Monthly Archives: March 2008

Lunchtime Thai Menu 13

Chinese Chicken on Rice (khao man gai)

We have been doing the Friday Lunchtime Thai Menu for just over three months now. Normally we buy three or so dishes and then share these among us. This time we have opted for a couple of one person dishes as there was only two of us today. The first is an old favourite called khao man gai or Chinese Chicken on Rice. It is not quite as simple as chopping up some boiled chicken and placing it on some cooked rice. What makes it unique is the way the rice is cooked. You first fry some garlic in hot oil until it is golden brown. Then add the uncooked rice for about three minutes making sure that you stir well. Then transfer this to a standard rice cooker where you add chicken stock instead of plain water. The stock comes from boiling the chicken earlier. You can buy two versions. Boiled chicken or fried chicken. For this one, you use a brown soybean sauce. This contains hot chili, ginger, fermented soybean, vinegar and dark soy sauce. The standard dish costs 20 baht though this one cost us 25 baht as we asked for extra chicken.

Chicken on Yellow Curry Rice (khao mok gai)

As an alternative, I sometimes like eating this yellow curry version which we can buy from the same shop for the same price. This is “khao mok gai” or Chicken and Yellow Rice. A local muslim family run this very popular shop. They are usually sold out by two in the afternoon. The yellow comes from turmeric powder. To cook “khao mok gai”, you fry some garlic in a pan until golden brown. You then stir in the rice, turmeric curry powder, salt and chicken pieces. You then transfer this mixture to an electric rice cooker. You add the chicken stock and cook for about 20 minutes. This one is fried chicken so you use the sweet red chili dip which is made from sugar, red chili, garlic, vinegar and salt. Both dishes come with a bowl of chicken broth.

Khanom Tuay Foo

Today’s dessert looks quite appetizing though I found it a bit dry. There are two versions of this Thai dry cake. They look much the same. They are Tuay Foo and Pui Fai. The difference is that the one we had today has shredded coconut and the other one has duck eggs instead. Other ingredients include wheat flour, sugar and condensed milk. The mixture is spooned into aluminum molds and then steamed for about 15 minutes. Visit next week to see what we will choose to eat on Friday.

A Trip on a Steam Train in Thailand

Steam enthusiasts from all around the country gathered today at Hua Lamphong Station in Bangkok for the annual steam train trip to Ayutthaya. Although the train wasn’t due to depart until 8 a.m., people came an hour early to take pictures. Everyone was mesmerized by the working engine – from youngsters to railway personal who all took turns to pose in front of the train. I was there too as I have a life long interest in steam trains. Today, 26th March, marks the anniversary of the opening of the first public rail service in Thailand between Bangkok and Ayutthaya. King Chulalongkorn had made a proclamation in 1890 to change the face of transport in Thailand by building a national railway grid. The first private railway was opened by the king in 1893 which ran from Bangkok to the port in Samut Prakan. This was followed by the first public lines to Ayutthaya in 1896 and Nakhon Ratchasima a short while later. By the time of the King’s death in 1910, 774 kms of lines had been opened. By the end of World War this had increased to 2,481 kms. Today there are now 4,346 kms of railway tracks in Thailand.

Tickets for this special train ride went on sale several months ago. Judging by the crowds, I would say that it sold out. As well as Thai nationals, there were also a number of foreigners taking this rare opportunity. Shortly after the national anthem at 8 a.m., when all the passengers in the carriages stood up, the train blew its distinctive whistle and we chugged out of the station. The excitement from everyone was very contagious. Not only the people on the train, but everyone that we passed. From early morning commuters at railway crossings to passengers in passing trains, everyone turned to gape at the sight and to take pictures with their mobile phones. I even saw a driver of a diesel locomotive taking a picture. It was almost like a scene from the Railway Children as people waved at us, as we slowly passed them. I also waved back as I dangled dangerously out of the open door. I was trying to take a picture of the engine as it went around a corner. Although it was exciting to ride a steam train, it was just as exciting to stand alongside the track and watch a steam train pass you. Like journeying back in time.

I quickly decided that I would stay on the train for only 30 minutes and then get off when it stopped at Bang Su Station on the northern outskirts of Bangkok. I wanted to be up close to the engine as it left the station. Like at Hua Lamphong, there were also many people here excited to see the steam train arrive. I got down from the train and made my way to the front. The sun was higher in the sky by this time and the lighting was better for taking photographs. Although I was a little disappointed to not go all the way to Ayutthaya, I felt it was just as rewarding to be there at the station as it approached me and then passed. After about four minutes, the guard blew his whistle and the train slowly chugged out of the station. I stood there watching as it disappeared into the distance. The journey to Ayutthaya would take a lot longer than a normal train. For the record, loco engine 824 took the lead in the journey to Ayutthaya. Then loco engine 953 was used for the return journey to Bangkok.

