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Travelogue: Valentine's Day in Thailand


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Thailand for Valentine’s Week

Taking the middle path of excess

Part 1 – Fly Me To The Moon (or at least as far as Souvarnabhoumi)

It’s been a difficult year so far. The markets are down, Thailand still suffers from the airport closure, and gloom is in the air.

In such times, you can either bow under the weight of fate, or rise up to adversity and challenge it to lay you low.

Stirring stuff, eh?

Really, I just felt that Yoonhi and I just needed a romantic getaway. I’d been away on my own for too long in December, and then the rush and frenzy of Christmas, the departure of some of our friends in Bahrain for Jo’burg, and New Year’s had had us on the go 24/7. There’d been little quiet time for the two of us.

So, why not stretch Valentine’s out a bit?

It was a good…heck, it was an auspicious start, with Gulf Air bumping us up. Yoonhi was quite happy with this, settling into her seat, tucking into some almonds and champagne, and checking up on the child (who has school).

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Like I said, an auspicious start.

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Souvarnabhumi’s domestic terminal lacks much of the choice of the international. And Thai Air wasn’t as gracious in recognizing our inherent worth. This meant that we were consigned to the food court, with it’s abusively priced beers ($7 for a Singha?!). But, this wasn’t a budget trip, and we’d done well on the opening leg. And the food court does have noodles, and noodles are a good first meal.

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We went for the bbq’d duck. For Yoonhi, this was a straightforward matter.

On my part, I couldn’t resist adding in some chili and vinegar, and some more chili powder.

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It’s best to get back into training for spices as soon as you can on these trip.

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Plus, I could now knock mosquitoes out of the air with my breath (or at least it felt that way).

I failed to take a picture of the in-flight snack. It’s only an hour and change to get to Chiang Rai, so there’s not much. A plastic cup of water, and a bit of cake. I let it rest in peace in the box, saving my appetite for what was to come.

(note: edited as I remembered I had more photos in the camcorder)

Edited by Peter Green (log)
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I read the title and thought, "Yup, you've got a pretty good chance of getting VD in Thailand!"

Shouldn't you finish your past visits before continuing with the present? :biggrin: Then again, it's much easier to post while it's fresh on the brain!

Must try to remember Cambodia. . .

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I read the title and thought, "Yup, you've got a pretty good chance of getting VD in Thailand!"

Shouldn't you finish your past visits before continuing with the present? :biggrin:  Then again, it's much easier to post while it's fresh on the brain!

Must try to remember Cambodia. . .

You've gotta start taking notes! :biggrin:

I'm going to try and finish this before you get Cambodia done!

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Part 2 – The True North, Brave and Free

It had been the better part of a day getting here, with the long stopover in Souvarnabhoumi in Bangkok, so we broke our journey with an overnight stay in Chiang Rai.

I am, as you’ve probably already guessed, a fan of Bangkok. A big fan.

But my heart is much more in the North, in the upper reaches of the Maekhong River.

There’s a graciousness that just hums about you. A sense of the importance of small details.

Consider, for instance, the trollies in the arrivals hall.

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Yoonhi pointed this out. “They’ve aligned all of the carts to be as convenient as possible for the passengers. You don’t have to fight to get them unattached or anything…..just wheel them away.”

And once our flight had collected its luggage, the attendants wheeled out and arranged a new set.

Details.

As I’d mentioned, we were overnighting in Chiang Rai. A number of our friends had recommended The Legend, set back slightly from the city along Rim Kok river, close to the old bridge.

I always have fond memories of that bridge. It’s double the width now, but I remember 20 years ago coming down in the morning from town, and finding only cattle crossing it.

You get old, there’s more of the past to spend your time in.

The Legend was very pleasant. There were villas along the banks of the river, with their own private pools, but we weren’t going that far over the top just yet. Our rooms were in a block, with an entryway, bath, and semi-outdoor shower. The bedroom was big enough even for my bulk, and there’s a certain beauty to the functionality of mosquito netting.

It was late afternoon, and we wandered the grounds, coming to rest finally at the pool with a cold Heineken, watching the sun go down, and enjoying the quiet.

But it’s not all an idyll. Yoonhi likes to do things, and Chiang Rai now has a night bazaar, in competition with it’s Southern rival, Chiang Mai.

With only the one night, we were off to go shopping (and eating, of course).

We took the hotel van into town, and Yoonhi and I looked at the changes that had come to what used to the proverbial “sleepy little town”. We’d actually passed by a couple of years back when we looped out of Chiang Mai for a few days, but at that time we’d just skirted the town.

Now it’s become quite hemmed in, I’m sad to say. It’s not Bangkok, but it’s become more like Chiang Mai, with multi-story buildings dominating the heart of town, and the usual spread of Pizza Company and KFC.

Mind you, with that same growth comes more restaurants and food of every sort.

It was still light as the bazaar began setting up at 6 p.m. With Yoonhi’s tummy talking to her, we put aside shopping for the moment, and headed into the first place with tables.

