Exploring the flavours of Bangkok’s Royal Island

Rattanakosin is one of Bangkok’s most historic precincts and offers some of the city’s best street food. Travel writer Julie Miller takes us on a culinary tour.

Bordering Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River to the west, several canals to the east and Chinatown in the south is Rattanakosin, one of Bangkok’s most historic precincts. Established in 1782 when King Rama I transferred the capital from Thonburi to the eastern bank of the river, this district is most notable for the imposing Grand Palace and Wat Pho, as well as several grand museums, parks and monuments.

While overseas visitors flock to the glittering palace, however, very few linger to explore the other delights of the Royal Island, including some of the best street food on offer in the City of Angels.

Bangkok Old Town Rattanakosin Wat Pho

And what better way to discover hidden treasures, culture and pulse of a city than with a local? Native New Yorker Jason Friedman has lived in Bangkok for over a decade, working as a hotel manager for Four Seasons, Raffles and Amanresorts as well as independent properties including the flagship property of Rattanakosin, The Siam. In 2016, he formed the consulting firm J.M Friedman and Co, specialising in the conceptualisation and development of experience-driven luxury properties; and while he now spends much of his time travelling, his connection and passion for Bangkok’s Royal Island is palpable.

“Very few foreigners live here so I feel honoured to be able to call this culturally intact portion of Bangkok home,” he tells me. “It’s vibrant, alive and still carries the energy of a trading community.”

This is an area that comes alive at night, with hundreds of locals out in force riding bicycles, eating, drinking and enjoying the festive atmosphere. One of Jason’s favourite places to mingle is Phra Athit Road, a few blocks from the popular backpacker haunt, Khao San Road. On this iconic street, many cute cafes, cool bars and interesting restaurants occupy a collection of quaint shophouses from the turn of last century, serving an eclectic mix of arty students, ex-pats, hush society Thais and tourists. It’s also a hub of live music, with some of the friendliest crowds in Bangkok.

On neighbouring Soi Rambuttri – a busy walking street festooned with colourful paper lanterns – we kick off the night with a cheeky beverage at Madame Musur’s, a thatched restaurant with wicker lounges surrounded by greenery that serves some of the most potent, delicious cocktails in Bangkok.

Jay Fai by Krista – Wikimedia Commons

But it’s the food in these secret alleys that’s really worth travelling for. Some of Bangkok’s most lauded restaurants can be found in the Rattanakosin neighbourhood, including Jay Fai – a simple shophouse restaurant that was awarded a coveted Michelin star in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Curious onlookers and fawning fans now queue for hours to taste the famed drunken noodles and crab omelette cooked by eponymous chef – but sadly, the 70-odd year-old Jay Fai now considers the award a curse due to the increased pressure and unrelenting crowds.

Jay Fai by Krista – Wikimedia Commons

Another restaurant that’s come under international notice is Thipsamai on Maha Chai Road near Golden Mount, whose egg-wrapped, charcoal-flamed phad thai is widely considered Thailand’s most irresistible noodle dish. Then there’s Krua Apsorn in Dinso Road, beloved by Australian superchef David Thompson who first introduced to me to the legendary stir-fried crab curry and other delectable Thai specialties.

But Jason has other plans for tonight – he’s taking me to his all-time favourite restaurant, booked months in advance. Hidden down a dark alley in the middle of a fish market in Chinatown is Jok Kitchen, an assuming one-table restaurant that serves the freshest and best seafood in Bangkok, straight from market to table.

“Jok is a crab-monger who cooks crabs and seafood at night,” Jason tells me. “There’s no menu, you just eat what he cooks. It’s an epic dining experience – I’ve brought Michelin-starred chefs here and they love it.” These simple restaurants – really just one step above street food – represent the best of Thai cuisine – fresh, authentic and exploding with flavour – Thailand on a plate.

