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.”
Guest blogger John Borthwick finds a tiny island surprisingly close to Bangkok.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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?
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).
Guest blogger John Borthwick checks-out Thailand’s self-described “Extreme City”.
Pattaya, Thailand’s fastest-growing resort town has many faces — sunny, templed, bawdy, raucous, delicious — but never shy. Basking on the Gulf of Thailand 150 km southeast of Bangkok, it has long outgrown its military R-and-R origins of Vietnam War-era apocalyptic partying. If there’s anything like a uniform these days in Fun City it is shorts, beach shirt and sunburn.
Many visitors add golfing gear to that fetching ensemble, thanks to the multiple nearby courses. Growing sophistication in its restaurants and resorts sees Pattaya now attract almost ten million visitors a year, not to mention Thai families, expats and retirees.
Beaches and nightlife were what it was all about some 60 years ago when a group of US Air Force men on leave discovered the balmy shore and flamboyant sunsets of snoozy Pad Tha Ya fishing village. Fast-forward six decades and the Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index for 2019 logged Pattaya as the world’s 15th most visited city, with an extraordinary 9.44 million international visitors.
Pattaya’s main beach is dense with deck-chairs and watercraft, so head south over the hill to Jomtien for wider, whiter sands, or north to the coves of Wong Amat. The best way (and best fun way) to move around town is on the “baht bus”, the blue pickup trucks that loop constantly along Beach and Second roads. (Their Thai name is songthaew — “two seat”.) With twin bench seats in the back, passengers hop on or off anywhere, paying a flat fare of ten Thai baht.
For family fun, the surrounding Chonburi province has quality theme parks such as Nong Nooch Tropical Gardens and Ramayana Water Park. Near the latter is Buddha Mountain, a 100-metre high image etched in gold on a cliff-face. Meanwhile, the most celebrated attraction is the Sanctuary of Truth at Wong Amat just north of town. This extraordinary, all-wood structure surmounted by a 105-metre spire honors an amalgam of eastern religions and mythology, and was 30 years in the making.
The Gulf region around Pattaya could be known as the Golf of Siam, with some 20 courses and driving ranges within an hour’s travel. Less physically exerting are the Thai-style massages available everywhere across town. The quality varies, but at under $10 an hour you can afford to sample several shops. Recommended is a skilled one at the Thai Blind Massage Institute in the Jomtien Complex shopping centre.
Nightlife is still Pattaya’s middle name and parts of town don’t really get going until dusk when scores of beer bars start filling up. You’ll find industrially spiced nightlife along South Pattaya’s Walking Street, a garish strip of go-go bars, buskers and wide-eyed, flag-following tour groups. Pull up a pew here at an open-air bar, order a brew and contemplate the passing circus in its extremes of beauty and bawdiness. Keep in mind as you watch that the city’s welcome archway at Jomtien Beach declares, “Pattaya the Extreme City”, as both a boast and caution.
Pattaya has entertainment for all, and for all three sexes. Its most glamorous transvestite cabaret, the famous Tiffany Show stars elaborately costumed kathoey (lady boys) whose high-kicking, lip-synching routines are lots of fun and family-rated, too.
Shopping comes high on the list for many visitors and Pattaya obliges with swags of bargain beachwear, shoes and luggage. For quality, brand-name goods at fixed prices, try the beachfront malls like Central Festival or Royal Garden.
You’re spoiled for bed choices here with major hotel brands including Holiday Inn, Sheraton, Dusit, Marriott, Hilton and Accor. There are also scores of quality, mid-budget hotels stretching from Naklua in the north, through the party zone of central Pattaya and south to Jomtien.
SURVIVAL TIPS: Swim at Jomtien or Wong Amat rather than in the dubious waters of Pattaya Bay. Never rent a jetski (scams galore) nor use a camera in a go-go bar (bouncers galore). Don’t ride in a taxi without first agreeing the price. Avoid Pattaya during Thai New Year, Songkran, in mid-April, when you’ll be drenched day and night for a week in the world’s largest watertight. Fun at first, then not.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand has teamed up with PTJ Muay Thai Gym to provide Muay Thai classes live-streamed to your home on Facebook.
Tune into the Hug Thailand Facebook Page each Tuesday at 6pm to join the live-streamed Muay Thai Classes. There will be four classes in total, with prizes up for grabs each week for participants.
Muay Thai is the national martial art of Thailand, a discipline that helps strengthen body and mind. Suitable for men, women and kids of all ages – get the whole family to join in! It’s a great way to stay fit while learning self defence mechanisms.
Download the Awesome Muay Thai guide to Thailand’s Muay Thai centres here.
Stuck at home and missing your favourite Thai takeaway? Chat Thai to the rescue! The Tourism Authority of Thailand Sydney Office has partnered with Chat Thai to run Thai cooking classes, live streamed on Facebook every Friday afternoon, at 4pm Sydney time.