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This was your standard Night Bazaar restaurant and stage. The placards cheerfully advertised spaghetti, khao soi, steak frites, Northern curry, and just about anything else you could ask for.

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We began with our first coconuts of the trip.

This will be heresy to some, but an ice cold coconut, taken as your first drink of the evening, may be better than a beer. We both started with these, scraping the meat out and nibbling on that pale white flesh, while working our way through the phone book of a menu that they had.

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There was rice, of course, Thai jasmine, with its beautiful aroma. Straight from the paddies surrounding the city, to the mills, and to us. (Okay, there may be a few more middlemen in there).

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For a curry, we had a gaeng som – a sour curry – with cha om, a “local vegetable”. This had pieces of omelet floating in the broth as well. A very full, tamarind-sour curry, with the eggs rounding it out and keeping our cholesterol up.

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Along with sausage I’m very fond of mushrooms. When I saw hed nang fah on the menu – deep fried local mushrooms - I’d enthusiastically ordered them. But the delicacy of the fungus was, perhaps, lost under the batter. It’s not that it didn’t taste good, but it didn’t taste as much of mushrooms as I would have preferred.

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“Ocean asparagus” was one of the items that commanded a page of its own in the menu. When they arrived, I thought at first it was more mushrooms, but biting it, it turned out to be razor clams – free of any grit and salted with the soy that the dish came in. And I also had the mushroom flavour I’d been looking for in the caps that came with the dish.

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The Thai Northern hors d’ouvres was a selection of pork products. Rinds crispy fried; pate that had been seamed and then fried; sai eua – the quintessential Lanna sausage with it’s dry gristle and chilis,; nehm – all cheerful pink and chili green, a fermented sausage that I always have to have somewhere in the house; a centre piece of nam prik, the dipping sauce of the north, an evil green jungle of chilis; and the one concession to foreigners (although I may be wrong) boiled vegetables – beans, pumpkin, cabbage, and bitter gourd.

I say “I may be wrong” just that I’m used to having my cabbage and beans raw. I’ll be happy to stand corrected.

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Oh, and don’t forget the chilis, peanuts, ginger, and garlic to take as you eat.

And the garlic….I’d forgotten about fresh Northern garlic and the fiery burn it has on its own. That, together with the slowly growing heat from the nam

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If there was one regret to the meal, it was the beer. I’m not a big fan of Leo. It’s alright if it’s cold enough that you can’t taste it, but this beer, with a leopard on the label (Why is "Leo" for lions and not leopards?) has not been my favourite. Still, it’s survived the years since it was first released (coincidentally when DiCapprio was here shooting The Beach, and still riding the Titanic mania of the day), and survival counts for something (oh, what of Kloster? What of Amarin?).

Food having sated my teeruk’s noisome tummy, we started to look around for shopping.

Rule 1 of romance: food

Rule 2 of romance: shopping

While there’s a large overlap in material with Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar, being in the North guarantees a certain quirkiness and individuality to be found if you look around. There was plenty of coffee and tea for sale, with a number of Chinese green teas from Doi Mae Salong, the old KMT bastion along the Burmese border, all embellished with fairies and women in long gowns. I bought couple of kilos of the Hana Arabica “naturally low in caffeine” for Yoonhi, who can’t take coffee after lunch for fear of being awake all night.

And that’s been another pleasant change. In the old days, I’d have to carry my own coffee to Thailand. What passed for coffee then was either an unpleasant, over-roasted thing, or Nescafe. Nescafe is what they put out in the good places.

Before you get up in arms, though, my comments do not apply to Thai coffee as a drink, strained through condensed milk and loaded with syrup, and a joy on a hot day with ice (but more on that later….if I remember).

If you’re there, and you’re interested in the funky, then I’d recommend 9 Shop. It’s in shop number 12. Trust the Thai to take the concept of Gothic and make it bright and cheerful. We bought hand painted high-tops for Serena, and t-shirts in primary colours, hand painted with little zombie children saying “Hello” rather than “brainsssss!”.

Zombie children had me in a good mood, and when we turned the corner on that row of shops, I was pushed over the top of elation by what I found.

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A food court!

I missed the food courts from Chiang Mai. Offal, sausages, and just strange stuff, all for the price of almost nothing.

I could say that I regretted having spent so much of my appetite in the tourist haven next door, but I’d be lying. Except for the deep fried mushrooms, it had been excellent.

But this just appealed to me.

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Consider this – a whole fish, steaming solely ( as opposed to a whole sole, steaming fishly) buried under limes, chilis, and cabbage.

Or these fried and grilled beauties. They were placed before me, frish from the oven. Wisps of steam escaped from their beaked mouths.

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And looking above them, there was a huge selection of pig parts.

I couldn’t help myself. I ordered the intestines.

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Unfortunately, they weren’t cleaned well enough for my taste. They had that background remnant taste of intestine, which detracted from the joyful chewiness I was looking for.

