Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year

My home has just been visited by a corpulent bearded fellow who appears to have consumed all my rum and mince pies.... I'm assuming its Christmas and the guest was Santa, unless I've just been burgled by Oliver Reed!!!!

I have always enjoyed festive period and I can see this continuing even when I'm in my dotage!!!!

I really enjoy the food and drink, decorating the Christmas tree and hanging your stocking out for Santa!!!! But, these days, I'd much rather see the stockings on my missus!!!!

Anyway, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a Happy Christmas and prosperous New Year.

I look forward to 2010 being a great year in the bloggersphere!!!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Beers in Thailand

Let's face it, when the mercury tips 100 degrees and the plastic flowers are even starting to wilt, there nothing is better than supping on an ice cold glass of wobbly pops!!!

Although, if you're a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, Thailand isn't exactly the best place to hold your next meeting!!!

I am well placed to comment on this aspect of Thailand, thanks to my penchant for the amber nectar and having consumed more beer over the years, than a coach load of hillbillies at a Klu Klux Klan convention.

One of things that tourists often find strange is that the Thais drink their beer with ice!!! For the first time visitor this takes some getting used too, but it is an aspect of the drinking culture that I have come to accept. And you soon understand why this is the case when you're sitting in the sun and your beer starts going warm!!!

In the next few paragraphs, I shall endeavour to provide information and tasting notes covering the most popular brands together with highlighting some of the less well-known beers.

1) Beer Singha

Singha beer is the oldest and most well-established of the beers in Thailand, having first gone into production in 1933.

The beer is reminiscent of the pilsners found in Germany and the Czech Republic, this is mainly due to the fact, that the founder of the Boon Rawd brewery was trained by Bavarian Braumeisters.

Singha used to dominate the local market but has lost ground in recent years to the new kid on the block, Beer Chang.

The Boon Rawd brewery produces three beers under the Singha brand; namely Singha (6%), Singha Gold (4,8%) and Singha Draft (4,8%) .

Besides Singha, Boon Rawd also makes a beer called “Leo” (5,5%) and its slighlty stronger cousin Leo Super (6,5%). It was also responsible for a brand called Mittweida (5%) and has also produced Kloster (5%), under licence from Beck's.

Tasting notes:

Unlike some beers that use imported barley, Boon Rawd use grains that are grown in Thailand and this gives its Singha brand a distinct flavour.

In my opnion the Singha beers (Singha, Singha Gold and Singha Draft) have a mild hop bitterness that is off-set by a malty sweetness. This sweetness is a characteristic which is fairly common in Asian beers. It is has a slight flavour of citrus fruits and a hint of spice which gives it a slightly dry finish. This means it is a great accompaniment to hot and sour Thai dishes like Tom Yam Gung.

Make no mistake though, despite its sweetness, the 6% variety packs a punch like a mule and is responsible for some dreadful hangovers.

2) Beer Leo

This brew is one of the cheaper beers on sale in Thailand and was launched by Boon Rawd as a competitor to beer Chang. They were looking for a way to claw back some of the lost ground and decided to market this product at the lower end of the pricing scale.

Leo is popular among Thai drinkers thanks to the value it offers, although, at a strength of 5.5% it is a lot milder than Chang and Singha, when Thai's tend to go for drinks with a higher alcohol content.

However, for some strange reason, it is not universally popular among foreign tourists or ex-pats and I have read some very disparaging reviews about it, saying it lacks flavour and tastes chemically. But in my humble opinion, I really enjoy it and whenever I'm in the Kingdom, Leo will be my tipple of choice. It's a simple, easy drinking beer when served ice cold, with a plate of Som Tam. I like to drink it with a slice of lime, as you would with a bottle of Corona.

Tasting notes:

Leo is a very light and subtle beer with a floral aroma. There is a slight sweetness with overtones of honey and rice which gives it its smoothness and a nice mellow finish. I think it also has a mild peppery flavour which cleans the palate and doesn't leave any lingering aftertaste.

I like to drink it with seafood or poultry dishes and it also goes well with noodle soup.

3) Beer Chang

The inimitable Beer Chang is prodcued by the ThaiBev company and was launched in 1995.

ThaiBev is also noted for the production of the Sang Som and Mekhong brands of rum, and I hold them personally responsbile for at least 9/10 of my hangovers!!!!

Beer Chang rapidly gained over 60% market share thanks to aggressive advertising and good old fashioned low prices. This has since fallen to to around 50% but it still remains one of the most popular beers among both locals and tourists.

It is recognised as the beer of the working man and can be bought at almost any corner shop, bar or entertainment venue. However, some of the top end establishments might look down their nose at you if you order a bottle of Chang rather than a 1,500 baht bottle of Johnny Walker!!!!

Tasting notes:

It is a deep golden coloured beer with a complex combination of aromas and tastes. It ranges from treacle to bitter hops to sweet biscuit. It has a robust constitution and it is this firmness of flavour that means it is perfect with most spicy or sweet and sour dishes.

Chang used to be my preferred beer whenever I was travelling in Thailand, but the sheer strength of it at 6.4%, coupled with the bitter aftertaste and some very bad hangovers, led me to search for something new!!! However, if I'm having a BBQ then I will still reach for an ice cold Chang or 2 to whet the whistle.


4) Beer Tiger

I know that Tiger isn't strictly a Thai beer, as it is made by Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) in Singapore. But it is common brand in Thailand and popular throughout SouthEast Asia, so I believe it is worthy of a mention here.

The brand is well-established and dates back to 1931. It has an impressive history and boasts over 30 international gold medals.

Tasting notes:

In my opinion Tiger is very light on the palate and has a very silky texture. It's has a balanced fruity flavour with sweet berries together a note of malt and a hint of honey. It comes in at about 5% in terms of alcohol content.

I must admit that it is an acquired taste and I wasn't always a great fan of Tiger. I found it a little bit too sweet, but I'm happy to admit that it has grown on me over the years and I'm now more than happy to pick up a 4 pack at my local 7-11.

5) Beer Lao

I did say that I would bring you some of the less well-known beers and Beer Lao is certainly one of them. Although it is not a Thai beer, as I'm sure you've worked out from the name!!! But, such is the quality of this brew I thought it warranted a mention!!!

It is made by the LBC (Lao Brewery Company) and is available throughout Laos. It is also increasingly common in western-orientated establishment, in neighbouring Cambodia and is slowly making inroads into the Thai market.

If you do visit Lao there is a lovely draught version available known as biá sot, which I believe means "fresh beer" and it is very similar to the "biá hoi" you find in Vietnam.

If you want to read more about Vietnamese biá hoi the following article is quite good.....

http://www.vietnamadventures.com/this_month/current.html

Beer Lao is one of my all time favourite Asian beers and is a fantastic blend of East and West. It is made using the local jasmine rice together with yeast and hops imported from Germany.

Tasting notes:

The aroma is one of herbs and and grasses and the flavour is predominantly rich and buttery with hints of corn or cereals. You will also detect some fruitiness, with melon, pomegranate and mangosteen flavours being the most noticeable.

6) Micro Breweries in Thailand

Believe it or not, Thailand has some fantastic micro-breweries and here are my thoughts on some of the best.........

a) Tawandang Brewing Company

Located in Bangkok, on Rama 3 just south of Silom, it’s a unique mix of Thai and Western both in terms of dining, entertainment and drinking. It is first and foremost an entertainment venue and features bands such as Fong Nam, fronted by the "unique" Bruce Gaston, but also hosts performances from leading Thai artists like Bodyslam.

The microbrewery specialises in German style pilsners, dunkel (dark) and weizen (wheat) beers, all of which are extremely palatable. It's decor is similar to a Bavarian brauhaus with long wooden tables and benches. Patrons are encouraged to join in with the songs and rowdy atmosphere.

Tasting notes:

I have tried both the dunkel and weizen beers at Tawandang and here are my opnions.....

Dunkel: It has a dark rich colour and warm aroma. I detected hints of burnt treacle, dark toffee and liquorice. It goes very well with lighter and more delicately flavoured Thai dishes and unlike some other dark beers it was not too heavy.

Weizen: It is opaque in appearance with a good head. The aroma is fruity with a gentle hint of malt and hops. The initial fruity taste gives way to a light peppery and spicy flavour. This is great with fish and white meats.

Overall they were both very drinkable and together with the good food and entertainment, I would highly recommend Tawandang.

b) Londoner Brew Pub

This venue is also in Bangkok and can be found on Soi 33 Sukhumvit. It is a traditional style English pub showing live sports and offering a selection of decent food including all your pub favourites.

But, the main reason punters come to the Londoner, is for the beers that are made on site!!!!

They are currently offering a pilsner style lager (London Pilsner 33) and an English Bitter (Londoner's Pride Cream Bitter).

All the raw materials, as well as the expertise of the the masterbrewer, come from Europe. In my opinion this has created a winning combination.

Tasting notes:

London Pilsner 33: This lager is very light and aromatic. It has sweet, grainy notes and there is also a good fruity punch. This is perfect accompaniment to any of the steaks they serve!!!

