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Doi Tung

September 17th, 2017 by Michael Babcock

(Click images to see larger version.)
(There’s a slideshow of images at the bottom.)

Doi Tung View

View at Doi Tung

One of my favorite places in all of Thailand is Doi Tung, a mountain (doi means mountain) 1,389 meters high located in the Golden Triangle in Chiang Rai province close to the Myanmar border. On Kasma’s Northern Frontiers trip (we have one scheduled for January 2018) we spend a day visiting 3 of the attractions there. I leave each of the three with a peaceful feeling, my heart full.

The area now is a lush, beautiful forested area with prosperous, thriving communities. It has not always been so. Had you gone in the mid-1980s you would have seen a barren, deforested area denuded by slash and burn agriculture. The roughly 11,000 people composed of 6 different ethnic minorities were living in abject poverty without basic infrastructure. People barely survived by cultivating opium, illegal logging and human trafficking.

The story of how its transformation came about is why there is such a special feeling to Doi Tung.

A Brief History of Doi Tung

The Princess Mother

The Princess Mother

Doi Tung was transformed because of projects initiated by an 87-year old woman, Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra, the mother of Kings Rama VIII and Rama IX and the grandmother of the current King Rama X – the Princess Mother (as she was called).

In 1987, at the age of 87, she came to Doi Tung for the first time and said “I will reforest Doi Tung.” Ever since she began hiking in the remote rural areas of northern Thailand in 1964 she had a special interest in the impoverished communities of the north. She encouraged and supported education, promoted traditional crafts as a way of earning a living and had a particular interest in improving medical care. (She had been trained as a nurse and her husband, the late Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, a trained physician, was the father of public health in Thailand.) In 1969 she had established mobile medical units that would bring trained personnel to remote regions, often accompanying them herself and earning the title Mae Fah Luang – “Mother from the Sky.”

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The Royal Villa & Garden

The people in Doi Tung were from 6 different ethnic minorities – Akha, Lahu, Tai Lue, Lawa, ethnic Shan and ethnic Chinese – who were not even accorded citizenship. The Royal family made no distinction – their compassion was for all people living in Thailand, whether citizen or not.

The Princess Mother initiated several projects at Doi Tung with the goal of bringing the people of the region out of poverty. The model came to be known as SALD – Sustainable Alternative Livelihood Development – with its stated goal “to transform poor and vulnerable communities from dependency and basic subsistence living, towards full socio-economic sufficiency and independence.” (From About Doi Tung.) The key word was “sustainable.” The Doi Tung Development Project was set up in 1988 to oversee and coordinate the many initiatives.

Doi Tung Coffee

Doi Tung Coffee

To cement her commitment to the transformation of Doi Tung, she built “a home at Doi Tung” – The Doit Tung Royal Villa. She had always traveled back and forth from Thailand to Switzerland, where she had originally moved with her three children in 1933. As she aged, she had been searching for a location to build a home and the northern climate of Doi Tung was a good substitute for Switzerland.

The project used methods first established by her son, H.M. Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), starting in 1969, when he set up the Ang Khang Royal Agricultural Station, which was the first successful attempt world-wide to transform a poverty-stricken area by replacing opium production with crop substitution.

At Doi Tung, the multi-pronged approach included education, medical care, treatment for addiction and job/skills training. Macadamia nut trees were planted with coffee plants underneath in order to create high-quality, shade-grown coffee for sale. The Doi Tung brand was created, a high-quality brand that had 4 branches – food, handicrafts (including woven clothes and accessories as well as ceramics and pottery), horticulture and tourism. By 2001, Doi Tung was self-sustaining.

Since 2003, the Doi Tung Development Project has been recognized by the United Nations as one of the best examples of alternative development in the world. Communities from Thailand, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Columbia have traveled to Doi Tung to learn how they can implement the principles at their locations. (See How it Spreads: Lessons from Doi Tung.)

Café Doi Tung

Café Doi Tung Treats

Café Doi Tung Treats

Our trips to Doi Tung always begin with a visit to Café Doi Tung. Coffee is one of the premier products of Doi Tung and since it is very tasty, it’s a great way to support the people there. I’ve already written about the Café in a previous blog (you’ll need to scroll about half-way down to the relevant section):

The coffee is delicious and the setting amongst the hills is a great place to enjoy your drink.