Slow and Sustainable in Chiang Rai

Tucked into the mountainous jungles of northern Thailand near the border of Laos and Myanmar, the city of Chiang Rai has always been the smaller, less glamorous cousin of the more popular Chiang Mai, largely ignored by international tourists and developing at a slower pace. Julie Miller shares five of Chiang Rai’s hidden sustainable treasures.

With its diversity of ethnicities, natural wonders, beautiful temples and rich culture untainted by over-tourism, Chiang Rai has really come into its own and is leading a new wave of sustainable and eco-tourism practices that are a beacon for the future of world travel.

Here are five hidden treasures and exciting initiatives that highlight the best of the northern Lanna culture and its connection to the land:

Anantara Golden Triangle - Walking with Giants experience

1. Elephant Live Stream

The Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation at the Anantara Golden Triangle has for over a decade pioneered the ethical treatment of elephants, with its camp where mahouts and pachyderms co-exist in a safe, peaceful and natural setting a benchmark of sustainability. With the COVID-19 crisis preventing tourists from visiting the elephants, GTAEF pivoted to bring the elephants to their many fans via a live stream. The footage following the elephants as they play, feed and bathe in the river is utterly charming and addictive, with input from local vets and experts adding an educational dimension. The live stream not only brings joy to elephant-lovers, it also prompts viewers to donate towards helping struggling elephants.

Phu Chaisai

2. Phu Chaisai Mountain Resort

Owned by a Thai designer of royal heritage, this lovely boutique resort set on 323 hectares in the misty Mae Salong mountains encourages immersion in the natural environment, incorporating wellness and lifestyle into the luxury holiday experience. Organic and sustainable are a way of life here; the resort has its own reservoir, a spring-fed waterfall, a tea plantation, fruit orchards and farmland, with the restaurant plucking fresh vegetables and herbs straight from its own kitchen garden. Activities include trekking, riding Mongolian horses on a neighbouring farm, private yoga sessions and a spa.

Chiang Rai monks on horseback

3. Monks on horseback:

Horses came to the Golden Triangle from China during the infamous drug-trafficking years, and their sturdy descendants are now not only used for tourist rides (see above), but are also the mount-of-choice for local monks, who ride into villages each morning to collect alms. The temple where these monks live, Wat Tam Pa Ar-cha Thong (Golden Horse Monastery), is located high in steep, remote hills, with the orange-robed monks and novices also riding down to Phu Chaisai Resort every morning to offer blessings to guests.

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4. Doi Tung

The most famous of the Royal Projects of the Princess Mother, Doi Tung was established in 1988 to provide alternative forms of employment for ethnic minorities who were forced into the illicit drug trade, empowering local villagers to create change and restoring the ravaged environment. The result is a vision of beauty, 15,000 hectares of cultivated gardens, coffee plantations, re-established forest and artisan workshops centrepieced by the Princess Mother’s teak Royal Villa, which now tells the story of the project. Thirty years after the inception of the program, Doi Tung is now a model of sustainability with a zero waste to landfill mantra, managed by a new generation of local leaders.

Posted by Jinnaluck Miracle of Saa on Friday, 20 December 2019

5. Jinnaluck

Jinnaluck is a burgeoning family-run cottage industry that produces and exports sublime paper products for the local and international market. Starting as a backyard venture over 25 years ago, it now employs more than160 local people, incorporating all aspects of paper production from growing raw materials, to making the paper, design and sales. The company is one of the largest mulberry, or saa paper producers in Thailand, with more than 3000 handmade products, including business cards, carry bags, wrapping paper, wallpaper and even gold-infused face-masks – available at their sales room near Mae Sai. Visitors can also undertake a paper-making workshop, a memorable and meaningful travel experience.

The Best Rooftop Bars in Bangkok

Rooftop bars are a common sight across the world, yet few cities do them quite as well as beautiful Bangkok. These sanctuaries of calm high above the busy streets below allow you to experience the magic of the city from an entirely different perspective… not to mention enjoy some deliciously inventive cocktails too. Travel writer and Repeat Traveller Chris Ashton shares his pick of the best.