Londoner's Pride Cream Bitter: This bitter is low in body and density but higher in alcohol (5.5%) than many bitters you find in the UK. There is a hint of spice and citrus and I instantly thought of Christmas and mince pies when I drank it!!! This tipple is perfect with roast beef and yorkshire pudding!!!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Destination Profile: Bangkok

Where better to review than the inimitable Thai city of Bangkok.

The capital of Thailand has many monikers, "the Big Mango, "City of Angels" or "Krung Thep" as it is known to the locals.

It currently holds the record for the world's longest place name. So, I shall give it ts full dignified title..........

"Krungthep Maha Nakorn Amorn Ratanakosindra Mahindrayudhya, Mahadilokpop Noparatana Rajthani Burirom Udom Rajnivet Mahastan Amorn Pimarn Avatarn Satit Sakkatuttiya Vishnukarm Prasit".

Wow, what a tongue-twister, I think even most native Thai speakers would struggle with that!!!

Better still, try saying it after a couple of Johnnie Walkers!!!!

Bangkok is often described as a city of contrasts. This is reflected both in the cityscape, with the juxtaposition of centuries-old temples and gleaming 21st century skyscrapers and in society itself, with beggars sharing pavement space with the Gucci-wearing members of Thailand's high-society!!!!

The city has a plethora of eye-catching cultural landmarks and together with its infamous adult nightlife, balmy climate and delicious food, means the city is synonymous with fun, exoticism and pleasure.

But beneath this facade of enjoyment lurks a more dangerous, seedy and visceral Bangkok. With scammers around every corner, a changing politcal atmosphere, increasing numbers of undesirables arriving on a daily basis and the fall-out from the global economic crisis, I am of the opinion that travellers are more more likely to encounter problems than they were 5 or 6 years ago when I first visited Bangkok!!!

The pace of life in Bangkok is frenetic, so if you're looking for a quiet, relaxing getaway then Bangers is certainly NOT the place for you.....But if you're looking for fun, adventure and excitement then you've hit the proverbial jackpot.

When visiting the city for the first time, I always find it helps to have an idea of the places you would like to visit and then choose a hotel based on its proximity to the sites on your itinerary.

I know this may sound stupid and I'm sure this is what most people do. But, because Bangkok is a large, sprawling city and the places of interest are spread out, it helps to be fairly close to where you want to go.

Nevertheless, travelling around Bangkok is not difficult, even though public transport is not as good as you find in the West. However, the transport system has improved enormously over the years with the introduction of the Skytrain (BTS) and the underground (MRT). Taxis meters are readily available and offer very good value for money but journey's can take a long time due to the large volume of traffic. River taxis and express boats are cheap and convenient and there are many bus networks cris-crossing the city. Tuk Tuk's are also an option for short journey's but they rarely charge less than 100 baht and many will try to take you tailors or gem shops and I try to avoid them if at all possible.

I have found that the best way to introduce a visitor to Bangkok is to show them main areas of interest and I believe that the 8 districts I have listed below, offer the best hotels, attractions, shopping, entertainment and dining.

Riverside:

The riverside area of Bangkok is a haven for photographers and gives tourists the chance to exeperience some of Thailand's most famous monuments and attractions. The Grand Palace, Wat Phra Keaw (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Wat Arun (The Dawn Temple) and Wat Pho, are just a few of the delights that are located along the banks of the Chao Phraya river.

The Chao Phraya or "River of Kings" is integral to daily-life in Bangok. Water taxis can be seen ferrying commuters to their places of work, long-tailed boats whizz along taking wide-eyed tourists on voyages of discovery and old fashioned rice barges chug slowly along to deliver their of exotic cargos. It is also a focal point in the city during important events like "Loy Kratong" and the New Year "Songkran" festival. Despite it's history and old-world charm it is home to many of the city's swankiest 5-star hotels such as the Peninsula, Sheraton, Hilton and Shangri-La.

Sukhumvit:

Sukhumvit Road, bisects the city from East to West and takes you from the centre of Bangkok out into suburbia and beyond the city limits.

Each lane or "soi" adjacent to the main road, has its own unique personality and you can while away many an hour exploring them all. You will stumble across hidden treasures like the beautiful "Benjasiri Park", an oasis of calm in a chaotic city, which was created to celebrate Queen Sirikit's 60th birthday, or the delightful "Kamthieng House", a stilted rice farmer's dwelling, typical of the 19th century and built entirely of teak wood. Those with families will also enjoy the "Science Museum & Planetarium".

Despite being rather light on the more traditional tourist attractions, visitors are drawn to Sukhumvit by the trendy shopping malls, boutiques and good quality restaurants. There are also plenty of accommodation options from 5 star to budget.

But in my humble opinion, Sukhumvit's greatest asset is its fantastic nightlife. You can find upmarket nightclubs, European style bars & bistros together with the red-light districts of Nana Plaza (Soi 4), Soi Cowboy (between Soi 21 and Soi 23) and the "artists Bars" of Soi 33.

Silom:

By day Silom Road is part of Bangkok's bustling commercial hub, with towering skyscrapers housing the city's key financial institutions and blue-chip companies.

But, by night the area puts on its flares and dancing shoes and the infamous "Patpong" comes alive. It is a small area of 2 adjacent sois and best known for its night market and "adult themed entertainment".

There are a broad range of hotels to suit all budgets and tastes in this area but cultural attractions are few and far between. However, a popular spot is Wat Khaek Silom better known as the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple.

Siam Square:

Siam Square is, without a doubt, Bangkok's premier shopping district and home to the city's fashionistas and trend-setters. Here visitors will find the ever popular Siam Discovery Centre, the MBK Centre and the wallet-busting Siam Paragon.

Within the Square, there are a wide range of restaurants, bars and cafes, together with cinemas, bowling alleys and the ubiquitous Hard Rock Cafe!!!

The hotels in this area are definitely not for the budget conscious and feature top-end establishments like the Four Seasons and Vie Hotel.

Pratunam:

Tourists come to this area for one resason.......shopping!!! Whether you're searching for cut-price electrical items at Panthip Plaza or designer lables at discount prices in one of the many factory outlets, Pratunam is the place for you.

It is one of Bangok's busiest and most colourful districts and is full of street markets, stalls and bazaars.

There are also several worthwhile attractions here including the open-air, revolving viewing deck, on the 84th floor of the Baiyoke Sky Hotel and for those of you looking for a bit more tranquility, there is the "Suan Pakkard Palace", which features five antique Thai-style houses set in a beautiful landscaped garden.

Pratunam is rather short on nightlife options but there are plenty of accommodation options.

Khao San Road:

For more than twenty years, Khao San Road has been area of choice for budget travellers and backpackers looking to experience Thailand on a shoe-string.

There are no major attractions in Khao San Road. However, being located in "Rattana Kosin" or the "old city" means there is plenty of traditional Thai architecture to admire and countless old sois to explore.In recent years Khao San has undergone a bit of a facelift and there are now some nice mid-range hotels and slightly more upmarket bars and restaurants. But it is still the centre of the universe for those on a tight budget, so there are plenty of cheap hotels and guest houses and good-value bars and restaurants.

If people watching is your favourite pastime, then Khao San Road is the place for you, with its throngs of dreadlocked, tie-dye wearing soap dodgers.

Chinatown:

As with lots of major cities worldwide Bangkok also has it's Chinatown. This area is always extremely busy and packed with market stalls. Although the Chinese community still continue their own traditions and religious practices they consider themselves to be 100% Thai.

Chinatown has remained largely untouched by modern development and there are plenty of interesting sights. "Wat Traimit" with its 5 tonne solid gold Buddha image, the Dragon Lotus Temple (Wat Mangkon Kamalawat) and the Saphanthawong Museum to name but a few.

It is also a great place to eat and experience some of the best Chinese restaurants outside mainland China. Most restaurants specialise in Cantonese cuisine and Dim Sum is also extremely popular.

The nightlife options are extremely limited in Chinatown but for hotels there are plenty of good value mid-range properties.

Chatuchak:

Chatuchak got its name from the large public park, that is located at heart of this district and it offers welcome respite from the hoardes of tourists!!!

Today, Chatuchak is best known for playing host to the enormous weekend market.

The size of the market is frightening and has to be seen to be believed. It covers an area of 35 acres has over 15,000 stalls and shops and welcomes over 200,000 people every Saturday and Sunday.

If you are considering a trip to the market then the only advice I can offer is to arrive early, as you will beat the crowds and not have to struggle through the heat of the day!!!! The market runs from approxiately 8:00 am to 6pm every Saturday and Sunday.

I hope this information will prove useful for anyone visiting Bangkok and as always I am keen to hear your comments and feedback.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Getting to know Thai food

Ahhhh.....Thai food, don't you just love it?!!!

Urm.........99% of the time yes!!!

But there are occassions when you just can't stomach noodles or fried-rice for breakfast. Or, when you're in the middle of the jungle, squatting over a toilet pan (the word toilet, being used in the loosest possible sense!!!!) and watching a spectacle that is akin to muck spreading, the thought of eating a curried rat or portion of fried crickets is probably the furthest thing from your mind.