You can also purchase two of the signature products of Doi Tung: coffee, both as beans as well as individual cup drip-coffee packets; and macadamia nuts in the form of plain or seasoned nuts, macadamia nut butter (yum!) as well as macadamia nut cookies. The macadamia nuts are some of the best I’ve ever eaten – large and sweet. These products are now availalble all over Thailand – we regularly purchase them at several supermarkets in Bangkok.

The Royal Villa

Royal Villa & Garden

Royal Villa & Garden

The Royal Villa – picture a Thai-style Swiss chalet – was built to be the residence of the Princess Mother. It is a symbol of her commitment to transforming Doi Tung into a prosperous, self-sustaining community.

Because of its location, the climate is much more reminiscent of Switzerland than tropical Thailand. The two times I’ve visited Doi Tung it has been refreshingly cool.

The Princess Mother loved to garden. The villa is surrounded by beautiful flowers, many of them temperate climate plants, and also orchids. The walk up to the villa leads through planted flower beds to the house itself.

Wood carving

The Villa is filled with lovely wood carving

Alas, I’m unable to provide any photos of the interior of the villa where photography is forbidden. It’s a shame but perhaps best because photographs might not be able to adequately portray the peacefulness and beauty of the home. There is a lovely attention to detail throughout that includes beautiful wood carvings. As you go in, you are able to get an audio tour that explains what you are seeing. In the main hall, which would have been a reception area, there are beautiful art works as well as exhibits about the Princess Mother’s activities – including embroidery, reading detective novels and pressing flowers.

Much of the house has not been changed from when she was living there. I mostly was struck by the simplicity and serenity of her living areas.

Outside of the main reception hall is a balcony with a stunning view of the surrounding hills. When the Villa was built the view would have been quite barren. Now you see a thriving forest of green, a tribute to the transformation she inspired.

(See Education Attractions – Doi Tung Royal Villa.)

The Mae Fah Luang Garden

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A view at Mae Fah Luang Garden

The second main attraction at Doi Tung is the Mae Fah Luang Garden. The Princess Mother was an avid gardener and this lovely garden is a tribute to her love of plants.

Because of the elevation of Doi Tung (1,389 meters), many of the plants here reflect the Princess Mother’s desire to give the Thai people a chance to enjoy a temperate flower garden without having to travel out of Thailand. It also includes the lovely Lady’s Slipper Garden, containing a large variety of orchids of the genus Paphiopedilum (Lady Slipper). These orchids are also propagated commercially here – another of the projects providing self-sufficiency for the area. (See Doi Tung Development Project – Plants & Orchid.)

Located on 10 acres of land, it was originally an Akha village given to opium cultivation. The villagers were resettled and now local villagers earn a living nurturing and propagating the plants.

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One of the Lady Slipper orchids

There is a fairly steep walk down through a lovely forest setting. On the way you pass by some colorful, whimsical stuffed animal figures that bring a smile to your face.

There are many paths for your wandering enjoyment. Other features include a lake with water birds, some example hill-tribe structures and a grassy area with the statue called “Continuity.”

For garden lovers, it’s worth a couple of hours just for wandering and enjoyment.

Note: This Mae Fah Luang Garden is different from the Mae Fah Luang Arboretum, which is situated in the Chang Moob Area. The arboretum is worth a visit of it its own with its combination of native flora, native orchids and rhododendrons from many countries set in the middle of a pine tree forest

For more information on the garden see Education Attractions – The Mae Fah Luang Garden.

The Hall of Inspiration

Hall of Inspiration

Hall of Inspiration

Is this the most compelling of the things to see at Doi Tung?

As a westerner, I found this exhibit moving and inspiring. I already knew of the dedication and service of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), how his foundations had initiated thousands of projects for the betterment of the Thai people. I loved this exhibit because it placed his service and philosophy in context.

The Hall of Inspiration is a record of the life and works of King Rama IX’s royal family, starting with his father, Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, the husband of the Princess Mother.