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To console myself, I looked about and was sorely tempted by the sausages. It just seemed like fate.

But Yoonhi returned at this point, and we moved off to other parts of the market before I could start a real binge.

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These “sandwiches” took me a moment to recognize. A single slice of bread wrapped around the filling and secured with a toothpick, and then heated in the steamer.

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And then I saw these. Like a cross between khnom krok and takoyaki. I had to have them.

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They actually sort of tasted like takoyaki, with minced up bits of seafood in there., but taken Thai-ways with fresh basil and a dipping sauce of chili, cucumber, and vinegar.

These were good.

We shopped, and browsed, and shopped some more. When we had enough bags, I figured it would be convenient to sit and wait somewhere while Yoonhi continued to shop.

Across the street from the Bazaar was a presentable looking spot – Aye’s Restaurant (“shy”?). I took a table up front, and looked for sausage.

And, yes, they had their own homemade sai eua. I ordered a plate of this, and a Coco Londoner.

While I waited for my order, there was an interesting conversation at the public phone in front of the 7-11 next door. I wouldn’t call it eavesdropping, as everyone in the front half of the restaurant could here this farang yelling into the receiver.

“I only have $200 left in my account.”

“No, I don’t know what happened.”

“Mom, I need this!”

“Don’t you leave me stranded here! Mom!”

<sound of telephone receiver being smashed against phone box>

He must have had my broker.

Mai sabaii, but he left soon after.

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The sausages were excellent, although I almost took out a tooth on a hard bit of something in there. The Coco Londoner was a disappointment, however. It was gin and lime added to the coconut water. A little thin for a cocktail.

But you have to try new things, I say.

We took a tuktuk back to the Legend. This is still the land of tuktuks and samlors, with no motodops or taxi meter about. We dropped our bags in the room, swabbed ourselves in DDT, and drifted down to the riverside to enjoy the night, the roar of the tuktuk still ringing in our ears.

For everything good, there is something bad to balance it. But I try to focus on the good.

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And in Thailand, cocktails are good, and the perfect end to a night under the stars. Yoonhi had the Legend Palace – vodka, blue curacao, dom, and pineapple juice – and I had their Paradise At Chiang Rai, made of gin, countreau, pineapple juice, and orange juice. Both were satisfying, drawing heavily from the freshness of young pineapples.

We sipped at our drinks, admired the paper lanterns, and talked of our last 35 years together.

Rule 3 of romance: fruity cocktails

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LOL. I love the titles to your travelogues! Man, I miss Chiang Rai. I preferred it to Chiang Mai because it's sleepier. Peaceful. The north just smells different. I miss hearing jao where ever you went. My family always said the "sweeter" women came from the North.

That sandwich was interesting. Do you know what was in it?

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Peaceful. The north just smells different.  I miss hearing jao where ever you went. 

And I can lapse into bo bpen nyang and not be laughed at! :smile:

That sandwich was interesting. Do you know what was in it?

I didn't get a very good look at it, as I didn't intend to buy one, and I hate disappointing people. There was the tell-tale hot dog colour, and the orange of cheese.

Now I wish I'd had one. :sad:

Edited by Peter Green (log)
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Part 3 – Movin’ On Up

We woke to birdsong. No cars, no trains, no trucks, no political loudspeakers.

Just birds.

Breakfast. Some claim it to be the most important meal of the day. Myself, I find it gets in the way of lunch.

But Yoonhi believes in a good breakfast, and I’m not about to disagree.

Sitting in the Legend’s restaurant, with the sun lighting up the river, I settled into idea of the most important meal of the day.

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Doi Chaang is an interesting coffee. It’s an “ultra-dark roast” according to the posted review, with “a gently pungent, delicately rich cup with a shimmer of cardamom-toned spice and scorched cedar complication.”

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The interesting part is more in the travel path it takes. It comes from a sinlge estate in the Triangle, but is then taken to Alberta for roasting, and then brought back to Thailand. It’s a story of the growers coming together to take control of their product, cutting out the middlemen, and producing a product that they’re much happier with.

(As a coincidence, on the Gulf flight we’d been reading of Kallari chocolates who have a similar story. This again was an interesting coincidence, as Robert Steinberg of Scharffen Berger chocolates had helped them, and I’d enjoyed meeting him several years back at a WGF. Sadly, he passed away in September of 2007, but he used his time well)

Across the table, my better half was having her favourite breakfast.

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Call it rice porridge, or congee, or juk, it never excites me as a meal, but it does look pretty topped with coriander, dried shallots, Chinese pickles, and whatever else was lying about.

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Of course it’s only pretty for a moment, but perhaps there’s a lesson there in the transience of things?

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Watching Yoonhi eat had the appropriate effect upon me, and I laid into the more Western meal of fried bacon, herbed pork sausages, and khao phad with some chilis and nam pla to perk things up.