However, despite the odd gastronomic hiccup, which has lead to me purchasing of immodium on an industrial scale and experiencing a burning sensation in the nether regions, giving a whole new meaning to Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire", overall the standard of Thai food is exceptional.

The sheer number of ingredients, flavours, aromas and textures are mind boggling, as are the different dishes and styles of cooking. Contrary to popular belief not all Thai food is so spicy it will melt your teeth!!!

Thai food is known the world over for being bold and flavoursome due mainly to the herbs and spices that are used, such as chillies, lemongrass, garlic, corriander, "Nam Pla" which is a fermented fish sauce and "Kapi", a type of shrimp paste.

The food varies from region to region, much the same as in the United Kingdom, although you won't find any deep-fried mars bars on the menu in Thailand!!!!

I have described the basic regional characteristics of Thai food in the following paragraphs. However, do bear in mind that I'm no Ken Hom and they are simply my observations from having visited numerous parts of the country and eaten more tucker than you can shake a stick at.

Northern region:

Dishes that are salty and piquante are very popular and the taste intensity can range from very mild to fiery hot. You will notice a distinct absence of sugar or sweetening agents being used to flavour meals.

Boiled vegetables and sticky rice are served with nearly every meal, together with, "Nam Phrik Oong", a hot sauce made with tomato, minced pork and chilli sauce. You will also find a lot of soups and curries like "Gang Kae", a chilli flavoured chicken soup.

The North is also famous for a sausage made with fermented minced pork, called "Nham" which is sour in flavour and normally sold wrapped in a banana leaf. In some rural areas, creepy-crawlies like grasshoppers, crickets, ants eggs and silk worm larvae are also considered to be a delicacy.

I have eaten a type of worm larvae called "Non Mai" and although it was an experience, I would much rather tuck into a "Zinger Tower Burger"!!! I have also observed that they use lots of wild growing vegetables and herbs.

The infamous "Som Tam", a spicy green papaya salad, is probably the most famous dish from this region and just happens to be one of my favourites.

Central region:

The food is generally hot and salty with a sweet/sour theme running through it. Rice which is the staple food source in Thailand, is served steamed, with a variety of "Nam phrik" sauces. Soups like "Tom Yam Kung", a type of hot and sour prawn soup with lemon grass and "Gang Som", a chili vegetable soup feature heavily. The sliced beef sald known as "Yam Tua Pu" is also very popular. I have noticed that dishes usually contain a lot of spices and come served with many condiments.

Thai Red Curry which has become increasingly well-known to diners in Western countries, orginated in the this area of Thailand. It is known locally as "Gang Phed".

I really enjoy eating a fish called "Pla Too" and although you can buy this anywhere is Thailand, it is most common the Central region. I believe it is a species of herring but don't quote me on that!!!!

Southern region:

Southern cooking is renowned for being very hot and sour. It's main influence comes from the mainly Malay-Muslim population.

A popular breakfast treat is a "Roti" or crispy pancake. Personally, I enjoy the sweet version which is served with condensed milk.

The most celebrated dish from the South has to be "Khao Yam". It is made by cooking a bowl of rice with roasted coconut, sliced herbs and a fish sauce called "Budu", it is often served with thin strips of a red flower called "Dawk Dala".

In my humble opinion Thailand is one of the world's culinary centres and there are restaurants and eateries to suit every taste and budget. I am just as comfortable eating a bowl of noodle soup, sitting on a plastic chair by the side of the road, as I am eating in one of the glamorous restaurants in Bangkok.

In thailand, you will notice that people will eat 4 or 5 small meals everyday, unlike in the West where we are rigid with our breakfast, lunch and dinner. I like to try and do the same whenever I'm visiting the country, as it gives you the opportunity to try a variety of dishes and means you don't over eat and suffer in the hot weather.

I would strongly encourage people to eat food from the street vendors, push carts and ramshackle road-side restaurants!!!

Western friends often express concerns about the standards of cleanliness when I eat a these places, but as I always tell them, if they were dirty or unhygenic then the Thai people who frequent them would be dropping like flies!!! So to experience traditional Thai food, be brave and give them a go!!!!!

I have an unusal piece of logic that has served me well over the years and it is this......Unlike in the West where you would avoid a restaurant if it looked run-down and you saw cats and dogs sitting by the chef, in Thailand this is generally the sign that you will experience good quality,
traditional style cooking and genuine hospitality. It means that if the restaurant is falling to bits they have been concentrating more on the quality of the food than on the decor!!!!!

One piece of advice I always give to travellers is not to eat too many spicy dishes in the first few days you are there, gradually build up your intake of spicy food so your stomach has a chance to get used to the food. This way most cases of "Delhi Belly" can be avoided!!!

People are always asking me what my favourite Thai foods are so I have compiled the following list:

1) "Jim Jum": This is a lovely soup originating from the Isaan region, in the North of Thailand. It is prepared at the table in an earthenware pot on small charcoal burner. You can order a variety of meat and seafood which is then served raw on a plate, together with a basket containing eggs, sweet basil leaves, cabbage, celery leaves, spring onions and glass noodles. The combination of vegetables can vary between restaurants, as can the dipping sauces that are served with it, although the are usually based around garlic, chilli and lime juice. You then add the meats, seafood and vegetables to the pot of boiling broth and voila!!!!

If you going to try Jim Jum, I would suggest you go to a local restaurant specialising only in this type of cooking, as they will give you the true Jim Jum eating experience!!!!

2) "Chicabub": This is typical street vendor fare, it consists of small skewers of meat, usually beef, pork or chicken, with slices of pineapple and chilli or jalepeno peppers. It is cooked over a charcoal flame on the back of the vendors motorcycle or cart, it will normally served with a slab of sticky rice that has been basted in butter and cooked over the charcoal grill until it goes golden brown. Aroi aroi (delicious, delicious) as they say in Thailand!!!!

3) "Som Tam": This is one of the most famous dishes in the whole country and you will find a "Som Tam" vendor on nearly every street corner!!! There are 2 versions, one which contains dried shrimps and peanuts and the other which comes with salted black crabs. The main ingredients are shredded green papaya, chopped green beans, tomato, chillies, garlic and lime juice. These are all pounded together in a pestle and mortar and then the black crabs or shrimps and peanuts are added. It is usually served with sticky rice called "Khao Neow".

I welcome your comments on this post and do let me know if you have any amusing food related stories you would like me to mention.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Supplier of the month: Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School

Welcome to the December installment of my supplier of the month, featuring the world-renowned Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School run by Thailand's answer to Ainsley Harriott, Khun Sompon Nabnian.




About the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School

Sompon Nabnian and his English wife, Elizabeth, were the first to open a cooking school in the north of Thailand in 1993. From humble beginnings, the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School has since spawned a phenomenon, turning cooking courses into one of the most popular tourist activities when visiting Thailand.

The Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School, with over thirteen years’ experience in the business, has garnered a reputation which has reached far beyond Thailand. Sompon has been invited to appear as a special guest by numerous television programmes on food and travel, including the BBC ‘Holiday’ programme, the National Geographic Channel, ZDF and the Thai Channels 3 and ITV. In 2001 he hosted his own series for UK television titled ‘Thai Way II’.

Sompon’s recipe for success combines a dollop of charisma, a splash of humour and a generous mix of knowledge. His lessons are fun, informative and brimming with value. Whether it is to learn how to cook some of Thailand’s most beloved dishes to impress friends and families at home, to enjoy a terrific day out, or to participate in one of Thai people’s favourite past times – communal cooking and eating – the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School experience is an unforgettable memory for many visitors to Chiang Mai.

Trendsetters Sompon and Elizabeth have now opened Jasmine Rice Village Boutique Resort & Spa, where guests can relax and unwind in a traditional northern Thai village ambiance, or combine their stay with Sompon’s famed cooking classes in the innovative ‘Stay and Study’ packages.

Jasmine Rice Village is also home to the Fragrant Rice restaurant, a showpiece of Sompon’s world renowned culinary skills.


Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School Office:

47/2 Moon Muang Rd, (opposite Tha Phae Gate) Chiang Mai 50200 Thailand.

Tel: +66 (0) 53-206388 or +66 053-206315 Fax: +66 (0)53-206387

E-mail: nabnian@loxinfo.co.th

Website: http://www.thaicookeryschool.com/

Penfold's Opinion:

This cookery school is one of the most well-known and run by Thailand's foremost "celebrity chef". Khun Sompon has featured in numerous TV programmes aired in the UK, so he may be familiar to my British readers.

There are many reasons to choose this school, from the friendly staff and the reasonably priced courses (starting from THB 990 for 1 day) to the special "study and stay" packages they offer.

But just so you don't think I'm being biased in reviewing this particular establishment, I have attached a link which includes some 3rd party reviews!!!

http://www.virtualtourist.com/travel/Asia/Thailand/Northern_Thailand/Chiang_Mai-1445733/Things_To_Do-Chiang_Mai-Cooking_school-BR-1.html

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Warning: Don't spank your monkey

It's official chaps, spanking your monkey can prove fatal and should come with a government health warning!!!!

This is what ultimately led to the demise of poor Khun Leurit Chanchum, from the Nakhon Sri Thammarat region in southern Thailand.