Each recipe will then be shared with viewers to try for yourselves, and there will be a prize to be won each week. Try the recipe out for yourself, take a photo of yourself with your creation and share to the Hug Thailand Facebook page for your chance to win a $50 Coles voucher.
There will be 8 cooking classes in total, and the recipes will all be shared here on this page – so keep checking in for more recipes!
Bangkok, “The Big Mango”, is a sprawling tom yam gung of a city, an ancient-modern capital that grew without one specific centre. Zone-in according to your main mission, be it shopping, nightlife, history or exploring. Guest blogger John Borthwick explores the best zones to eat-sleep-play in Bangkok.
A stretch of South Sathorn Road (aka Thanon Sathon Tai) has become a quality row of embassies (including the Australian) and superior hotels. It’s sanely removed from the main nightlife zones but still conveniently close to Silom Road’s stores and night markets (but skip Patpong, a crowded, cacophonous pit), as well as to two stations, Sala Daeng BTS Skytrain and Lumphini MRT subway.
What better way to see Krung Thep, the City of Angels, aka Bangkok, and its parade of temples, towers, malls and palaces than from its River of Kings, the Maenam Chao Phraya? Hop aboard the Chao Phraya Express Boat, with English commentary, from Sathorn Pier near Saphan Taksin Skytrain station. Get on and off where you please at any of the 20 stops, including Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn) or Wat Pho (home to the Reclining Buddha). On the west bank visit Lhong 1919, a century-old throwback to the days of steamships and the Thailand-China sea trade. Tip: Also on the west bank visit the Royal Barges Museum and its spectacular fleet of gilded boats that are used in the annual Royal Barges Procession.
Teeming, steaming Yaowarat Road, with its Blade Runner alleys, shrines, apothecaries and goldsmiths, is the main fuse of Bangkok’s Chinatown, one of the oldest Chinatowns the world. The buy-sell-eat-drink-repeat energy here is both inexhaustible and exhausting. Come evening, hawker stalls along Yaowarat dish up a progressive feast of seafood and every other kind of Chinese treat, but skip those two uncool, traditional “delicacies”, shark-fin and birds-nest soups. “Cool drinks and hot jazz” happen nightly at Shanghai Mansion’s street-front bar. Sit and watch and listen to both the music and the night going by. Tip: Soi Itsara Nuphap runs between Yaowarat and Charoenkrung roads. Inch your way down it, between stalls, handcarts, grandmas and bargain hunters — a parallel universe.
Malls, traffic squalls, Skytrain stations and a hyperactive nightlife. There’s no chance of going hungry along Thanon Sukhumvit. Make a reservation at the legendary Bo.Lan, Sukhumvit Soi 53 (in Thong Lo area) for exemplary Thai fare or at Rang Mahal atop the Rembrandt Hotel (Soi 18) for Indian fine dining. Meanwhile, the Emporium megamall near Phrom Phong Skytrain has almost 50 quality restaurants and food outlets. Sukhumvit’s Nana (pronounced Naa-naa) area comes out at night to party, full-tilt. Soi Nana is home to scores of bars, go-go’s and one-night-in-Bangkok attractions. It’s not all red-light but nor is it for the prudish.
Khao San Road
“The main function for the street was as a decompression chamber for those about to enter or leave Thailand, a halfway house between East and West.” So wrote Alex Garland in his 1996 novel The Beach, which begins on Khao San Road. “KSR”, now gone mainstream, remains Asia’s capital city HQ for gap-yearlings and travelling souls, lost, found or just hanging out. Guesthouses and lodges abound in the side streets, while more upmarket options include Sawasdee Inn and the Buddy Hotel in the heart of the action. By night, the traffic is blocked off and KSR becomes a free-fire, walking-eating-drinking zone. Tip: Explore the side sois for more intimate eateries.
The Ratchprasong area is as close as today’s Bangkok comes to having a main, midtown focal point. The adjacent stretch of Ratchadamri Road, between Ploenchit and Petchaburi roads, is where dedicated shoppers come to trawl amid giant stores and fashion malls such as Zen, Isetan, Gaysorn, Platinum and Siam Paragon. Reach it via Siam or Chidlom Skytrain stations. Try the hawker food at night in front of Central World Mall. Far above on the 55th level of the Centara Grand Hotel is Red Sky Rooftop bar. The huge Panthip Plaza electronics emporium is a few blocks away on Petchaburi Road in Pratunam. Tip: Erawan Shrine, Bangkok’s reputedly most wish-fulfilling shrine, sits on the corner of busy Ratchadamri and Ploenchit roads. Thais pray here for health and wealth before its four-faced golden Brahma statue. Frequent traditional dancing and music accompany the offerings.