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The Royal Family in Switzerland

With historical photographs, videos and quotes I got such a lovely sense of how the family grew and evolved. Prince Mahidol himself inspired the selfless service that became the hallmark characteristic of the Princess Mother as well as King Bhumibol. Prince Mahidol is considered the father of modern medicine in Thailand for the efforts he made from 1920 (when he returned from his studies abroad) until his early death in September 1929.

The Hall documents how his wife, Princess Srinagarindra, carried on his legacy – she was offering scholarships to students as soon as they were back in the country in 1920. After her husband’s death, for the next two decades she raised three children as a single parent and instilled in them the parents’ ideals of selfless services.

Rippling water

Drops rippling in water

Then when her sons became Kings, she worked to improve the lives of both ethnic Thais and hilltribe people, through education, improved medical care and by training (including crafts) to develop economic independence and sufficiency. Even at the age of 87, a time when most people are slowing down to enjoy the fruits of their life, she initiated the Doi Tung Development Project and oversaw it until her death at the age of 91.

The Hall also highlights the history of Doi Tung, including photos and words from the villagers talking about how the project affected and transformed their lives. Quotes from the Royal Family show the compassion and philosophy that drove their service.

Doi Tung itself is the living example of their philosophy:

Great things come from small beginnings
A gentle ripple starts from but a single drop;
That wave ever expanding, with no end in sight
Begins from one small point, our own self . . .

(See Hall of Inspiration.)


Doi Tung Slideshow

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.


Princess Mother 2
Princess Mother 2
Doi Tung Signs
Café Doi Tung Sign
Café Doi Tung Treats
Café Doi Tung Sitting Area
Royal Villa 1
Royal Villa 2
Royal Villa 3
Royal Villa 4
Royal Villa 5
Wood carving
Doi Tung View
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Whimsical creature 1
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Mae Fah Luang plant 1
Temperate climate foliage
Temperate plant
Rhododendron]
Temperate climate flower
Mae Fah Luang Garden 1
Mae Fah Luang Garden 2
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Mae Fah Luang Garden 5
Dahlia bed
A dahlia
Glimmering foliage
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Temperate foliage
Pond with ducks
Drying corn
Leaves and straw
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Princess Srinagarindra

Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra

Her Royal Highness Princess Srinagarindra exiting a helicopter at Doi Tung

Signs to the attractions at Doi Tung

The sign for Café Doi Tung

Some of the goodies available at Café Doi Tung

The sitting area at Café Doi Tung

A view of the Royal Villa, home of the Princess Mother

The Royal Villa viewed through one of its garden beds

The Royal Villa seen behind one of its gardens

The Royal Villa at Doi Tung

A view of the Royal Villa

An example of the lovely wood carving found at the Royal Villa

Doi Tung is nestled into the lovely mountains of northern Thailand

One of the orchids found in the gardens surrounding the Royal Villa

Whimsical creatures such as this decorate the trees at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Another whimsical creature at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Foliage at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Temperate climate plants at the Mae Fah Lung Garden

Temperate climate flowers at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

An azalea at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Another temperate climate plant at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

A view of part of the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Another view of the lovely Mae Fah Luang Garden

Mae Fah Luang Garden view

Flower beds at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

More flower beds at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Dahlias at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Close-up of a dahlia at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Sun-lit foliage at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Lovely Paphiopedilums (Lady Slippers) at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

More Lady Slippers (Paphiopedilums) at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Close up of one of the lovely Lady Slipper orchids at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

Another close up of one of a lovely Lady Slipper orchids at the Mae Fah Luang Garden

A garden bed with temperate climate foliage and a statue

A pond with many ducks found in the Mae Fah Luang Garden

The Mae Fah Luang Garden has sample hilltribe buildings

A lovely still life found on one of the buildings

This sign greets you as you enter the Hall of Inspiration

Viewing the exhibits at the Hall of Inspiration

A sign at the Hall of Inspiration about Prince Mahidol

Photo of Prince Mahidol and Princess Srinagarindra

Sign with the words of Princess Srinagarindra

A photograph of the Royal Family in Switzerland

More words by Princess Srinagarindra on how she raised 2 kings

How change occurs from small beginnings

A pond at the Hall of Inspiration with ever-changing patterns

Drops of water expanding

The Hall of Inspiration covers the history of the Doi Tung Development

The guiding principle of Doi Tung

Some words of H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej

Great things come from small beginnings

Princess Srinagarindra

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Websites for Further Study

Examining the Life of H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej – Rama IX

