Monthly Archives: November 2008

How to cook… Pad Thai

Today we are going to show you how to cook one of the most popular Thai dishes for foreigners. It is called “pad thai” or Thai Fried Noodles. It is not that difficult to cook but it involves a bit of an effort to prepare the ingredients. To be honest with you, we cheated a bit today. Our local pad thai food stall kindly gave us all the ingredients and also allowed us to make notes on her method of cooking. However, she wouldn’t tell us the secret ingredients for the sauce. This is what makes her stall more popular than others around this area. She actually admitted that even she doesn’t know the recipe as it is made by her mother in a back room. The ingredients you can see below are, from top and going clockwise, roasted peanuts, fresh rice noodles (sen jan), salted Chinese radish, fried tofu, red shallots, dried shrimp, fresh shrimp and two eggs in the middle. Normally it is one egg per dish. On the left, you can see Chinese chives, beansprouts and sliced lime. Some people use garlic instead of red shallots. I have also sometimes seen chicken instead of the more popular shrimp.

Heat the oil up in a wok. Add red shallots and cook until fragrant. Then add the fresh shrimp, salted radish, tofu and dried shrimp. Give a good stir all the time. Move the ingredients to one side and then break two eggs into the pan. Cook for about a minute and then mix in with the other ingredients. Move to one side again. Add the fresh rice noodles. If you are using dried noodles you must soak in water for about 10 minutes. Then add tamarind paste and the secret sauce. Adjust the taste to your liking by adding soy sauce or fish sauce and sugar. Stir slowly until the noodles become dry. Now mix all the ingredients together. Finally, add the Chinese chives and beansprouts. Stir this in but there is no need to cook it. Serve with fresh vegetables, ground roasted peanuts and a slice of lime. I think ours tasted just as good as the real thing! Looks good too.

You will find the archives for my Thai Street Food blogs over at our new site You will also find there cooking videos that I shot at our local food vendors. You can download these for free. Some of the more popular videos have already been download more than 25,000 times!

A House Divided

There is only one rule I go by during my current trip home.

Do NOT bring up politics with family or friends.

Nowadays in Thailand, for some people, you are either the Yellow Shirt (PAD-People’s Alliance for Democracy) or Red Shirt (Anti-PAD).

I have talked to many friends from both sides of the fences. The Yellow Shirts are out and about, strutting proudly while all the “Red Shirts” I know are closeted ones.

Everywhere you go, at some point it will come up. As much as everyone seems to avoid talking about politics, you really just can’t ignore the elephant in the room.

Sometimes people would just make a few jokes about their side just to ease the tension, and the conversation moves on to something else.

I’ve made conversation with chartered van driver in Phuket who would come up to Bangkok to join PAD mob in a heartbeat if he doesn’t have a family to worry about. I’ve talked to a Red Shirt cabby who wouldn’t take any Yellow Shirt passengers. I’ve heard of the uncles and aunties getting dropped off at PAD rally by their Mercedes’ and BMW’s. I’ve listened to a daughter fighting with her mother trying to explain what democracy really means.

I have heard from both sides and I nodded in agreement to both sides. Not because I agree with what they said entirely, but just to keep the peace.

A friend told me her PAD aunt is so adamant that she takes a side because neutral is unacceptable. So she only takes her side in her presence. I found myself doing the same thing.

I usually just wait to see which side the person I’m talking to is taking. Then I would nod and simply go along with what they said.

When being neutral is not an option, but being a fake Red/Yellow to be civil.

Once in a while, my defense was, “I live in America. I have no idea what to think. What do YOU think about Obama?” Subject changed. No problem!

It seems we Thais know exactly how to keep peace in our households and circles of friends.

We just can’t seem to keep the same peace in our nation.

P.S. I am still in Bangkok through December 4. Brandon is supposed to leave tomorrow but airport is still closed. Stay tuned for updates from us two (kind of) lost souls!

Keep the Change!

Holidays in Thailand can be relatively cheap for foreign tourists. Many things from food to hotel accommodation are a lot cheaper than what you would get on a holiday in a Western country. Which is just as well, as after flying all the way to Thailand on expensive airlines, most holiday makers don’t have much money left over. They are basically coming to Thailand because their tourist dollars go a bit further. Sometimes I think it would go a bit further if they don’t walk around acting like they are rich tourists. It gives the Thais the wrong impression that all foreigners are rich. After all, if you can afford to buy a plane ticket then you must be loaded.

I have taken groups of tourists to go and eat at a restaurant or walk through a market. I wince every time they declare loudly how cheap everything is. Shopping in Thailand is based on the haggling system and the last thing that you should do is announce to the word, before your first bid, that the asking price is so ridiculously cheap! You need to keep it cool. Buying in a market is an art form. A game that even rich Thais love to play. Don’t flaunt your wealth. When they give you the first price then put on your poker face and counter with an offer that is less than half. But, be prepared to pay that price if they say “yes” straight away. Though personally I hate it when they say that so quickly.