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From the dizzying heights of Sky Bar by Lebua to the glamour of a bygone era at The Speakeasy, these are the rooftops hideaways worth adding to your Bangkok wish list.

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Sky Bar by Lebua

If you’ve scrolled through #bangkok Instagram results anytime in the last few years, there’s a good chance you’ve seen this showstopper in Bangrak. Sky Bar is iconic – the crowning jewel atop the 63rd floor of Lebua State Tower. A by-product of its Insta-fame means it tends to get pretty busy in the evenings, but it’s worth the wait once that view reveals itself.

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Vertigo and Moon Bar

Banyan Tree is a name synonymous with elegance and refinement, and the dazzling Vertigo restaurant and Moon bar atop the Banyan Tree Bangkok are no exception. Find yourself a candlelit table, order a signature cocktail like the Vertigo Sunset, feast on sumptuous seafood and steaks, and watch the city come alive as the sun fades into the horizon.

Bangkok Best rooftop bars Centara Grand & Bangkok Convention Centre at CentralWorld - Red Sky arial shot

Red Sky Bar

Fifty-six floors above the city atop Centara Grand at CentralWorld, Red Sky Bar is a treat for the eyes as well as the tastebuds. Though impressive by day, it comes alive with the setting sun. A spectacular 360-degree view across the skyline, a sea of twinkling lights stretching out before you, it’s a perfect place to relax and indulge after a busy day of sightseeing.

Bangkok Best rooftop Bars Grand & Bangkok Convention Centre at CentralWorld - Red Sky blue lit with waitress

HI-SO Rooftop

Gazing out across the emerald expanse of Lumphini Park, HI-SO Rooftop Bar at Sofitel So is so hot right now. The 29th floor terrace is a place to see and be seen, to rub shoulders with the Bangkok glitterati, and then dance like no one’s watching to electrifying live DJ sets.

Bangkok Best rooftop Bars Fraser Suites Sukhumvit Above Eleven Rooftop Bar skyline view

Above 11

A whimsical retreat like one Alice might encountered in Wonderland, Above 11 overlooks the vibrant nightlife mecca of Soi 11 and beyond from its vantage high atop Fraser Suites Sukhumvit. The quirky décor, with giant steel trees and armchairs that could double for barrows, is like nowhere else in the city – and the Peruvian Japanese menu is to die for.

Bangkok Best rooftop Bars Fraser Suites Sukhumvit Above Eleven Rooftop Bar

The Speakeasy

Last but by no means least, The Speakeasy is a swinging presence on the 24th and 25th of Hotel Muse Bangkok, an M Gallery Hotel Collection property. A throwback to the 1920s prohibition era, it beckons you in with the sounds of smooth jazz and clinking martini glasses. It’s fun, it’s funky, and destined to become your new favourite drinking den. Ready to raise a glass or two at one of these ultra-glam hideaways? Be sure to dress to impress, and also call or check websites in advance for details on opening hours.

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A Ticket To Ride, Thailand-Style

Travel writer John Borthwick considers all options traveling on Thailand’s transports of delight and occasional despair.

Bicycle (City)

In Bangkok, sheer masochism. The Big Mango’s traffic is constant and intimidating; might is right and two wheels are “wrong” unless they’re attached to a motorbike. Chiang Mai’s traffic is safer.

Bicycle (Touring)

On the other hand, seeing Thailand by cycle is a joy, especially if you choose a flat, under populated province like coastal Prachuap Khiri Khan. There are numerous cycle tour companies like Spice Roads and Grasshopper Adventures.

Mass Transit, Bangkok.

The capital has an ever-expanding system of over 60 BTS SkyTrain and MRT metro subway stations that whisk you over or under the street-level snarls. They’re clean and air conditioned although often SRO crowded. The SkyTrain has a one-day Unlimited Pass for 140 baht that’s ideal for visitors; or a 120-baht pass for the MRT.

Canal Boat

Skinny canal boat ferries rocket along Bangkok’s khlong, making fleeting pit-stops at commuter wharves. Leap on and off — almost literally — at wherever stop you want. The conductor collects fares on board. This is a cheap-as-chips tour of Bangkok’s watery backdoors.