September 7th, 2017 by Kasma Loha-unchit

Introduction

Introduction by Michael Babcock

As the late King Bhumibol Adulydej’s funeral approaches, Kasma and I have been revisiting his life and feeling anew deep sorrow at the passing of this incredible man. I would have expected time (it’s 11 months since his death) to dull the grief somewhat: that has not been the case.

A friend of Kasma’s recently wondered what the fuss was about, why virtually an entire nation could revere one person so much. She wanted to better understand why Kasma is going to Thailand this year to take part in the ceremonies honoring the King.

Waiting to pay respects

Waiting to pay respects

As of September 4, over 10,000,000 people have come from across the country to pay respects before the Royal Urn at the Grand Palace’s Dusit Maha Prasart Throne Hall – that’s an average of 33,146 per day. On Sunday September 3 – 305 days after his death – a total of 45,125 arrived to pay their respects. The day Kasma and I went together in January we were just 2 out of nearly 60,000 people and waited 9 hours to get into the throne hall. Many people have gone multiple times. Donations from the people have amounted to 754,646,253 baht – around $23,000,000. (Figures from this September 4, 2017 Thai PBS article.)

Kasma put together this list for her friend. We invite you to follow some of the links and learn about this extraordinary being.

– Michael


Resources for the Life of King Rama IX

By Kasma Loha-unchit

King Rama IX

King Rama IX

“While I was in Bangkok I became how very aware people felt about your late King. Even then he was not well and there was a palpable feeling of worry and concern for him. That’s wonderful that you are going over early and can truly participate in honouring your finest monarch. Where can we read about his great works Kasma?”

              – Kasma’s friend’s question

Written Word Online

There are tons of books written about the King and his great works and words of wisdom, though the most precious are the books written in the Thai language and published within Thailand. In fact, anything about the King becomes best sellers these days. I recall how sad it was when I arrived in Thailand last November and all magazines on the news racks, local and international, had the King’s picture splashed on the cover in black and white and this continued for three months until the end of the year. The Bangkok Post published a tribute about the King’s life and the Thai Embassy has a page with a few articles about him, if you wish a quick and easy read about him:

Videos

King at Work

The King at Work

There are also a great number of YouTube videos with very touching images and stories. I particularly love the one put together by a couple of Thailand’s well-known documentary film makers in tribute to him; it’s a composite of flashbacks, images of sorrow, and the preparation and execution of the incredible mass singing of the Royal Anthem in his honor by hundreds of thousands gathered outside the Grand Palace a few weeks following his death. I’m reduced to a puddle of tears every time I see it and hear the King’s voice in an address he gave in 1976:

Here are a few more Youtube videos in English which will tell you the story why Thais love him so much:

And if you have time, the BBC filmed an excellent 2–1/2 hour documentary on the royal family in 1979, which you can also watch on YouTube:

Books

Rama IX with his people

Rama IX with his people

The above probably are enough to satisfy your interest, but should you be curious and wish to read more about the life of one of the greatest men to walk on this earth in the 20th century, here are my favorite books in the English language about him (although you may have a hard time finding most of them online):