In Thailand you seemingly have to haggle for many things. Even tuk tuk rides on the three-wheeled motorized taxis. However, if you are in a department store or a supermarket with an electronic till, then obviously you cannot haggle. If there is a bar code on the product then it is more difficult, though not impossible, for them to lower the price. At the shopping malls like Panthip Plaza, they will often give you good prices for electronic equipment such as computers and cameras. However, if I then ask them for a proper receipt, they then say that they will have to add 7% to the bill for VAT. For me to buy in the name of my company, I need to show a proper receipt.

When I used to backpack a lot, I was always a bit nervous when entering a new country for the first time. I not only had to get my tongue around a new language, but I also had to get used to a new currency and, more important, the value of that money. When you first get off the boat or plane, the vultures waiting for you know full well that you are a newbie. They will often take advantage of your uncertainty. They will try and trick you that a thousand units of that currency isn’t a lot of money. I quickly learned that I needed to do my homework before entering the next country. This usually involved finding a person going the opposite way and asking them how much a bottle or can of Coke is on average. I then used that as my baseline.

By the time I arrived in Thailand, I was a seasoned traveller, having already spent half a year in China, Pakistan and India. But, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t ever tricked to pay more. I remember going to a small shop in Kanchanaburi. The owner charged me 20 baht for a bottle of water that should have only cost 7 baht. She seemed such a sweet old lady that I trusted her. When I found out the real price at another shop it left me with a feeling of distaste and a bad feeling about people of Kanchanaburi. But really, this kind of thing happens all over the way. And we, as tourists, are mainly to blame.

I think we have all been guilty of the syndrome of saying “keep the change”. When a meal at a roadside vendor was so good but so cheap we feel embarrassed to ask for the change. Or when someone gave us really good service that we want to pay them a little extra. However, this then contributes to their impression that all foreign tourists are like walking ATM machines. A good source of easy money. I think a lot of people agree with me that Thai people are the most honest, sincere and kindest people on the planet earth. Their hospitality is also next to none. However, many of them change for the worse after prolonged contact with foreign tourists. If a Thai person in a major tourist town comes up to you to ask if you need help, the chances are high that he is a scam artist. It is so sad that smiles that they show aren’t the real “Siamese Smile”.

Although Thailand now has more scammers, and also tourist attractions that sneakily charge 150% more for foreigners, we do now have a new weapon in our arsenal. Many people complain about this new change as they are putting the mom and pop stores out of business. But personally, I applaud the invasion of the 7-Eleven and Family Mart on every corner. And also the hypermarkets such as Tesco Lotus and Big C. At last we have a place where the chances are higher that we won’t get cheated. If you go to 7-Eleven to buy a bottle of water then it will cost you 7 baht the same as everyone else. If you want to buy a can of Coke then that will cost you 14 baht. No arguments. No scams. Well, maybe one scam. In tourist areas, some of the guys behind the counter will not give you your full change on purpose.

I am not saying that all Thais in tourist areas are out to scam or trick you. There are still a lot of honest people out there. It is these people that I like to help out and reward if I can. After all, we want to encourage their honesty. Though, at the same time, not “damaging” them. Sometimes, when I go to a tourist place like the Grand Palace, I act like a tourist and ask vendors how much a bottle of water costs or a plate of curry. Even if I ask in English, I quite often get told a fair price. The temptation is then to give her a 20 baht note for the bottle of water and tell her to keep the change. Sometimes they don’t want to accept. However, I usually insist and tell them in Thai that they have an honest and true heart.

I have sometimes done the same for a samlor or tuk tuk driver. If they gave me a fair price straight away, or I managed to bargain it down to a lower price, I then often give them more than what they asked for, once we reached the destination. I don’t like hassle as much as the next man, and I think this should be rewarded. I was once asked by a tuk tuk driver why so many foreigners walk around town instead of taking a ride in a taxi. I told him that there are two reasons. Firstly, foreigners like walking around as recreation. It is part of the fun of exploring a new city. However, the main reason I personally avoid going on a tuk tuk is because they have a bad reputation of cheating foreigners. I don’t like the hassle of trying to bargain the price down and then not knowing whether the final price was fair or not. In Bangkok, it is often cheaper to go in an air-conditioned taxi as the meter starts at only 35 baht. The tuk tuk drivers can suffer the fate that they brought on themselves.