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And juice. Fresh pineapple juice, stripped of the cocktail ingredients of last night to clear the head, rather than fuddle it. I took two glasses in the one trip, to save me the exhausting walk back to the buffet.

Yoonhi excited me (she has that effect) by announcing the presence of donuts, but these weren’t really donuts, rather baked bread with chocolate toppings. My inner-Homer was outraged, but I stuffed him back into his corner. It was too nice a morning to take umbrage.

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The highlight of the meal was unexpected. Yogurt. Home made. It was sweet on its own, and extremely satisfying. Used as a delivery system for fresh dragon fruit, melon, papaya, and (of course) pineapple, it was excellent. Even I had some.

Clean air, a light chill, and no hangovers. This was a good start. We retired to the room, closed our bags, and waited for our ride.

It was time to leave city life behind.

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Part 4 – A Tent for All Seasons

I have a fondness for Land Rovers.

My parents had said that the only way they could settle me down as a baby was to take me out for a rattle and hum around Vieux Forte in the Rover.

My first new car was a Series 1 Discovery, and my second a Series 2.

I just like them, and, as long as they’re leaking oil, you know that you’re okay.

And so, when I found that our ride was a Series 3 Discovery, I cheerfully bundled myseslf into the front seat with my video and shot away, our chauffeur somewhat surprised that I wasn’t sitting in the back with madame.

Rule 4 of romance: give her some space (when you need it)

For me, the North isn’t about the cities. It’s about the mountains, the jungle, the people, and the rice fields.

When you see the fields at this time of the year, there’s a colour to them I can’t quite capture in a camera (but we’ll see how the video turns out). Especially in the gloaming, it’s almost golden.

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And, as OniGiri says, there’s that smell.

It’s a good smell.

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As we passed through the green, we would come across clusters of farmers, moving purposefully forward as they planted the next crop of paddy, little bundles of plant poking up like a hair transplant that just goes on for miles. They’d stop and wave, and we’d wave back.

Along the road food was clustered, like with like. One stretch of road had twenty stands selling small, sweet pineapples. Other stretches (several) were selling Mandarin oranges (it was the season).

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And others were selling strawberries, flashes of red as we sped by.

After perhaps an hour of this, a large smile plastered on my face, we arrived at, literally, the end of the road.

And the start of the next leg.

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The Four Seasons' Tented Camp. I remember when the camp had first opened three years back. From that point on, the staff in Bangkok were always wondering if I’d been there yet.

So, I had to go.

This was half the reason for coming to Thailand for Valentine’s (and we’ll get to the other half later). As I’d said, I wanted to pamper Yoonhi with this trip, but I also wanted to entertain her. She doesn’t do well with lethargy.

And so, we were come to the Golden Triangle, that bit of land bounded by Thailand, Burma, and Laos, with China’s Sip Sawng Panna looming just beyond (I prefer the Lao spelling).

The order of business was to transfer to a small boat to travel down the Ruak (Bamboo) River to the camp itself. Our luggage would continue by road. The Ruak demarcates Thai and Burmese soil, spilling out at Sop Ruak into the Mekong, where the PDR Laos hold the East bank.

Yoonhi was immediately struck by the similarity to Little Governors in the Masai Mara – except here we had the benefit of high speed, as opposed to pulling along a rope. We whipped up the Ruak, wending between Thai and Burmese waters as we dodged fish traps and shallows.

Our guide pointed out the Burmese casino. If they ever do legalize gambling in Thailand, it will probably wipe out half the GDP of the surrounding countries. Mind you, most of these are owned by Thais, so it’s questionable how much benefit they are to the local economies.

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Approaching the camp, you’re struck by the sparseness. This is very much a place to get away from things, and only hosts 30 guests at a time in their 15 tents.

gallery_22892_6479_24763.jpgWe arrived and announced our presence by gong, although I suspect the roar of the outboard engine had been a more effective presage. Michel Volk, the GM, met us, as he does every guest, and welcomed us to the camp as we enjoyed another coconut.

Michel reviewed our itinerary with us, and we switched our watches over to “camp time”. They operate on Burmese time, which is a half hour out of synch.

We were in Tent #3. Each tent is decorated with a different theme.

They placed me in The Culinary Arts tent.

I suspect this was on purpose (but I didn’t mind).

Now, there are tents, and there are tents. I’ve worked in the bush in the Territories and the interior of BC, and have stayed in tents that were relatively well settled (which means “floors” in my definition), to fly camps that were canvass, pegs, and a hewn pole, good for the night, and then you move on.

My position, when people had suggested we go camping for fun, had evolved after three field seasons to “Why would I go camping for free when I get paid to do it? Will we have helicopter support?”

When we travelled in Kenya, I saw a whole new world of tents on the Masai Mara. Floors, furnishings, plumbing. And I’ve spent time since then in felt lined gers and Bedu tents with air conditioners. It’s not as bad as it was in the old days.

Still, though, humanity has spent millennia working it’s way up to civilized dwellings. Why devolve?