  • King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life’s Work by Nicholas Grossman (Editor-in-Chief); first published 2011; ISBN 978-981-4260-56-5
  • King Bhumibol Adulyadej: Thailand’s Guiding Light (1996 The Post Publishing Public Co.. Ltd.); ISBN: 974-202-040-X
  • The Mahidol Family by Parichat Khumraksa (Translator: M.R. Usnisa Sukhsvasti), 2014; ISBN 978-616-374-073-1
  • King Bhumibol Adulyadej: The New Kingship (A Three-Volume Series: Vol. I : From Prince to King; Vol. II: Strength of the Land; Vol. III: By the Light of Your Wisdom) by Danai Chanchaochai; ISBN:978-974-9977-57-6 (an easy-read set)
  • The Revolutionary King: The True-Life Sequel to ‘The King and I’ by William Stevenson (first published in 1999); ISBN: 1-84119-451-4
  • The King of Thailand in World Focus (Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Thailand, articles from the international press 1946-2006, first published 2007); Editor-in-Chief: Denis D. Gray; ISBN: 978-974-7348-54-5

Songs

There have also been dozens of songs penned and recorded by popular musicians in tribute to the King over his reign and following his death. Of course, they’re all in Thai except for two tributes by the international expat community in Bangkok. Here’s a nice one that I thought you might like (recorded a couple of years before his death):

Postscript

I think I’ve more than overwhelmed you with information about my beloved King. See what a short nine-word question can get you? The King has been the focus of my life this year and it’s been very hard to accept that the hero of my life has left.

King Rama IX

King Rama IX

 


Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, September 2017

Kasma’s 30-year Anniversary Message

May 25th, 2015 by Kasma Loha-unchit

This June marks the end of 30 years that I have taught Thai cooking classes in my kitchen. Up until six months ago, I was entertaining thoughts about throwing a big anniversary celebration (much like the 20th anniversary party many of you attended), but thoughts of the stresses and strains of planning, preparing for and cleaning up after such a big bash have more than changed my mind. I would like to, however, send a big thank you to all of you who have enthusiastically taken my classes over the past three decades for all the support and the wonderful times shared cooking delicious meals in my kitchen.

In about a week, I will be turning 65 and joining the ranks of Medicare. Over the past few months, I have been seriously mulling over when I would retire, especially when I see that many of my friends (and many of you) have retired and are enjoying the newfound time to pursue myriad interests awaiting them. As much as I enjoy teaching and taking people traveling around Thailand, and I know I will miss doing these things and all of you when I retire, the prospect of not having to run around to shop for classes, to push myself in the tedious and never-ending tasks of cleaning up before and after classes, and to deal with problematic students and trip members (and there have been more than a few each year) who drain me both physically and emotionally, makes retirement more and more appealing every day.

At this point, I am thinking that I will retire possibly within the next five years. So, those of you who have friends or co-workers interested in taking my cooking classes should let them know very soon. I will probably retire from beginning classes in two to three years. For those of you who wish to take all my advanced classes, I will try to cycle you through most of them before I retire. It’s possible I may add one last series (Advanced J) before I retire to give you some of my mother’s treasured recipes so that they are forever preserved for posterity. There’s no need to bury any secrets.

As for the Thailand travel trips, I will probably retire from doing them in five years or possibly sooner if Sun, my trusted helper and driver of my van, decides to quit to pursue other interests and there is a strong possibility that this can happen any time. I do not wish to train anyone new to replace him. So, if you have ever entertained thoughts of joining one of my off-the-beaten-path trips in which you will see, taste and experience things you will never have the chance to do traveling on your own, do start planning now as I will not always be around.

All said, I am actually sad to be writing this message, but I would like you to know the approximate time frame so that you can take advantage of what’s left of what I have to offer over the next few years. There’s no one I can train to take my place as what I do I learned over a lifetime of experience starting when I was five years old in my mother’s kitchen.

Thank you again to all of you for all the good times nourishing one another and sharing a sliver of your lives in my home.

Kasma


Written by Kasma Loha-unchit, May 2015

Doi Suthep – A Personal View

February 20th, 2015 by Michael Babcock

Doi Suthep Scene

Monks at Doi Suthep

Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai is the most important temple in northern Thailand. This blog is a slideshow of images I took when visiting in January 2015. Temples in Thailand can consist of many buildings inside a compound (the wat). There is nearly always a stupa (called chedi in Thai) and a building with the main Buddha image.

The main feature of Doi Suthep is a large chedi in an inner courtyard; a sala around the courtyard contains temple murals and many Buddha statues. In-between the chedi and the sala is an area with many “chapels.” One of the customs at Doi Suthep (indeed, at many temples) is to walk around the main chedi 3 times in a clockwise direction. Outside the chedi area are many more statues and various buildings.

