Today is National Elephant’s Day

I can’t believe I almost missed this observance – me of all people! Also, a second article, very promotional, about Hua Hin. Both these articles were borrowed.

Today is National Elephant Day

On May 26, 1998, the Thai government declared the 13th of March to be Thai National Elephant Day or Chang Thai Day. The date was chosen because the Royal Forest Department designated the white elephant as the national animal of Thailand on March 13, 1963. The day has been celebrated annually since then.

Thai people have had a close-knit relationship with elephants since ancient times, with the elephant playing a significant role in transportation, labor and battle. Considered the national animal of Thailand, the elephant faced threats to its existence because of habitat invasion by humans and climate change, among other factors. The number of Thai elephants has been reduced from 100,000 to 2,000 – 3,000 wild elephants and about 2,700 domesticated elephants over the past 100 years. In Thailand, white elephants are considered sacred and are a symbol of royal power.

Chang Thai Day has three main purposes. The first is to show how significant elephants are to Thailand. The second is to demonstrate how the Thai culture depends on the elephants. Lastly, this annual celebration promotes awareness about protecting and conserving the Thai elephant population and its habitats.

To raise awareness, activities take place around the nation.

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7 reasons why you should add Hua Hin to your bucket list

Koh Samui, Phuket, Krabi, Koh Lipe. These are some of many Thai destinations that are often recommended to travelers looking for a getaway by beautiful beaches.

DSC_0746While Hua Hin is lesser known than its touristy counterparts, this seaside resort on the Gulf of Thailand is also home to beautiful beaches. In fact, Hua Hin’s beaches, historical sites and various attractions make it a popular destination for locals.

Interested in visiting this hidden gem? Here are seven reasons why you should add Hua Hin to your bucket list.

1. The most obvious – it’s less touristy

Step into Hua Hin and you’ll find yourself in a stylish coastal town that’s popular with local tourists. Situated about 199km away from southwest Bangkok, Hua Hin has a relaxed, hipster vibe that makes it perfect for groups of friends and family vacations.

If you’re looking for something new and different, head on over to Hua Hin. Its hipster charm and vibe will surely win you over.

2. Satisfy your craving for authentic Thai food

When you visit Thailand, leave your strict diet plans behind and indulge in the local cuisine. You’ll find Thai dishes at most restaurants, be it the quaint hipster cafes or the swanky, high-end hotel restaurants.

Foodies can indulge in the local flavors at the many restaurants scattered throughout Hua Hin, or even pick up street food at the night markets.

If you’re at Hua Hin’s Night Market, stop by Lung Ja Seafood. While the restaurant offers a mouthwatering variety of seafood, you’ll find that lobster is a popular choice among patrons. If you’re making plans, take note that it’s a fan favorite among locals and tourists alike, so be sure to get there early.

Alternatively, you can also learn how to whip up some of the local dishes by enrolling in cooking classes taught by locals.

3. Night markets offer Thai goods at local prices

Ever been to Bangkok? You’ll know of the many night markets in the big city.

In Hua Hin, you’ll find three notable night markets – the Hua Hin Night Market, Cicada Market and Tamarind Market.

The Hua Hin Night Market is comparable to those typical street markets that you’ll find in Bangkok. Watch as the street comes to life as vendors set up their stalls hawking their goods. You’ll find an assortment of clothing, local arts and craft, and inexpensive, tasty street food.

Looking for markets with an artsy vibe? Then head on over to Cicada Market. While wandering through this open-air market, you’ll find art exhibitions, lively performances and stalls selling local handmade crafts – all by local artists.

While you’re there, you may want to pop over to Tamarind Market. Just a few minutes away, Tamarind Market offers yummy delights to fill your tummies. As you venture deeper into the market, you’ll find yourself in the local section where you’ll find Thai dishes sold at local prices.

4. Interesting themed locations

Visit the Santorini Park in the neighboring Cha Am district and you’ll feel like you’re in a different country. Like its Greek counterpart that it was modeled after, the Santorini Park has gorgeous white buildings paired with blue accents.

Besides the picturesque setting that makes it awesome for photos, it also has a variety of shops, restaurants and an amusement park to keep you entertained.

Santorini Park isn’t the only themed attraction in Cha Am. There’s also Camel Republic that has a Moroccan theme, Swiss Sheep Farm that has a European influence and The Venezia that has a Venetian theme, each with its own unique offering.

