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Wat Nantaram in Chiang Kham

April 15th, 2014 by Michael Babcock

Wat Nantaram – วัดนันตาราม – is a quite beautiful Tai Yai (Shan-style) temple in Chiang Kham, which is in Phayao province, Thailand. Thailand has so many temples that at times you can get “temple fatigue;” then you come across one such as Wat Nantaram and all fatigue is forgotten.

Windy Road

The road to Chiang Kham

View

A view along the road

We drove to Chiang Kham from Nan up twisty, windy roads (such as the one to the left) through the hills and mountains. Although it is only 400 or so meters above sea level, it seemed higher. We stopped many times to enjoy beautiful views such as the one above right.

Note: There is a slideshow of all of the images at the bottom of the blog.

Entryway

Entryway to Wat Nantaram

Deva

Celestial being on a pillar

(Click images to see larger version.)

We arrived about mid-day and, after having lunch right next door, we approached the temple compound on foot. Through the gate was a long driveway lined with pillars topped by statues of celestial beings. We lingered a while to take some pictures of these statues.

To the left of the driveway there were a number of Sai trees, popularly known in the U.S. an the cannonball tree, with their lovely blossoms. These trees are often found on temple grounds, for the Buddha was born under a Sai tree, which lowered one of its branches to help support his mother.

The Exterior of the Viharn

Temple Front

Wat Nantaram viharn

Temple Door

The entryway to the viharn

When I first saw the main building, the viharn (sermon hall), it literally took my breath away. It’s a golden teak wood temple in Burmese (Shan) style, with the distinctive roof architecture. It was built in 1925.

In the picture upper left you can see that two singh (mythical lions) flank the entryway as protectors while two (presumably celestial) beings wai (clasp hands in the front) in greeting.

Celestial Greeter

Celestial greeter

Roofs

Some roofs of the temple

It took us awhile to even enter the viharn. First, the two lovely greeters called out for our attention. Then there were the interlocking roofs to admire along with the lovely juxtaposition of the carved wooden scrollwork on the various roofs with the decorated wooden shutters on the windows.

Temple Front

Close-up of the front

Entry Detail

Further detail at the front

We took some time to admire the lovely details of the front, some of which are shown above.

Inside the Viharn

Temple Interior #1

Inside the viharn

Temple Interior #2

Another view of the interior

I found the interior of the viharn to be immensely calm – a sacred space. Dark and somewhat mysterious, there is a feeling of quiet devotion here, of goodness, of peace. There are golden pillars, decorated ceilings and varnished, dark wood floors. The room compels silence and reflection.

Buddha Statue

The main Buddha image

Buddha Statue

Close-up of the Buddha statue

The main Buddha image is very appealing. It portrays a younger Buddha with a luminous smile. (Do click on the image to the right to see a larger version.)

Buddha Statue #2

Another of the Buddha images

Statue Close-up

A close-up of the second Buddha

On the left side of the main Buddha image are two Burmese-style Buddha statues. For some reason the Burmese-style Buddhas are often (always?) white. The statue is resting on a lotus blossom and, like the middle image, has a radiant smile.

2 Buddhas

The statues from the side

Buddha Statue #3

Another Buddha statue

In temples I like to walk around the entire area and look at the statues from all angles.

The picture on the left shows the two Buddha statues mentioned above as photographed from the side.

On the right is another one of the Buddha statues, this one found to the right of the central Buddha statue (as you face the altar).

Temple Ceiling #1

Part of the ceiling

Temple Ceiling #2

Detail of the ceiling

At any temple in Thailand it pays to look everywhere, even at the ceiling. The ceiling at Wat Nantaram is quite elaborate, as these two pictures of separate details show.

Other Buildings at Wat Nantaram

Other Buildings

Other building on the temple grounds

Building Interior

Inside one of the other buildings

We spent quite a bit of time inside the main building (viharn) before exploring the rest of the temple grounds. Above left are two of the other buildings. The picture to the right shows the interior of one of the more interesting remaining buildings.

The altar here has a distinctly Chinese character. It shows three representations of Quanyin, the Goddess of Compassion. In the middle (see picture above right) is a statue of Quanyin in her guise as Avalokiteshvara, a many-armed Bodhisattva personifying perfect compassion and who refrains from entering the bliss of Buddhahood in order to help all beings attain enlightenment. The two flanking statues in back, looking very Chinese, are also representations of Quanyin showing her holding a vase with the dew of compassion.

Many-armed Statue

Close-up of the center statue

Wood Carven

Close-up of a wooden carving

On the left is a close-up of the center statue, Quanyin as Avalokiteshvara with her many arms.

To the right is a close-up of the wooden carvings that surround the room.

This temple is definitely worth a special trip from Nan when you are in the region.


Slideshow of Wat Nantaram

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

Windy Road
View
Entryway
Deva
Flower
Temple Front
Temple Door
Celestial Greeter
Roofs
Temple Front
Entry Detail
Temple Interior #1
Temple Interior #2
Buddha Statue
Buddha Statue
Buddha Statue #2
Statue Close-up
2 Buddhas
Buddha Statue #3
Temple Ceiling #1
Temple Ceiling #2
Other Buildings
Building Interior
Many-armed Statue
Quanyin
Wood Carven

The road to Chiang Kham from Nan is quite windy!

One of many beautiful views on the road from Nan to Chiang Kham

The gate and entry to Wat Nantaram

The entryway is lined with celestial beings on posts

Blossom of a Sai tree, which the Buddha was born under

The viharn at Wat Nantaram

Close-up of the entry door to the viharn at Wat Nantaram

A pair of celestial beings greet you as you enter

The Shan-style roofs of the temple

A close-up of the entryway to Wat Nantaram

Further detail of the front of Wat Nantaram

Inside the viharn at Wat Nantaram

Another view of Inside the viharn at Wat Nantaram

The main Buddha image and altar at the viharn of Wat Nantaram

A close-up of the main Buddha image at the viharn

A Buddha statue to the left of the altar

Close up of the second Buddha image

The two Buddha statues from the side

This Buddha statue was to the right of the altar

The ceiling of the temple is elaborately decorated

This is a detail of part of the ceiling

Two other buildings on the temple grounds

Inside one of the other temple buildings at Wat Nantaram

This many-armed statue is Quanyin in her guise of Avalokiteshvara

One of the flanking statues of Quanyin

A close up of one of the wood carvings that surrounds the room

Windy Road thumbnail
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Deva thumbnail
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Celestial Greeter thumbnail
Roofs thumbnail
Temple Front thumbnail
Entry Detail thumbnail
Temple Interior #1 thumbnail
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Buddha Statue #1 thumbnail
Buddha Statue thumbnail
Buddha Statue #2 thumbnail
Statue Close-up thumbnail
2 Buddhas thumbnail
Buddha Statue #3 thumbnail
Temple Ceiling #1 thumbnail
Temple Ceiling #2 thumbnail
Other Buildings thumbnail
Building Interior thumbnail
Many-armed Statue thumbnail
Quanyin thumbnail
Wood Carving thumbnail

For further exploration:


Written by Michael Babcock, May 2014

Black House (บ้านดำ) Museum in Chiang Rai

April 1st, 2014 by Michael Babcock

In Chiang Rai we visited one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever experienced anywhere. The Baandam Museum – พิพิธภัณฑ์บ้านดำ – บ้าน (baan) meaning “house” and ดำ (dam) meaning “black” – is actually (also) the residence of National Artist Thawan Duchanee. And what a residence it is!


Spoiler alert: When I visited here I had no preconceptions of what I was going to see. The experience was probably much stronger because of that. If you’d prefer an experience unfettered by knowledge, you may want to skip this blog.

Here’s a link to practical details about the museum (hours, location). There’s also a slideshow of images from the museum (with many more images than in the blog).


2 Houses

The front two buildings

The “museum” or “house” is actually a compound with over 40 buildings spread across a wide area. The house of the artist is one of the buildings, one of several not open to the public. The other buildings vary in degree of access: some are open and you can go into them; on others the doors are locked and fettered; others are closed but you can see into the windows; others are covered spaces easily visible and accessible.