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But this is a whole ‘nother world of tent.

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It rests on a large wooden platform, with a deck projecting out over the cliff edge, the road access winding beneath. The tent “doors” are double zippered, one layer a clear plastic to guard against weather, the other mesh to guard against mosquitos.

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Binoculars were on hand for bird spotting, if that was our wish, and a set for betel nut, if I was bent that way (it would almost be worth it just to terrify my dental hygienest upon return).

There’s a bathroom to the side, and an “outdoor” shower, and, in pride of place, there’s a standing tub.

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I want that tub.

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There was a well stocked bar (all in as part of the package), and fresh Mandarins.

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And, of course, as with all good tents, there’s WiFi.

I could seriously reconsider my position on camping.

(note: edited for fruit dyslexia)

Edited by Peter Green (log)
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Part 5 – Dahling! You Look Mahvelous

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You probably noticed that, in the last shot, Yoonhi’s moved to the blue denim look.

Rule 5 of romance: always compliment her on her fashion sense

Our second item on this day’s itinerary would be mahout training.

But our first item would be lunch.

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It’s a pretty room. Rustic, but all of the finishing is just right, as you’d expect from the Four Seasons. The kitchen is detached, but not so far away that there’s a worry of the food cooling of en route.

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Beautifully appointed, and, I was very keen on seeing how it would look at night, in the softer light.

But all of this is just rubber-necking. I needed a drink. I had my coconut, and now the weather, and my denim, called for beer.

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Beer Lao. I was so happy.

(Actually, I’d asked Michel earlier if they had Beer Lao, and he responded “Of course! I make certain we keep it stocked.”)

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Yoonhi had a glass of chardonnay – Antares from Chili, 2006 - and the staff brought out some prawn crackers and chili dip.

I think beer was the better choice.

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I started with a Lao salad – yam pok kood – with moo laab worked in with rice vermicelli, backdropping the blanched fern. Two plump prawns rested atop, one clutching a spear of asparagus. There was a good solid burn to this, indicative that when you ask for it spicy, they give you what you want.

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Yoonhi had ordered the tan tay poo nim – soft shelled crab on a Lao salad of cucumber, the paa dek smell coming up from the dressing . The cucumber, cut long diagonally, was muscled about with peanuts and chili seeds. Yoonhi had ordered hers medium hot, but mine was pleasantly brutal, with the cucumber taking away some of the pain (and the Beer Lao).

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For a main course, Yoonhi ordered the khnom jeen narm ngeiw, a Burmese style rice noodle soup. She took one sip and said, “This is guk su.” (Flour noodles) There were strands of bracken fern in it, and an intriguing broth.

We asked about the broth. It’s a pork stock (which is a good thing) with chili and herbs. What gives it the particular flavour we were picking up was from the flower of the kapok tree. This is the same material – cotton silk – that I saw falling like snow at the Four Seasons Chiang Mai years back.

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I popped out to the washroom, and was suitably impressed. It’s about the size of my entire hotel room when we first went to Paris. And there’s a gramaphone. To what end, I know not, but it looks cool.

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My main course was kaow ram fuen – Shan Burmese noodles with pork and prawns. Michel had recommended this to me earlier, describing it as a Burmese lasagna.

It comes as a thick, orange sheet of noodle embracing a patty of ground pork and herbs in its midst, three prawns resting atop this blanket. To describe it as “lasagna” is quite accurate, and it achieves that same level of comfort food.

Filling, I know, but I happily finished it all.

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And for dessert? There was a nice selection, but fruit seemed the best choice on a day like today. Pineapple, pomelo, papaya, some dragon fruit, and rose apples.

We’d lingered over lunch, and so were boated around to the elephant grounds. As I’d said, the Camp is sparsely built, and it’s a long way between one end to the other, built as it is along the twists of the river.

Mahout training was, of course, limited, as we only had three hours. But it was much more satisfying than I’d expected.

We’d been on elephants before, at Tiger Tops, but then you’re in a platform, while the mahout takes you through the jungle in pursuit of the big cats. Honestly, I found that quite tiring after awhile, the platform rocking about and shuddering with each footfall.

This had the benefit of being tactile, your knees up behind the elephant’s ears, and your hands resting on the two lobes atop its head.

My pachyderm was Pang Bo, and Yoonhi was atop Pang Boonma.

I felt particularly close to Bo once I realized we shared similar issues with male pattern baldness (except she’s not a male).

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They took us through the basic commands, and how to drive the elephant with our feet and hands, running the slalom, and working through different methods of mounting and dismounting.

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And then we were off for a bit of trekking. Perhaps a 90 minute wander through the jungle, down to the river and cool off.

It was wet.

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Coming back through the tall grass, growing more used to the gait of Pang Bo, was one of those particularly pleasant moments in life.

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The trainers told us to keep talking to them, to repeat their name for reassurance. For me it was easy, as I told Bo about Serena’s latest favourite manga character – Bo bo bo bo bo bo.