Car

Major international companies like Hertz, Budget and Avis, as well as local brands, offer late model vehicles (all are right-hand drive) for self-driving. But, for convenience and sightseeing, seriously consider hiring a car plus driver. Meanwhile, be sure to understand the insurance policy and always drive with your passport and international driver licence on you.

Coach or Bus

Long-distance intercity buses criss-cross the country. They are large, airconditioned, economical, colorful, have allocated seating and run to schedule (often on the hour), departing from large suburban bus stations like BKK’s Ekamai and Mo Chit terminals.

Inter-island Ferry

Travelling to poplar islands like Chang, Krabi, Kood and others is done by large ferry — some carry vehicles, others only people. Meanwhile speedboats (see below) serve the smaller islands. On some ferry services like Hua Hin—Pattaya you need to have official ID; for foreigners, this is your passport.

Longtail Boat

Rua hang yao are narrow-hulled craft with a howling diesel motor and long, extended propeller shaft — the “long tail”. They’re found everywhere from city canals to island beaches. Sit low, hang on, wear a life jacket if there is one and be prepared to cop some spray.

Motorcycle

Rental motorbikes are popular in most tourist centres and thus are a regular source of injured or demised foreigners. Understand: wear the helmet (it’s the law, despite all the Thais who don’t); stay sober (what could possibly go wrong?); don’t assume you have right of way; carry your passport and international driver licence on you (and never leave either one as “deposit”). Does your travel insurance cover you? The fine print very possibly says it doesn’t.

Motorcycle Taxi

Moto-si dudes linger on city corners wearing numbered, low-vis vests. State your destination. Then agree on the fare — prices start at about 40 baht for a short trip. Use the helmet. Settle back for a slipstreaming, tailgating, maximum monoxide view of the traffic stampede. Freaky fun.

Plane

Thailand has an extensive domestic air network serviced by good carriers like Nok, Thai Smile, Air Asia and Bangkok Airways.

River Ferry

Bangkok has two main ferry services. The local commuter service, the Chao Phraya River Express is quick, crowded and cheap. It services numerous whistle-stop wharves and an on-board conductor collects fares. The Chao Phraya Tourist Boat is visitor-oriented and stops at piers near all main attractions — a one-day pass for 200 baht is recommended. The main departure point is Central Pier, at Saphan Taksin Bridge.

Songtaew

In many places the most popular and economical form of suburban travel is the songtaew — “two seat” — a canopied light pick-up truck with two bench seats in the rear. Generally, they run on local circuit routes and passengers join and alight at any point, paying a flat fee. In Pattaya (where they are also called “baht buses”), for instance, the fare is 10 baht for Thais and foreigners alike. In other tourist destinations you might encounter invidious “double pricing” for foreigners.

Speedboat

Large passenger launches, with a canopy and powerful outboard motors, service smaller islands and daytrip excursions. They are fast and reliable but can be a bit crowded. Grab a life jacket and wear it. Make your reservation in advance.

Taxi

Bangkok meter taxis are plentiful and inexpensive. Many drivers speak little English so it’s good to have your destination address written in Thai. Be sure the meter is on (flag-fall, 35 baht); if the driver won’t use it, just hop out — the next cab is about one minute away. Things are more difficult on some popular islands where most taxis won’t use the meter and demand extortionate fares; try to use your hotel transfer service instead.

Tuk-tuk

The iconic tuk-tuk (real name samlor, “three-wheel”) is unmetered and drivers will charge whatever they think they can. Usually more expensive than a meter taxi. Don’t start your ride without agreeing on the fare. Mutant tuk-tuks are sometimes called Skylabs, such as on Koh Si Chang.

Van

Intercity passenger vans are fast, furious, frequent and risky. They have a dubious safety record (in a country with one of worst road tolls anywhere). Flyer beware. Catch the bus or train instead.