I love photographing temples in Thailand. Everywhere you look there are arresting visual images and details that are easy to overlook if you focus on seeing just the main attractions. Doi Suthep is particularly rich in photogenic features. I’ve been there many times and each time it is varied and different. This photo essay represents this year only.

Since one picture is allegedly worth 1,000 words, here is my “29,000 word” blog, each picture accompanied by a minimum of words to provide context.

You may want to walk through the photos by clicking on each image so that you can have time to read the accompanying text. Give time for the slides to load. Please enjoy.

Doi Suthep Slideshow

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

Clicking on a slide will take you to the next image.

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Doi Suthep Scene
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Doi Suthep is on a hill; this is the first Buddha image you see as you arrive at the base of the hill.

Passing shops, you come to the base of the stairs, where these Lisu girls wait to be photographed (for a fee). The Naga (mythical dragon) protects the stairs.

Being photographed can be boring work.

The lower staircase has some interesting details, such as this crocodile.

Another detail at the bottom of the stairs.

The stairs to the temple, with over 300 steps; a tram is available.

One of two giants who guard the top of the staircase.

The main chedi against a cloudy sky.

A Buddha in the inner courtyard surrounding the chedi, with murals on the wall in back.

Another Buddha statue: the inner courtyard is lined with different Buddhas and murals.

One of the temple murals.

A mural of the Buddha's Enlightenment as witnessed by the Earth Mother Goddess.

Close-up of the Earth Mother Goddess.

The roofs of one of the buildings on the compound.

The main chedi is surrounded by many chapels, such as this one.

Monks with the "9th pre-requisite" - a digital camera.

Many people, including monks, walk around the main chedi 3 times (once for the Buddha, once for the Dhamma and once for the Sangha).

The author of this blog. Photo by his wife, Kasma.

This statue is found in the area outside the main chedi area.

A statue of the Earth Mother Goddess in the area outside the main chedi area.

A view from outside the main chedi.

Two young Thai dancers in the area leading to the main chedi - there are usually entertainers there.

Close-up of one of the Thai dancers.

A guardian statue at a staircase outside the main chedi.

Solicitation for tips at a coffee shop at the top of the stairs.

Fried food for sale at the bottom of the staircase on the way out; that area is lined with shops.

Fried quail eggs at the bottom of the stairs. Delicious!

A photograph of Chao Dararasmi, Princess Consort of the Fifth Reign, one of many old photographs at the bottom of the stairs off the road.

Chao Dararasmi and her niece, a photo at the bottom of the stairs off the road.

We'll end with the first image.

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Written & Photographed by Michael Babcock, February 2015

 

Coffee in Thailand, Part 4

January 21st, 2015 by Michael Babcock

As part of my ongoing series of blogs on coffee in Thailand, I wanted to just touch briefly on something that I’m seeing more and more here in the Kingdom: upscale coffee shops with western-style pastries. I’m seeing these fancy coffee houses more often both in malls and as stand-alone shops. I’ll look at just a couple of them, which can serve as examples.

(Click images to see larger version.)

The Missing Piece Cafe

2 Coffees

Coffee at The Missing Piece

The Missing Piece is part of a complex that includes the Moon Glass Social Bar and an excellent restaurant, Baan Khanita at 53 (Sukhumvit 53). They are located on Sukhumvit Soi 53, the soi just before Thong Lo (Sukhumvit Soi 55); the upscaleness of Thong Lo is spreading!

The Missing Piece is a small cafe (just a few tables). When you go in, you can see a selection of western-style desserts, including several types of cake and the passion fruit tartlet, which we ordered (see photo below left).

It’s a pleasant, clean shop; the barista was dressed in a uniform of sorts, which seems to be the norm in these more upscale places. Another characteristic of these shops is that the baristas all seem to actually know how to make the drinks correctly. At some of the smaller, individual stands, you never quite know what you’ll be getting. At one stand in Khao Yai National Park, for example, the latte consisted of an Americano to which the barista added some condensed milk. Here, I ordered a cappuccino and my wife ordered a caffe latte – you can see the results in the picture above.