5. There’s a little bit of everything for everyone

Hua Hin has more than just the beach to offer its tourists. There’s also the lovely Monsoon Valley Vineyard, where travelers can wine and dine on the pavilion overlooking the whole farm. Visitors can also take a stroll around the vineyard while getting a closer look at the grape vines.

Not interested in vineyards? Check out the Vana Nava Water Park for a splashing good time. The water park is a hit among local and international visitors. Offering rides for adults and young children, this park is a great choice for families.

6. Leave city life behind for relaxation around nature

The hustle and bustle of hectic city life may have left you feeling weary and in need of a break. Leave the stress and distractions behind with a trip back to nature.

Roughly an hour away from Hua Hin is the Sam Roi Yot National Park, where visitors can climb up to the Khao Daeng viewpoint. Although it may seem like quite a long journey, the beautiful scenery and views more than make up for it.

Visitors who have been to the park are often left amazed by the stunning views at the top, so if you’re planning to make a visit, don’t forget to bring your camera along!

The viewpoint isn’t the only spot to offer majestic views. There are six other notable sites scattered throughout the park. At the Khao Daeng canal, visitors can take a boat tour through the park for a relaxing ride while also keeping an eye out for wildlife.

Wildlife watchers will want to stop by the Thung Sam Roi Yot freshwater marsh. Located on the northwest corner of the park, it is home to many species of flora and fauna. Visitors can expect to find many species of waterbirds, songbirds, amphibians and various wetland species.

Phraya Nakhon cave

The park also has three caves: Phraya Nakhon Cave, Kaeo Cave and Sai Cave. Of the three, Phraya Nakhon is the main attraction of the park. Phraya Nakhon houses an iconic royal pavilion called Phra Thinang Khuha Kharuhat. The pavilion is especially striking during certain hours of the day when sunlight streams in through the open top of the cave, making for a spectacular sight to behold.

Not too far off is the Kaeo Cave that offers visitors a more adventure-like experience. Visitors will find many stalactites and stalagmites scattered through the cave and the rocky surface will make walking a bit of a challenge, so come prepared! If you’re heading to Kaeo Cave, do note that mandatory guides from the park offices are needed to visit this cave.

Meanwhile, further down in the southern area of the park is Sai Cave. If you’re visiting the cave on weekdays, you can rent torches from the park office, however, the cave is lighted up for free on the weekends to cater to the high number of visitors.

From the Phraya Nakhon Cave, visitors can also head over to Laem Sala Beach and campsite that’s not too far off. The beach is accessible by foot or by boat, and is a must if you’re visiting the park. The sandy white beach and shallow waters make it a peaceful spot to just hang out with family and friends, or even camp overnight.

7. Kick back and relax by the beach, of course

palm treeThe beach, of course, is one of highlights of any seaside holiday. You’ll be able to kick back and relax by most of the beaches in Hua Hin, but here are a few highlights of what to do when you’re at each location.

Hua Hin beach is the busiest beach that’s frequented by both local and international tourists. Along this beach you’ll find pony rides and kite flying.

Cha Am is less touristy than other beaches. This peaceful spot is a favorite among locals and you’ll likely find them just relaxing by the beach under the shade of a palm tree.

Khao Takiab beach is not as busy as Hua Hin’s, but can be quite packed during the holiday period. It’s notably near the Monkey Mountain and you may even see some monkeys dropping by for a quick soak.

Last but not least is Pranburi. The beach is about a 30-minute drive from Hua Hin but it’s worth the drive if you’re looking for some peace and quiet. Dotted along the beach are hotels that offer guests a beautiful view of the beach. – star2.com

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Is this Thailand’s best Pad Thai?

Just came across this fine article on bbc.com about Thailand’s famous dish – pad Thai. I’ve had this a number of times, but not all that impressed. I’m in the minority. In Thailand, you can get pad Thai for 40 baht ($1.30) to 300 baht ($10). I saw a food truck in the U.S. selling pad Thai for $9.95 (300 baht).

By Elly Earls

pad thai

Pad Thai

It was 16:00 on Maha Chai Road in Bangkok’s Old City. And although Thipsamai Pad Thai didn’t open for another hour, the queue for it was already snaking down the street. Sixty minutes in the stifling heat of Thailand’s capital, it seems, is a small price to pay for the chance to taste an original version of Thailand’s most famous dish: a sweet and spicy egg-wrapped combination of noodles, prawns and prawn-oil sauce.