It’s just neither Bo nor I had enough hair for the part.

Edited by Peter Green (log)
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OMG! I love oliphaunts (bonus points if you know where that comes from).

I really miss how much detail Thais can put into cutting fruit. I hated doing it when I was young because it takes time and is intricate but now I kind of wish I paid more attention.

That be one NICE tent btw. Er, btw, I was surprised there was no comment on how phallic the spear looked in the laap. :P

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I can feel the love all the way from frozen Nova Scotia. I'm going to find a use for those elephant commands -- why say drink spray when you can say bong bone?

The soft shell crab looks very good. Can you get coconut crab (Birgus latro) there? I've been fantasizing about this bizarre creature since learning about it last week.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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The soft shell crab looks very good. Can you get coconut crab (Birgus latro) there? I've been fantasizing about this bizarre creature since learning about it last week.

Coconut crabs! Cool. I'd seen pictures of these before, and just lumped them in as land crabs. The claws are what gets my attention in the photos.

But, checking out the wiki habitat map, it looks like they didn't land on the mainland (or, if they did, they were quickly eaten). It does look like they may be present in the Philippines, though, so I think we'll have to talk Rona into finding some on her next trip there!

:smile:

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The soft shell crab looks very good. Can you get coconut crab (Birgus latro) there? I've been fantasizing about this bizarre creature since learning about it last week.

Coconut crabs! Cool. I'd seen pictures of these before, and just lumped them in as land crabs. The claws are what gets my attention in the photos.

But, checking out the wiki habitat map, it looks like they didn't land on the mainland (or, if they did, they were quickly eaten). It does look like they may be present in the Philippines, though, so I think we'll have to talk Rona into finding some on her next trip there!

:smile:

Imagine what a crab would taste like if it only ever ate coconuts . . . apparently it has an oil sack or something that's the ultimate union of crab and coconut.

There's a good bit about them in Bourdain's No Reservations French Polynesia episode.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Coconut crabs!  Cool.  I'd seen pictures of these before, and just lumped them in as land crabs.  The claws are what gets my attention in the photos.

But, checking out the wiki habitat map, it looks like they didn't land on the mainland (or, if they did, they were quickly eaten).  It does look like they may be present in the Philippines, though, so I think we'll have to talk Rona into finding some on her next trip there!

:smile:

Looking at that pictures made the hair on my arms stand! They look kind of creepy--do I really need to eat one?

It seems they're more common in the northern part of Luzon, which is farther north than we'll be going, but I'll keep an eye out for them.

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On the subject of elephants.

I’ll make a plug here. But not a shameless one.

Everyone, I’m sure, is aware of the role elephants played in Asia. Effectively, they’re the heavy lifters of industry, and were a key part of the forestry business in particular.

But, even more so than the water buffalo, the elephant has largely been displaced by modern equipment (the one-man roto-tillers sold by the Japanese that pushed out the buffalo are referred to sometimes as “Japanese buffalos”). With fewer and fewer jobs in the industry, a large number of mahouts have taken their charges to the big city, and you’ll find them ensconced in soi Nana and Cowboy, and also on Yaowarat.

Pavement is hard on an elephant’s feet.

The government has been trying to get the elephants off the street, and set up the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre (TECC). The Tented Camp’s elephant program has been developed under the sponsorship of the TECC. They’ve been locating distressed elephants,, particularly young ones, and bringing them to the camp.

It’s a good program, as they also bring in the mahouts with their elephants. Otherwise, if you just pay a price for the elephant, the mahout is quite likely to go and find another one to try and sell, just continuing the cycle.

It costs about 30,000 baht a month to take care of the elephants. Donations for their care can be made through www.elephantfamily.org (tax deductible in the US or Europe).

If you are a US citizen, and want to make a tax effective gift, you’ll need to fill out a CAFAmerica Gift Form at www.allaboutgiving.org/static/giving.aspx and type in Elephant Family in the charity search box.

As much as possible, the camp has tracked the history of their elephants. Here’s the story on Yoonhi’s ride – Pang Boonma.

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Part 6 – Bordering on Dinner (or Dining on the Border)

After a bit of time in the hot tub with a Chardonnay, Yoonhi and I cleaned up and changed for the evening. The dress code is casual at the camp, but there’s a limit to such things.

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We made for the Burma Bar, at the far end of camp. This is the spot to take in the sunset , and who am I to miss out on an excuse for drinking?

It did take some time to walk there, especially with the stiffness from the elephant riding still working our thighs, but we made it with time to spare, and, the bar being empty still, we took up a good spot, looking down on the Ruak and across to the elephant grounds.

I had a Beer Lao (just because I could) and Yoonhi began with Opium. It seemed the right thing for where we were. Light rum, dark rum, crème de cacao dark, lime juice, and light coke.

We were slowly joined by others from the camp, but, for the most part, people quietly took in the falling light and the tranquility.

