Home   Blog   Classes   Trips   More   back

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Black House (บ้านดำ) Museum in Chiang Rai

Michael Babcock, Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

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
black-house-45
black-house-46
black-house-47
black-house-48
black-house-49
black-house-50
black-house-51
black-house-52
black-house-53
black-house-54
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

2 Houses thumbnail
Small Building thumbnail
Wood Carving thumbnail
Carved Door thumbnail
Carving Detail thumbnail
black-house-06 thumbnail
Columns thumbnail
black-house-08 thumbnail
black-house-09 thumbnail
black-house-10 thumbnail
Carving Close-up thumbnail
Long Table thumbnail
black-house-12 thumbnail
black-house-13 thumbnail
black-house-14a thumbnail
black-house-14 thumbnail
Hornbill thumbnail
black-house-16 thumbnail
Wooden Carving thumbnail
Wooden Carving thumbnail
black-house-19 thumbnail
black-house-20 thumbnail
black-house-21 thumbnail
black-house-22 thumbnail
black-house-24 thumbnail
Rock Garden thumbnail
black-house-25 thumbnail
black-house-26 thumbnail
black-house-27 thumbnail
black-house-59 thumbnail
black-house-60 thumbnail
black-house-28 thumbnail
black-house-29 thumbnail
black-house-30 thumbnail
black-house-31 thumbnail
black-house-32 thumbnail
black-house-33 thumbnail
black-house-34 thumbnail
Statue thumbnail
black-house-36 thumbnail
black-house-37 thumbnail
Interior Shot thumbnail
black-house-39 thumbnail
black-house-40 thumbnail
black-house-41 thumbnail
black-house-42 thumbnail
black-house-43 thumbnail
black-house-44 thumbnail
black-house-45 thumbnail
black-house-46 thumbnail
black-house-47 thumbnail
black-house-48 thumbnail
black-house-49 thumbnail
black-house-50 thumbnail
black-house-51 thumbnail
black-house-52 thumbnail
black-house-53 thumbnail
black-house-54 thumbnail
black-house-55 thumbnail
black-house-56 thumbnail
black-house-57 thumbnail
black-house-58 thumbnail
black-house-61 thumbnail
black-house-62 thumbnail
black-house-63 thumbnail

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)

Michael Babcock, Saturday, March 15th, 2014

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 and continued in January 2015:

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 (pronounced “poo” 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. All of their coffee is grown locally.

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

Vientiane Kitchen Restaurant in Bangkok

Michael Babcock, Friday, February 14th, 2014

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

Michael Babcock, Saturday, February 1st, 2014

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

Shanghai Xiao Long Pao Restaurant in Bangkok

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Shanghai Xiao Long Pao is a restaurant found on the 3rd floor at MBK Center in Bangkok. We first ate here when it was called Shanghai Happiness. Originally we thought the food was excellent but in December 2012 we ate there after the name change and were disappointed. In December 2013 we tried it again and were pleased.

Here’s our previous blog on the restaurant: Shanghai Dumplings in Thailand.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Xiao Long Pao

Xiao Long Pao

Naturally, our main reason for eating here is to get the Shanghai Dumplings – Xiao Long Pao. We were pleasantly surprised by the dumplings this visit. Although I would not put them in the transcendental category, they were quite good. The dough was not too thick, reasonably pleasant looking in appearance and acceptable tasting (if just a bit soggy). The filling itself was quite flavorful. There was some broth that squirted out when we bit into the dumpling, though I would have liked a bit more; one of the dumplings was broken so had no broth at all – it should not have been served. I thought the accompanying dipping sauce, a flavorful combination including black vinegar and chopped ginger, was excellent. All in all, a good Xiao Long Pao – I’d give it 7 on a scale of 1 to 10.

When we first went in May 2011 (see previous blog), the dumplings were excellent. In December 2012, not very good at all. This time, in December 2013, they were again pretty good. I give a caveat  that the quality here seems to vary; hope that you get here on a good day!

I was sorry to see that some of our old favorites were: no longer on the menu, particularly the Pan Fried Ham and Onion Cake, which was quite good.

Braised Pork

Braised Pork

Chinese Kale

Chinese Kale

We very nearly always get a pork belly dish here. This time we got Braised Pork and Bamboo Shoots with Brown Sauce (shown above left). The pork belly is sliced thin (a bit too thin, I think) but it’s all there, including the (yummy) fatty portions. The sauce is tasty and the bamboo shoots are a nice complement.

Kasma was hungry for vegetables so we got the Chinese Kale with Spicy Minced Pork Sauce (shown above right). This may have been my favorite dish: the sauce was very flavorful and just a bit spicy.