(Click images to see a larger version.)

At the entry there are two beautiful buildings: a smaller one in front with a larger one behind, both reminiscent of (echoing? based on?) temples or of buildings you’d see on a temple ground. At this point, I though that these two buildings were the entire museum.

Small Building

Smaller building in front

Wood Carving

Wood carving on the small building

From the very start, encountering the front building, the eye is arrested by details: glorious and detailed wood carvings flanking and on the doors and above the lintel; statues in front; crushed rock enclosing the base of the building; triangular wooden carvings of nagas supporting the upper sides, just as they do at most temples in Thailand.

Carved Door

The front building’s carved door

Carving Detail

Detail of front door carving

To the left is the entryway to the smaller, frontmost building: a carved door  with a fanciful scrollwork of leaves and branches above the door.

To the right we see the carving on the door itself up close: an array of courtiers or celestial beings.

This frontmost building is not open to the public.

The second building, from the outside, could be a viharn, an assembly hall for the laity at a temple, which usually houses the principal Buddha image. It’s plainer on the outside (by comparison to the first building) and has some lovely wooden carvings on the facade. The lower portion is all natural wood.

As you enter the building, the interior is mostly dark, lit only by light through the doors and windows. It is a vast, open space with beams, filled with objects everywhere you look. The architecture of the building may resemble a Thai Buddhist temple but the interior of a temple was never arrayed like this room.

Here’s some of what I saw.

Columns

Columns of wood carvings

Carving Detail

Close up of a carved Garuda

Carved wooden pillars in groups.

(Do click on the pictures to see a larger version with more detail.)

Long Table

The long table

Hornbill

Hornbill head surrounded by feathers

A long table laid with two long snake skins and statues, the table surrounded by large black chairs with legs made from buffalo horns.

A hornbill head mounted in the middle of a circle of peacock feathers.

And more.

This building is just the beginning of Thawan Duchanee’s world.


Exit the back door to the rest of the compound. There are at least 40 other buildings, each one compelling attention in a different way. There are: many temple-like bulidings; open air structures (salas); circular white buildings (which echo certain temple structures as well); a building like a giant whale; an open building with huge drums; skulls lining a building’s perimeter.

Rock Garden

Rock garden in front of a building

Although there was a great deal of black, there was also quite a bit of natural wood in the buildings, with salas and a few white buildings acting as a counterpoint. Very little feels modern here. Rather than plastic or shiny metal (with an exception or two), there is wood (lots of wood), stone and clay tile – materials that call to mind the world of nature.

One of the most striking features for me were the stones. Many buildings are preceded by areas with crushed stone of various sizes, often with other large stones, reminiscent of a Zen rock garden.

Wooden Carving

Wooden carving, scrollwork

And everywhere there are the wooden carvings: lovely, detailed depictions of nagas, devas and courtly figures with exuberant scrollworks of leaves and branches.

With all the differing structures and the differing features there is still a coherency to the compound, the indication of a single vastly creative mind at work, a mind fascinated with natural objects: bones, skulls, snake skins, horns, wood, shells, crocodile skins, rocks and stones.

It was fascinating to wonder through the compound, a bit dreamlike and almost outside of normal time and space – going from structure to structure, first caught by an entire building, then focusing in on a whole carving, then captivated by a detail and then drawn into a further detail.

Statue

Statue guarding the door

There are many temple motifs: nagas on buildings and doors, carvings of celestial beings, here and there a Buddha statue. There also is an erotic component, such as the statue with the stiff phallus guarding a white circular building or in the arrangement of a row of conch shells.

I’ve heard the opinion that the museum is very dark or even “creepy” (because of all the black and the bones, the skulls). I disagree. I found it incredibly life-affirming. The whole of life is arrayed here: the sublime and the earthy, heaven and hell. Always, the natural objects return you to this world.

Entering some of the buildings is like entering a shrine more than a museum. To enter one of the small, white circular buildings you first must pass the phallic guardian. The room is surrounded by chairs made from water buffalo horns resting on animal skins with an animal skin on the seat. Some chairs are interspersed with statues. The center of the room is filled with a huge alligator skin surrounded by hundreds of large shells.

Interior Shot

Inside a small circular building

You tread softly here. There is a stillness that you hesitate to break. You are careful not to change the position of anything: everything is just where it belongs. Why the chairs? What kind of a assemblage would take place here?

Traditionally, round buildings such as this on temple grounds house depictions of Buddhist hell. Certainly, the Thais who visit the room have this context for what is inside. In such a building at a temple there might be statues or paintings depicting the horrors of hell and often a deva or spirit in a chair sitting in judgment: in (some) Buddhist cosmology when you die, you are sent to a place where your entire life is appraised.  In this room there are animal elements (the horn, the animal skins), a strong element of the sea and water (the shells and alligator) and the chairs: perhaps they are an invitation to sit, to examine the totality of one’s life from a different, wider perspective.


Thawan Duchanee was born in Chiang Rai in September 1939, making him 74 years old. There’s a marvelous photograph of the artist here looking like a Taoist sage. He studied both in Thailand and Europe (at the Royal Academy of Visual Arts in Amsterdam).

When he returned to Thailand, he became controversial. According to The Nation, “Thawan developed a unique style of artistry using black and red tones, based on the styles of traditional Buddhist art to explore the darkness lurking within humanity.” (The Nation article on “The 40 Most Internationally Acclaimed Thais”.) The Black House was begun in 1976. He was named a National Artist in 2001.

A blog devoted to him explains his work like this:

He then began to explore and reexamine the insanity, degeneration, violence, eroticism, and death lurking in the heart of modern man as they are involved with religion. Mr. Thawan expressed these concepts with a startling technique utilizing a black tone, drawing from the wellspring of traditional Thai Buddhist art and Buddhist thought.”

                          – Quote from thawanduchanee.blogspot.com.

Some of his exhibits were so controversial that they were attacked.

Talking of his home and the museum, the artist said:

The Black House evokes the past Thai civilization in a contemporary manner. I try to bring the spirit, heart and soul in their life [into the pieces]. (From Time Magazine’s The Dark and the Light Side of Thai Art.)

The Black House Museum contains almost no paintings or drawings: it is composed of buildings, objects and sculptures. The whole compound is a three-dimensional work of art.


I’ve put together a slideshow that details some of my wanderings that day at the Baandam Museum. I hope that some of the numinous nature and sense of wonder comes through, some of the sense of wandering and discovering yet another unique vision. What the slides can not convey is the solidity of the objects, the visceral reaction to bone, shell and skin.

Details about the museum (hours, location) are found after the slideshow.

I’ll close with this quote from the artist, taken as printed (no punctuation or line breaks) from  thawanduchanee.blogspot.com):

Do not seek for understanding, in the temple of mysterious Feel them my friends from heart to heart Do not ask the meaning of the stars in the constellation Smile of the baby in the cradle of mothers Sweet fragrance in the pollens of flowers It is the work of art !

my friends… In the deepest of my mystic mind, come closer to my spirit Listen to my heartbeat, without word


Slideshow of บ้านดำ (Black House)

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

2 Houses
Small Building
Wood Carving
Carved Door
Carving Detail
black-house-06
Columns
black-house-08
black-house-09
black-house-10
Carving Close-up
Long Table
black-house-12
black-house-13
black-house-14a
black-house-14
Hornbill
black-house-16
Wooden Carving
Wooden Carving
black-house-19
black-house-20
black-house-21
black-house-22
black-house-24
Rock Garden
black-house-25
black-house-26
black-house-27
black-house-59
black-house-60
black-house-28
black-house-29
black-house-30
black-house-31
black-house-32
black-house-33
black-house-34
Statue
black-house-36
black-house-37
Interior Shot
black-house-39
black-house-40
black-house-41
black-house-42
black-house-43
black-house-44
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black-house-55
black-house-56
black-house-57
black-house-58
black-house-61
black-house-62
black-house-63

You see these two buildings at the very front of the Black House Museum

This is the smaller building in the front

Carving of a naga on the frontmost building, similar to those found in temples

The entryway to the first building is a carved door flanked by elaborate carved scrollwork

