Nam Kheang Sai means ‘shaved ice’ in Thai. This a traditional Thai desert dating back hundreds of years to the time ice first came to Thailand. That must have been a great moment for Bangkokers as it gets incredibly hot in the city. It is hard to escape the heat when there is no beach nearby.
Originally Nam Kheang Sai was only available to the very rich, but with the introduction of ice making machines to Thailand it became available to the wider population. It is still eaten all over Thailand. It is sold by vendors from hand carts. The recipe remains largely unchanged, although most vendors now use a hand powered machine to cut the ice rather than a knife or mandolin slicer.
The vendor in the pictures was outside Hua Lamphong train Station in Bangkok. This delicacy cost the princely sum of 15 Thai Baht (half an American dollar or 30 English pence).
The first stage of the process is filling the bowl with fruit or sweets. I had longon and nata cubes (a coconut extract). Next the ice is shaved and placed on top. The next stage of the process is to add syrup. There are lots of differently coloured syrups: red, green, orange, purple, blue and yellow. The colours don’t approximate to a particular natural flavour (such as strawberry or raspberry) but the Thai’s seem to like the taste. The final step is to pour condensed milk over the top.
I didn’t think I was going to like it, but it was tasty and refreshing. I recommend giving it a try. It is one of those Thai street food experiences worth giving a go.
Below are photos showing the various stages to make this traditional Thai ice treat.
Finished Nam Kheang Sai
If you are interested in street food in Thailand please check out my other blogs on this topic:
The term ’boutique hotel’ started to gain popularity in the UK and the USA in the mid-1980s. From the very beginning the term was never exactly defined. Rather it was a matter of style and intention rather than simply ticking the right boxes. Since then the idea of boutique hotels has spread around the world. In 30 years the notion of what makes accommodation ‘boutique’ has become even more diverse.
It is not to do with size. Although many boutique hotels are small there are plenty that are tall, spacious and modern such as Oriental Residence in Bangkok that has 145 rooms.
It is not to do with being a one-off. The Metropolitan in Bangkok is the sister hotel to the famous Metropolitan in London. The Asian version even has its own Met bar with the same entry restrictions as its London counterpart. Because the Bangkok version is not merely copying its famous counterpart but adding style, interpretation and verve into the mix it is a safe bet to view this chain hotel as ‘boutique’.
You get cheap boutique hotels as well as expensive ones. You get boutique hotels with swimming pools, bars, restaurants, shops, spas and other facilities; and you get boutique hotels that offer few facilities but do offer stunning natural surroundings. Ice Hotels in Canada and Northern Europe have few amenities but offer amazing guest experiences.
There are themed boutique hotels and modernist hotels. Some are renovated historical buildings, some are custom made. You find boutique hotels in major cities as well as in remote locations.
A boutique hotel can be as luxurious as a major up-market chain hotel. A boutique hotel room in Bangkok can be cheaper than two dorm beds in Rio de Janeiro. However, the notion ‘backpacker’ is very different to boutique. Boutique hotels offer an experience and very often luxury. Backpacker places offer a cheap bed, a communal atmosphere and free wifi.
The diverse nature of hotels provides one of the most interesting insights into the evolution of ‘boutique’. Despite commercialization the term still has relevance. This is essentially because ‘boutique’ is about quality. According to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance quality is something that is never successfully defined but always recognized. And the same is true of boutique hotels – it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly why but it is easy to spot a real boutique hotel from a fake one. We at www.bangkokboutiquehotel.info are acutely aware of this distinction.
There are a number of reasons to head down to Sukhumvit on your time off – there’s shopping and bargains to be had; there are temples and parks; there are museums, galleries and performance spaces; there is even a planetarium. And then of course there are all the bars covering a multitude of tastes. The most notorious spot where bars meet sex industry is of course Soi Cowboy. Just around the corner from the right light district is the best fish and chips shop in Bangkok.
The establishment that wins the superlative spot is called ‘Offshore Fish and Chips’. The sign outside hanging over the doorway just says ‘Fish & Chips Shop’. As with some many great eating places in Bangkok from the outside the restaurant doesn’t look anything special. That is because it is the cooking that does the talking and creates the successful business.
You can find Offshore on Sukhumvit Soi 23 just around the corner from Soi Cowboy. No doubt plenty of foreigners pass by the shop feeling an alcohol induced hunger for fast food and stop to give it a go. I’m sure the majority return because they do great food.
You can get local fish in batter as well as the traditional cod in batter. Cod costs 150 Thai Baht ($5), red snapper 100 Thai Baht ($3) and chips are 50 Thai Baht ($1.6). If you are from the UK and like thick chip-shop chips you will be a bit disappointed. Nevertheless, the final result of fish and chips is not bad at all.
