mak Ruk is enjoyed by all Thais with games commonly seen all over the kingdom. 

And remember….

Keepitreal

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A Bridge Not So Far

kanchanaburi_1
Kanchanaburi
Kanchanaburi
Sometimes, it's a nice to get away from the pace of it all. And as far as Bangkok is concerned, an early morning start and 3.5 hrs to spare will get you away to one of my favourite chill out provinces, Kanchanaburi. If the name rings a bell, then yes you're right, it is the place where that "old bridge" was built over the River Kwai, but that's another story.

There are many sides to Kanchanaburi, whether it is from the 24 hr techno raves on the infinite number of party river barges (locally known as "Bpear Tech" if you're up for hitching a ride), to swimming beneath beautiful waterfalls, white water rafting, nature treks, cave exploring, slow river cruises and even a treasure hunt! Yes, that's right, a hunt for the legendry missing Thai gold that was, as the local tale goes, stolen by the fleeing Japanese army and hidden somewhere deep among the many caverns of Kanchanaburi. Indiana Jones, eat your heart out! 

But I've banged my head too many times on low caves (alcohol not required) and been kamikazed enough by spaced out radar deficient bats (yes be, warned) that this time I headed directly for some much needed R&R at Kasem Island Resort upon a small island in the centre of the River Kwai.

Kanchanaburi is 130 Km west of Bangkok and is very easy to get to. You'll find mini buses leaving from KSR daily (3.5 hrs journey-rates vary), there's a regular a/c bus service from Bangkok's Southern Bus Terminal (3.5 hrs journey-approx 65 baht one way) located not far from KSR just over the Pinklao Bridge or like me, you can catch the 7:30 am train from Bangkok Noi Station, Thonburi (4 hrs journey). I prefer any one of the 3 morning trains as there's plenty of room to chill, better scenery and the real reason... a regular supply of fresh Thai food sold by the train hopping vendors!

After a relaxed 4 hr journey of food, smiles and laughter (ice cold beer for sale makes a regular appearance between stations) I arrived in Kanchanaburi Town. Once you're outside the train station (and nearby bus station) if you haven't yet booked a place to stay, its ok, as there are plenty of small trucks and minivans that will take you directly to a number of small hotels/guest houses and resorts around town. I got me a local pick-up taxi down to the Chukadon Pier by the river with just one quick pit-stop along the way to stock up with supplies (laughing liquid and the usual munchies) as the resort has no worries about bringing your own! (Nice one).

 Between the mainland and the island Kasem Resort runs its own ferry barge service every half hour back and forth for free, so don't worry you're never stranded. Accommodation ranges from cool twin fan huts with bathroom up to a/c suites. My hut, actually afloat, was 800 Baht per night including a great Thai/Western buffet dinner and breakfast. There are only about 25 rooms/suites or so in total, so there's no hustle or bustle day or night. The small pool's there for a quick dip (no gold medals to be won) and numerous tree shaded chill out areas in which to crack open a few as the sun sets with new friends (buckets of ice upon request) or simply to finally finish off that novel you've had since the airport!

For the adventurous among you, the resort can organize you a long tail speed boat (approx 600 baht-well worth it!) for you to zip up and down the River Kwai for hours avoiding or joining the party mad barge ravers, visiting the Buddhist caves, (hard work, trust me), the War Cemetery (somber), Bridge Over The River Kwai (always busy, but watch out for the Eastern Orient Express as the railway line is still active), War Museum, and back to the island. But, give the riverside restaurant by Chukadon Pier a go for lunch as the menu is excellent, the food is great and the price is spot on!

As for the waterfalls, kayaking, river rafting and walkabout with elephants, well as I said, I just came for one day of R&R, but if you've got time, then give yourself and Kanchanaburi a few well deserved days to either recharge your batteries like me or just party on down the river! Enjoy.

And remember...

 Keepitreal

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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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The Unexpected Sleeper Class!

With the number of visitors to the kingdom on the increase, crowded bus and train stations and temperatures rising, the offer of a free iced coffee from a fellow passenger may sound irresistible BUT BE WARNED!!! 
   
Remember, the old saying that anything that seems too good to be true, probably is? Yes, we've all heard it before, but heads up and take note so that your next journey isn't to your embassy or local cop shop to register the theft of all your possessions! 

As with every major capital city throughout the world, unfortunately there are always those few who prey on the innocence and inexperience of visitors, and despite the fact that Thailand really is the land of smiles, Bangkok is no exception.
 
A while back Police arrested two men for allegedly giving a can iced coffee spiked with sleeping pills to a passenger waiting for a train at Hua Lampong Railway Station, before they later robbed him of his possessions and baht 29,500 cash once he had fallen asleep. 

The point for all of us to note here is that the brand name ice coffee appeared to be in a sealed unopened can; however, upon closer scrutiny it was revealed that the bottom of the can was removable and anything could be put in easily. 
   