Figures carved on the first building's doorway

An elaborate wood carving, part of the second building

A forest of carved, wooden pillars inside the larger second building

The pillars cry out to be looked at, examined

A naga on one of the carved wooden pillars

Garuda head on one of the wooden columns

Further close-up of the Garuda carving

The long table in the front building

This statue is found on the long table

A close-up of the statute

Interior shot with hornbill sculpture

Fanciful sculpture utilizing a hornbill head encircled by peacock feathers

Close-up of the hornbill sculpture

Another building on the grounds after exiting the front buildings

The wooden scrollwork on the front of the building

One of the nagas guarding a building entry

A different naga at a different building

The roofs of yet another building

A cage with a bird on the compound

Bones and a skull underneath one of the buildings

This building has a stone and rock garden in the front

A close-up of the stone and rock garden

Stone monoliths on the grounds

One of many statues found around the property

A multi-bodied/headed naga, just as you'd find in a temple

Door panel behind the multiple naga

Close-up of a similar panel showing nagas

More carving (with many celestial beings) above a door

Two of the buildings on the compound

One of the artisans at work

This building is reminiscent of a Christian church (on the outside)

It has this elaborate array of items at the door

The inside is surrounded by chairs covered in animal hides

There are three, smaller white circular buildings together

This statue guards the door of one of the small, circular buildings

The interior houses an array of large shells

One of the statues on the surrounding wall

Chairs with animal hides line the walls

The interior of another of the small, white circular buildings

The interior of the 3rd of these buildings

A fanciful building, reminiscent of an exuberant whale

The outside of this sala is lined with skulls

Close-up of one of the skulls,

A bathroom in one of the buildings, perhaps a guesthouse

Another rock and stone garden precedes one of the structures

One of the doors on the structure

The eye focuses in . . .

. . . and keeps going

A "singh" (mythical lion) at the bottom of the carving

A further close-up of the "singh" (mythical lion)

An area with a circle of bones underneath a building

A close-up of the bones

Another edifice with its temple-like roof and its wooden carvings

The carving above the lintel

This sala has rough-hewn tables and chairs

Two favorite motifs: wooden carving and animal skull

Another of the buildings

A statue of Ganesh

On my way out I focused in on this building . . .

. . . housing 3 Buddha statues

Here's a close-up of the two frontmost Buddhas and an end to the slide show

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Details About Black House

Baandam Museum
414 Moo 13 Nanglae
Muang, Chiang Rai, 57100 Thailand
Tel/Fax : (66) 53 – 776 – 333
Mobile: (66) 83 – 336 – 5333
Open Daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed from noon to 1 p.m.)

Leave plenty of time to wander.

Here are two maps:

It is found 1.9 kilometers pas Chiang Rai University by turning left on Soi 13. After nearly half a kilometer turn left note a small soi and you’ll soon see it on the left.

Links to Other Sites


Written by Michael Babcock, April 2014

Coffee in Thailand, Part 3 (The North)

March 15th, 2014 by Michael Babcock

Over the 2+ decades I’ve been visiting Thailand, coffee has become increasingly popular and available. This blog explores a few of the coffee experiences we had early in 2014 when we traveled extensively in the north of Thailand, in Phrae, Pua, Nan and Chiang Rai.

It’s a continuation of two blogs published in April 2013:

General Observations

Caffe Mocha

Caffe Mocha at Phu Coffee in Nan

I see more and more coffee shops or “huts,” as they are frequently named, everywhere in Thailand. Driving through a town, or even just on the highway, there will be a coffee hut. In addition to individual coffee huts, there are many chains: Coffee World, Black Canyon Coffee, Doi Chaang, Amazon, Doi Tung (see below) and more. There are, of course, Starbucks – at over 140 in Thailand.

I did try Starbucks this year, mainly so I could write a bit about it. My advice: don’t go there. I find the coffee so-so and the drinks are larger, weaker and more expensive, costing about the same as in the states. Increasingly many of the coffee places (Amazon, for example) have free wi-fi; at Starbucks the only option was an all-day password for 150 baht – about $5.00. For their prices: it should be free. Doi Chaang is a fairly well-known chain out of Chiang Mai that serves Doi Chaang coffee beans. I was going to try it when I saw a branch at the Krabi airport but it was even more expensive that Starbucks – 100 baht for a latte, which, even accounting for inflated airport prices, was too much. I got a coffee at Black Canyon instead for 20 baht less. (It was good.) Of all the chains, we’ve had pretty good coffee at Amazon.

Sign

Sign for Café Doi Tung at Chatuchak Market

Coffee culture is young and still evolving in Thailand, so often baristas don’t quite have all the details down about the various drinks. At a coffee shop at a temple in Chiang Rai I ordered a cappuccino, typically espresso topped with equal parts steamed and frothed milk. At this shop I was served my first frothless “cappuccino” ever; it was basically coffee blended with sweetened, condensed milk, served after about a 10 minute wait. This was extreme. Usually the drink somewhat resembles what you expect. Although when we were at Pak Meng beach in Trang (down south), Kasma ordered a latte and I ordered an Americano, which is supposed to be a black coffee. When the two drinks came, they looked identical. Kasma asked “Which is the latte?” The waitress looked dumbfounded for a brief time, then put one down in front of Kasma and said: “This can be the latte. They’re the same.” There was one difference: my “Americano” cost 5 baht less.

Coffee counter

Counter at Phu Coffee in Nan

My advice from the first blogs holds: order what you want, don’t be impatient if it takes awhile and enjoy whatever it is you get. Next time, try another place. Consider it a tasting adventure and see yourself as being part of an evolving cultural phenomena.

Traveling in the north, we encountered a number of coffee fields. Coffee is cultivated up north and it’s not unusual to see coffee shops which serve locally grown and roasted beans. At Tha Wang Pha in Nan we sought out some coffee fields and when we saw beans drying in the sun we stopped to see if we could buy some unroasted coffee beans for a friend in the United States. Unfortunately, they would only sell us wholesale quantities so we couldn’t make the purchase.

For the rest of the blog, I’d like to showcase 3 of the places where we had coffee up north, beginning with Phu Coffee in Nan.

Phu Coffee (ภูคอฟฟี่) – Nan

Sign

Sign for Phu Coffee

Coffee Shop

Phu Coffee sitting area

Phu Coffee (and that’s what it sounds like in Thai), is found in the tourist center across from Wat Phumin. There’s a coffee shop out front – Nan Coffee – that wasn’t bad but we preferred Phu Coffee, which is located inside the courtyard and off to one side. Look for the yellow umbrellas.

Coffee Shop

Indoor seating at Phu Coffee

Caffe Latte

Latte and tea at Phu Coffee in Nan

The indoor seating was cozy and comfortable. This was very much a local coffee shop. The beans were local from Doi Phu (Phu mountain) and they also sold coffee beans to take home. Service was quick and efficient and the prices were more than reasonable: hot mocha, cappuccino and latte were only 25 baht while iced drinks were 30 baht.

The coffee was  quite good, and presented very nicely (see the first picture of the blog of the mocha and the picture of the latte above right). The coffee was served in what I think of as traditional Thai style: accompanied by a cup of tea to serve as a chaser after you finish your coffee. The tea was surprisingly good here: it was brewed to order, which is not usually the case at Thai coffee shops.

We came here 3 mornings in a row while staying in Nan. I highly recommend it.

Café Doi Tung (กาแฟดอยตุง) – Doi Tung (& Chatuchak Market)

Sign


Sign for Café Doi Tung

Coffee House

Street view of Café Doi Tung

While we were in Chiang Rai we made an excursion to Doi Tung, perhaps the best known tourist destination in Chiang Rai province, known for the Royal Villa of the late Princess Mother (mother of the current and previous king) and the Mah Fah Luang Garden. When we arrived that morning, we stopped first at Café Doi Tung.