Let me set the record straight before you start thinking that Khun Leurit was a boss-eyed, sex pest who spent his days looking up the skirts of the local lasses.

He was actually a professional coconut collector, ably assisted in his task by Nong Khwan, his highly-trained macaque. Believe it or not, Nong Khwan graduated with honours from "Withayalai Ling", the country's foremost monkey training college based in Surat Thani.

The morning of February 25, 2009, began much the same as any other, with a neighbour hiring Khun Leurit to collect his coconuts. The first tree was duly harvested, but when prompted to climb the next, the cheeky monkey decided to work to rule and refused.

But, as I've always said, if you pay peanuts you get monkeys!!!

Nong Khwan, not being subject to the same workplace rights as most other citizens, was then giving a beating by his none too pleased owner.

According to reports, this led to the creature flying into a rage and once at the top of tree, it started kicking the bunches of coconuts, causing one to dislodge and fall onto the head of the hapless Khun Leurit, knocking him unconscious. Despite being taken to the local infirmary he later died from the injuries he sustained.

This gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "going ape"!!!!!

If you wish to read the full story from the Phuket Gazzette please click on the following link.....

http://www.phuketgazette.net/archives/queernews/2009/article7180.html

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thailand's national football team unveils new sponsor

You couldn't make this up!!!

With obesity levels worldwide hitting epedemic proportions, the next sponosr of the Thai national football team, is that bastion of healthy and nutritious cuisine............McDonalds!!!

Ronald McDonald must be laughing himself hoarse with the irony of it all!!!! You can just picture him slavering like Pavlov's Dogs and rubbing his fat, greasy hands together with the thought millions of Thai children nibbling on his McNuggets.

In terms of being a danger to children, Ronald McDonald makes Gary Glitter look like the Sugar Plum Fairy.

“This will be a great help towards our efforts to reach the 2014 World Cup Finals,” said FAT (Football Assocation of Thailand) president Worawi Makudi. “This funding will help develop our game, especially youth football, and all the players, junior and senior, will get to enjoy the food too,”.

Urrrrmmmmm lets have a little think about that Khun Worawi!!! If your players are gorging themselves on a diet of Supersized McChuffer meals, then by 2014, you'll be presiding over a bunch of McLardarses who won't even be able to waddle to the team coach!!!!

Call my cynical, but I'm sure the 25 million baht (£500,000) that will be coming the way of the FAT (no doubt via Khun Worawi's offshore bank account) over the next 3 years, may have something to do with his enthusiasm for the sponsorship deal.

Like a lot of organisations in Thailand, the FAT is managed spectacularly poorly and has allowed the team (both playing staff and management) to get away with to many mediocre results!!!!

My plan to ensure Thailand's qualification for the next World Cup would start with ensuring that no more half-arsed managers, like Peter Reid and Bryan Robson were hired. I would also endeavour to send Thailand's best young players and coaches, to train in Europe (or South America) which will allow them to develop a better appreciation of the game. Investment in grass roots fotball is also important but I think it can come from a better source than Ronald & Chums.

Otherwise Thailand's next generation of footballers will end up looking like goal-keeper supreme and poster boy for healthy eating...... Billy "Fatty" Foulkes........

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thailand's Taliban: The Muslim Insurgency in the South

"Taliban, staying here in Thailand, Fawlty!!! Bunch of Camel jockeys, Bloody bad eggs, all of 'em!!!"

I'm afraid in the current political climate that most people would probably agree with the Major on this point!!!!!

It may seem incredible to believe that a country famed for it's gentle Buddhist religion is suffering the scourge of Islamic extremism. And it will certainly cause your spinchter to pucker up tighter than a Scotman's wallet, knowing that only hours from Thailand's tourist hotspots, lurk large numbers of FundaMENTAList ragheads.

The Southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat, home to many of Thailand's muslims, have been experiencing an increasingly violent insurgency over the last 5 years.

The population in the South who are mainly Malay-Muslims, had for years lived in relative peace with their Buddhist neighbours. But now there is an increasing jihadist undertone and the attacks have become more sophisticated, including car-bombings and ambush attacks which would suggest their have been outside influences and Thailand's muslim have been brainwashed by international extremists.

Fortunately, the attacks have remained fairly localised and have not yet spread to the tourist areas!!!

But this doesn't mean we should take our eye of the ball, it is always wise to be vigilant!!! You just have to visit Tony's disco in Pattaya to see the large numbers of, urm, Arabian gentleman, to know that there are a significant amount of muslims already in Thailand!!

There is a good chance that Mr. Bin Laden won't be paying a visit to Thailand and lets hope that doesn't change any time soon!!! Although the poor fella does need to get out a little bit more. I'm sure Bora Bora in winter, is infinitely preferable to Tora Bora!!!!

Don't let this post put you off visiting Thailand, as most of the country is extremely safe. But if you do see anyone with a beard waddling down Sukhumvit Road, wearing a trench coat in the height of summer..............then I have one word for you......................RUN!!!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Thai Culture & Festivals: Loy Krathong

Thailand has a wonderfully rich and unique cultural heritage and it is famous around the world for its vibrant and colourful festivals.

For me, the most striking and eagerly anticipated of these festivals is the annual, "Loy Krathong" or "Festival of Light".

It is traditionally performed on the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month. For those of us using the Western Calendar, this usually means it is held during the first week of November.

Unlike many Thai festivals, with their complex rituals and meanings which can often be difficult for foreigners to understand, the concept of Loy Krathong is very simple.

The word 'Loy' means 'to float or sail' while 'krathong' refers to the vessel, usually lotus-shaped, upon which offerings are placed. A typical krathong will contain sweets, flowers, betel nuts and
coins, as well as candles and incense.

Traditionally, the kratong was made from a lily plant or woven banana leaves, but these days modern materials such as foam or plastic are often used. However, this has caused significant
environmental damage and people are being encouraged to go back to natural materials.

On the full moon night of the twelfth lunar month people will gather beside lakes, canals and rivers with their kratongs. They light the candles and joss sticks, make a wish and then place their kratongs in the water. The candle flame is said to signify fulfillment of wishes, a release from previous sins and long life.

Being a romantic festival, couples who make a wish together on Loy Kratong are believed enjoy a happy future together.

The orgins of Loy Krathong remain unclear and there are many legends surrounding the practice.

Many believe it came into existence as a way of paying tribute to 'Phra Mae Kongka', the goddess of water. While others believe it has it origins in India, where devotees honoured a footprint of the Buddha, on the beach of the Narmaha River.

Whatever the truth of its origins, Loy Kratong was first documented in the ancient Thai kingdom of Sukhothai, in the 13th century. Queen Nang Noppamas is reputed to have made a small boat to carry offerings of candles and incense.

Today, it remains one of the most popular and endearing of all the Thai festivals and can be experienced nationwide, even in the smallest villages and hamlets.

If you are planning a trip to Thailand, a visit during Loy Krathong is highly recommened, so you can experience the beauty and majesty for yourself.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Supplier of the month: Salil Hotel Bangkok

Welcome to the first in my series of blogs highlighting the best in accommodation, attractions, services, entertainment and dining.

The featured supplier for the month of November is the Salil Hotel in Bangkok. Hotel Description:

The Salil Hotel is a small boutique property, offering excellent service and accommodation set amongst Thai-colonial style architecture, it features 27 stylish guest rooms and suites.

Salil Hotel is centrally located on Sukhumvit Soi 8, only 2 minutes by Golf Cart to the Nana BTS Sky Train station. All main business districts, shopping centers, restaurants and tourist attractions are in very close proximity. The new international airport is only 30 minutes away. Thus Salil Hotel is suitable for both the business and leisure traveller.

The luxurious rooms are beautifully decorated in the Thai-Colonial style which provides you with the ultimate experience of a bygone era. There are different room designs ranging from 25 sqm to 35 sqm from stylish one-bedroom units to spacious suites-all fully furnished and equipped with deluxe amenities. All rooms have 29" LCD TV, DVD player, Satellite TV channels and in room movies.

Guest Benefits:

- Complimentary welcome drinks and cool towel upon arrival
- Complimentary in room coffee and tea making facilities
- 2 bottles of complimentary drinking water daily
- Cable TV and satellite movies
- 10% discount off food at Café de Salil
- Free DVD & CD rental

Room Facilities:

- Air Conditioning
- Wifi internet access
- 32” LCD TV with 80 cable TV channels : NHK, Bloomberg, Fashion, DD sport, and other - worldwide popular programs
- DVD/CD player
- Free DVD movie/CD/books rental
- Complimentary tea and coffee making facility
- Refrigerator
- Mini bar
- Hairdryer
- Keycard lock
- Electronic safety box
- Daily room cleaning service
- Linen change service
- Laundry service

Hotel Facilities:

- Shuttle service to main street / Nana BTS station and pick up to hotel (Free 24 hours)
- Check in 1 PM and check out 12:00 noon
- Internet café at Café de Salil
- International dialing by operator/IDD
- 24 hours front desk
- Laundry
- Luggage store room
- Free DVD movie/CD/books rental
- Café de Salil : stylish coffee shop with its open-air terrace, offers a friendly welcome for all day dining. Lavish buffets are presented for breakfast, with a wide selection of Thai and international dishes, but there is also a full bar service and comprehensive a la carte menu offering everything from a simple snack to a full meal. Open from 6:30 am – 10:30 pm
- Tour desk
- Limousine service

Hotel Location:

50,50/1 Sukhumvit Soi 8, Sukhumvit Road, Klongtoey, Klongtoey, Bangkok 10110

For Reservations & Enquiries:

Tel : (+662) 253-2474-7 Fax : (+662) 253-2478

E-mail : info@salilhotel.com

For more information please visit the website at

http://www.salilhotel.com/

Penfold's Opinion:

I personally think this hotel is an absolute gem and one of the most under-rated hotels in the city. The standard of the rooms, level of service and quality of the food in their restaurant-cum-cafe is second to none, compared to the price that you're paying.