Seaweed Rice

Chinese Seaweed Rice

Taro Dessert

Taro in Coconut Milk Dessert

Alas, with just two of us eating, we were unable to order too many dishes. In addition to the 3 above, we ordered a bowl of “Chinese Seaweed Rice” (above left). This is the rice they serve with their “Chicken Rice.” It’s made a bit like a risotto, with plenty of delicious, healthy chicken fat. It’s very good.

We finished up with a dessert, Taro Balls in Coconut Milk (Bua Loi Peuak). A nice, not-too-sweet way to end the meal.


All in all, I hope to eat here again. I’d like to confirm that the Shanghai Dumplings remain good and try a few other dishes on the menu to see how good they are. I would give the restaurant a qualified recommendation at this point, pending further visits.


Restaurant Logo

Restaurant Logo

Restaurant Sign

Restaurant Sign

Look for these two signs on the outside of the restaurant. Also, check out our previous blog for more pictures of the outside as well as some of the inside, which remains unchanged since that original blog.


All of this blog pertains to the Shanghai Xiao Long Pao restaurant at MBK Center at 444 Phayathai Rd., Patumwan, Bangkok. MBK is pretty easy to get to since it’s within walking distance of the National Stadium skytrain station. The restaurant is found on the third floor in the Tokyu zone.


Written by Michael Babcock, January 2014

Kaeng Ron Baan Suan – A Chiang Mai Restaurant

Michael Babcock, Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Perhaps my favorite restaurant in Chiang Mai is ร้านอาหารแกงร้อนบ้านสวน – Raan Ahaan Kaeng Ron Baan Suan – meaning, literally, “hot curry garden house restaurant;” it’s usually referred to as Kaeng Ron Baan Suan. According to their website, it features “Delectable Northern and Thai Cuisine in a Traditional Lanna Garden” and the food is very delectable indeed! They have a number of Northern specialties that make it well worth a visit.

Restaurant Front

Entrance to Kaeng Ron Baan Suan

Restaurant Sign

Sign for Kaeng Ron Baan Suan

(Click images to see larger version.)

To the upper left is a photo of the entry into the restaurant. The picture on the right shows the restaurant sign – แกงร้อนบ้านสวน (Kaeng Ron Baan Suan). You can find the restaurant location below.

Restaurant Interior

Eating in the garden

Restaurant Server

Our server

The seating area is, indeed, in a nice garden setting (shown to the left). To the right is our server on one of Kasma’s recent small group trips to Thailand; Kasma takes two of her trips here for a lunch-time feast with some of the delectable northern dishes that the restaurant is known for.

If you’d like, you can go directly to a slideshow of some of our favorite dishes at the bottom of the page.

Of course, the main reason for coming here is the food, which is spectacular.

Dipping Sauces

Platter with sauces

Fried Naem Sausage

Fried Naem Sour Sausage

Kasma always begins with at least one of the two dishes above. At the upper left is a platter with various vegetables, meats and pork skin that will be eaten with the sauces on the platter. The right-most sauce in Nam Prik Nuum – a very spicy, young green chilli sauce. The left sauce is Nam Prik Ong – a pork-based sauce.

Kasma also finds it hard to pass up the dish on the upper right – Fried Naem Sour Sausage Slices (Naem Tod). To eat this dish, you pop a piece of the fried sour sausage into your mouth along with some or all of the accompanying items of your choice: fried peanuts, ginger, a bite of Thai chillie (hot!) and/or some cabbage.

Naem is something you really should try when in Northern Thailand. Check out Kasma’s blog Don’t Miss Naem Sour Sausage When Visiting Northern Thailand. Naem is often served “raw” (it is a fermented product) so Kasma prefers to order it in this form where it is cooked from the deep-frying.

Hunglay Curry

Hunglay Curry

Sticky Rice

Sticky Rice

The dish on the left is another “must-order” dish (there are so many here!) – one of my top ten favorite Thai dishes: It is Northern Hunglay Pork Curry (Kaeng Hunglay), a flavorful pork curry made with rich, fatty pork – so delicious. At this meal, Kasma always orders sticky rice served in a traditional fashion: each person (or pair) gets an individual basket with the sticky rice, which is eaten with the fingers.

Fried Chicken

Fried Chicken

Green Papaya Salad

Green Papaya Salad

Two other favorites above. The first dish is “Garden House” Crispy Fried Chicken (Gai Tod Baan Suan) – their own particularly delicious version of fried chicken. The other dish is, of course, Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam).

Fruit Salad

Fruit Salad

Charcoal-Grilled Catfish

Charcoal-Grilled Catfish

Two more great dishes. On the upper left is another of my current top ten Thai dishes: Thai-Style Hot-and-Sour Mixed Fruit Salad (Tam Ponlamai). I first had this scrumptious salad here at Kaeng Ron Baan Suan. It looks like a fairly innocuous fruit salad but nothing can really prepare you for the combination of sour/hot-spicy (from chillies)/garlicky explosion of flavors in your mouth: in combination with the fruit it is extraordinary.