Thonburi (pronounced “Tonbury”) on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River was briefly the capital of Siam. Amid its pockets of history, narrow soi lanes and century-old teak houses you’ll find the domed Santa Cruz Church, built by the Portuguese-Thai community in 1770 and, nearby, the brilliant white stupa of Wat Prayurawongsawat. The old Kuan An Keng Chinese temple, like the Catholic church, also dates to the 1767—1782 reign of Siam’s warrior king, Taksin the Great who established his new capital here. “Venice of the East” was an early European name for Bangkok, referring to the khlong canals that linked the neighbourhoods. Board a rua hang yao — long-tail boat — for a canal trip to see the heart of old Thonburi. On Khlong Bang Luang hop out at Baan Silapan, aka the Artist’s House, a traditional, teak, canal-front home that’s now a gallery-theatre-café. Tip: There are fantastic river views from the 360 Bar atop Thonburi’s Millennium Hilton hotel.
Elephant Hills Safari Tours, recently highly commended in the recent Thailand Green Excellence Awards, provide a unique Thai experience for visitors to Thailand looking for looking to get up close and personal with Thai wildlife.According to Elephant Hills CEO Chris; “Our approach at ElephantHills is not to ride elephants and to abstain from elephant shows in order to offer a more responsible, unique and rewarding experience for both elephants and humans.
“We also aim at maintaining the highest level of animal welfare; guests get to feed, wash and interact with Asia’s largest land animal. This is an excellent opportunity to get up really close and personal with these gentle giants in a responsible way and at the same time learn about their status and situation in Thailand.”
Your typical Elephant Hills Safari Tour takes two to three days, staying in either one or both of their tented sites in the Khao Sok National Park.
The Safari starts with an early pickup from your hotel in Phuket or Krabi and you’re provided with water and peanuts to sustain on the 2.5 hour journey to our first camp, at Elephant Hills.
On arrival you’re greeted with a slap up buffet lunch and shown to your glamping accommodation, before embarking on a kayak tour down the Sok river. After this you’re taken to the elephant camp a few minutes away.
Here you meet the elephants and are given a comprehensive lesson on everything from their behaviour in the wild, their use in the now defunct logging industry and what has eventually brought these beasts here, to a sanctuary in the far south of Thailand, a long way from home.
There is little natural environment left for Asian elephants to survive in, a legacy of the logging industry which has left disconnected pockets of rainforest throughout Thailand. So it’s hard for elephants to survive as they normally would, but also, some of these beasts have been domesticated for so long they’ve forgotten how.
There are now many national parks in Thailand, the result of a grass roots-led environmental movement that started back in the 1980s. A movement that ended the logging industry, stopped the construction of a dam in central Thailand that would have had a devastating impact on the environment, and which has now created a generation of conservationists.
Thais visit their own national parks more than any other nationality – the parks are not there purely for the benefit of international tourists like me. Looking after the natural Environment is a value that fits well with Buddhist philosophy, so after success of the grass roots environmental movement back in the 80s, it became something taught to the younger generation of Thais in schools by Buddhist monks.
And then there’s places like this, educational centres that introduce tourists to these magnificent creatures. These elephants have travelled from North and Central Thailand, and brought with them their Karen Mahouts who, dressed in colourful traditional garb, click, cluck and slap their cheeky charges into line as guests learn how to give them a scrub, before preparing a lunch of pineapple, bananas, sugarcane and elephant grass. In the evening, guests are treated to a dance recital by some local school kids and given a Thai cooking demonstration.
The next day guests are taking to Camp Two: a floating camp on Cheaw Lan Lake. Here you can take part in a 3-hour trek through the jungle, climbing one of the tall limestone pinnacles to reach a large cave.
Back lakeside, the rest of the day and the following morning can be spent swimming and kayaking in the lake, or simply relaxing while listening to the surrounding creatures, cicadas, hornbills and gibbons having fun in the jungle.
The Unexpected Feeling Episode 3: Coconut Treasure from TATnews Official on Vimeo.
Samut Songkhram is renowned not only for its scenic natural attractions, which are consistent with the locals’ simple way of life, but also for being one of the provinces with the largest population of coconuts in Thailand. Thanks to this blessing, local residents possess an ample repertoire of coconut-related folk wisdom. One example is their skill in transforming a plain looking coconut shell into a carved sound box—or resonator—for a fiddle, a Thai stringed instrument that features a harmony of exquisite craftsmanship and musical acoustics.
The process of coconut shell carving requires immense meticulousness. Selecting a shell suitable for carving is the first challenge. This is followed by the arduous task of creating a design to be engraved on the shell, which is the fiddle’s resonator. Also of great importance is the craftsman’s expert knowledge of the acoustic properties rendered by each carved, bored and fretted coconut shell. Such expertise is essential to creating a good-quality sound box for a fiddle that, if assembled in accord with Thai musical instrument standards, is both beautiful and durable, with a unique sound quality.
Location: Bang Khonthi, Samut Songkhram, Thailand.
So U (Alto Fiddle) musician for “Lao Somdej” : Mr. Sarayudh Homyen