To be honest with you, I haven’t really decided on the best way to reward good service. I want to help them but I don’t want to contribute to the development of more greedy and selfish people. Thailand is already getting a bad reputation for cheating foreign tourists with the scam artists and the two tier price system at tourist attractions. The question comes down to when to tip and how much to give. I say tip as I think these people should be rewarded just as much as restaurant staff. The basic rule after a meal is to leave loose change or about 10% of the bill. I have seen some tourists give a 100 baht banknote for a 25 baht meal and told them to keep the change. After all, that is not much more than $3 and is still a fair price for them for a meal. However, you must remember that many people only earn $4 for a full days work. Minimum wage is about 180 baht per day. Many earn less. So, think carefully before giving someone the equivalent of a day’s wage for ten minutes of work.

Once, a Thai person asked me for more money after I had paid her the agreed amount for rowing me around a floating market. She gave me some sob story about how hard her life was. She asked me for 200 baht more. Not a lot of money, but if she did that to everyone that day then she would earn an extra 1,000 baht at least. In my mind, she is no different to the beggars on the street. Many countries have a policy of telling their citizens and tourists not to give money to beggars. This is because they can actually earn a lot more by sitting there than someone can working in a factory. If that beggar does so well, then there is no incentive to find a job. Though, of course, in Thailand things are not quite that simple. Most beggars are part of gangs and many are not even Thai. If you see a mother with a child, then the chances are high that it isn’t hers and that it was stolen.

I think my general rule is only to give extra when it is unexpected and only if the service was good. I also like to say in Thai that they have a good heart. If you cannot speak Thai then there is an alternative. Put some banknotes in a sealed envelope with a card inside saying in Thai “I am rewarding you for your sincerity and honesty”. I do it that way if I want to give more than I know they would accept. Honest Thai people are uncomfortable receiving more money than they deserve even if they need it. So putting it in a sealed envelope which they will only open once you have left is the best option. But, if you really want to help by giving something back after your holiday in Thailand then consider donating to a charity. Like many people, I sponsor a couple of Thai students. Mine are in the south of Thailand. A reputable charity to do this through is the Student Education Trust. You can visit their website at

If you need help writing a card in Thai, or you want some advice about good and reliable charities in Thailand, then please post your questions on our Forums. This is the number one family-friendly community in Thailand.

Chaos at Suvarnabhumi Airport

(AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

My wife and I just picked up a friend up from Suvarnabhumi off TG996. We live in Lard Praw. We left early and had to go via Bang Na and King Kaew Rd at Bang Phli as I had heard on 91FM that the normal entrance road off the Chonburi Motorway was jammed solid. All was well until I reached the airport at around 8.30 p.m. Phanthamit (PAD) were already controlling some of the roads on the airport extremities, the traffic situation was chaotic, we snail crawled along via the air cargo terminal road. I saw some Westerners dragging their suitcases from there. They were moving faster than we were in our cars!

(Sukree Sukplang/Reuters)

We eventually reached the number 3 car park which was only a third full. The Phanthamit group by this time were pouring in to the airport from the Chonburi motorway end, and were occupying the road outside the departure level. The noise they were making was incredible, they had loudspeakers mounted on several large trucks and the sound echoed around the terminal building. Judging crowd sizes is difficult but there were certainly well over a thousand of them, and more were arriving on foot all the time. At this stage the only entry doors to the terminal building for departing passengers was on the arrivals level, as the police had all of the doors on Departure level blocked off. This was causing confusion as there was very few officials around downstairs to advise people how to get to Departures.

(AP Photo/Wason Wanichakorn)

When we got inside the terminal, the shops and restaurants, banks etc were hurriedly closing and staff were blocking off the front of their premises with tables and chairs. At around 9.30pm the public address system announced that ALL people in the terminal building should leave immediately for their own safety. This was repeated many times over the next 15 minutes or so, although very few people seemed to be paying any attention to it. The noise from the yellow shirts outside was unbelievable and it only seemed a matter of time before they forced their way in. The police in their riot gear were woefully outnumbered.


Exactly at 10.30 p.m. the Phanthamit started to pour in through the doors on the departure level mainly at the Thai Airlines (Northern?) end. The police seemed to be unable to keep them out. Then rumours spread that the airport was now officially closed and that all flights were canceled, although I didn’t hear any announcements made over the PA system. It was pandemonium. Our friend appeared at the meeting point at 10.45pm or so and we made our way back to the car. On the way we talked to some people who had been trying to get a meter taxi back into town to try and find a hotel. Taxis were very scarce and the people said the drivers were screwing the passengers for all kinds of money to take them back into the city. Earlier in the evening they had been asking for 1000 Baht, and by this time it was much more than that!!I heard 2500 Baht mentioned.

On the way out of the airport the outgoing lanes of the road leading to the Chonburi Motorway were only moderately busy, but the lanes inbound to the airport were jammed solid right back to the motorway. I hate to think how many outgoing passengers were stuck there and are probably still stuck there!!