The second dish, especially tasty here, is often found as a street food: Charcoal-Grilled Catfish, “Sweet Fish Sauce” and Neem Leaves (Sadao Nam Pla Wan Pla Doog Yang). The neem leaves have an extremely bitter taste by themselves; however, in combination with the succulent grilled catfish and the sweet dipping sauce they add an exciting taste and texture to the dish. I don’t know of anything quite like this in western cuisine.

Eggplant Dish

Stir-fried Eggplant

Curry Dish

Northern Spicy Curry

Two more dishes that Kasma orders here. To the upper right is Long Eggplant Stir-fried with Holy Basil (Makeua Yao Pad Kaprao). On the right is Northern Spicy Curry with Vegetables (Kaeng Awm).

Drinks

Papaya Drink

Papaya “Smoothie”

Watermelon Drink

Watermelon “Smoothie”

I usually get a blended fruit drink to accompany my meal; they are essentially fresh fruit blended with a little ice to make a fruit smoothie. This type of drink is called pan, which is pronounced with a “bp” at the front, so more like “bpan.” They are a very refreshing drink to go with all the flavorful and (often) spicy dishes.

Desserts

Assuming you have room left after such a scrumptious feast, there are a number of Thai kanom to try, which will refresh your mouth after the spicy food.

Dessert

Ruam Mitr

Gingko Nut Dessert

Gingko nut dessert – Oni Pae Guay

Above left you see a version of Iced Sweet Coconut Milk with Various Tidbits (Ruam Mitr). On the right is Oni Pae Guay, made from a creamy, smooth and sweet, mashed taro paste (but less sweet than the Chinese version), topped with slices of cooked Chinese red dates and a few gingko nuts, with the added Thai touch of a salty-sweet coconut cream sauce. (See Kasma’s recent blog on Gingko Nuts.)


Slideshow of Dishes at Kaeng Ron Baan Suan

Click on “Play” below to begin a slideshow.

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

Dipping Sauces
Fried Naem Sausage
Hunglay Curry
Sticky Rice
Kaeng Hoh
Fried Chicken
Green Papaya Salad
Fruit Salad
Charcoal-Grilled Catfish
Eggplant Dish
Curry Dish
Papaya Drink
Watermelon Drink
Thai Dessert
Gingko Nut Dessert

Platter with two dipping sauces – Nam Prik Nuum & Nam Prik Ong

Fried Naem Sour Sausage Slices (Naem Tawd)

Hunglay Curry (Kaeng Hunglay Moo) from Kaeng Ron Baan Suan Restaurant

White Sticky Rice (Kao Niow) served in a traditional basket

Thai-style "Chow Mein" (Kaeng Hoh)

"Garden House" Crispy Fried Chicken (Gai Tawd Baan Suan)

Green Papaya Salad (Som Tam)

Thai-Style Hot-and-Sour Mixed Fruit Salad (Tam Ponlamai)

Charcoal-Grilled Catfish with Neem Leaves (Sadao Nam Pla Wan Pla Doog Yang)

Long Eggplant Stir-fried with Holy Basil (Makeua Yao Pad Kaprao)

Northern Spicy Curry with Vegetables (Kaeng Awm)

Papaya "Smoothie" (Malagaw Pan)

Watermelon "Smoothie" (Taeng Mo Pan)

Sweet Coconut Soup with Various Tidbits (Ruam Mitr)

A gingko nut dessert - Oni Pae Guay - at Kaeng Ron Ban Suan restaurant in Chiang Mai

Dipping Sauces thumbnail
Fried Naem Sausage thumbnail
Hunglay Curry thumbnail
Sticky Rice thumbnail
Kaeng Hoh thumbnail
Fried Chicken thumbnail
Green Papaya Salad thumbnail
Fruit Salad thumbnail
Charcoal-Grilled Catfish thumbnail
Eggplant Dish thumbnail
Curry Dish thumbnail
Papaya Drink thumbnail
Watermelon Drink thumbnail
Thai Dessert thumbnail
Gingko Nut Dessert thumbnail

Location

ร้านอาหารแกงร้อนบ้านสวน – Kaeng Ron Baan Suan Restaurant
149/3 ม.2 ถ.เลียบคลองชลประทาน ต.ช้างเผือก อ.เมือง จ.เชียงใหม่ 50300
149/3 Moo 2, Lieb Klong Chonprathan Rd.,Chang Phueak, Muang 50000
Tel.+66 5322 1378 , +66 5321 3762
Kaeng Ron Baan Suan Website (in Thai only).
Map to Kaeng Ron Baan Suan.
Hours: 10:30 to 22:30

Here’s another review of Kaeng Ron Ban Suan.


Written by Michael Babcock, January 2014