Next (there’s always a next) Yoonhi tried a Velvet Kiss. Champagne with Amaretto. The Amaretto just rounded off the edges of the Brut.

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I felt like a margarita. The fact that there was a good selection of Patron behind the bar pshed me in that direction (or rather pulled me, it’s an attractive tequila), and I indulged, this being one of the few items not included in the package.

It was a mix of Patrons reposada, and anejo, with cointreau, orange juice, and very fresh lime juice. The thin skinned limes here gave it a good tartness to go with the more complex flavours of the anejo.

Plus, it was cold and wet. And I like salt.

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Some bar snacks arrived; beef (neua) laab in spoons; cabbage with fish and chili; and egg wrapped about tofu. To the side were some sweet potato “chips” to give my teeth a workover.

We liked the toothpicks. Made here from a shred of bamboo.

Back at the bar, I asked about the local drinks. Our bartender, Khun Ed, addressed me to the tray at my left shoulder.

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On the right was bottle of Golden Dragon Springs Old Myanmar Whisky (bottled in Myawadee). Beside it was a bottle of Lao Whisky, and another lao khao beside it.

And then there was the “special”.

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The special was on the right. Snake whisky, or rather snake soaked lao khao. Beside it was a bottle of commercial lao khao. I didn’t know they had commercial moonshine. I always thought you just dropped in on Somchai at his farm and picked up a gallon or ten in a fuel drum.

As moonshine goes, it’s not bad, but it’s a single pass distillation, so there’s a lot of edginess about it. The dead snake helps to cover over some of that. Side by side, I’d have to say I preferred the snake.

The bar was filling by this point, and everyone had had enough to be talkative. I enjoy talking with people who like to travel, and you weren’t here in the Triangle if you don’t like to travel.

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The lemon grass martini looked interesting, and I tried this next. Lemon grass infused vodka is the base, wih triple sec, cointreau, and lime juice, and a bit of olive juice.

Arguably closer in taste to a margarita, especially with the salt and chili flake rim, but a very good cocktail.

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I had another.

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My notes start getting a little fuzzy after this.

We repaired to the dining room after this, and took a table along the edge of darkness.

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They’d put a fairly simple menu for me, but one I appreciated.

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First, a duck salad, a pretty little thing, stacked up, with a bit of basil oil painted on the plate.

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And then tom kha kai, with acne like pools of chili oil drifting lazily about. The broth of this brought me back together a bit. Chicken soup is a tonic for everything.

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Grilled chicken breast, well marinated and with that taste of wood fire on it. Not in the photo, but well enjoyed, was a bamboo basket of sticky rice – khao niao. The basket helps to retain the moisture, so it doesn’t dry out.

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And som tam, all fire and anger. This definitely brought me back to this planet.

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From the table, I could see another bar around the fire place. Obviously, this was a sight I still needed to take in (we only had two nights, after all).

Khun Ed had moved up here from the Burma Bar, and I talked him into trying something. We used white rum, coconut water, and lychees.

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I’m coming to the conclusion that coconut water isn’t a great basis for a cocktail. Too thin, with no bottom to it.

Still, if I don’t try these things, I’ll never learn.

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So I had a whisky sour instead.

The camp operates on the same premise as a British hotel bar. If you’re a guest, they’re open as long as your mouth is. But it seemed unfair to keep them tied down for much longer, so I made my way back to the tent.

Rule 6 of romance: when its time to go to sleep, go to sleep

Tomorrow’s another day.

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Part 7 – Somebody’s Gonna Get A Beatin’

(note: if you haven’t watched Russell Peters, then you should)

Birdsong again.

I can get used to that.

I suppose the sane response to a night like the one previous would be to sleep in until noon.

I’m not often accused of sanity, though.

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We needed to see the baby elephants.

Rule 7 of romance: let her see all the cute babies she wants to. Its far better to time-share than to have our own kids around

(I’ll probably pay for that one later)

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At 8:00 a.m. they troop up to the restaurant for their feeding. Bananas. They really like bananas.

I wonder how they’d do with a daquiri?

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We started, of course, with more fruit. Whether you eat it (as I was doing) or drink it in a smoothie (as Yoonhi was doing).

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Of course, we generally peel our fruit first.

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The Four Seasons makes their own smoked salmon from Pacific fish, so I was looking forward to this on a bagel with some cream cheese.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a bagel.

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And Yoonhi had eggs benedict. Again, not something we’ve had for a long time. The lemon in the Hollandaise sauce making for a nice wake-up.

I took my first opportunity in days to leaf through the Bangkok Post. It’s two days old when we get it up here, but it’s not something I read with a sense of immediacy anyways. I just like having my coffee, assessing the state of the world, and commenting furiously upon the more inane parts.

For instance:

I think I mentioned, back in July, that garlic had been placed on the list of controlled substances? Well, the government was continuing in fine form.

They had now listed 13 items as hazardous material.