Train

Thailand has a good rail network and rail travel is a great way to see the country and to meet Thai people. Trains run on time and are clean, even if a bit aged. The Bangkok—Chiang Mai Express is the classic rail journey, a 750-km night ride that will rock you on the narrow, one-metre gauge track. Reserve your seat in advance especially if travelling near public holidays; for convenience (and a small fee), book through an agent.

Words and photographs © John Borthwick 2020

10 Island Hopping Highlights for party-lovers in Thailand

The islands of Thailand’s Andaman Coast have plenty to offer those with an adventurous, fun-loving agenda in mind. Here are 10 highlights recommended by influencer (and party lover) Thatraveller Holly O’Sullivan.

1. Take the Plunge at LUB D’s Pool Party and party on down Bangla Rd in Phuket

LUB D hotel’s famous pool party is a good place to kick off an island-hopping Thailand adventure. A popular hub for backpackers, it is a great place to meet people that you’ll likely run across again on your Thailand travels.

From here, dive deep into Phuket’s nightlife on Bangla Road, which transforms by night into one big hectic walking street. There are bars of all shapes and flavours, some a little more risqué, some just like your classic Aussie pub.

2. Cocktails & rock climbing at Railay Beach, Krabi

Surrounded by high limestone cliffs, Railay Beach is only accessible by boat – the best way to get here is on a traditional long tail boat. The cliffs attract rock climbers from all over the world, so if you’re feeling active, head for the cliffs, or if you’d rather chill out, head for one of the beautiful white sandy beaches or grab a frozen cocktail at one of the beach-side reggae bars.

3. Go on a Bar Crawl on Phi Phi Island

Off the coast of Phuket, Ko Phi Phi may be a small island, but it’s big on nightlife. The island is a popular meetup place for backpackers, with beach bars, fire shows and plenty of free-pouring. Start your evening in town with a tasty Thai dinner and cocktails and bar-hop your way down the alleyways towards the beach.

4. Swim through an Emerald Cave on a 4-Islands tour in Ko Lanta

A 4-Islands tour from Ko Lanta takes in the islets of Ko Muk, Ko Kradan, Ko Cheuk and Ko Ngai. The tour starts on a high on the island of Ko Muk, as you float through the enchanting Morakot (Emerald) Cave into a secret hidden bay, a white sandy beach shaded by rainforest canopy. From this enchanted cave, it’s on to more island hopping the turquoise waters and white sandy beaches of Ko Kradan, Ko Cheuk and Ko Ngai.

5. See the famous Beach at Maya Bay, Phi Phi

While you may not have heard of Phi Phi Island, you’ve probably heard of ‘The Beach’, made famous in the 2000 Leonardo DiCaprio movie. Maya Beach itself is closed to tourists for an indefinite period of rehabilitation but until it is reopened you can explore the bay by boat.

6. Hike up to Ko Phi Phi Viewpoints

If you’re looking to exert yourself beyond the cocktail bars and white sandy beaches of Ko Phi Phi, spend a day hiking the Viewpoints. There are three viewpoints to hike to, which can be climbed in succession. If you want to see all three at a relaxed pace, you’ll want to allocate an entire day for this activity. The hike to the top can be tough, but the reward, the panoramic views from the summit make it well worth the trek.

7. Take part in a Muay Thai Boxing Comp on Ko Phi Phi

On Ko Phi Phi there’s a dedicated Muay Thai boxing bar where you can compete against each other and win prizes. If you’re not the competitive type, simply take in a few games over a beer or two. The Thai combat sport is also known as the ‘Art of 8 Limbs’ as it uses a combination of fists, elbows, knees and shins. The sport can be traced back to the 18th century but it became more popular in the late 20-21st century when introduced to the wider world.

Every major city in Thailand has Muay Thai venues, and if you don’t just happen to stumble across one while walking down the street, the bars advertise by driving vans around each day announcing the time and place.