Altogether a very disturbing experience, and it must have been very frightening for people just wanting to get out of Thailand and go home to be trapped like that.

Latest travel reports and situation in Bangkok posted at >>>

Biking to Phu Toei National Park

(My one and only ever reliable Iron Lady)

On the advice of Steve, here I am at My name’s Charlie (from Belgium) and currently living and working in the small town of Suphanburi. My favorite hobby is biking and before coming to Thailand I’d already biked a lot of kilometers back in Belgium and Europe. Here in Suphanburi, I commute every day to my work and forth with my “IRON lady”. The first time I visited Thailand, my second love to my Iron Lady, was nearly 19 years ago and since then Thailand has never left me. This time around, I’ve been staying here 15 months…. and I do like it. Thailand is a real undiscovered biker’s paradise. Besides the cheap decent hotels everywhere, there are also good roads, restaurants and food stalls which are widely spread all over the country.

My “IRON LADY” is a self modified Yamaha Spark RX 135 cc . She always obeys me , and is a lot less thirstier than my ex-wife .I am 1m86 cm . The Thai bikes are really too small for me, so I lifted her up by 10 cm, I did it by extending the rear shock absorber .At The front , I replaced heavier and longer legs . I own her, since September 11th 2007.I rode 45000 kilometers on and off road together without any problems.

Last Saturday, 22 Nov, in the early morning, I was excited to be on my Iron lady again and all ready to kick off, for a full day of adventure at Phi Toei National Park. The plan for the today was to visit Tapern Khee Noi waterfall and Angel Mountain in Suphanburi province. Measuring at 1123 m high, Angel Mountain is the highest mountain in Suphanburi,. I had heard that there were breathtaking views at the top and some friends told me Tapern Khee Noy waterfall was also really worth a visit.
Phu Toei National Park is about 2 hours from Suphanburi and the main roads towards Phu Toei were excellent. At about 10.30, I made a short stop to eat something at some local restaurant and only had to pay 60 Baht for a full meal which was more than enough for me. So far so good.

(Tackling the final road up to Angel Mountain (Khao Thevada) is no easy task)

With my belly full, I kicked my iron lady again into action (she loves it ) for the final stage off the trip towards Phu Toei National park. This leg was the most adventurous part of the day. The next 20 kilometers where on paved roads without any road sings at all, saying where Phu Toei was.

Luckily, I can speak some Thai, but I still had to stop three times before a local could explain me the right direction!. Finally I found it, a narrow dirt road in between two houses .Without any help a foreigner would never be able to find it. The 16 kilometers long dirt road was covered with rocks and full of holes some 50 cm deep. Half way there was a river crossing (road as seen in the picture). At about 50 cm deep, a bit of caution is advised here – any help available far away.

I arrived at about 11.00 AM at Phu Toei and was met by a friendly ranger who advised me to visit the Tapern Khee Noy waterfall first. It was only a 500 meters walk away from the dirt road. The waterfall is in the middle of the jungle with a nice steep descent on very slippery paths. With my aging sandals it was a mistake on my part. However, I did manage to finally reach the waterfall. The waterfall isn’t so high, only 20-25 meters but the surrounding forest was amazing to see. The smooth sound of the waterfall with some birds playing as backing vocals was the most relaxing moment of the day. I listened to the waterfall’s symphony for nearly 30 minutes.

(Breath-taking view from Angel Mountain)

The final stage off the day was the climb to the summit of Angel Mountain on foot. No vehicles are allowed up Angel Mountain which is great to maintain the unspoiled nature. The climb took me about one hour to reach the top of the mountain. This gave me a breathtaking view over the three provinces , Kanchanaburi, Uthai Thani and last but not least Suphanburi. Very satisfied about my day so far I went back down to return to my Iron lady. You know, she gets lonely when I leave her alone for a certain period of time.

On my way back I was about to went to pop into the Karen Village near the mountain, but I decided against it because I am not keen on riding in the dark in Thailand. This real problem for bikers in Thailand are the nightly stray dogs which can be very unpredictable, I’ve witnessed many accidents caused by stray dogs.

Back in Dan Chang town center, I stayed at the Sri Suphan Hotel which is a clean and very quiet hotel. Actually, I only paid 300 baht for an air conditioned room. The room was furnished with a good bed, night table and satellite television. Not bad value at all.

I finished my day at a local restaurant near my hotel with a good meal consisting of fresh tilapia fried with garlic. I quite fancied the hot looking waitress too but from the looks of things she was married to the cook. Not wanting him to poison my dinner, I remained a ‘good boy’.

Steve’s also written a blog on Phu Toei but he stayed in a different area of the park and overnight: Truly Unseen: Phu Toei National Park