The location is great, being close to the Nana BTS (sky train) and there are plenty of bars and restaurants in the area. The only downside is there are lots of market traders/touts along the route trying to sell you tacky toursit crap!!!! But c'est la vie!!!!

However, I always urge people to do their own research before visiting Bangok and Thailand in general, as this will make your stay more pleasurable and you won't experience any nasty surprises.

Although I like this hotel and would reccomend it to any friends or family going to Bangkok, I am sure there are just as many people who won't like it!!!!!

If you would like to read some other independent reviews, rather than take my word for it, please click on the link below!!!

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g293916-d1020427-r47201256-Salil_Hotel_Sukhumvit_Soi_8-Bangkok.html#CHECK_RATES_CONT

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Destination Profile: Koh Si Chang

Ko Si Chang is a verdant, scenic island in the Gulf of Thailand which is only a 2 hour journey from Bangkok or a 30 minute drive from the resort of Pattaya.

Situated in the province of Chonburi, it is accessible by ferry, from Siracha pier (sometimes written Sri Racha). A journey of 12km which takes about 45 minutes and costs 40 baht!!!! The ferries run every hour from 7am to 7pm but as this is Thailand they don't always stick to the scheduled departure times!!!

Despite the fact that it features in a plethora of travel guides, it is off the main tourist trail and thankfully, you won't find the usual tourist hordes that you associate with many other Thai islands, like Koh Samui or Phuket.

I only saw 4 other foreign tourists on the day of my visit, in mid-October 2009. The majority of visitors are locals, which explains why the prices for food, drink and hotels are very reasonable.

Although its beaches may not rival those in Koh Samet or Koh Tao. I think it is a great destination for a day trip and also makes a perfect getaway for a romantic weekend.

Tourists are drawn to Koh Si Chang by it's impressive history and can explore the remains of a former royal palace which was built, for King Chulalongkorn, as a summer retreat.

Another place of interest is the large cave complex known as Tham Saowapha which is reputed to extend more than a kilometre into the limestone cliffs of the island. It is important to remember that some of the caves on the island are home to meditating hermits!!! So travellers should take care not to cause any distress or upset to the inhabitants.

Motorcycle officiandos will be intrigued by the strange motorised tuk tuks known as "sky labs" which are unique to Ko Si Chang. They are three wheeled motorised rickshaws with enormously powerful car engines. These were once a common sight in Thailand but were banished to Koh Si Chang many years ago.

We hired a sky lab for 250 baht for the whole day. The driver took us too the main beach at Haad Tham Phang which has a nice view and lovely clear water and we spent several hours there relaxing and enjoying the sunshine not too mention several plates of som tam and multiple ice cold beer Leo's!!!



We also visited San Jao Phaw Khao Yai, a popular spot with a revered Chinese temple perched high on a cliff with a breathtaking view back toward the mainland.

The journey back to the pier at Si Racha was eventful as our ferry started taking on water which caused the engine to splutter to a halt and we had to be secured to the side of a passing fishing vessel to prevent us from sinking completely. We we then off-loaded onto another ferry for the journey home!!!

The absence of any life jackets on our floundering vessel was more than a little bit worrying, but fortunately we lived to tell the tale!!!!!

All in all koh Si Chang was a lovely place to visit and I look forward to my next trip there!!!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Celebrity Interview Number 2: Frank Bough

Thank you for reading the next installment of Penfold's celebrity interviews.

I would like to extend a warm welcome to our next guest.....the broadcasting legend that is, Mr Frank Bough.


Frank enjoyed a successful career in television and is best known for being a trail blazer in the development of the breakfast TV show.

His distinguished career won him many admirers but, as with many celebrities, his penchant for drugs and sado-masochistic sex caused a spectacular fall from grace!!! Behind the the facade of the loveable old man in the "grandad-style" sweaters lay a coke-raddled old pervert!!!

However, despite his many misdemeanours has agreed to come out of retirement to give us this exclusive interview!!!!

So Frank, How are you enjoying your retirement?

I'm certainly enjoying life out of the limelight, It means I can travel to Thailand to enjoy the "nightlife", without the risk of a picture of me, spanking the bare bottoms of 18 year old go-go dancers while wearing lederhosen and a gimp mask, appearing in the News of the World!!!

Bangkok is certainly more fun than life in rural Berkshire, that's for sure!!!! There are fewer places to get your jollies here!!!

Thailand is like an addiction and after all I should know about addictive substances!!! When I haven't had a Thailand fix for a while, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat craving a plate of som tam and babbling deleriously about lady boys!!!

Usually the missus thinks I'm still suffering from the effects of my kidney transplant and makes me a nice cup of cocoa!!! But what I really need is a midnight tuk-tuk ride from Washington Square to Soi Cowboy to taste that fetid Bangkok air!!!!

I feel that the guy from Apocalypse Now when he shouts "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" but what I really love is the smell of quim in the morning!!! Mmmmmm

How often do you visit the Land of Smiles?

I try and visit at least once or twice a year....I tell the wife that I'm going to"detox" at the Chiang Mai Ayurvedic Centre but take a couple of sly trips to Phuket and Pattaya to party and catch up with my favourite bar girls, Noi and Lek.

I sometimes feel like the Scarlet Pimpernel because I to try to keep everything incognito. I don't want to draw any unwanted attention from the press and find myself in Jan Moir's Daily Mail column, being torn a new arse hole........

That's certainly true Frank, lets hope that Jan never finds out about your visits to the Land of Smiles!!!

Anyway, my readers will be keen to know which bar in Thailand is your favourite?

Gosh Penfold, that's a tricky one!!!

It depends on lots of factors.....whether I'm looking to chill out and enjoy a couple of quiet sherberts or going out to paint the town red, in true Bough-styleeeeee!!!

To relax, I enjoy going to the Bamboo Bar at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok. I can listen to some Jazz whilst supping on a Mai Tai. It's class and sophistication reminds me of something from
the colonial era.

But if I'm trying to impress a lady then the Bed Supper Club on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok, is a real winner. It's super chic and contemporary. Uncle Frank guarantees that if you're trying to woo a young lady then this is the venue for you!!!!

In Pattaya, my favourite hangout is Mistys ago-go. This is perfect if you want to enjoy reasonable priced beer and the attentions of gorgeous, coffee-coloured ladies. The wiggling and jiggling leaves little to the imagination though!!!!

But for complete luxury, my choice would be getting served ice-cold Krug champagne by the infinity pool at the Evason Ana Mandara resort, in Nha Trang, Vietnam.

What is your favourite destination?

In Thailand my favourite places to visit are Mai Hong Son and Pai both lovely rural areas in the North of Thailand. But if you're looking for a beach getaway then Koh Nang Yuan is exceptional, wth great beaches, accommodation and best of all no backpackers!!!!

Also it is far enough away from the madding crowd, to allow you to throw wild parties and invite boat loads of muff without incurring anyone's wrath!!!!

But for anyone searching for peace and quiet. The most laid back place I've ever been to in South East Asia is Sihanoukvill in Cambodia.....Uncle Frank can't rate this town highly enough!!!!

Finally, what would be the one piece of advice you would give a first time traveller to Thailand?

Don't lose your heart to go-go dancer!!!!

Thanks for sharing your perals of wisdom with us today Frank and my readers will be happy to welcome you back anytime!!!!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Only in Thailand......

Where would you find a picture of one of the world's worst genocidal maniacs being used to advertise a newly-opening tourist attraction?.......in Thailand of course!!!!


This is one many examples of the lack of cultural awareness or just downright stupidity that is displayed in thailand on a daily basis!!!!

It is understandable that the majority of Thai citizens, who have only completed a basic level of education and have not had the opportunity to travel abroad, would lack a certain level of cultural awareness and might make the odd social faux-pas.

But the number of supposedly educated Thais, who display the cultural sensitvity of their farming cousins, is mind boggling.

This was demonstrated perfectly this month by Khun Somporn Naksuetrong, managing director of Louis Tussaud's Waxworks museum in Pattaya who thought it would be acceptable to use the poster displayed above to advertise his soon-to-be opening attraction in the holiday resort of Pattaya.

It wasn't until over 100 complaints had been recevied and both the German and Israeli embassies had personally expressed their displeasure that Khun Somporn agreed to remove the posters!!!