You can eat in or take out. The owners also have the Offshore Pub next door. It has a faux brick frontage and bench. A chip shop next to a pub is definitely a plus.
It is after all one of the joys of travelling that things are not the same all over the world. You can’t get better than sushi from Japan and for all its faults and bad weather you can’t beat back home fish and chips. However the Offshore is a good enough approximation to make you happy, especially after having had a naughty night in Soi Cowboy.
Don Muang, I missed you old friend. I remember the tears of joy I shed when you greeted my return to Thailand from cold climes. I remember the golfers whose games in the airport grounds where rarely interruprted by the arrival of my plane. I remember the quiet arrival halls and smiling faces of the immigration staff as you passed into the Land of Smiles with scant regard for technicalities like visas, or calculations of how many times you had already visited. They were pleased you were visiting and for the money you would give to their Thai brothers and sisters. I remember the short walk to pick up my bags and then on to the steamy forecourt of the airport and then quickly into a waiting taxi. Sometimes I would linger and fill up on a tasty 20 baht meal and a cheap beer. Don Muang, you were a pleasure to know and I felt no need to rush away from you.
I went back in November 2012 (flights to Chiang Mai/Suratthani) for the first time since international flights moved to Suvarnabhumi. I wasn’t pleased with what I found. Things have changed. My love affair with Don Muang has now ended. It is now just a inconvenience, and all of a sudden I now like Suvarnabhumi. Sorry Andrew Biggs, you are wrong on this one. ‘Swampy’ isn’t perfect, but it’s head and shoulders above the ‘new and improved’ Don Muang airport. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that the re-opening of Don Muang is a fantastically clever PR stunt to promote Suvarnabhumi airport. If so it worked.
The Airport Authority of Thailand has spent millions, and years, renovating Don Muang airport and they have managed to make it worse it every respect. This must have been deliberate. Adding fuel to a conspiracy theory.
Here is the abridged list of my complaints:
Don Muang has no convenient airport rail link. It does have a railway station which is not an easy walk with suitcases, kids etc. The train fares to central Bangkok are cheap, but the trains are not that frequent and take between 45 minutes (if you are really lucky) and 90 minutes or over on a normal day. If you want to connect with public transport you need to go all the way to Hualamphong station, which is good if you want to stay in Chinatown, but still a 30 to 40 minute journey to the areas where most of the popular tourist hotels are located. If you know Bangkok well, and you speak Thai, you can get off at one of the stations before Hualamphong Station and cut down your journey time. The consequence of this is that everybody wants to get a taxi, and this means long queues at the taxi kiosks. The photos above only partially illustrate it. Imagine several hundred mildly agitated people and then multiply that by 10 (both in terms of levels of frustration and numbers of people) In the future these queues may become a tourist attraction in their own right, if you can get there to see them that is.
Upstairs in the airport, before you go through passport control, there is a large food court. Its fearsomely expensive. A bowl of noodles is 185 baht plus VAT and service charge. Just outside the airport grounds you can get a tastier version of the same thing for 35 Baht. This is a rip-off and even more expensive than the food options at Suvarnabhumi airport, such as the excellent S&P restaurant chain. Don’t eat at Don Muang airport, especially if you have to foot the bill for the girlfriend and in-laws like me. 4 bowls of noodle soup, 1 beer, 2 bottles of water, and 1 fruit juice cost me 1,200 baht. Same sort of price range as Heathrow airport in a country where the national average wage is approximately a fifth of that in the UK.
It’s chaos. I arrived in good time for a 6am flight and the queues where frighteningly long. If it weren’t for Tony Fernandes’s excellent Air Asia staff I would have never got on my plane. Air Asia staff were having to walk around asking people which flights they were getting on and then rearranging the queues on the basis of urgency. It was really stressful for everyone concerned.
Shiny new tiling, and a lick of paint isn’t what makes a good airport. The AOT needs to wake up and consider things like service and value for money (ironically something achieved very well by airlines who operate out of the airport) if they want to make a success of Don Muang airport.
The present King of Thailand, HRM Bhumibol, as many people know is an accomplished musician and composer. The King is very fond of jazz music. King Rama IX has his own jazz band called Au Sau Wan Sok. They have played with such greats as Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman and James Moody. However perhaps the greatest moment in the history of music and the King is when Rama IX visited a film set in Hollywood and met the other King, Elvis Presley.