Seating area

Outdoor seating at Café Doi Tung

The seating is outdoor in a covered area and there’s a lovely view of the mountains in the distance. The beans served here are from those mountains (doi means mountain so Doi Tung is Tung mountain) and have been grown as part of the Doi Tung Development project (started by the Princess Mother) since the late 1980s.

The café is a bit more like a coffee house such as is found in the U.S. The drinks are larger – 12 ounces rather than the more prevalent 8 ounce size in Thai coffee places – which was reflected in the price – 75 baht for a latte, 70 baht for a cappuccino, 85 baht for a mocha (more usual prices for the smaller drinks elsewhere are 40 – 45 baht).

Coffee & Brownie

Our coffee and brownie

They also had a substantial array of pastries and sweets (which is not the norm in Thailand), such as coffee cake, carrot cake, layer chocolate cake, green tea cake, macadamia fruit cake, macadamia mocha cake and macadamia nut brownies. We sampled the brownies, which had good flavor (great with the nuts) but could have been a bit moister for my preference. Still, they were very good.

Slush drink

Macadamia Nut Slush

I had a latte and Kasma a mocha. It was excellent coffee and served very efficiently. After spending the day at the various attractions, we returned to the café in the later afternoon and enjoyed a Macadamia Nut Slush: it had lots of cream, some caramel and crushed macadamia nuts. It tasted heavenly: a perfect way to end the day.

The café also sells a number of other items that are produced locally, including roasted coffee beans in three different roasts (light, medium and dark). We purchased a number of items, including macadamia nuts (which they grow), macadamia nut cookies (very good), macadamia nut butter (my, was this good) and a box with 6 pouches of Doi Tung coffee, each one used to make an individual cup of drip coffee.

We enjoyed the coffee so much that we were pleased to learn there are a number of branches in Bangkok. We were very happy to visit the branch at Chatuchak market (on Kamphaeng Pet 2, directly next to the parking lot) later in the trip. Check out the Café Doi Tung Website.

Bomb March Coffee – กาแฟแห่ระเบิด – Long (Phrae Province)

Bomb

The bomb that grabbed our attention

Street view

Another street view of Bomb March Coffee

Driving from Phrae to Sukhothai we drove past a coffee hut with a bomb in front and did a quick u-turn.

Exploding coffee? We had to give this a try!

This, by the way, is a good example of a coffee place pretty much in the middle of nowhere, something you did not see very much even a couple of years ago.

Counter

Counter at Bomb March Coffee

Sitting area

Sitting area at Bomb March Coffee

It was a lovely coffee house named กาแฟแห่ระเบิด, which they translate as Bomb March Coffee.  There was greenery and inviting places to sit, a water feature (water falling through bamboo) and some modern art on the wall. In the background, Christian devotional choral music played (?); this is the only time in my 21 years visiting Thailand I’ve heard such a thing.

Latte

Latte at Bomb March Coffee

Mocha

Mocha at Bomb March Coffee

The coffee was quite good, the barista efficient.

Posters

Information on the walls

Kasma was able to get the story mainly from information on posters and pictures on the walls, which were all in Thai. During World War II Thailand was essentially occupied by the Japanese; Thailand allowed them into the country to prevent bloodshed on her population. There was an important bridge on a main supply route in this area, which the U.S. bombed. Three unexploded bombs were later found in the river and surrounding mud, which the villagers collected. They took the gunpowder out to make into smaller explosives to use for fishing (though another story has the Thai soldiers emptying the bombs first). After some 30 years, in Buddhist year 2516 (1973, Western calendar), the heavy metal bomb casings were cut to make into large bells and, with a great procession, intsalled in 3 of the local temples.

Temple Bell

Once a bomb, now a temple bell

A fascinating history at a fascinating coffee house.

Kasma later found out, by talking to some locals, that the coffee hut had been there for some time and was in danger of closing. After transforming it into Bomb March Coffee, adding the historical information and bomb decor, it has flourished.

We visited the temple Wat Sri On Khom in Long where we saw one of the 3 bombs that were transformed into temple bells.

You can check out Bomb March Coffee’s Facebook Page. Here’s a Map of their location for next time you’re motoring through Phrae province!


Written by Michael Babcock, March, 2014

Fried Foods in Thailand

March 1st, 2014 by Michael Babcock

Fried foods are found all over Thailand – as street food and in restaurants – in great variety and abundance. One of my first impressions traveling in Thailand over 2 decades ago was how skillful Thais are at frying food and how popular fried foods seem to be. This blog looks at and celebrates the Thai frying expertise.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Frying Fish Cakes

Frying Fish Cakes

Fried Foods

Fried foods at market

Thais are very inventive with their frying and it seems that they will fry just about anything: seafood of all kinds (shrimp, fish, squid), meats (pork in many forms, duck, chicken), kanom (bananas, bread, dumplings), appetizers (shrimp and fish cakes) and even leafy vegetables (such as holy basil – bai kaprao). We’ve even come across Fried Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam Tod) while traveling in the northeast. Thais fry foods so well: the foods seldom taste oily or greasy at all. On one of Kasma’s small-group trips to Thailand, one of the tour members went into a MacDonalds in Chiang Mai: his main take-away was how much better the fried foods were there compared to those in the U.S. When a famous Thai chef says that “. . .Thais appear to remain ambivalent about it [deep-frying]. . .” I wonder if we’re talking about the same cuisine and people.

The Thai word for fry is ทอด - tod (pronounced “tawd”), as distinct from ผัด - pad - which means “stir-fry.” ทอด (tod) can refer to food that has been deep-fried or pan-fried. Everything shown in this article was deep-fried.

One only has to walk through a Thai market or anywhere that street food is being made or to look at the menu at most restaurants to realize that Thais love fried foods: you see them everywhere. They even fry leafy green herbs and vegetables. I’ll let the pictures below speak for themselves in celebrating the variety of fried foods that Thais enjoy.

Remember, these are only a few of the fried dishes available in Thailand. (I’ve included them all in a Slideshow of Thai Fried Foods at the bottom of the page.)

Fried Fish

I’ll start with fried fish – one of the most common fried foods. There are at least dozens of different fried fish recipes in Thai cuisine, including many whole fried fish. The first time I had a whole fried fish in Thailand, typically prepared so that it was quite crispy, I loved it: you could eat virtually the entire fish, including fins and most of the bones. The crispy, crunchy feel in the mouth seemed to be an integral part of the whole experience. There was no oily feel at all – the fish might have been broiled crispy. It was quite clear that Thais know their frying.

Fried Whole Fish 1

Fried Lemongrass Fish

Fried Whole Fish 2

Fried Snakehead Fish

I’ve heard many westerners (and 1 Thai) who thought that the typical crispy-fried fish was “over-cooked.” All of the Thais I know would disagree: they love the way the fish is cooked so that it’s crunchy and crispy and they devour nearly the whole plate (only the spine and a few other bones remain) with great gusto and enjoyment. I’ve had too many deep fried dishes in Thailand that were not cooked as crispy as the typical fried whole fish to believe that cooking fish in this manner is anything but a culinary choice based on preference.

The fish shown above left also includes fried lemongrass and fried kaffir lime leaves.

You may enjoy Kasma’s blog on How to Fry a Crispy Fish Thai Style. Scroll down on that page to see a Slideshow of Some Crispy Fried Fish Dishes with a dozen other whole fried fish dishes.

Fish Appetizer

Miang Pla

Turmeric Fried Fish

Turmeric Fried Fish

The picture above left shows a popular appetizer – Miang Pla – Tidbits with Fish Wrapped in a Leaf. Kasma has an entire Thai cookbook (in Thai) of miang – dishes with tidbits – of which the best known is undoubtedly Miang Kam (Tasty Leaf-wrapped Tidbits). This dish is essentially Miang Kam with the addition of fried fish. In Thailand a wild pepper leaf (bai cha plu), not betal leaf, is the leaf of choice; you take a bit of the fish, a little bit of each of the other ingredients, add a dab of sauce and pop the whole thing into your mouth for an explosion of flavors.

Above right we see Turmeric Fried Fish – Pla Tod Kamin – made from small fish that are fried (and eaten) whole. In addition to the fish, chopped garlic and turmeric are crispy fried to be served on top of the fish.