8. Climb 1237 Steps up to the Tiger Temple (Wat Tham Suea), Krabi

1237 steps in the heat of the Thai tropics is not easy, but worth it to see the views at the peak, over Krabi’s mountainous landscape. The temple complex is a maze of natural caves, with the main temple atop a rocky outcrop overlooking the town below. The starting point for this walk is an experience in itself, as you pick your way through some cheeky resident monkeys. From here it’s mainly uphill, but the trail flattens out every so often, and there’s plenty of space at each corner to take a break in the shade.

Note: As a place of worship it is respectful (and required) to be modestly dressed. If you are wearing shorts you can rent a sarong at the entrance.

9. Relax in Krabi’s Emerald Pools and Hot Springs

The mineral-infused water of Krabi’s Hot Springs is said to have healing qualities, and they certainly provide a relaxing tranquil atmosphere, under a shady rainforest canopy. Make your way through a sequence of small pools of varying temperatures, gradually cooler as you make your way from the top down.

A trip to the nearby stunning Emerald Pool, in the Thung Teao Forest National Park, is worth it simply for the photo opportunity. A 2.7 km trail takes you through beautiful virgin rainforest before reaching the crystal-clear lake for a refreshing dip.

10. Eat your way through Thailand at Krabi’s night markets.

There are two daily night markets in Krabi Town. The first (and best) is opposite City Hotel on Soi 10 Maharat Road, with excellent street food stalls serving everything from pad thai to catfish curry, salads, soups and sweets. It’s also a good place to buy fresh fruit.

The second night market is more like an open air food court. A series of small restaurants with plastic tables and chairs on Khong Kha Road, next to the old Chao Fah pier. Between them, they serve a huge variety of dishes, and you can mix and match and sit down at any available table to feast.

One of the best ways for party-lovers to explore Thailand’s islands is on a Busabout tour with like-minded travellers.

Off the beaten track in Ko Samui

Na Muang Waterfall, Ko Samui

For those who want to see another dimension to island life, Travel Writer Julie Miller takes us off the beaten track in Ko Samui.

Coastal life is sweet in Ko Samui, with an abundance of chic resorts, lively bars and restaurants and boutique shopping just steps from pristine white crescents of powder-white sand. For many visitors, this is the recipe for an idyllic, decadent holiday; but for the adventurous, or those who simply want to see more of the island, the interior of Ko Samui presents another dimension to island life, one that offers a deeper connection to Thai culture and the landscapes that make Thailand such an intriguing destination.

Samui is a relatively small, round island, easily explored by rental car (motorcycles not recommended unless you’re a licensed rider). One main ring-road leads to all the major sights and beaches, but swing off the highway into the heavily-jungled mountainous interior for spectacular views and some respite from the coastal chaos.

Before you leave the shoreline, you can’t miss two of Samui’s most popular – if somewhat questionable – attractions. One is a mummified monk, resplendent in orange robes and Rayban sunglasses, propped up in a glass case outside Wat Khunaram; the other is two natural rock formations near Lamai Beach, called Hin Ta and Hin Yai. Ta (Grandfather) is a stumpy phallus rising provocatively amongst some coastal boulders; while Yai (Grandmother) is a large crevice awash with sea water, seemingly awaiting grandpop’s attention. A curious landmark to become an attraction – but hey, this is Thailand!

A popular place for families to relax and swim is the scenic twin waterfalls, Na Muang #1 and #2. Located about 12 kilometres inland from Nathon Bay, the first falls are just a short walk from the carpark, with the upper pools accessed by a more challenging hike rewarded by incredible views from the top. With vendors selling snacks and drinks nearby, it’s easy to spend a whole day cooling off at these falls, with the best time to visit during peak water-flow from September to November.

Ko Samui Secret Buddha Garden

Hidden deep in the interior of Ko Samui is a secret sculpture garden, filled with images of deities from Buddhist mythology and fantasy creatures. The Secret Buddha Garden is the creation of retired durian farmer Nim Thongsuk, who started decorating the garden in 1976 and continued until his death in 2000 at the age of 91. Getting to this intriguing fantasyland can be challenging – the road is steep, best tackled in a 4WD vehicle. Alternatively, you can visit the gardens as part of an adventure day trip in an open jeep.