It is a rare treat in Thailand today to be able to go on a ride on a steam train. The State Railway of Thailand organize three such trips every year from Hua Lamphong to Ayutthaya so it doesn’t matter if you missed todays event. These go on 26th March (anniversary of the opening of the first public railway), 23rd October (anniversary of death of King Chulalongkorn) and December 5th (birthday of the present king). I will certainly go again in October. I think this time I might catch the train at Bang Su. They have a MRT underground station here so it is easy to reach. Then I can watch the train as it arrives. Then I will get on and then finish my journey to Ayutthaya. If you are unable to buy tickets in advance, you can always try on the day by just turning up. Or do like I did and just stand up for the short journey to Bang Su and then return by MRT. It is difficult to say how much longer these trips will continue. So take the opportunity if you can.

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Dusit Zoo in Bangkok

Dusit Zoo, or Khao Din as local people call it, is a popular place for Thai families to go at the weekend. It is in Central Bangkok between Chitlada Palace where the king lives and the Ananda Samakhom Throne Hall (see picture above). It was originally a private garden with wild deer from Java, established by King Rama V. However, the royal family later donated it to the government to be operated as a private zoo and garden. It was opened to the public for the first time on 18th March 1938 and named Dusit Zoo. It now has over 2,000 animals from both Thailand and abroad. It covers an area of 47 acres which includes 12 acres of lakes. People come here to look at the animals, but also to rent boats and to have picnics in the shade of the trees. It can get very crowded at weekends and during long holidays, so if you wish to avoid the crowds then you might prefer to come during the week.

I went to Dusit Zoo at the weekend with Nong Grace as she is helping me research an article about “Bangkok for Kids”. We have been to many of the big animal parks, though this is the first one inside the city. It isn’t as big and comprehensive as say Safari World, but as you can see from the above pictures, there is certainly a large variety of animals that will keep amused any child. Their animals include: giraffe, elephant, tiger, hippopotamus, crocodile, kangaroo, penguin, zebra, monkey, bear and many more exotic creatures. Although we probably won’t be rushing back to Safari World any time soon, we will probably come again to Dusit Zoo next month. This is mainly because of the price. At Dusit Zoo it was easy for me to request and get the local Thai price of only 50 baht by asking them politely in Thai. In comparison, Safari World cost me 1700% more than the admission ticket for Dusit Zoo! Even the foreign price at Dusit Zoo is reasonable at 100 baht for adults and 50 baht for children. Although we liked Safari World, we found it wasn’t really good value for money as it was so expensive.

Unlike Safari World and Samphran Elephant Ground, you don’t have the animal shows which are the main features. Nong Grace was a bit disappointed at first when I told her not to expect any shows. However, we did find that there was one animal show. This was the Bird Show. During the week they have three shows a day and at the weekend they have five shows. You have to pay extra for this, but it only cost me 20 baht. Children are 10 baht but as Nong Grace is so little she was able to watch for free. In fact, she got into the Zoo for free too! If I remember right, you mustn’t be taller than 100 cms. You know, despite the low price of ticket, the show was actually far superior to the one we saw at Safari World. The hosts were more enthusiastic and they had more bird acts that were very entertaining. In the above picture, the bird is doing a simple sum set by a member of the audience.

The zoo is not just about animals. There is a lot more there to do and see. When we first arrived, we paid 20 baht to have a tram ride around the zoo to help us get our bearings. There are four tram stations and tickets at each one have different colours. So you can get down at any station and then board again. But once you reach the station of your colour then you have to stop. During our tour we saw there were several areas where the children can play fair ground attractions. Nothing too major like roller coasters, but smaller stuff ideal for younger children. The cost of rides varied from 10 baht to 20 baht. If you get hungry there are numerous places to buy snacks or meals. There is even a KFC and a 7-Eleven store so all prices are very reasonable. We bought bottles of water, ice cream and fruit and all cost the same as outside. Over at Safari World, they marked up their prices by 100%. If you go at the weekend or holidays it is more crowded. However, there is also more likely to be more activities for the kids. In this picture you can see Nong Grace enjoying herself painting a picture. Unbelievably we were there nearly seven hours. In the end I had to force her to go as she wanted to stay longer. I had to promise that I would bring her back again.