Fried Sour Fish

Fried Sour Fish

Choo Chee Fish

Choo Chee Fish

Although it sometimes seems as if the most popular way to fry fish is as an entire fish, it is also fried in chunks. To the right we see a dish popular in the northeast (in Isan, or Isaan) – Pla Som (Northeastern-style Soured fish). In this recipe, fish is cut into fillets or chunks, mixed together with salt and garlic and left out to ferment until it sours. After this, the fish is crispy fried and served, often with fried garlic or shallots (more fried food!), as shown above. In the dish above right, the chunks of fish are fried and then cooked with a spicy choo chee curry sauce. Delicious.

Fried Fish

Fried fish dish

How much do Thais love fried fish? To the left is a simple dish you’ll come across at just about any Thai market or kao kaeng (rice-curry) shop, such as Raan Nong Pun in between Ayuthaya and Sukhothai on Asian Highway 1. Fish is skinned, butterflied open, salted and partially dried in the sun; it is then fried crispy and eaten with rice. It is cooked crispy and simply like this because people love it this way. Many times when I’ve been eating with a table of Thais, this was the first dish to be devoured.

Fried Fish Curry

Sour (Fried) Fish Curry

Crispy Catfish Salad

Crisped Catfish Salad

Fried fish is also used as an ingredient in soups and curries. To the upper left we see Sour Tamarind Curry with Fish and Vegetable (Kaeng Som Pla). For this dish, taken from Kasma’s Intermediate Thai Cooking Class, #2, fish filets are cut into chunks, deep-fried and then added to the soup. The dish could also be made with smaller, whole-fried fish: on our travels in Thailand we often have a Hot-and-Sour Fish Soup (Tom Yum Pla) made with whole, smaller-sized fried fish.

No survey of Thai fried foods is complete without including Crisped Catfish Salad with Sour Green Mango and Peanuts or Cashews (Yum Pla Doog Foo). For this dish, a whole catfish is grilled until cooked through; it is then torn into shreds and the shreds are deep-fried until crispy and used in a salad, such as the one above right. There is a similar salad that shreds roasted duck and fries it as the basis for a salad. This is not a dish for anyone ambivalent about fried foods. The peanuts (or cashews) in the dish are fried as well.

Pork, Chicken, Duck

Fried Pork Leg

Fried Pork Leg

Fried Pork Ribs

Fried Soured Pork Ribs

To the left above you see one of my very favorite fried foods – Fried Pork Leg (Ka Moo Tod). In this recipe, skin-on pork leg is first stewed with flavorful spices until it is tender; it is then deep-fried to get a caramelized, tasty outside to complement the succulent, tasty inside. It is served with a dipping sauce or two (to the lower left in the above photo) and often with pickled ginger. We now find it all over Thailand, from Korat (as above), to Trang, to Bangkok to Ayuthaya. Sometimes the pork leg is smoked (prior to frying) adding another flavor dimension.

The Northern Fried Soured Pork Ribs (Naem See Krohng) from Chiang Mai pictured above is another widely available fried pork dish. First pork ribs are fermented until sour and then they are deep fried. They are then served with a number of different items: peanuts (often fried, as well), ginger, Thai chillies and shallots. You pop the rib plus the other items of your choice into the mouth and eat them together.

Fried Pork Skin

Fried Pork Skin

Crispy Fried Duck

Crispy Fried Duck

One item that is found in most of the markets is fried pork skin, such as that shown above left, where it is served with a Northern-pork-based dipping sauce – Nam Prik Ong. Another fried pork dish is Crisp-Fried Seasoned Pork (Moo Tod Kreuang Tod), where pork steaks or cutlets are marinated, “breaded”, then fried, then cut into bite-sized pieces and eaten with a dipping sauce. There’s also an Isan dish - Crisp-Fried Northeastern-Style Hot-and-Sour Chopped Pork Patties with Aromatic Herbs and Toasted Rice (Lahb Moo Tod) – with fried pork patties. There’s also fried sour sausage – naem tod – which is shown further on in the blog.

On the right above is Crispy Duck on a Bed of Shrimp Chips and Crisped Greens Served with Spicy Plum and Toasted Sesame Sauce (Ped Lon). This is actually a tri-fecta of deep fried items, with fried shrimp chips and crispy-fried greens in addition to the duck. This picture is taken from Kasma’s Weeklong Advanced Set 2B class (day 5).

Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken

Fried Turmeric Chicken

Fried Turmeric Chicken

Lately I seem to run across Fried Chicken in all of the markets, northern, central or southern. The delicious looking golden-fried chicken above is from outside of the Crystal Pool in Krabi. Most of the street-food chicken is similar in appearance: golden and crispy. Fried chicken in Thailand is some of the best I’ve ever had: one reason is that most of the chicken is deep-fried in palm oil. Also, the taste of the chickens in Thailand is better: when Kasma was developing this recipe for an advanced class, she found that the type of chicken made all the difference – the big-breasted chickens found in American supermarkets just do not fry up as tasty.

In restaurants, you’ll often find fried chicken such as that in the above right picture: Crispy-Fried Turmeric Chicken (Gai Tod Kamin) from Bai Fern Restaurant in Mae Hong Son. After the chicken is fried, the various pieces are chopped into bite-sized pieces and served with a sweet-and-sour chilli sauce, such as that on the plate, and often some accompanying vegetables. You can see that the chicken is crispy on the outside and moist on the inside (click the picture for a larger image).

Vegetables

Thai frying enjoyment and expertise is not limited to the animal kingdom: they also are adept at creating delicious fried vegetables.

Eggplant Salad

Fried Eggplant Salad

Fried Greens Salad

Fried Greens Salad

To the upper left is a salad at Vientiane Kitchen in Bangkok that uses long eggplants fried in batter as the main ingredient: it is quite delicious.

To the right, crispy fried greens (Kasma uses pak boong – morning glory – in her recipe) are pretty much the whole salad with the addition of a tart, sweet and hot pork sauce poured over it (Kasma’s version of this recipe uses shrimp): it is crunchy, spicy and delicious. The fried vegetable does not taste greasy or oily.

Fried Sausage

Fried Sausage in Fried Taro Basket

Taro Fritters

Taro Fritters

The picture on the left shows Fried Sour Sausage (Naem Tod). I’ve included it here under vegetables because the fried sausage is resting in an edible basket made from crispy-fried taro. It’s a fun dish: you get to eat the basket as well as the sausage.

Next to to it on the right we see Crunchy Taro Fritters, Served with Sweet-and-Sour Dipping Sauce (Peuak Tod). In addition to making taro fritters, you often see fried taro chips in the markets; they come in two varieties, sweetened and un-sweetened.

Cha Om Salad

Crispy Fried Cha-Om Salad

Fried Crab

Fried Soft-shell Crab

Is there another cuisine where fried leafy greens or herbs can form such an essential part of a dish? The Crispy Fried Cha-Om Salad (Yum Cha-Om Krob) above left is from A. Mallika Restaurant in Bangkok. Cha-Om is part of the acacia family – see Kasma’s blog: Cha-Om – A Delicious and Nutritious Tropical Acacia. The fried vegetable is topped with a yum-type salad, in this case pork and squid with a sour-salty-sweet-spicy hot sauce.

Holy basil (bai kaprao) is the leafy green I’ve seen crispy-fried most often. Above right it accompanies a Fried Soft-shell Crab dish at our favorite Pranburi restaurant – Sunni’s Restaurant; the soft-shell crabs are deep-fried as well. The same restaurant makes a Stir-Fried Basil Crab (Neua Poo Pad Kaprao) that also uses deep-fried holy basil. Crispy-fried basil is also often served with Fish Cakes (Tod Man) and we’ve also seen it in the Crispy Fried Duck above. I’ve also seen fried kaffir lime leaves on a number of dishes.

Other Fried Ingredients

It’s not enough to have dishes where fried foods are the main attraction: there are also various other fried items that provide an accent or an accompaniment to various Thai dishes.