The Fisherman's Village in the Bophut area is one of the best-known tourist attractions in Koh Samui and home to a popular Friday walking street market.

For a taste of ‘real’ Thailand, head to Bophut on the island’s north coast on Friday evenings, when the working fishermen’s village is transformed into a ‘walking street’ marketplace. It’s fun and crowded, with local handicrafts, trinkets, clothing and delicious street food sold in dozens of stalls lining the main street. Stop off in a bohemian village bar or dine at one of its funky restaurants such as Cafe 69, 2 Fishes or Happy Elephant.

Samui Elephant Sanctuary
Happy elephants feast at Samui Elephant Sanctuary.

Speaking of happy elephants … Bophut is also the location for the Samui Elephant Sanctuary, one of two ethical rescue centres on the island in partnership with renowned conservationist Lek Chailert from Chiang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park. Both the sanctuary in Bophut and the newly opened Chaweng Noi location provide a dignified and safe retirement home for elephants who have been given a reprieve from a hard life in the logging and trekking industries.

At both sanctuaries – accessible only by pre-arranged tours – visitors can observe the gentle giants relishing their freedom, playing in the mud, bathing in a purpose-built pool and walking and foraging in the forest. The program is mostly hands-off to allow the elephants a stress-free existence, but guests can join in the daily feeding program for up-close and intimate interaction with these incredible beasts.

Exquisite Thai Flavours: Heritage, Traditional & Modern

With a wealth of history, culture and culinary artistry, there’s much more to Thai cuisine besides the popular staple dishes; Pad Thai, Tom Yum and Green Curry. Each Thai region has its own distinctive recipes and dishes that embody its unique culinary heritage and traditions as well as locally grown produce and ingredients. Restaurateur Chef Mod, originally from Central Thailand, travelled Thailand’s four regions to study the rich myriad flavours. He share his insights with Asian Inspirations.

“I used to be chubby because I love to eat. My favourite dish from grandma is Khai Palow (Five-Spice Egg and Pork Belly).”

As he grew older, so did his passion for food and cooking.

“I study herbs and cooking styles from different places. I used to stand next to the street stalls and watch how they cook.”

According to Chef Mod, Thai cuisine is heavily influenced by neighbouring countries. For example, dishes of the Northern Thai Yai ethnic group have their roots in Burmese flavours; and most Thai noodle dishes are Chinese influenced. Generally, Southern Thai food is spicier and stronger than Northern. Thai Royal traditional cuisine also forms a great part of Thai culinary culture, which in recent years has become more popular in restaurants.

“In Thailand, we call the three main ingredients; coriander roots, garlic and white pepper ‘The Three Musketeers’. As for chilli, fish sauce and shrimp paste, they are the other 3 essential ingredients for most Thai dishes.”

To access Chef Mod’s easy-ingredients recipes for all the dishes pictured here, visit the Asian Inspirations website.

Ko Si Chang, Ko Sea Change

Guest blogger John Borthwick finds a tiny island surprisingly close to Bangkok.

Overview of Koh Si Chang town and harbour with Buddhist pagoda in foreground.

Like all good islands little Ko Si Chang has a story. Being only 120 km from Bangkok, it was a favoured hangout for Siam’s aristocracy in the late 19th century. Kings Rama IV, V and VI used it as a weekender, often for pretty long weekends. By the way, Ko Si Chang (aka Ko Sichang) is not to be confused with Ko Chang, the much larger resort island further south in the Gulf of Thailand.

The royals built palaces and gardens, with Rama V — King Chulalongkorn — being the most prolific constructor. And today you can wander the beautifully restored terraced parklands, ponds and gardens that he created around his (now-demolished) Chudhadhuj Rajthan palace.

During the 1890’s the neighbourhood’s French colonials were in an expansive mood. Adding a few more Gulf islands to their Indochine collection, which already included Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, appealed. They only briefly occupied Ko Si Chang, but thereafter the Siamese court largely curtailed their sojourns.  

