Tag - travl

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

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!