Bitter Melon Salad

Bitter Melon Salad

Roasted Eggplant Salad

Roasted Eggplant Salad

Fried cashews are found in many salads, such as the Yum Mara (Bitter Melon Salad) above left. They also form the main ingredient of a spicy, limy Cashew Salad (Yum Med Mamuang).

Both salads above feature fried shallots, as do many yum-type salads. It’s hard to describe how delicious this ingredient is: the frying seems to accentuate the sweetness of the shallots. Yummy.

The Eggplant Salad above also uses crispy fried shallots.

Crispy Rice Salad

Crispy Rice & Sour Sausage Salad

Fried Fish

Fried Fish with Fried Chillies

Fried peanuts are an ingredient that frequently accompanies certain dishes, such as fried naem sausage or ribs, where it is eaten with the sausage (along with ginger and Thai chillies). Above left we see them with the Crispy Rice & Sour Sausage Salad  (Yum Naem Kao Tod) from Ton Kreuang Restaurant in Bangkok; the base of the salad is cooked rice, which is mixed with various ingredients, including a chilli paste, formed into rounded balls and deep fried until the outside is brown and crispy.

Both of the above pictures feature fried dried red chillies. You are meant to bite off a bit of the fried chilli to go with some of the salad or fish: it provides added heat, flavor and texture.

Dried chillies, in the form of dried red pepper flakes, are also fried in oil along with a bit of salt to make a chilli-oil that is served with Kao SoiNorthern Style Curry Noodles.

Street Food

Fried foods are found at pretty much every open-air market or street-food scene in Thailand. You’ll typically find many woks bubbling away with oil.

Fried Dough

Fried Dough

Fried Rice Snacks

Fried Rice Cake Snacks

Fried Dough, such as that above left from the Sukhothai Market is fairly common, particularly in the morning at breakfast time.

Fried Rice Cakes such as the ones above right from the Sunday market in Nakhon Si Thammarat are also fairly common. The swirls most visible on the green rice cakes (they are green from pandanas leaf – bai toey) is palm sugar, to add a bit of sweetness. (The purple color on the other rice cakes comes from butterfly pea flower.)

Fried Shrimp

Fried Shrimp

Fried Fish Skin

Fried Fish Skin

Another common market food consists of small, fried shrimp  in batter, such as the picture above left from the Takua Pa Market.

Fried Fish Skin, such as that shown above right, is one of the tastiest fried snacks. Click on the picture  from the  market at Wat Yai Chaimongkhon in Ayuthaya – in the larger version you’ll see that there are several different kinds of fried fish skin, varying in size and texture. The fried fish skin is sold with one or two different dipping sauces as accompaniments. Kasma always buys a few varieties for her tour-group members to taste: often skeptical at first (“You want us to eat fish skin?!”), they usually eat up everything she buys.

Fried Insects

Fried insects

Fried Naem Sausage

Fried Naem Sour Sausage

I was somewhat surprised the first time I tried fried insects: they are actually pretty tasty. In much of the world, insects are a legitimate food; after all, they contain fair amounts of protein and fat. The variety of insects shown to the left are from the market at Nakhon Pathom and as you can see (click on the image for a larger version) there are many different varieties: all fried.

I’m including the Fried Naem Sausage (seen above right) here, though this picture is from the restaurant Kaeng Ron Baan Suan in Chiang Mai, because it is often found as a street food. You select any of the other items on the plate (chilli, ginger, fried peanuts, cabbage) and pop them in your mouth with a piece of sausage. When you buy it on the street, you get a log bamboo stick, which you use to spear a sausage bite, with the accoutrements in an accompanying plastic bag.

Appetizers

In the fried fish section above, the dish Miang Pla is often served as an appetizer; also the Fried Naem Sour Sausage directly above.

Fish Cakes

Fried Fish Cakes

Shrimp Cakes

Fried Shrimp Cakes

If I was told that Fried Fish cakes (Tod Man Pla) are the most popular appetizer in Thailand, I would not be surprised. You see them everywhere: in nearly every market (I could have included this is the Street Food section above) and in many restaurants. These are nearly always served with the sweet dipping sauce shown in the picture above left and a cucumber relish/salad, which is not pictured. This photo was taken at Don Wai Market in Nakhon Pathom province; The very first picture in this blog shows a young woman frying these fish cakes at the same market.

The second photo (to the right) shows another type of Tod Man, which is fried after being “breaded.” It is Tod Man Goong – Fried Shrimp Cakes – from the restaurant at Koh Poda in Krabi province. These are served with just a sweet dipping sauce.

Tod Man is characterized by a rather “bouncy” texture.

Fried Noodles

Glazed Crispy Noodles

Shrimp Toast

Fried Shrimp Toast

The above left picture shows Glazed Crispy Noodles – Mee Krob – from Kasma’s First Intermediate Thai Cooking Class. Thin rice sticks (a type of noodle – sen mee in Thai) are fried until golden and crispy at the edges and then crumbled in a bowl and coated with a sweet sauce (also slightly sour and salty). It is typically served with egg shreds, slivered red chillies, bean sprouts, garlic chives or green onions, to help cut any oiliness left on the noodles. In restaurants this dish is often too sweet for my taste.

The second picture shows Crispy Shrimp Toast, Served with Cucumber Relish – Kanom Pang Na Goong – from Trang. In this recipe, a shrimp mixture made from ground shrimp, more like a paste really, is spread over bread and then deep-fried until brown. Kasma’s version uses both shrimp and crab and is served with a sweet-and-sour plum sauce; in the version above right, it is served with a slightly sweet cucumber relish. There’s also Crispy Pork Toast and Crispy Crab Toast.

Fried Won Ton

Fried Won Ton

Fish Sausage

Fried Fish Sausage

Another appetizer, above left, from Ubon Ratchathani, is Crispy Fried Won Ton. I include it here even though won ton are really more Chinese than Thai.

I’ve included the second picture because I love the presentation. it shows Deep-fried Fish Sausage presented in-between the (fried) fish head and tail; it comes with the sour/spicy dipping sauce shown on the plate to the upper right. We had this at the restaurant Kai Mook in Mae Hong Son.

Desserts

Fried Bananas

Fried Bananas

Fried Peanut Crunch

Fried Peanut Crunch

Fried Bananas – Kluay Tod – are one of the most common street foods. It is also a fairly common dessert in restaurants. The picture above left actually is from the Mae Sa Resort above Chiang Mai: it’s a bit puffier than most of its street-food variety counterparts. You’ll also find fried banana chips in nearly any market or kanom shop.

The second picture is from a  market at Wat Yai Chaimongkhon in Ayuthaya. It shows Fried Peanut Crunch (Tua Tod Paen), a tasty fried kanom that you’ll see in some of the markets around the country. They are slightly sweet (not overly so), crunchy and tasty.


Slideshow of Thai Fried Foods

As you watch this, reflect on the fact that you are seeing a fraction of the fried dishes available in Thailand.

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

Fried Foods
Fried Whole Fish 1
Fried Whole Fish 2
Fish Appetizer
Turmeric Fried Fish
Fried Sour Fish
Choo Chee Fish
Fried Fish
Fried Fish Curry
Crispy Catfish Salad
Fried Pork Leg
Fried Pork Ribs
Fried Pork Skin
Crispy Fried Duck
Fried Chicken
Fried Turmeric Chicken
Fried Eggplant Salad
Fried Greens Salad
Fried Sausage
Taro Fritters
Cha Om Salad
Fried Crab
Bitter Melon Salad
Roasted Eggplant Salad
Crispy Rice Salad
Fried Fish
Fried Dough
Fried Rice Cake Snacks
Fried Shrimp
Fried Fish Skin
Fried Insects
Fried Naem Sausage
Fish Cakes
Shrimp Cakes
Fried Noodles
Shrimp Toast
Fried Won Ton
Fish Sausage
Fried Bananas
Fried Peanut Crunch

Fried shrimp and chicken at Worarat market in Chiang Mai

Fried Lemongrass Fish from Chiang Mai

Fried Snakehead Fish at Bai Fern Restaurant in Mae Hong Son

A fish appetizer - Miang Pla - from Vientiane Kitchen in Bangkok

Turmeric Fried Fish - Pla Tod Kamin - served with crispy-fried garlic and turmeric