Uncrowded Tham Pang Beach on Ko Si Chang west coast.

The local mutation of Thailand’s famous, three-wheeled tuk-tuk is known here as a “Skylab”, suggesting a pile of motorised space junk — which they’re not. They trundle along Si Chang’s narrow concrete paths with no worries about cars or trucks because there are none, just Skylabs and motorcycles. My pilot drops me at Chudhadhuj Rajthan amid the pavilions and walkways where kings once strolled and Thai romantics still do. Nearby, facing the sea is Mai Rim Talay (“Wooden House by the Sea”), a photogenic green and white pocket palace that was probably a royal guesthouse.

Customised “Skylab” tuk-tuk.September 2017.

“This used to be a fishing island,” says my driver. “But the Gulf has been fished too much.” Like many among Si Chang’s 5000 residents he now looks to tourism for his income. There are numerous home stays cross the 25 sq km island. I’m staying somewhere called — yes — Somewhere, Si Chang’s newest and most stylish little hotel. With louvres and tiles in blue, and white marine architecture, it has just 20 rooms, pool, restaurant and the best Skylab on the island, a customized goer that you’d never call space junk.

Gilded statues at Buddha’s Footprint temple overlooking Ko Si Chang harbour.

Surprisingly, given the island’s proximity to Bangkok, there is no escarpment of glitzy beachfront resorts. Si Chang has been “saved” from becoming a tropical tourist purgatory by its lack of good beaches. Its lone decent stretch of sand (and by Thai standards not a particularly flash one) is the narrow west coast strand of Tham Pang.

I hire a motorbike and continue exploratory orbits of the craggy island. The sea is everywhere. Monitor lizards and free-range pigs wander the road. The streets are rubbish-free and the homes brightly painted. I head up to the white “Buddha Footprint” temple perched on a ridge overlooking the sea. From here one can see survey a grand panorama of islands and a flotilla of cargo ships adrift between here and the mainland, 12km away.

Trawlers beside long That Bon pier, Ko Si Chang town.

So, what’s there to do on Koh Si Chang? Rattle around in a Skylab or motorbike. (Everyone leaves their keys in the ignition — with nowhere to run, there are no bike thieves.) Dine or have coffee in town or a sunset beer at the Chong Khao Khad viewpoint. Chat with the locals (there are few foreigners). In short, there are no big deal, gotta-do-see-buy imperatives on snoozy Koh Si Chang, a living, working Thai island.

Weekend escapees from Bangkok briefly swell the island population but, come Monday, this fragrant island is yours again. Tamarind trees instead of bling bars, one 7-11, one bank and a fleet of Skylabs. What less could one want?

Information: Get to Koh Si Chang by ferry from Sriracha, Chonburi, 100km southeast of Bangkok. The ferry takes around 45 minutes, costs 50 baht and runs hourly. See www.kohsichang.netWords and photographs © John Borthwick 2020

Amazing Thailand Trivia Challenge

While we’re all in lockdown, it’s good to keep the brain cells ticking and dream about that next amazing Thailand holiday, so here’s a wonderful incentive! Challenge yourself with our new “Amazing Thailand Trivia Challenge” and you could win a travel prize worth $2500!

Click here to test your knowledge of Thailand by completing 4 challenges (quizzes) in 4 categories including Thailand in General, Thailicious, Attractions and Stay Active & healthy. The quiz Master in Australia and New Zealand will each win a Webjet Travel Voucher worth $2500.
The competition runs from 30 April to 27 May 2020 AEST with each 4 challenges released on the following dates:

  • Challenge 1: 30th April 2020
  • Challenge 2: 7th April 2020
  • Challenge 3: 14th April 2020
  • Challenge 4: 21st April 2020

The prize ($2500 Webjet eGift card) will be awarded to the entrant with the highest score. (1 winner from Australia and 1 winner from New Zealand).

Winners will be announced on 2nd June 2020