It was the tenth year of his reign and the young King was only 32 years old at the time. He went on a tour of the states with his wife, Queen Sirikit. The year was 1960. Elvis had just returned from his overseas military posting in Germany. Although still in the army he was now free to continue his showbiz career. In the picture you see Elvis is wearing army fatigues. He is slim and good-looking. He is on the set of the movie G.I. Blues. The tie-in with Elvis’s military service was too good for Hollywood to miss.
The King and Queen looked charmed with the King. Elvis looks completely at home with the royal pair, who look slightly reserved in comparison.
I like this moment in history. Elvis was beloved by millions of people. He still is. And King Bhumibol has been dubbed ‘The Great’. He is the longest serving monarch in the world, and seen by Thai people as one of their best ever Kings. Like Elvis, King Rama IX is truly loved and cherished in a way that few other monarchs are.
Today, Elvis mania in Bangkok and the rest of the world is stronger than ever. In Bangkok there are many Thai and foreign Elvis impersonators. Some are doing it for the money, and some for the thrill of pretending to be Elvis.
The following clip is Jaruek Viriyakit at the Tivoli Coffee Shop, Asia Hotel. He’s not very good it has to be said. The point is that Elvis culture is surprisingly good at entering different cultures, just indeed as Elvis himself was good at making foreign guests feel at ease.
The word ‘boutique’ is French and has the associations of small and unique. Many people view package holidays as the polar opposite of this namely, for many people and off-the-peg. Is it thus possible to travel and enjoy the boutique delights of Bangkok and South East Asia on a package holiday?
Early days of Travel Agents
When pioneers like Thomson started offering package holidays in the 1960s, foreign travel for the masses was a relatively new thing. At the time most middle class and working class families took their holidays in their own country. Venturing into Asia, Africa or South America was considered fraught with problems – crime, language barriers and lack of information. There was thus safety in traveling in large groups and letting experts guide you on your foreign holiday experience; besides many people enjoyed meeting other families while traveling abroad.
In the 1990s the world changed. The internet went from government secret to a new means of communication. It was a media that had no boundaries – all you needed was a computer and a connection to the growing nexus called the internet.
The internet is now the world’s largest library. It is also the world’s largest service provider. Those who intend to travel abroad can go to flight comparison sites, hotel booking sites and online travel agents to organize their holiday. Everything from rooms to rental cars to tours to nights at the opera can all be booked in advance through the internet. This is the epitome of boutique. You can make a holiday itinerary that is unique to you.
Up to you
Some people prefer to give a ‘brief’ to a travel agent and let them work out the details, book the hotels etc. Others use several internet travel agents and booking sites to digitally piece together their own holiday.
In both cases it is very possible to stay at some of Bangkok’s best boutique hotels like Ariysomvilla, the Mandarin Oriental and Hansar Bangkok, especially if you book well in advance.
Boutique in Bangkok
Boutique has come to mean stylish, elegant and unique. Boutique hotels in Bangkok are not just for the rich and famous. If you have the money, you can stay too. Some hotels such as Maduzi and Siam@Siam Design Hotel eschew the formal and staid. They are places for the young wearing designer jeans and looking for a ‘cool’ and ‘minimal’ hotel experience. Saying this, I am far from cool and I have stayed at both hotels.
Finally, boutique in Bangkok doesn’t necessarily mean expensive either. You can hunt around the internet for bargains. There are often last minute deals. In the low season you can sometimes get 30% off room prices with a bit of savvy searching on booking engines.
So to answer the question put in the title, the answer is ‘no’. The notion of independent travel is a confusing one nowadays. There are still plenty of backpackers who carry the Lonely Planet and never book a room in advance. However, there are more people who use travel agents online, compare sites and booking sites to plan their holiday. Some of these people will travel in groups while others will travel in their own family unit. Technology has made the dichotomy between ‘travelers’ and ‘tourists’ blurred. Technology has also opened up the doors to more choice and more options; it is time that stereotypes caught up with reality.
There is something uniquely Thai about Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo. I am not sure that the animals are abused as such, but they are certainly not treated with ‘reverance’ in the way that Western zoos apsire to. Infact, this isn’t a zoo at all. It’s a farm. There are around 40,000 to 100,000 crocodiles at any time, depending on whose figures you believe. Eventually they will all be processed into handbags, shoes and steaks. All of which can be purchased on site, including on a plate in the restaurant.
Opening the farm to the public, holding shows and the addition of other animals, is a sideline. Farmers in the West are only just waking up to the need to diversify, this is diversification Thai style.
Anyway, no shortage of visitors to this attraction. Its about 28kms from central Bangkok. To get there take a taxi, a tour, or a bus – from On Nut BTS station buses 25, 507, 508 and 511 will take you right to the entrance. It opens daily from 8am to 6pm and costs 300 Thai Baht ($10) for adults and 200 Thai Baht ($6.7) for children.