Fried Sour Fish - Pla Som Tod - from Nong Kai

Fried Choo Chee Fish from Sukhothai

Fish, salted, partially sun-dried and then fried

Sour Tamarind Curry with (Fried) Fish and Vegetable (Kaeng Som Pla)

Crisped Catfish Salad with Sour Green Mango and Peanuts (Yam Pla Doog Foo)

Fried Pork Leg (Ka Moo Tod) from Korat

Northern Fried Soured Pork Ribs (Naem See Krohng)

Fried Pork Skin with Dipping Sauce

Crispy Duck on a Bed of Shrimp Chips and Crisped Greens (Ped Lon)

Fried Chicken - Gai Tod - from the Crystal Pool in Krabi

Fried Turmeric Chicken - Gai Tod Kamin - from Bai Fern in Mae Hong Son

(Fried) Eggplant Salad - Yam Makeua Yao - at Vientiane Kitchen in Bangkok

Fried Greens Salad at Kao Mook Restaurant in Mae Hong Son

Fried Naem Sour Sausage Slices in Crispy Taro Basket (Naem Tod)

Crunchy Taro Fritters Served with Sweet-and-Sour Dipping Sauce (Peuak Tod)

Crispy Fried Cha-Om Salad (Yum Cha-Om Krob)

Fried Soft-shell Crab with Fried Greens

Bitter Melon Salad - Yum Mara - with fried shallots & cashews

Roasted Eggplant Salad (Yum Makeua Yao)

Crispy Rice & Sour Sausage Salad (Yum Naem Kao Tod)

Crispy Fried Fish with Roasted Chilli Sauce

Frying Dough Balls in Sukhothai

Fried Rice Cake Snacks in Nakhon Si Thammarat

Fried Shrimp in Batter from Takua Pa

Fried Fish Skin in Ayuthaya

Fried insects at the market in Nakhon Pathom

Fried Naem Sour Sausage Slices (Naem Tawd)

Fried Fish Cakes - Tod Man Pla - at Don Wai Market

Fried Shrimp Cakes - Tod Man Goong - on Koh Poda in Krabi

Glazed Crispy Noodles - Mee Krob - from Kasma's Intermediate Thai Cooking Class

Crispy Shrimp Toast - Kanom Pang Na Goong - from Trang

Fried Won Ton with a sweet sauce from a restaurant in Ubon Ratchathani

Fried Fish Sausage from Kai Mook Restaurant in Mae Hong Son

Fried Bananas - Kluay Tod - from Mae Sa Resort

Fried Peanut Crunch (Tua Tod Paen)

Fried Foods thumbnail
Fried Whole Fish 1 thumbnail
Fried Whole Fish 2 thumbnail
Fish Appetizer thumbnail
Turmeric Fried Fish thumbnail
Fried Sour Fish thumbnail
Choo Chee Fish thumbnail
Fried Fish thumbnail
Fried Fish Curry thumbnail
Crispy Catfish Salad thumbnail
Fried Pork Leg thumbnail
Fried Pork Ribs thumbnail
Fried Pork Skin thumbnail
Crispy Fried Duck thumbnail
Fried Chicken thumbnail
Fried Turmeric Chicken thumbnail
Fried Eggplant Salad thumbnail
Fried Greens Salad thumbnail
Fried Sausage thumbnail
Taro Fritters thumbnail
Cha Om Salad thumbnail
Fried Crab thumbnail
Bitter Melon Salad thumbnail
Roasted Eggplant Salad thumbnail
Crispy Rice Salad thumbnail
Fried Fish thumbnail
Fried Dough thumbnail
Fried Rice Cake Snacks thumbnail
Fried Shrimp thumbnail
Fried Fish Skin thumbnail
Fried Insects thumbnail
Fried Naem Sausage thumbnail
Fish Cakes thumbnail
Shrimp Cakes thumbnail
Fried Noodles thumbnail
Shrimp Toast thumbnail
Fried Won Ton thumbnail
Fish Sausage thumbnail
Fried Bananas thumbnail
Fried Peanut Crunch thumbnail

Written by Michael Babcock, January 2014. The views of this blog are those of the author only. Any errors are his alone.

Vientiane Kitchen Restaurant in Bangkok

February 14th, 2014 by Michael Babcock

Vientiane Kitchen is a popular Laotian restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 36 in Bangkok. Its popularity is well-deserved. It is the “go-to” restaurant for the farewell feasts for Kasma’s small-group-trips to Thailand: we go for the food and for the entertainment.

Thai Dancers

Thai Dancers

We have often been disappointed by restaurants that the popular English guidebooks recommend – often the food disappoints. Vientiane Kitchen is (usually) one of the exceptions: the food is quite good, most of the time. In addition to the food, they have a lively show every night consisting of a northeastern Thai band with a very talented lead singer. In addition to the northeastern music, with the occasional American or Japanese song, there are also Thai dancers, and a woman singer as well. They’ve been quite good for the past 4 years.

(Click images to see larger version.)

The restaurant is popular with tourists, both western and Japanese, and can get quite crowded. Also, when the entertainment is on, do not expect to have intimate, quiet conversations – it can get very raucous and noisy. Still, it’s good fun if you’re in the right mood.

The Food

We’ve mostly had good luck with the food – we have a number of favorite dishes. The caveat here is that the quality can vary somewhat (different cooks?). Mostly the food is very good; on occasion, we’ve found it a bit off – still acceptable, though.  They do a number of dishes really, really well. Here’s another caveat: I’ve only gone with Kasma, who can order in Thai and impress upon them that we want the same food that the staff would eat – real Thai food. I don’t know if the experience would be different for westerners who can’t speak Thai.

These dishes were all photographed at the final feast for various of Kasma’s small-group tours to Thailand. Typically, she would order 6 or 7 dishes at a time, so she wouldn’t order all of these at one meal.

Fish Dish

Miang Pla

Grilled Pork

Grilled Pork

These are a couple dishes that Kasma often orders to get us started. Above left is Miang Pla – Tidbits with Fish Wrapped in a Leaf. There are a large number of miang – dishes with tidbits – in Thai cuisine; undoubtedly Miang Kam (Tasty Leaf-wrapped Tidbits) is the best known. Miang Pla is sort of like Miang Kam with the addition of fried fish. A wild pepper leaf (bai cha plu) is the leaf of choice; you take a bit of the fish, a little bit of each of the other ingredients, add a dab of sauce and pop the whole thing into your mouth for an explosion of flavors.

To the above right is Grilled Pork with a delicious, fiery dipping sauce. Both of them do a very good job of getting the appetite going.

Fried Pork Leg

Fried Pork Leg

Sour Fish

Sour Fish

Above are two of my very favorite dishes. I could very happily make an entire meal of either of these dishes. To the upper left is Fried Pork Leg – Ka Moo Tod; the pork leg, with skin on, is stewed with spices until tender, then smoked and then crispy fried so that the fat caramelizes. It’s served with a dipping sauce and with pickled ginger. So good.

To the above right is a definite northeastern specialty – Pla Som (Sour Fish). To make this, fish is mixed with garlic, rice and salt and then left to ferment for a few days until nicely sour. It’s then deep-fried and served with crispy-fried garlic. It’s a very tasty dish and must be fried so: they usually do a good job at Vientiane Kitchen. (Check out Kasma’s blog: In Search of the Best Sour Fish (Pla Som).)

Eggplant Salad

Eggplant Salad

Green Papaya Salad

Green Papaya Salad

Kasma always orders the Eggplant Salad (Yum Makeua Yao) shown above left. The eggplant is fried (much like tempura) as a base for the salad – it’s an interesting and delicious variation on the more standard version

To the right is the best-known of the northeastern salads – Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam); it’s hard NOT to order Som Tam at a northeastern restaurant. When I was traveling with Kasma in Isaan (northeastern Thailand), I learned not to order som tam made spicy: in Isan they have a much hotter spice scale than I’m used to and their standard “less-spicy” som tam was still incendiary enough for me!