Narrowly avoiding being hit by a tuk tuk full of tourists as I stepped out of my taxi, I guiltily negotiated my way to the front of the line to see if the owner, Sikarachat Baisamut, had arrived. In hindsight, given the almost military levels of precision with which he runs his restaurant, I shouldn’t have been surprised that he was right on time and ready to launch straight into his tale.

It all started during World War II, he began, as we took our seats inside. Due to the high cost of rice production, Prime Minister Phibunsongkhram decided to encourage the Thai people to eat noodles and other local ingredients by creating not only a national dish, kway teow pad Thai (Thai-style stir-fried rice noodles) but even the noodles that went into it (sen Chan, named after Thailand’s Chanthaburi province).

The dish’s exact contents depended on regional availability of ingredients, but generally included some combination of radish, beansprouts, peanuts, dried shrimp and egg, seasoned with palm sugar and chillies.

Over time, the dish’s name was shortened to ‘pad Thai’, and Baisamut’s grandmother started selling her version of it from a boat on Phasi Charoen Canal in Samut Sakhon Province, just west of Bangkok, with help from her daughter – Baisamut’s mother – Samai.

The recipe was passed down from mother to daughter, and when Samai later moved to Bangkok, she opened one of the capital’s first pad Thai stalls with one small charcoal stove and a handful of old tables, which, according to Samai, was declared by Phibunsongkhram himself to sell the authentic version of his beloved national dish.

Sales soared, the stall became a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, and today under Baisamut’s leadership (he took over in 2012), Thipsamai Pad Thai is unrecognizable from the simple road-side operation of the 1950s – apart from one very important element.

“Our mission is to preserve the original pad Thai recipe that my mother and grandmother cooked, using only the highest quality ingredients and the original cooking technique,” Baisamut told me, pressing a paper cup of iced coconut – a cool complement to the pad Thai’s tang, I was later to discover – into my hand.

Nowadays, pad Thais tend to be a stir-fried mixture of rice noodles, prawns, tofu, garlic and egg, flavored with fish sauce, chillies and palm sugar and served with lime, coriander, bean sprouts and peanuts. Thipsamai’s original or ‘superb’ version as it’s called on the menu, though, has three special, signature ingredients: sen Chan noodles, the longer, softer and more tender the better; the family’s secret prawn-oil recipe, made from fat from the heads of river and deep-sea prawns combined with Thai spices and organic herbs; and an egg-wrap so thin that customers get a sneak peek of the unique concoction inside.

Nothing is allowed into the dish until Baisamut has verified its quality, a process that usually involves several visits to the supplier, as well as switching suppliers on a seasonal basis. It was the prawns – pink, plump and juicy – that caught my eye; they’re delivered fresh daily from fishing ports in a range of coastal provinces, I was assured.

Leading me out to the kitchen, which remains on the roadside, a nod to Thipsamai’s street-food roots, Baisamut informed me that the family’s original pad Thai must be cooked on a searing hot charcoal stove, fired with wood from mangrove trees sourced from a distant province that can’t be harvested until they’re at least 12 years old.

The size of the wood chunks is equally important (they must be of arm’s length) – and the fact that the high-quality iron woks need to be replaced every two weeks due to the intense heat of the charcoal-fired flames is a necessary sacrifice to preserve his grandmother’s original cooking technique.

Baisamut has also maintained the rigorous training regime he remembers from his childhood.

“When I was a little boy, my mother asked me if I wanted to be the owner of the restaurant one day, and I said ‘yes, of course!’. She told me that I needed to know how to do everything from scratch. First I had to clean the toilets, then I could step up to be a waiter and eventually I was allowed to cook pad Thai with our original prawn-oil recipe.”

Thipsamai’s five-strong team of chefs have been spared loo-cleaning duties, but they did have to undertake a seven-step training program before they were let loose on the restaurant’s signature dish.

Step one – cleaning and waiting tables – is followed by preparing the noodles, both getting used to the heat in front of the charcoal stove and understanding the correct noodle texture. The third phase consists of transferring the pad Thai from the pan to the plate, before it’s time to learn about all the other ingredients that go into the dish – from bean sprouts to chives to tofu – and how to prepare them.

Step five – the egg-wrapping – is the trickiest. Chefs must practice for more than three months to reach the point where they can wrap four pad Thais with one layer of egg in the space of 30 seconds. Only after that do they progress to cooking the basic version of pad Thai, which Thipsamai also serves, and finally the ‘superb’ prawn oil recipe that goes inside the egg wrap.