Dusit Zoo is open every day between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. At the moment they are open in the evenings for a special Night Safari though I am not sure how long that will continue for. Buses that pass the entrance include the ordinary No. 18 or 28 and the air-con No. 10.

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Lunchtime Thai Menu 12

White Noodles with Fish Curry Sauce

This is the continuation of our Friday Lunchtime Thai Menu. The main dishes today are not served with rice. Instead, we had them with what some people call Thai spaghetti. The Thai people themselves call them “khanom jeen” which makes you think that it is a kind of Chinese dessert. But really, it comes from a Mon word “kanom jin”. When the Thais adopted this dish, they either misheard the name, or just couldn’t spell very well. In English, we would call it fermented rice vermicelli. There are a number of different dishes that you can have with these noodles. The one today is called khanom jeen nam yaa. It is a fish curry with wild ginger. There are variations around the country. In the north, they use pork instead of fish. In the northeast, they use dried bird’s eye chillies and no coconut milk. And in the south, they use turmeric and dried prawns. This cost us 20 baht for the curry, 5 baht for the noodles and 5 baht for the boiled egg. We added our own vegetables.

White Noodles with Chicken and Bamboo Shoot Curry

You can eat this chicken curry with either “khanom jeen” or rice. I personally prefer rice, but it did make a nice change today to have it with noodles. The actual curry is made in the normal way for green curry. You just add bamboo shoots which are very tasty. This was 30 baht including khanom jeen.

Khanom Piak Poon

The dessert today is “khanom piak poon” which is sometimes translated as rice flour custard. Though it is firmer than what we would normally call custard. You basically stir together rice flour, tubular flour, palm sugar and saturated red lime juice. It is cooked over a high heat until it turns sticky and thick. To make the green version you need to soak pandanus leaves in water. The black comes from burnt coconut skin. It is not a bad taste and I quite enjoyed eating it. These three only cost 10 baht.

Sriracha Tiger Zoo

People often ask us for family friendly tourist attractions in Thailand where they can take their kids to have some fun. Sriracha Tiger Zoo is a great place for kids on holiday in Thailand. It can be done as either a day trip from Bangkok or as an excursion from Pattaya which is slightly closer. We drove down there this week to visit the zoo and it took us only 80 minutes from the Bangkok area. I took Nong Grace again as she enjoys visiting zoos and animal parks. Up to now, she has been quite nervous about getting close to any of the animals. However, for the first time, she wanted her picture taken with a tiger cub. This cost 150 baht for an instant picture in a nice frame. You can also take as many pictures as you like with your own camera. She even posed again later with two baby crocodiles for another 150 baht. She could have also posed with an orangutan, kangaroo, snake and even scorpions. But you have to draw the line when it costs 150 baht per picture.

The main feature of the zoo are the 200 Bengal tigers which can be seen at various locations. To their credit, the zoo has been able to maintain a successful breeding program for these tigers and so many of them were born at the zoo. In the Tiger Tunnel you can get quite close to the tigers. This picture was taken through the perspex glass and it came out quite well. Strangely, in this same enclosure was this African guy dressed in classic Tarzan gear. I am not sure what his purpose was as he was just sitting there smoking a cigarette. I guess when coach parties pass through he will get up and wrestle the tigers or something. In the same building there is a nursery where you can see one of the most remarkable sights at the zoo. This is the tiger cubs drinking the milk of a large mother pig. And then, in the neighbouring cage, there were piglets dressed in tiger skin shirts running around with a full grown tiger!

As well as observing the animals, there are also a number of shows that you can watch for no extra charge. Our first show was “Amazing Circus” which was a kind of Big Top show. It started with an act by an intelligent pig that was able to successfully sort coloured pegs into the correct coloured boxes. I guess this proves that pigs are not colour blind. Next came the highlight of the show with a performance by the large Bengal tigers. A word of warning before I continue. The tigers sat in a semi-circle with their backs to the audience at the start of the show. I would strongly suggest that you don’t sit in the front row as when they go to the toilet they can squirt backwards a couple of meters. The tigers did all the usual tricks such as jumping through hoops of fire and walking on their hind legs. It was certainly entertaining for the youngsters in the audience, but honestly, I am never that impressed with performances done with animals in Thailand. There are three of these shows per day at 11 a.m., 1.30 p.m. and 3.30 p.m.