And in a typically Thai response, Khun Somporn was happy to pass the buck and blame the advertising agency!!!

He said: "the creative agency behind the campaign had not intended to cause offence.......We think of Hitler as an important person, but not in a good way. In the museum we don't show him with other world leaders, we show him in the scary section."

So by showing Hitler in the "scary section" along with Dracula and Werewolves that makes this insensitive blunder acceptable!!!

And just to show that he had learned his lesson........Khun Somporn said they would keep the promotional concept, but "come up with another famous deceased person to replace the German dictator".

And I wonder who that might be......Pol Pot, Stalin, Vlad the Impaler!!!

However, I may be doing Khum Somporn an enormous injustice......as this maybe a clever marketing campaign based on the mantra that "any publicity is good publicity" and using the furore to boost ticket sales!!! Because I doubt that the opening of Louis Tussard's museum in Pattaya would have made it on to the BBC website or warranted an article Bangkok Post, if there hadn't been the level of controversy!!!

The BBC and Bangkok Post articles about this story are available on the following links........

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8313249.stm

http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/25831/ambassadors-outraged-by-hitler-billboard-on-pattaya-highway

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Top scams in Thailand

Most countries have their fair share of con-artists and swindlers but Thailand has a particularly bad reputation. Despite the growing number of complaints from duped farangs, the Government and Police have refused act. This is often because they are directly involved in the scams!!!!

The aim of this post is to give you a run down of the top scams you are likely to encounter and how to avoid getting ripped off.

There are charlatans, confidence tricksters and petty crooks around every corner trying to seperate gullible tourists from their hard-earned, so travellers beware!!!!

The scams will start as soon as you disembark at Suvarnabhumi airport, so it is imperative that you keep your wits about you and don't fall prey to these vultures!!!

1) Airport Taxi Scam - Official looking representatives (who are normally touts working for the mafia or a local criminal gang) will pretend that they are metered taxis and tell you that it is 500-1000 baht to go to central Bangkok.

My advice is......ignore them!!!! It should only cost between 300-400 baht (plus expressway tolls) to get to the Sukhumvit Road/Nana Plaza area of Bangkok.

If you exit the airport at Level 2 - Arrivals, near entrances 3, 4, 7 and 8 you will find the genuine taxi counters. These taxi meters usually charge around 400 baht (plus expressway tolls) for a journey to Sukhumvit Road.

The police have tried to crack down on these illegal operators, and recently arrested over 1,000 unlicenced taxis drivers and tour operators. However, after paying a pitifully small fine of around 1,000 baht, these dodgy operators are back at the airport and free to deceive the next unwary holiday maker.

The Bangkok Post ran an article about this in July 2009, so for more information please click on the following link..........

http://www.bangkokpost.com/breakingnews/149836/crackdown-at-suvarnabhumi-from-july-28

2) Wrong Change/No change Scam - Even the official metered taxis are likely to try and pull this trick on you!!! When you arrive at your destination and give the driver a 500 or 1,000 baht note, he will say he doesn't have enough change in the hope you will give him the large note. If this is the case, change some money in your hotel or at a local shop but make sure you have all your bags with you, as you don't want the driver disappearing with your luggage!!!! In order to avoid this scenario altogether, ensure that you have plenty of small change before arriving in Bangkok; 10 baht coins and 20, 50 and 100 baht notes are perfect.

The wrong change scam is common at places like 7-Eleven and Family Mart in tourist areas. They give you change as if you gave them a 500 baht note instead of a 1,000 baht note. Many tourists are not familiar with Thai money and often give the wrong notes or don't notice that their change is incorrect.

Most reputable shops will say out loud the denomination of any paper money you give them. To avoid this scam please familiarise yourself with the money and check your change before you leave the shop!

3) Grand Palace is Closed Scam - This scam can happen near any tourist attraction but it is most common outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok. This scam has been going on for many years and often happens with in full view of the local constabulary!!!!

As you approach, someone (normally a tuk tuk driver or "friendly and helpful" local) will tell you that the palace is closed for various reasons; renovations, religious holiday etc. They will then offer you a "free tour" of the city or offer to take you "sightseeing"!!!

My advice is......ignore them as they are probably lying to you!!!

Under no circumstances should you go anywhere with them, as you will end up in either a gem store or a tailors shop being giving the hard sell and your "friendly" tuk tuk driver will be getting a generous commission.

If you are at any of the main tourist sites in Thailand and someone tells you they are closed do not believe them and go and check for yourself!!!! It is better to take 5 minutes of your time to check the facts than end up at a dodgy gem store and being 100's or 1,000's of baht out of pocket!!!!

If the site or attraction is genuinely closed, find out when they will be open again from the ticket desk and go to visit the next site on your list!!!!

N.b For anyone looking to visit the Grand Palace the following information will be useful for you:

- Admission to the Wat Phra Kaew and Grand Palace compound is 200 Baht for foreigners, and free for Thais
- The temple is open daily from 08:30 until 15:30.- In order to enter you need to be wearing a long sleeved t-shirt, long trousers or skirt and shoes or trainers
- Shorts or skirts are not permitted, nor are flip-flops or sandals. (However, appropriate clothing is available for hire at the entrance if you are not dressed correctly when you arrive)

4) Thai Gem Scam - Tourists are tricked into visiting gem stores, often in the manner I discussed in the previous paragraphs and then duped into belieivng that they can buy precious stones for a bargain price and re-sell them in their home country at a huge profit. There will often be another foreigner in the store, posing as a customer, who will tell you that he regualry buys gems from Thailand and makes large amounts money buy selling the gems when he returns home.

Do not fall for this trick

This is one of the oldest scams in the book and many a tourist has fallen victim to the glib patter of the gem store salesman!!!!

Unless you are a jeweller or an expert on precious stones, I strongly urge you not to take the word of other people on how much money you can make if you sell these gems on return to your home country. The gems are of low value and not worth the money you will pay for them!!!! People are losing a lot of money on a daily basis so don't give in to greed!!!!

5) Jet Ski Scam - This scam is so common that it should make the Thai authorities blush and hang their heads!!!

This can happen at any beach resort but it is most prevalent in Pattaya and Phuket. When you return the jet ski after your hour of fun, the owner will point out scratches and dents in the jet ski and will then demand large sums of money by way of compensation!!! They can often be very agressive and confrontational if you refuse to pay!!!!

What they fail to mention is that the jet ski was already dented and scratched and that a dozen other customers have already paid the "compensation".

If you rent anything, be it motorcycle, car or jet ski, make sure all scratches and dents are documented. If possible take photos of any existing damage/dents/scratches to the vehicle!!!!

When renting a vehicle never leave your passport/ID cards with the company as it will be very difficult to get them back without paying a hefty price, if they claim you have damaged their vehicle. Should they need a photocopy of your documentation, make sure they do it in front of you and that they return your documentation immediately!!!!

6) Blackjack Scam - This usually starts with you being approached in the street or in a restaurant with someone, usually a Filipino, asking you where you are from.

If you say, London, he will then say he has a sister/niece/cousin etc who will be going to study or work there. He then asks if you can go to their house and meet her as she has some questions she would like to ask you. At the house, they then ask you to help cheat someone out of their money by playing blackjack. Don't get tempted as it is you who is being scammed and as gambling is illegal in Thailand you will have no recourse to the law.

I have also heard of people being drugged and then taken to ATM's or currency exchange outlets and made to make large withdrawals or change large sums of money!!!!!

Penfold's best advice is as follows...if anyone approaches you, walk away!!!!!

7) Patpong Sex Show Scam - Don't believe the touts outside the venues, particularly at the upstairs venues, who say there are free sex shows and drinks for only 100 baht each.
Your bill will end up being in the thousands!!! Be very careful if you are travelling alone as they can turn violent if you refuse to pay.

Should you encounter any problems please call the Tourist Police on 1155

8) Hualamphong Station Scam - Outside the train station you will meet official looking individuals who will say they will help you book the seats.

They then take you to their nearby travel agency and pretend to ring the train booking office. You will be told that the train is full and your only way to travel is on one of their buses.

Do not believe them......go to the station and check for yourself!!!!!!

9) Long Distance Train/Bus Scam - Many tourists have reported that they have had their belongings stolen from their bags on overnight bus and train trips. When using public transport always keep a close eye on your luggage and please also be mindful that many thieves will drug their victims in order to steal their valuables.

Don't accept food or drink for strangers, don't wear expensive watches or jewellery and make sure your valuables are out of sight!!!!

10) Double Pricing - I know this is not strictly a scam but double pricing is common all over Asia and upsets a lot of visitors when it is done in an underhand way.

At a lot of attractions, musuems and national parks there will be one price for Thais and another price which is often 2 or 3 times more, for foreign tourists.

My opinion on this matter is that tourist attractions are welcome to charge visitors as much or as little as they like. However, they should do it in such a way that there is no deceit. It should be made clear what the different prices are so that foreign tourists can choose whether they want to visit the attraction or not.