Thai Soup

Hot-and-Sour Rib Soup

Vegetable Dish

Stir-fried Morning Glory

Above left is a spicy hot Hot-and-Sour Soup made with pork ribs. Very tasty. To the right we see “Red-Flamed” Morning Glory (Pak Boong Fai Daeng), one of the most popular Thai vegetable dishes.

Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken

Rice Salad

Rice Salad

Here are another two good dishes. To the above left is Fried Chicken (Gai Tod) and to the left is a northeastern salad – Crispy Rice and Sour Sausage Salad (Yum Naem Kao Tod).

Entertainment

Thai Musician

Thai musician

Thai Singer

Thai Singer

We do enjoy the entertainment at Vientiane Kitchen, which starts at 7:30 p.m. and is usually over around 10:00 p.m.: they put on a good show. For the last several years there’s been a very talented musician (shown above left playing a xylophone-like Thai instrument) who is also the lead singer of the house band; he’s been backed by a number of other musicians with various instruments, including a guitar-like instrument with 4 strings, probably indigenous to the northeast, and also a bamboo flute that resembles circular Pan pipes. In addition to the traditional northeastern music, they’ll branch out into western and Japanese songs at the audience’s request. There’s also a woman singer, shown above right between two of the dancers.

Thai Dancers

Thai Dancers

Two Dancers

Two Thai Dancers

Here are two pictures of the dancers. In the course of an evening they’ll do several dances, including the bamboo pole dance pictured at the very top of the page. Some of the entertainment is participatory – audience members are invited up on the stage to dance along.


See also:

Location

Vientiane Kitchen
8 Soi Sukhumvit 36, Sukhumvit Rd.,
Khlong Toei Nuea, Watthana,
Bangkok 10110
Phone: 02 258 6171
Vientiane Kitchen Map
Vientiane Kitchen Facebook Page


Written by Michael Babcock, February 2014

 

Some Or Tor Kor Favorites

February 1st, 2014 by Michael Babcock

ตลาด อ.ต.ก. – Talat Or Tor Kor – (Or Tor Kor (pronounced Aw Taw Kaw) Market) in Bangkok has long been one of my favorite markets. It has a tremendous variety to offer, including fresh foods (produce and meats) and prepared foods (both to go and for eating at the market), with everything enticingly displayed. Whenever I’m in Thailand I’ll get there at least two or three times to graze the market and to purchase items to enjoy at home (Thai home, that is). In this blog, I highlight a few (only a few, alas) of my favorite stalls.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Passion Fruit Juice – Stall 10/9

On the frontmost row of the market, just at an intersection, is a stall that has various bottled drinks for sale. My favorite is the fresh passion fruit juice – น้ำเสาวรส (nam sao rot). A beautiful golden color, it is 100% passion fruit; it tastes slightly sour and very refreshing and best drunk straight (no water added or ice). I’ll always get one to drink with lunch and a few to take home and savor over the next few days. It’s the best passion fruit juice I’ve had in Thailand, and I’ve tried quite a few.

Fresh Drinks Stall

Fresh Drinks Stall

Fresh Drinks

Fresh Drinks

The tangerine juice (“orange Juice” – naam som) is also delicious (it’s also easy to find elsewhere), as is the enticingly green pennywort juice. I can’t answer for the sweet corn or carrot, however. Other juices that they sell include guava, sugar cane and lemongrass. They also have chrysanthemum tea and 10 herbals Chinese tea. They have a second stall in the market at stall 8/31.

Northern Food – Stall 10/16

Directly adjacent to the juice stall (10/9) as you head up the intersection (perpendicular to the long aisle in front) is a stall where we pick some items to take home.

Northern Food Stall

Northern Food Stall

Fresh Drinks

Northern Foods

We might pick up some of the items that are ready to eat: such as the dipping sauces Nam Prik Nuum or Nam Prik Ong along with some fried pork skin. We almost always pick up a couple items to take back to our townhouse to heat up or cook there:

Hunglay Pork Curry

Hunglay Pork Curry

Sour Fish

Sour Fish

To the left above we see one of my favorite curries (it’s among my Current Top Ten Favorite Dishes – Hunglay Curry – Kaeng Hunglay. The second item requires having your own kitchen so that you can fry it up: it’s the Sour Fish – Pla Som – pictured above right. (Check out Kasma’s blog: In Search of the Best Sour Fish (Pla Som).)

Egg Custards – (No Number)

Egg Custard Stall

Egg Custard Stall

Egg Custard

Egg Custard

This stall has recently moved (from 11/11). As you continue from stalls 10/9 and 10/16 on the intersecting aisle, you’ll come right away  to Miss Muay. The item to buy here is the egg custard: I often devour one on the spot. The pastry is flakey and delicious (though it could be a little thinner) and the filling creamy and sweet but not too sweet. Delicious! They are best warm. Some of the other items they sell are various “pies” (more like an individual pasty – tuna, spinach cheese, sausage and chicken), cheese cake, custard caramel, pudding and cake. I tried the cheese cake and found it a bit dry in texture.

Pad Thai and Mussel Cakes- Stall 11/40

Towards the back corner closest to the parking lot is an area where you can order all kinds of food cooked to order: it’s basically a food center area such as you’d find in any mall but without the tokens. You can order whatever you’d like and sit in the shared seating area. Be warned: at lunch time, especially on weekends, it can be hard to find an empty table.

Pad Thai Stall

Pad Thai Stall

I’m not a real fan of Pad Thai, though it seems to be the favorite of so many fahrangs (westerners) – to my taste buds there are so many other more interesting noodle dishes. (Check out my blog on Thai Noodles – An Amazing Variety.) This stall in Or Tor Kor is the one place in Thailand that I will often order Pad Thai. I love the presentation: rather than cooking the dish with egg shreds, as is more usual, here it is served inside of the egg – a Pad Thai omelette, if you will. It tastes good and the owners of the stall are always friendly and welcoming, which helps.

I’ll also order another dish here – Pan-Fried Mussel Cakes with Wilted Bean Sprouts and Hot-Sour Chilli Sauce (Hoi Malaeng Poo Tod) – it’s what she is cooking in the photo to the left).

(See my blog Pad Thai at Aw Taw Kaw Market.)

Pad Thai

Pad Thai

Mussel Cakes

Mussel Cakes

Above left is the Pad Thai. The Fried Mussel Cakes are above right.

Delicious Pad Kaprao- Stall 12/19

Basil Duck Stall

Basil Roast Duck Stall

Basil Duck

Basil Roast Duck

This is the dish I order the most at Or Tor Kor – it is Roast Duck Stir-fried with Holy Basil – Kaprao Ped Yang; on the sign in the picture to the left, it’s on the top line in the middle – กระเพราเป็ดย่าง (click for a larger version). It is your typical pad kaprao (stir-fried with holy basil) dish made with roast duck and served over rice. It is as delicious as it looks in the picture here.

Dried Fruits – Stall 5/24

Dried Goods Stall

Dried Goods Stall

I can’t resist adding one more stall, since I nearly always make a purchase here of dried jackfruit chips. This stall is at the very front of the market, perpendicular to the longer aisles. Although they have dried fruit and nuts of many varieties here, my favorite is the dried jackfruit chips. Another item I’ll get is the roasted cashew nuts with sugared sesame seeds, which are mildly addicting.


I could keep going: a roast pork stall, one of the stalls to buy durian, the stall where I get Tod Man (Fish Cakes), the stall with GABA rice, etc. I’m going to stop here and suggest that the next time you’re in Bangkok, head out to Or Tor Kor and find your own favorites!

Also, check out my previous blog Aw Taw Kaw (Or Tor Kor) Market in Bangkok

Getting to Or Tor Kor

Or Tor Kor Market is located on Kamphaengphet Road – Th Kamphaengphet. The easiest way to get there by public transport is take the metro (MRT) and get off at Kamphaeng Phet exit 3. The Saphan Khwai Skytrain (N7) is also located roughly 0.3 Kilometres away.


Written by Michael Babcock, February 2014