From here we followed the crowds to the Elephant Show. This one wasn’t actually too bad. The tempo was quite fast and the elephants with their trainers kept running on from stage left and stage right. Although many of the tricks were the usual fare, the fast tempo managed to keep our attention and Nong Grace enjoyed the show. The highlight for her was the basketball match between two elephants. Take a look at this picture of one of the elephants doing a slam dunk! I have seen them playing football before but this was a first for basketball. The trainers also asked for two volunteers from the audience. They then laid down on the ground while two elephants walked over them several times. One of the elephants did the usual trick with its trunk by prodding the male volunteer in places he didn’t really want to be prodded. However, the young female elephant was the funniest. When it stepped over the volunteers, it lifted its hind leg as if it was just about to take a leak. There are three elephant shows per day at 11.40 a.m., 2.30 p.m. and 4.30 p.m.

Our next show was the pig racing which I was actually looking forward to. I had heard about it before and just wanted to see what it was all about. This show started with an amazing pig that could do some really cool party tricks. Believe it or not, the pig could do simple arithmetic sums. To prove it wasn’t fixed, the audience were invited to call out numbers. The equation was then read out aloud in Thai, English and Chinese. The pig then picked up a marker with the correct number. After this came the pig racing. These were piglets that basically just ran from one end to the other. The second race was then their return trip. Not as exciting as I thought it would be. The show certainly has more potential. These shows are every half hour from 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.

In the building next to the pig racing is a place where you can feed the baby tiger cubs. A bottle of milk was a little expensive at 50 baht. However, Nong Grace really loved feeding the tiger cubs and I think it was her highlight. In fact, after we had finished walking around the zoo, we had to come back here for a second round. Nearby here we also saw deer, giraffes and a few other wild animals. There was also a section with dozens of rabbit that seemed to be suffering a bit from the heat. Again, Nong Grace enjoyed feeding them which fortunately only cost 10 baht this time for a bunch of long green beans. Nearby we went into an artificial cave to see the advertised Scorpion Queen who apparently is comfortable with scorpions covering her whole body. Though we didn’t see any action as she didn’t want to perform for just the two of us. But she said she would if we paid 150 baht. I declined her offer. On the map, there were a couple of places marked that Nong Grace wanted to visit. First was the pig swimming and second the ducks that apparently swam with the crocodiles. But, unfortunately both of these shows have been discontinued. Nong Grace said that maybe the crocodile ate the duck!

Our last show was the Crocodile Show. Our third in three weeks. All of these crocodile shows are much the same as each other. It usually involves sticking limbs – either hands or heads, into the mouth of a crocodile. What makes or breaks these shows is the personality of the performers. Our show had one lady and one man. The guy actually looked quite young and he hammed it up a bit which made his performance a bit funny. He slipped over a few times while trying to pull the crocodile out of the water which earned him some nervous laughter and applause from the audience. The show was alright if you haven’t seen that kind of thing before. It ended when an obvious stage plant came down and threw them a 20 baht note as a tip. No-one picked up on the hint so the cleaning lady was then told to throw some money too. Then other people started to tip them. There are seven crocodile shows per day.

Our last stop was the crocodile nursery. Here we saw hundreds of crocodile eggs in the incubators. Apparently they have an egg breaking festival in May where the public can help with the hatching of the eggs. Nong Grace then surprised me when she said she wanted to have her photograph taken with a baby crocodile. She was very nervous at first but was determined to do it. She had seen a photograph of her father posing with a big tiger and I guess she wanted to outdo him. So, she now had two framed pictures of her holding animals. Something to show her friends at school. On the way to the exit, we passed one more pen where we saw a tiger that seemed to be living happily with some dogs. Pretty unusual so it excited Nong Grace. But she was still disappointed that she hadn’t seen the duck with the crocodile.

As usual, there is a two price ticket system at the zoo. The foreigners price is 300 baht for adults and 200 baht for children. No sign of the Thai price which makes me presume that they are embarrassed about having two prices. I managed to get the Thai price of 120 baht by asking politely in Thai. Someone also told me that a work permit also does the trick. Nong Grace was free as she is less than 140 cms. But that sign is written in Thai and so I am not sure if that includes foreign children. The price for Thai children is 60 baht. To reach the zoo, just take the main highway from Bangkok towards Chonburi and then Pattaya. The zoo is in the Sriracha district. Big signs tell you when to turn off so it is quite simple.

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