The main attractions are the crocodile wrestling shows and the elephant shows. They take place throughout the day for a duration of approximately 30 to 40 minutes a show. The crocodile show involves young Thai men putting various body parts in the crocodile’s mouths, picking them up and other stuff generally considered inadvisable with large dangerous reptiles. The elephant show has the large beasts doing tricks including playing football and walking the tightrope.
The ‘zoo’ covers 3,000 acres. There is a mini-train which takes visitors around the various enclosures. The animals on show include tigers, lions, chimpanzees, leopards, pythons and camels. If you still crave more interaction with the animals then you can get in the enclosures with the crocodiles. Well, OK, one crocodile to have your photograph taken. You can also feed the crocodiles. It costs 20 Baht (67 cent) for a chicken carcass.
Depending on your perspective this is either a good day out, a slightly weird experience, or a lesson in how South East Asian people tend to view animals. Thailand never fails to be thought provoking, and the crocodile farm is likely to make you think. Bring a peg for your nose. It smells, and not of roses.
If you want to go on a tour of Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo Isango do one. They pick you up at your hotel at 1pm. The tour lasts 4 hours and includes entrance fees and english speaking guide. The tour costs $30 a head. Click on the button below to find out more.
As anyone who has been to Bangkok will tell you, the roads are chaotic. There are taxis, cars, trucks, tuk tuks and motorbikes to contend with. If that is not enough, street vendors have a habit of moving off the sidewalk onto the road. The rules of the road in Thailand are similar to elsewhere in the world, but the rules and the enforcement of these rules seem inadequate to deal with the traffic in the capital. Here are some tips for driving and parking in Bangkok.
The Rules of the Road
1) Drive on the left.
2) The legal age for driving is 18.
3) 15 year olds can drive motorbikes under 110cc.
4) Always carry your driving license and copy of the vehicle registration document.
5) Either a Thai driving license or an International driving license is valid.
6) It is compulsory to wear a seat belt in the front seats.
7) Motorbike riders must wear a helmet.
8) It is not compulsory for children to be in a child seat.
9) All driving fines should be paid at the local police station.
Tips for Driving in Bangkok
The one thing that everyone will tell you about driving in Bangkok is to avoid the rush hours, especially in busy areas such as Sukhumvit and near Hualamphong train station in China town. In the morning the busy time is between 6.30am and 9.30am and in the afternoon between 5pm and 7.30pm.
The other vital tip for driving in Bangkok is to watch both sides. Motorbikes zip between cars. Pulling out and opening a car door can be fraught with hazard if you are not alert.
Another good piece of advice is to know your route. If you miss your turning it can be very hard to turn around (legally), and you can lose lots of time.
As you get to know the city you will realize that some traffic lights take several minutes to change from red to green. If you are planning a car journey you should try and avoid these lights or factor in extra time.
Thai people are famous for being polite and gentle. This is not quite the case on the road. The high stress of the roads means that often the only way to get onto a busy road is to throw caution and manners to the wind and nudge your nose out. If an oncoming driver slows slightly take this as an invitation to join the traffic, if not then don’t push your luck.
Police in Bangkok have to buy their fuel, gun, their bullets and even their motorbike. They have a very small salary. Despite this, they do a decent job of keeping peace and order in the Big Mango. Everyone knows that if you get pulled for a driving offense, the fine down the police station would be 500 Thai Baht, whereas an ‘on the spot fine’ might be 400 Thai Baht or less. If you get pulled the best advice is to ‘play it by ear’. Don’t be cocky.
If you get in an accident then you should swap details. It is the law that every driver should have at least third person insurance. Don’t get angry – it is very rude in Thailand to lose your cool and can lead to an unfortunate escalation in violence.
Tips for Parking
It is obvious where you can and can’t park in Bangkok. Along side streets it is fine to park on the road. The fear is more to do with having your car stolen or broken into.
Most of the big hotels have parking for residents. The big shopping centers like MBK also have car parks. It is worth using car parks where possible as they are cheap and offer protection for a vehicle.
There isn’t a parking compare site for Thailand. Information for prices, number of available places and locations is patchy and inconsistent. It is best to ask Bangkokers for advice and to check forums.
Parking in Suvarnabhumi Airport is divided into short stay and long stay. The short stay is connected to the airport terminal and costs 25 Thai Baht an hour or 250 Thai Baht a day. The longer stay car park is far from the terminal and costs 200 Thai Baht a day. Your car is in the sun all day and less secure. Most foreigners pay the extra 50 Baht a day and use the closer car park.