The drinks were perfectly fine: good coffee, nothing extraordinary. The tartlet was pretty tasty: not bad at all. We had a slice of chocolate cake on another occasion and it was delicious.

Passion Fruit Tartlet

Passion fruit tartlet

Storefront

Front of The Missing Piece

Another characteristic of these shops is that you’ll pay a bit more for coffee. In smaller one-off stands or shops, you expect around 35 to 40 baht per cappuccino or latte. In the chains (such as Amazon, or Doi Inthanon) you’ll pay a bit more: 50 to 60 baht, and our local Amazon Cafe (in the Imperial World mall in Samrong) charges 70 baht for a cappuccino. To be sure, in some places such as airports, the prices are already higher. Here the price was 70 baht plus another 70 for the tartlet (the cakes were 110 baht). With VAT and service charge, we paid 243 baht for our two drinks and the small pastry. Definitely upscale pricing for Thailand. This is the only coffee shop where I have ever been charged VAT and a service charge.

I should note that the chains have gotten on the western dessert bandwagon. I had a cheesecake at our local Doi Inthanon and the local Amazon Cafe has cheesecake plus other cakes as well.

As a side note, Starbucks is among the most expensive coffee places – drinks seem to cost what they do in the states, which is high for Thailand, and even higher than at these (much nicer) individual, upscale coffee places. My advice is to avoid Starbucks; besides, the coffee is just not that good there.

Ease Café at Impact

My second example is Ease Café at the Impact Muong Thong Thani Center. We attended the annual December pre-Christmas OTOP City here. Side note: if you are ever in Thailand before Christmas you must go to OTOP City. OTOP, of course, means “One Tambon, One Product” and cities and regions all over Thailand participate in making handicrafts and products of anything you can think of. At OTOP City you get to see the best that the provinces of Thailand have to offer, all in one place. A fabulous event with (a guess) around 1,500+ booths.

Coffee & Cake

Cake and coffee

Fancy Cake

Fancy cake

Ease Café includes nicely made coffee drinks with beautiful western-style desserts. Above left is the caffe latte Kasma ordered along with the multi-layer cake we sampled. Both were quite good.

Ease Café

Ease Café

Chairs

Sitting area

The trend of higher prices continues here. The latte and cappuccino came in 3 sizes at 70, 80 or 90 baht. The cake was only 65 baht. There was no VAT or service charge here, so our two drinks and piece of cake came to 210 baht.

Offering different sizes for drinks such as cappuccinos and lattes is also somewhat new in Thailand (except for western chains): in the past (and at most shops today) there was just one size offered. The first place I saw multiple sizes at a Thai cafe was at Café Doi Tung last year.

Above left you can see the cafe as it is situated inside the Impact event center. Also, true to form, the interior is quite clean and somewhat fancy, as you can see with the photo (above right) of the sitting area. All of it is très moderne. The baristas were all dressed in uniform, another continuing trend. It’s a comfortable quiet place, a good option for taking some time out from the event you are attending.


Ending Thoughts

Coffee Sign

Fresh coffee sign

Watching the coffee culture grow in Thailand is interesting and fun. I see the กาแฟสด (kafae sot) – fresh coffee – sign in more and more places, sometimes in a sleepy little town in the middle of nowhere or in some back alley in Bangkok.

In addition to the upscale cafes, I’m seeing more chains, some of which I’ve never seen before and others (Doi Inthanon, Amazon, Black Canyon ) that seem to be increasing in number. There has been a veritable explosion of places to drink coffee all over Thailand, especially during this past year. More restaurants have their own espresso machines. I see more Thai people drinking coffee; they are the main clientele for most coffee shops.

One thing I seldom see is drip coffee – it’s nearly all expressed (espresso, Americano). Also, very few places have decaffeinated coffee (one exception being the overpriced Starbucks). I guess the Thais wonder what the point of decaf is.