If they want to charge me 400 baht to visit a cultural centre or national park then that is their prerogative!!!! But, if the pricing seems extortionate, I am more than likely to decline a visit and go and spend the money in my favourite bar or go to an attraction that doesn't rip you off!!!!!

Can you imagine the uproar there would be if we started double pricing in England?!!!!

£1 for Brits.....£2 for blacks......£5 for Chinese.........and £20 pounds for Arabs!!!!

The Commsion for Equality and human Rights would be choking on their fairtrade coffee!!!!

My general rule of thumb when travelling in Thailand, is this.....

If a Thai person comes up to you and starts speaking excellent English then it pays to be wary. Usually Thai people are very shy and wouldn't dream of approaching or talking to a foreigner that they didn't know!!!!. However, if you are in any doubt, please do not be rude to them, because this person may genuinely be trying to assist you!

Please don't be put off visiting the Kingdom, because despite the scams, Thailand is one of the nicest, friendliest and most interesting countries tovisit in the whole world and Thai people are, on the whole, welcoming, warm and very generous!!!!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Thailand Travellers..who are they?: Part 2

This is following on from a post I published in September 2009 about the types of people you're likely to encounter in Thailand.......

Thailand is full of weird and (sometimes not-so) wonderful people!!!! So here is my expose on some of the groups who you maybe (mis)fortunate enough to bump into........I will apply a star rating to each group, so you know who you can safely have a beer with and who to dodge when you see them coming. The star rating is a follows: 5* = fun/enjoyable company to 1* = avoid like the plague/do not approach under any circumstances.

1) Missionaries/Religious workers:

Missionary. The very name conjours up images be-spectacled, sackcloth wearing Victorians trudging through the darkest heart of Africa, waving a bible and trying to convert the local "savages" but instead, ending up in the cooking pot and being served as a canape!!!

I'm not sure how a missionary would taste, as most of them that I have met, turn incredibly sour when you question the teachings of the bible or even mention the name, Charles Darwin!!!

Heaven forbid (no pun intended!) that you start chatting to them about evolutionary theory!!

These modern days zealots aren't likely to encounter a grisly end at the hands of cannibals in Bangkok or Pattaya but nonetheless they can be intensely irritating when you're trying to enjoy a cold beer and they are about as welcome as a dose of drippy dick!!!!

Before any members of the God squad start pilliorying me; my observations are based entirely on personal experience. I have met some genuinely friendly religious guys and gals but when they start preaching and trying to force their beliefs on me then I start to lose patience very quickly!!!! In a country where poverty is rampant and the average per capita GDP is less than US$ 4,000, you're going to have a hard time convincing Thai people that there are going to burn in the eternal fires of damnation for not following Christian teachings!!!! There more likely to be worried about where their next rent payment is coming from than bumping into to lucifer outside the local 7-Eleven!!!

My favourite Bangkok blogger "Mangosauce" has a link to a good article along this particular theme and how the bible bashers try to influence the mainstream Western media.

www.mangosauce.com/.../nana_plaza_bible-bashers_hoodwink_bbc_kate_mcgeown.php

The zealots are well established and amongst us in increasing numbers, in Thailand. They are trying to turn us Westerners from our wicked ways whilst attempting to indoctrinate the locals. These people are invariably from affluent Western countries and what annoys me most is there are plenty of social problems in the West, so why don't they stay in their own countries to help the disadvantaged. People from religious backgrounds, never appear to want to help just out of kindness or plain human decency, there is always an ulterior motive!!! And that is to convert people to Christianity!!!

Just look at some of the material that has been distributed in Thailand over the years....


This was from a genuine booklet, given by a missionary, masquerading as an English teacher, to their class members!!! It is sad that not even school children are safe from their insidious reach.

If you would like to read more about this story please click on the link below...

http://www.teflspin.com/search?updated-min=2008-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-05%3A00&updated-max=2009-01-01T00%3A00%3A00-05%3A00&max-results=50

And, as further proof of the nonsense that these fundamentalists pedal, I stumbled across the following loon, by the name of 'Missionary Mike', on the internet.

http://www.missionarymike.com/.

I have lifted this quote directly from his website........

".....Then we will begin translating materials into their language, with the end goal of seeing tribal churches established that truly glorify God according to the principles found in the New Testament.......... New Tribes Mission coordinates missionaries, sent by local churches, to take the Gospel to tribal people. Missionaries then plant churches. They disciple believers, translate the Scriptures, and train teachers and leaders, who in turn reach out to their own people and to neighboring tribes......."

In his eagerness to disseminate the word of god, he dismisses thousands of years of Thai culture without a second thought. He has the utter arrogance and temerity to say that the Buddhist beliefs of nearly 60 million Thais are complete nonsense.

If I ever see this clown in Thailand, I will have to bite my tongue and walk away or I will end up giving him a swift kick in the mid-wicket!!!

In Penfold's star rating system religious folk rank just below the "full-time backpacker", in terms of people you would like to meet at the pub!!!!

Star rating - 1*

The next group that come under the spotlight are.....

2) volunteers.

This group comes in several sub-categories which I have done my best to list below.

a) Short-term/"gap year" volunteers - These are people who have made a conscious effort to visit Thailand to help a social programme or charity, for a limited period , to gain "life" experience. Invariably they are moved to help by some tragedy, calamitous event or for environmental reasons. They are generally motivated out of kindness or a willingness to try and improve the lives of the locals and. They will often work for established organsiations like the VSO.

On the whole these volunteers are usually good people as they are not religious or political fanatics. However, you will encounter the occassional tree hugging freak who will admonish you severely for not wearing hemp trousers and daring to eat a KFC!!!!

Star rating - 4*

b) Ex-pat volunteers - They can be found up and down the country from Chiang Mai to Yala and are individuals who help in schools, orphanages or with social welfare programmes.

They are a mix of retired and working ex-pats who are either regular helpers or who volunteer occasionally, to boost their profile in the community. Again, these volunteers are normally motivated by a genuine desire to help and to have a positive impact in their community.

Aside from the odd twat, who thinks they are Mother Theresa and should be getting the next Nobel Peace Prize, just because they put in a few hours a week, they are generally a good bunch and you would be happy to enjoy a beer with them any time.

Star rating - 4*

c) Religious volunteers: Enough said!!! ("see 1st paragraph")

Star rating - 1*

3) Government workers

Well, well, well,....those working for Her Britainic Majesty's Government are an easy target for my ire, mainly due to the fact they are a bunch of cretins, wasting time and tax-payers money hosting garden parties at the embassy or glad-handing with local business leaders and politicians, or those "Mafioso" who masqerade as businessmen and politicians, in Thailand!!!!

But it may just be their supercilious attitude and self-serving nature that upsets me!!!

They would rather enjoy an all-expenses paid jolly than addressing the real problems, like organising accommodation and flights for the Brits who were stranded when the PAD took over Suvarnabhumi airport or helping to resolve the countless scams perpetrated against tourists.

Just look at the current advice issued for travellers who are worried about swine flu....

"We are working closely with the Department of Health and other areas of HM Government. We have provided a dedicated free phone number for all British nationals overseas to call if they are concerned about the current swine flu outbreak: +44 207 928 1010. As far as possible, we will continue to deliver a consular service for British nationals resident or travelling overseas through our network of Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates, although there may be a limited service in some places affected by swine flu, depending on the scale and severity of the outbreak. Any change to the level of service we can provide, will be reflected in our travel advice for that country".

If you indulge me for a moment, I shall write a brief summary of what they actually mean....

"Don't under any circumstances come to the Embassy for help as you will make us sick and we don't want to miss our golfing week in Hua Hin. At the first sign of a sniffle or runny nose all staff members will be immediately airlifted to safety. If you think you have swine flu, call the phone number we have given you and speak to the only embassy employee still here, who will be our semi-literate, non-English speaking gardener. In the unlikely event you survive a global pandemic, you will have to make your own arrangements to return to the UK. Thank you".

In short, they have just told every single British Citizen in Thailand to bugger off!!!

Unless you happen to play rugger with Ambassdor Quinton Quayle, which means your ticket on the medi-evac helicopter is guaranteed, then I'm afraid for the rest of us, the centre of Bangkok is going to ressemble downtown Saigon in 1975.

If you want to read the current advice about swine flu issued by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office please follow this link

http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad/travel-alerts/swine-flu

For being shamless lay-abouts and shirkers, Penfold has given Government employees a star rating of 2*

4) NGO employees

These are an odd mixture of quasi-religious, feminist, anti-captialist and environmentalist do-gooders, working for organisations like Oxfam, Amnesty and CARE International etc. They are generally whining moralists who complain that anyone in Thailand who isn't working for a charity or NGO is some kind of shabby, low-life with peadophilic tendencies........

Whilst their intentions may be noble and honourable they often end up isolating themselves through their bad attitude and inability to get to grips with local culture and customs.

These Western based organisations also tend to use project managers from their own countries when they are working on the ground, which can cause rensentment among the local communties who feel they are being left out of decision making process. Valuable local knowledge and expertise are often over-looked by these NGO workers who think that local people are incapable of managing and distributing aid.