Bravely, Baisamut asked me if I’d like to have a go on the egg-wrapping station. I agreed; at the very least it would provide a bit of entertainment for the queue, which by this time was moving quickly, a testament to the speed of the pad Thai production line.

I’m pretty sure though that the sloppy globules of scrambled egg I managed to produce would have had me immediately kicked off the course. I certainly couldn’t imagine being able to keep up with the eight-a-minute pace of that evening’s veteran egg-wrapper, who was creating perfect transparent parcels of pad Thai with just a few expert flicks of the spatula.

Watching the bright orange, prawn oil-flavored noodles being flung into the wok, flames licking at its sides, before swiftly being transferred, now egg-wrapped, to a spotlessly clean plate and whisked off to the next hungry customer was both a feast for the senses and a lesson in how to efficiently run a restaurant.

The Michelin inspectors clearly agree. When the guide launched in Thailand in late 2017, Thipsamai Pad Thai might not have earned a star like Raan Jay Fai a few shophouses down the road, which is known for its crab omelette and drunken noodles, but it was awarded a Bib Gourmand for offering exceptionally good food at a moderate price. When my pad Thai was placed in front of me, I understood why.

After spearing one of the two enormous deep-sea prawns that accompanied the dish, my fork slid smoothly through the impossibly thin egg wrap, before picking up – in one go – a mouthful of tofu, chives, dried shrimp, beansprouts, coriander and those signature long, soft, tender prawn-oil flavored noodles.

Having been instructed not to add any of the condiments that typically flavor pad Thai (except a squeeze of lime, which I insisted on), I was able to appreciate the rich flavor of the prawn oil; part sweet, part spicy, part sour. Combined with the smooth tofu, the juicy prawns and the crunchy beansprouts, and washed down with what remained of my refreshing iced coconut, this truly was pad Thai at its best.

And although Baisamut had two PhDs under his belt before taking the reins of the family restaurant, it’s invoking that delight in his customers, rather than the business side of things, that gets him out of bed every morning.

“My mother built up and established this restaurant for her whole life, and before she passed away she asked me to take care of it and continue the business instead of her,” he told me, his eyes gleaming. “It’s not about the money – it’s our duty as Thai people to preserve the original pad Thai and share it with the world.”

Dusk had fallen by the time I’d cleared my plate and reluctantly headed back out to the street to hail a taxi home. The colored lights of the Thipsamai sign flashed and the queue continued to move. There were several hours of pad Thai making still to come that night.

As my taxi weaved its way across the city, I racked my brain as to how I could improve my egg-wrapping technique, finally admitting to myself as I was dozing off that I simply wasn’t prepared to put the hours in. I decided to leave it to the professionals, and come back for another taste next week. – bbc.com

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Getaway day – and a great final dinner

The Buddhist monk ordination ceremony now behind us, everyone kind of slept in – well maybe until 8. After checkout, we went to a restaurant in town offering various dishes in a buffet style, but that you just ask for and they put it on a plate. Most of the offerings were too spicy for me, and I wanted something more western, so I ordered some hard sausage (hoping it wasn’t spicy), and a fried egg. They put the egg on rice (soy sauce please!), and the sausage was sweet. Total tab for the 10 of us was under $13.

And then it was all hunkered down at mama’s house waiting for the bus, leaving at 9:45 pm. That will get us to Hua Hin at dawn. Another night and day without sleep.

I have now been in Thailand for two years and two months, and this was the first truly immersed Thai experience I have had. Fortunately, I had Thai ‘guides’ but it was good to experience Thai life more as a Thai (even though the family treated me like royalty). A tiring but ultimately very fulfilling, interesting and motivational experience.

The final dinner

On this whole trip, I never knew where my next meal would be. I had no idea what was in store for me this evening, but I was asked to help with the buying of various foods for a cookout. Two went on a motorcycle ride and came back with sacks of greens (cabbage, mustard, plus), chicken and chicken livers, and sodas and ice. We had a party.

In anticipation, the women had laid out plastic mats on the jagged concrete driveway. Two small clay pots were placed in the middle, and coal fires started. It was a steamboat! One of my favorite meals. Cook the food in hot water or on a sort of grill, and ladle out what you want. Simple food, simply cooked, with plenty of spicy sauces to complement.

We fed about 14 people on about $20, and my impression was that it was a special meal they don’t have often. But neither do I.

 

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