It is easy to hire a car at the airport. A car can be very convenient in Thailand and gives you access to some great destinations that are otherwise hard to get to. However, if you are a tourist on a short visit, save yourself the heart ache and take taxis and public transport – it is cheap and far less stressful.
Not the biggest attraction in Bangkok, but to my mind one of the best.
The Jim Thompson House is a wonderful example of Thai architecture right in the centre of commercial Bangkok. The house is made up of a collection of traditional Thai teak wood buildings lovingly reconstructed on the canalside near Siam Square. The 6 structures each come from different parts of Thailand with the oldest building dating back to the early 19th Century.
The house was created by American businessman Jim Thompson in the 1950s. The project owes much to Jim’s early career as a New York architect. When the Second World War broke out Jim embarked on a new career in the service of the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, undertaking intelligence activities all over the world. When the war ended Jim ended up in Bangkok and after a stint redesigning the Oriental Hotel he started a business exporting Thai Silk. He is credited with turning Thai silk into an international brand and the Jim Thompson Company remains today a major exporter of Thai silk products around the world. There is a shop at the Jim Thompson House where you can buy high quality silk products.
During his time in Bangkok, Jim Thompson was a major player in the local social scene. The house was built as a setting for his famous dinner parties attended by the rich and famous, great and good, as they passed through Bangkok. The house is a major throwback to the romance of colonial Indo-China. It is now a museum kept in pretty much the same state as when Jim left it. He disappeared under mysterious circumstances in the Malaysian jungle in 1967 adding to the legend of Jim Thompson.
Jim Thompson was a voracious collector of art and antiquities and they adorn the house. He also gave careful thought to the garden which I can only describe as being uniquely Asian and jungle-like.
There is a pretty good restaurant at the Jim Thompson House as well,which is fitting considering his preoccupation with throwing dinner parties. It’s open for lunch from 11am to 5pm and dinner from 7pm to 11pm. You have a choice of sitting inside or on the verandah by the pond.
To get to the Jim Thompson House take the sky train to National Stadium BTS station. It’s a short walk from there. The address is 6 Soi Kaseman 2, Rama 1 Road. It’s open from 9am to 5pm and costs 100 Thai Baht for adults ($3.3) and 50 Thai Baht for children and students.
If you fancy seeing some nice Thai architecture, and fulfilling your dreams of experiencing the glamour of colonial Indo-China, it’s well worth the trip.
This is one of Bangkok’s more low key attractions. A beautiful wooden building in a large garden with not too many tourists around. I find the Vimanmek Palace a nice antidote to the hectic nature of much of Bangkok.
The Palace was constructed in its present location, the Dusit Garden, in 1900. Originally the palace had been built on the island of Koh Sichang. The King at the time liked to visit this island which was thought at the time to be a very healthy location. The King stopped visiting after an incident in which the French army briefly embarked on a military occupation of the island following a trade dispute. No longer in use, the building was brought to Bangkok and served as the Royal Place in the early part of the 20th Century.
The building is the world’s largest golden teak wood structure. It has three storeys and 81 rooms, many of which are open to the public. The design of the building is an interesting mix of European neo-classical design and traditional Thai architecture. This mix of styles is carried on in the interior – there is an eclectic range of antique furniture, glassware and porcelain. As is so often the case, the art and architecture reflects the spirit of the time. This is nowhere more true than the Vimanmek Palace which reflects the opening up of Siam to the outside world at the beginning of the 20th Century.
The Palace fell completely into disuse in 1932 following a military coup which put an end to absolute monarchy in Thailand. The transformation of the Palace into a functioning attraction occurred in the 1980s under the patronage of the current Queen of Thailand. Inside the Palace there are now a series of exhibitions and memorabilia relating to King Rama V. These exhibits dedicated to one of Thailand’s most important kings (he made lots of social reforms) were intended to revitalize the building and add more interest for visitors.
We say pay it a visit. It’s a 20 minute walk from Thewet Chao Phraya Express Boat pier. You can pick up the Express Boat at any of the piers along the river, although if you are coming by Skytrain go to Saphan Taksin BTS station to transfer to Sathorn Pier. Probably though you will want take a taxi unless you are short on funds. To get in it costs 100 Thai Baht ($3.3). Its open 8.30am to 4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday (closed Sunday and Monday). Slightly oddly you have to join a free compulsory tour around the Palace. When you have finished the tour hang around in the garden and enjoy the traditional Thai dancing which happens daily at 10.30am and 2pm.
One last thing, dress smartly. They won’t let you in shorts, short skirts, ripped jeans or t-shirts. This is a Royal Palace after all.