Unfortunately, yes it can happen to any of us, so unless you want to end up with an unexpected sleeper class journey, take a little advice and with a smile politely refuse the next drink or food offered to you by a friendly stranger, no matter how young/old or innocent they seem. 
   
Although optimism and looking on the bright side of things is a great lifestyle to lead, adding a little caution whilst traveling anywhere in S.E. Asia can only help you to reach your destinations safely and make your adventures as truly memorable as they should be. Enjoy.      
  
And remember...

Keepitreal

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Mai Pen Rai

mai_pen_rai_1Keep the vibe alive…… You're right. There is a secret behind the famous Thai smiles you've been encountering since arriving in the Kingdom. Indeed such infectious warm greetings are the result of much more than Thai's just being amused or happy at seeing new funny looking foreign faces. If you haven't figured it out yet, then I'd say that at least you've already heard the secret spoken…"Mai Pen Rai"; three little words that calm the heart of a nation.

"Mai Pen Rai", or "nevermind" in English, you will find is literally a way of thinking here in Thailand rather than just a simple phrase, and once accepted and understood by a visitor, only hassle free days will lay ahead of them during their stay here. Just feel this for a moment to get where this funky little phrase is coming from….. If your food order arrives a little late "Mai Pen Rai", you're on holiday and have time….. If your drink arrives and is a little warm "Mai Pen Rai", just ask for some ice….. If you miss the bus "Mai Pen Rai", there will be others…. Now can you feel it….?

mai_pen_rai_2"Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not…." Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803-1882 American Poet, Essayist. We all have our own problems and worries; in particular while travelling, but the simple difference between our hosts and us is that although Thai's of course have problems similar to our own, they choose not too worry about them! That is to say, Thai's don't ignore their difficulties; instead they just simply decide not to stress themselves out by worrying about them and rather go with the flow of things, hence "Mai Pen Rai"; whatever will happen, will happen, so why worry?

mai_pen_rai_3Using these common words of wisdom "Mai Pen Rai" where you can, will not prevent the odd problem occurring during your magical mystery tour through the kingdom, but they will help to relieve any stress, negativity or tension that may arise along the way. After all, chilling out is why we all came to the "land of smiles" right? You've already made one great decision by visiting Khaosanroad.com; now make another by digging the "Mai Pen Rai" vibe and sharing it with others; especially with those in need of a little positivity wherever your journey takes you.

And Remember…..

Keepitreal.

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No Smoking and No Littering

Littering and Smoking"The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself." Oscar Wilde 1856-1900, British Author. Early evening and marooned amongst the Friday night madness of Siam Square's "beautiful people" and throat choking traffic, there was only one way I was going to get a much needed beer Chang within the hour……head for the Klong! Whether you're heading to or from Khao San Road (KSR), and as long as it's before 7 pm, you should bear in mind the Klong (canal) boat taxis as a great alternative when wishing to explore the city as they have natural air-conditioning, there are no traffic jams and they are dead cheap. What more could you ask for?

From under the bridge just behind the Discovery Centre, Siam Square I arrived at Banglamphoo Pier (located under the bridge between the Queens Gallery and Golden Mount) refreshed and wide awake; after ducking under the low bridges along the way, in under 10 minutes for 5 baht.

After a ten minute walk, passing democracy monument, I was seated on KSR with Chang in hand, beer snacks ordered and unfortunately an all too familiar sight these days….. A young smoker (no, not the green kind) being escorted to the cop shop on the back of a police motorcycle.

NO, this is not going to be an account of my usual Friday night walkabout, but instead a much need reminder for all. Whether you're back in the kingdom again for some more fun this year or are here to leave your mark for the first time, take note because THINGS HAVE CHANGED!

Although it is not obviously apparent in most areas around the city, especially along KSR, there is a very hefty littering penalty in Thailand (take note of the yellow peril below) which conveniently goes hand in hand with the Government's Anti-Smoking regulations. Briefly, for the uninformed, smoking is prohibited in ALL public buildings and also "supposedly" in air-conditioned establishments (i.e. bars, clubs & restaurants).

Littering and SmokingYes, I imagine right about now you're looking around Khao San and thinking, well hey, I don't see any such rules down here, but go tell that to the dude who stubbed out his cigarette on the ground while at the ATM. He was seen by a local motorcycle patrol officer and taken off to the cop shop; amidst applause from the misunderstood along the way, to be fined. The guy had no idea what he'd done wrong or what was going on. Unnecessary negativity on what may have been his first night out on KSR.

I speak from experience, there's no way of getting out of it once you've been seen littering; in particular easily seen glowing cigarette stubs, so bear in mind that the fine you'll have to fork out is anything up 2,000 Baht should you get caught. What's the solution? Basically think twice before you trash anything in the street. Just remember that there's a heap of restaurants and bars with ashtrays along KSR and litter bins around the city so be cool and make the effort, after all 2,000 Baht buys a lot of fun in the kingdom right?

And remember…..

Keepitreal.

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