Are you ready? Here they come:

- chili

- turmeric

- ginger

- neem

- citronella grass

- galanga

- African marigold

- Siam weed

- Tea seed cake

- Chinese celery

- Ringworm bush

- Glory lily

- Stemona

It seems a certain proportion of the farming community has been turning to these as an alternative to Monsanto and the boys for pest control in the fields, and so the government has stepped in to regulate matters “for the farmers’ protection”.

Regulate the use of chili? In this country?

Remind me to start ranting about the tax on wines later on.

But, we finished our coffee and juice, and so looked to our schedule. Following breakfast, our next stop was the spa.

Yoonhi really likes a massage. Yoonhi had Scud go to massage school in Chiang Mai so he could give her a proper massage. She went, too, so she could tell if he was doing it right.

You get the picture. She likes a massge

Myself, I’d onlyl had one massage before. That was in Chiang Mai when we were there together a few years back. Being ignorant, I followed Yoonhi’s lead. She said “Thai style”, I said “Thai style”. She said “Hard”, I said “Hard”.

At some point I think the masseuse was supporting her body weight on my spine collar bone with her elbow.

I hurt for a week.

You know, I could achieve the same effect for a lot less money simply by going into any bar and insulting peoples’ mothers.

Be more fun, too.

But, Yoonhi wanted a spa treatment.

Rule 8 of romance: be prepared to take a beating for your woman

Rule 9 of romance: show no pain

The setting of the spa here is stunning. It’s back up a gulley, built on the cliff and facing out to vacant jungle on the other side.

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We went through the process, and this time Yoonhi told them “Medium for me, soft for him.”

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Okay, it wasn’t as bad as last time, but there are still a lot of body parts there that don’t want this sort of treatment.

By now it was pushing 11:30, and so it was time for lunch.

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We started with mieng kham. Okay, I have a confession to make. In an earlier topic, I’d thought the leaves to be bpai cham poo, the leaves of the rose apple. I saw the leaves, and they looked right, and had a the same waxy feel. But these were bpai cha ploo – or betel nut leaves.

Didn’t taste too bad with the other leaves, though.

Anyways, these came prepacked, and the leaves had been lightly crisped. Inside were the roasted coconut, ginger, garlic, shallot, and dried shrimp, and outside were the accompanying lime and chili.

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They brought me my favourite assortment of sausages – nehm and sai eua.

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Here’s a close up of the carved food for OniGiri.

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On the side was nam prik, or rather nam prik num – “young guy” nam prik. And, again, as at Chiang Rai, the vegetables were cooked. And again, as at Chiang Rai, this dipping sauce slowly built up to a painful crescendo.

I much prefer this to a massage.

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And there was khao niao. Fresh and warm. I balled some up in my right fingers, and dipped into the sauce.

And, remember how happy I was when I found out they had cans of Beer Lao lager?

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Does life get better than this, I ask?

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Next: Life gets better

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[...]You get old, there’s more of the past to spend your time in.[...]

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“Ocean asparagus” was one of the items that commanded a page of its own in the menu.  When they arrived, I thought at first it was more mushrooms, but biting it, it turned out to be razor clams – free of any grit and salted with the soy that the dish came in.  And I also had the mushroom flavour I’d been looking for in the caps that came with the dish.

[...]For everything good, there is something bad to balance it.  But I try to focus on the good.[...]

I'm loving this report. I've excerpted two of your great poetic aphorisms, but also your mention of razor clams. I assume they get them trucked in from the South China Sea? Are they very fresh-tasting when they get that far inland?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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"..... also your mention of razor clams. I assume they get them trucked in from the South China Sea? Are they very fresh-tasting when they get that far inland?

Thanks, Pan

I'd go with your assumption, as I haven't seen these before in the markets drawing from the Gulf of Siam or the Andaman Sea. But the Thai fishing fleets are moving farther and farther afield (haven't the Somalis grabbed a couple of Thai fishing boats?)

I have a question back. I've heard the term "bamboo clams" used. Are these the same thing?

Cheers,

:smile:

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Thank you for starting another intriguing report.  I'm curious about the beer, Lao.  How do you describe its flavor?

Hi, Hiroyuki!

The lager is just backed off a bit from crisp, with very good malt filling out the body. The hops are not too forward, so you don't have much bitterness to it. It's just labelled as a lager, but is more like a pilsener, with a certain gold to the colour.

The story of this beer is that it was originally a French brewery, in those days way back when, and, when the government fell, East Block foreigners moved in.

In those days, if you were cursed, the Russians would show you how to make beer.

The Lao were blessed, and instead they were aligned with the Czechs from Pilsener Urquell. The head brewer (a very pleasant lady) was taken to Czechoslovakia, and learned her methods there. Even though the Czechs are gone, she's still looking after things.

I have a recent (last two years) interview with her I should dig up. But maybe I'll save the writing of that for my next trip to Laos.

:)

P.S. - more sake coming soon

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