Previous Blogs on Coffee in Thailand


Written by Michael Babcock, January 2015

Thong Lo Duck Noodles – Lee’s Noodles

December 20th, 2014 by Michael Babcock

I recently found a very good duck noodle shop in Thong Lo (Sukuhmvit Soi 55, pronounced “Tawng Law”). This noodle shop is part of a chain; in Thai it is called บะหมี่คนแซ่ลี, which can be translated as Khon Sae Lee Noodles or just Lee’s Noodles. It’s found on Sukhumvit Road just past the start of the Soi (Sukhumvit 55, Thong Lo) itself.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Assembling Noodles

Assembling noodles

Noodle Set-up

Noodle set-up

Walking up Sukhumvit, crossing Thong Lo (Soi 55) after exiting the skytrain (BTS) I saw this sign and the young woman obviously assembling a bowl of noodles. The picture on the right shows the area where she assembles the noodles and also a bit of the noodle shop itself, which is pretty much your basic Thai shop-front food shop.

The sign indicates what kind of noodles are sold here: บะหมี่ – ba mee – which are egg noodles made with wheat. This shop claims home-made noodles. The food hanging in the front of the shop (see below) lets you know that they make duck and pork noodles.

Duck Noodles

Duck and Wonton Noodles

At duck noodle shops I usually order บะหมี่เป็ดแห้ง – Ba Mee Ped Haeng – which literally means dry duck noodles. You have a choice of getting the noodles dry or as a soup: บะหมี่เป็ดน้ำ – Ba Mee Ped Nahm. I always get the dry noodles.

The dish I ordered here, shown to the left, included shrimp and pork wonton, which you can see to the right of the rest of the ingredients in the bowl. In addition the dish contains the noodles, slices of roast duck and blanched green vegetables. I’m not sure what the Thai name would be (with the wontons); the restaurant does have menus in English, complete with pictures.

In Thailand, dishes such as this are meant to have their flavors adjusted to your taste preference using the ubiquitous Thai Condiment Set. I added a healthy dose of dried red chillies (as you can see below right), followed it up with several (small) spoonfuls of a vinegar/green chilli mixture (for sour), some fish sauce (for salty) and just a touch of sugar to help meld the flavors. After a couple tastes and a couple of small adjustments, the noodles could be mixed up and eaten.

Duck and Wonton Noodles 2

Duck and Wonton Noodles, with dried chillies

The price for the duck and wonton noodles was 60 baht; for noodles with just duck (no wonton) the price is 50 baht.

The verdict: it’s a very good bowl of noodles. The noodles themselves are tasty with a good texture. The roast duck is succulent and moist. The pork and shrimp wonton are very, very tasty; they are seasoned very well. All in all, it will do as a replacement for the other Thong Lo Duck Noodle Shop that I patronized for so many years (now, sadly, closed). I would say, though, that I preferred the noodles, which were a bit wider, at the old shop; also, they had a better source of sour – vinegar with crushed red chillies. Still, this new shop definitely satisfies the craving.

Shop Front

Front of the shop

Shop Front Detail

Close-up of shop front

Lee’s Noodles serves more than duck, as you can see from these pictures of the front of the shop. They have crispy roasted pork, roasted red pork (shown here) and also crab. You can get the egg noodles served with each of those or you can have your meat of preference served over rice. You can also combine meats in any combination.

I will certainly return here. I may have to eschew my beloved duck noodles in favor of the “everything” combo (for 80 baht), which has: duck, crispy roasted pork, roasted red pork and crab as well as the pork and shrimp wonton.

By the way, all the time we were there eating there was a steady stream of customers, both in the shop and getting noodles to go. What with customers eating there and the to go orders, the woman assembling the noodles never stopped the entire time we were there.


Assembling Noodles

Assembling noodles

Location

บะหมี่คนแซ่ลี
Ba Mee Khon Sae Lee (Thonglor Branch)
1081 In front of soi Thonglor, Sukhumvit 55-57
Sukhumvit Road
Klongton Nua, Wattana,
Bangkok, 10110
Phone: 02-381-8180
Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (unconfirmed)
Facebook Page
Google Map of Lee’s Noodles Thong Lor


Written by Michael Babcock, December 2014