I have, however, met several delightful and very passionate people who fall into this category so I shall award them a star rating of 3*

I hope you enjoyed this post and as always I'm keen to here your feedback

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Thailand: Deadliest destination for Aussie tourists......

Well the title of this post says it all........according to official figures more Aussies come a cropper in Thailand than any other country!!!

In 2008-09, a total of 1038 Australians died whilst on holiday overseas and Thailand which received 378,000 Australian visitors accounted for 105 of those deaths!!!! It is lucky that England won the Ashes or that death toll would have been a lot higher!!!!

So statistically, your average Aussie has got more chance of winning a test match, by bowling underarm, and wearing a tutu and flip-flops, as they have of staying alive in Thailand!!!

It doesn't bode well for Dame Edna or Skippy, so you'd best lay off the sang som and coke guys and watch ur back!!!

If you would like to read the the full report please click on the link below......

http://www.news.com.au/travel/story/0,28318,26037202-5014090,00.html

Why is it that so many Australians end up croaking in the Kingdom? Are they complete clowns who couldn't find their arse with both hands or are they just plain unlucky?

I'm sure most of us in the Northern Hemisphere will agree that it's the former, so, to give my Aussie friends a helping hand, I have come up with a simple equation that should help reduce the number of deaths:

10 Beers + large spliff = impaired mental faculties (x journey on poorly maintained motorbike (- crash helmet) + pot-holed roads = limited life span.

You may think I'm being unecessarily harsh on my Antipodean friends by labelling them as drunken, bumbling, knuckle-heads. But they're just one step up the evolution ladder from the Kiwis, who themselves are just below the Neanderthal!!! (I hope my soon-to-be, Kiwi brother in law doesn't read this post!!!!)

But it is hard to argue against my theory when Australia's only contribution to the betterment of the English langauge is Alf Stewart's classic ..... "you flaming gallah".

And you have to shake your head in bewilderment when you hear quotes like these from former Australian cabinet minister Keppel Enderbery - "Traditionally, most of Australia's imports come from overseas".

Taxi for Enderbery!!!!

Before my British readers rest on their laurels and smugly proclaim any sense of superiority, we are also guilty of recklessness and downright stupdity which resulted in 269 of my fellow countryman being killed in Thailand in 2008.

But when you see some of the numpty's arriving from the UK you wonder how they even made it to the airport, let alone manage to get all the way to Thailand.....

So my advice to any would be Travellers to Thailand, is to keep your wits about you, don't put yourself into any compromising positions and do your reserach before you travel.......and last but not least, make sure you have travel insurance!!! The number of people who travel aborad without any kind of protection astounds me!!!!

Talking of protection....if you are going to avail yourself of the services of a nubile young go-go danceer or two, then make sure you're stocked up with party hats, as you don't want to take a case of "Bangkok todger" home with you.

Until next time...

Penfold

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Celebrity Interview Number 1: Ron Atkinson

From time to time I will be bringing you celebrity interviews, where famous household names and doyens from the worlds of popular entertainment, sport and politics pop in for a chat and to share their thoughts on the "Land of Smiles".

I'm delighted that the first person joining Penfold at the bar, to enjoy an ice cold Beer Chang and bag of peanuts, is football's Goldenest Geezer, "Big" Ron Atkinson , former manager and TV pundit.



As you all know, "Big" Ron is a legend of football co-commentating and before the "Desailly-gate" scandal that led to his removal from our TV screens, was responsible for bringing us inimitable football phrases like "little eyebrows", "early doors" and "lollipops".

It must only be a matter of time before he's awarded an honorary fellowship by the chaps in English faculty at Oxford University, thanks to classic guff like..... "Well Clive, It's all about the two M's - Movement and positioning" and "On another night, they'd have won 2 - 2".

So Ron, What have been up to since your enforced retirement from the punditry profession?

"Tell you what Penfold, that Desailly incident was a blessing in disguise.........it's given me more time to spend on the golf course, I play off scratch now and I've helped the missus install a new sun-bed too, so it's all been at bit easy oasy "Chez Ron". I've also been doing a spot of DIY in my Marbella villa. I decided early doors that I'd save myself a few bob by building my own jacuzzi and swimming pool. You can't trust those lazy Spanish builders, they're not always in the wide awake club".

"You're welcome to join us for the next pool party..... Mrs. Ron serves an excellent G & T and I've just bought new pair of Versace speedos....................."

urm....Thanks Ron, I'll check my schedule and let you know!! Moving on to the next question. When did you first visit Thailand?

Well Penfold, I first went to Thailand in the summer of '79 whilst I was managing West Brom. Mrs. Ron was staying with our Tracy at a caravan in Clacton but I was looking for something more exciting during the closed season. I'd heard from my old mate Frank Bough that Thailand was good fun. So trusting my instincts, I made a gambler's run to Heathrow and hopped on the first flight to Bangers.

Boy was I in for a shock, it was nothing like Marbella, no bacon and eggs, no carling black label lager.....I thought I've done a wrong'un here. But I trusted Frank and thought I'd stay here and give it a go for a few days. I headed for the Sukhumvit road and it was a real crowd scene there.....motorbikes, street vendors and push-bikes everywhere!!! I managed to make my way to the Nana Hotel on Soi 4 and that was the start of my adventure.

I decided to have a look around town so I jumped in a tuktuk and headed for the Grand Palace. I'd heard it was a good place to start your trip in Bangkok. But, unfortunately, when we got there i was told by very kind official that the Palace was closed that day but by chance I was able to go and visit a gem shop and was able to buy some precious stones at rock bottom prices. I thought I'd able to shift a few in the dressing room knowing Laurie Cunningham and Cyril Regis liked a bit of bling. But that was a school boy error....when I got them home they turned out to be cheap imitations and weren't worth the money I paid for them....the missus almost did a Buddy Holly on me!!!

But without a shadow of a doubt.....the best thing in Thailand were the birds......there were tasty dark skinned, almond eyed beauties as far as the eye could see!!!! I could see why Frank Bough loved it so much....dirty old bugger.....I bet the doctor at the clap clinic has given him the curly finger on more than one occassion!!!!

My first meeting with the lovelies was in the Nana Entertainment Plaza, which, as luck would have it, was outside my hotel!!!! I was feeling a bit parched and decided to enjoy a few sherberts so I nipped across to Big Dogs bar. As I walked inside all the ladies smiled at me and said "hello hansum man", I had a quick look behind me just in case John Fashnu had follwed me inside!!!

I sat down and ordered a drink and within minutes I was holding court and chatting to a bevvie of beauties. One particular bird caught my eye, husky voice and long legs, reminded me of Sade; So, being the gentleman I bought her a couple of pinacoladas and we got talking!!! I was three sheets to the wind after half a dozen Changs with whiskey chasers but at the end of the night she fancied coming back with me ....so I gave all the ugly birds the eyes and I popped back to the hotel with the hottie in tow.

I was just about to start going at it to the sound of trumpets, when I notcied in the half light of my room, that she had unusually large hands. It may have been the drink, but I also noticed a distinct 5 o' clock shadow on her chin.....

We were getting rather amorous and as articles of clothing were being removed, I noticed that she was built like a Emile Heskey, but it wasn't until the undies came off and I was confronted by a portion of meat and two veg, that I'd realised my mistake!!! I awarded myself a spotters badge for noticing and I was able to have a good laugh about it after I'd washed my mouth out with 3 bottles of listerine!!!!

Now I know what Boughie was talking about when he used to drunkenly mumble about "sluts with nuts"!!!

It's happened to the best of us Ron!!!! What do you think of the current political situation in Thailand?

Thailand's a complex country and the social demograhic has changed enormously in the last 50 years. There is large rural population, who for the most part, live in poverty, but there are growing numbers of middle class families and a nouveau-riche super elite who have emerged. The rural poor, in supporting the government of Thaksin and the new upwardly-mobile middle classes who are seeking to overturn the status quo, have upset the traditional elites and challenged the established hierarchy.

So society in Thailand has reached an impasse and the recent protests and demonstrations are examples of this tension bubbling to the surface. Everyone involved in Thai politics needs to give it the full gun to create a stable and cohesive government, who have the support of the people and who will endeavour to root out the endemic corruption and mismangement in Thai politics.

Despite the current turmoil....if the beer bars and the Go-Go clubs aren't shut down then I will keep going on holiday to Thailand!!!! The current adminstration must be watching cartoons if they think they can allow protesters to close the airport without it having a knock on effect.

What does your missus think about Thailand?

She loves Thailand and Thai ladies more than me!!! And can often be found propping up the bar at Mistys in Pattaya or roaming walking Street getting an eyeful of the scantily clad tarts!!!! I sometimes find her passed out on the bed surronded by empty gin bottles and half a dozen go-go dancers!!! She been trying to convince me to buy a condo in Thailand. But our Tracy wants us to buy holiday home in Skegness.....you can't please all the poeple all time!!!!

Thanks for sharing your time with us today Ron and if you have Frank Bough's phone number we'd like to get an interview arranged with him!!!!

If any of my readers bump into "Big" Ron at any time in Soi Cowboy or Patpong, be sure to pass on my regards and get him to buy you a drink!!!

"Big" Ron we salute you....