One of the least visited areas of Thailand is the North-East, or Isaan as it is referred to by the Thai people. This is a shame as it has a lot to offer such as its art and culture, ancient traditions, local cuisine, indigenous crafts, folk music, song and dance, and traditional festivals. In order to address this problem, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) have decided to shift their focus to Isaan this year.
To kick off the year long promotion, the TAT are holding the “Amazing I-San Fair 2011” from 27th-30th January 2011, at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center in Bangkok. There will be cultural presentations, folk performances and demonstrations of art and craft such as silk weaving and pottery making. In addition, in the exhibition zone, there will be a full range of products and services which include package tours, discounted accommodation and airline flights.
The Fair is divided into 4 main zones — an exhibition zone, seven Amazing I-san zones, a live demonstration zone, and a dedicated area for cultural performances. Each of the seven Amazing I-san zones will highlight a different theme namely- 1) Charm of the Mekong River 2) Destination of Natural Ozone 3) The Guiding Light of Buddhism 4) South I-san Civilization 5) Magnificent World Heritage and Ancient Civilizations 6) Impressive Dinosaur Skeletons and Footprints 7) I-san Boutique (trendy and chill out).
The fair is open from this Thursday until Sunday. It is free to enter between the hours of 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. The Queen Sirikit National Convention Center is conveniently located next to the MRT subway station of the same name. Free parking is available but is not always convenient on busy days. I will be going early on Sunday morning when it will be easier to find somewhere to park. Even if you are not planning on going somewhere in Isaan this year, it is worth going to take a look at the cultural shows.
As everyone knows by now, I am very excited about Thai Street Food. I have several websites of my own on this subject. I usually buy any book that I can find about Thai food. However, even though there are many books about Thai Cooking, there are relatively few about Thai Street Food. That is why I was so happy to learn of the launch of a new book called “Bangkok’s Top 50 Street Food Stalls” written by Chawadee Nualkhair.
It would be an impossible task to document all of the Thai street food stalls around Bangkok as there must be countless thousands of these. Many of them also come and go. Literally, as quite a few are also mobile. What the author has done in this book is produce a list of what she considers to be the Top 50 of the street food stalls in Bangkok. She does this by concentrating on five major areas: Chinatown, Banglamphu, Hua Lampong, Silom and Sukhumwit.
Personally, if I was going to write a book on Thai Street Food, I wouldn’t do reviews of the food stalls. Mainly because there are too many. For myself, I judge whether a food store has delicious food or not by the number of Thai people lining up outside. What I would concentrate on in my book would be a menu decoder which helps you buy the street food. For example, the names of dishes, the main ingredients and how to order them. I am glad to see that Chawadee has included twenty pages that introduces us to many of these dishes.
The book is beautifully illustrated throughout which includes pictures of the main dishes from each of the reviewed food stalls as well pictures of the shop-fronts to help you identify the places. What you get in each review is a description of the stall, their speciality, the different options and ideas of the cost. In addition, there is the address, phone numbers and opening hours. There are maps of each of the areas with the food stalls and shops marked.
“Bangkok’s Top 50 Street Food Stalls” should be available at Asia Books in Thailand and at Amazon.com by next month. In the meantime, you can buy direct from the author on her website at www.BangkokGlutton.com. The listed price is 350 Baht. You need to add extra for shipping. Payment is by Paypal. If you have any interest in Thai Street Food, whether you are in Bangkok or not, I highly recommend that you buy “Bangkok’s Top 50 Street Food Stalls” by Chawadee Nualkhair. I will certainly be referring to it a lot over the coming months.
If you are in Bangkok at the moment then you shouldn’t pass up on the opportunity to go and see a light and sound show at the Grand Palace called “The Golden Heritage of the Rattanakosin Era”. It is running from now until 28th February 2011. It pays homage to the kings of the Chakri Dynasty, but more importantly it is a celebration of H.M. The King’s 84th birthday which takes place at the end of this year.
The presentation starts with the formation of Bangkok and then passes through the ages telling the story of the kings, nation and the people. One of the main themes that comes across is their fight for independence from the colonizing Western powers and also of their struggle to modernize the county. The last half of the show is devoted to the present king who is the “heart and the pillar of the kingdom”.
The shows producers use a combination of different techniques to bring us this world standard light and sound show. On the stage there are about 100 actors but these numbers are greatly increased at times by the clever interaction between man and the multimedia characters shown on the big screen. At times this creates a kind of 3D affect. Some of the music used in the show was composed by H.M. The King.
They also make use of their greatest asset, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha which is to the left of the audience and also the Grand Palace itself which is behind the main stage. All of these buildings are beautifully lit up. As we are told the story and history of Bangkok, we are constantly reminded that we are sitting at the very heart of where all of this began over two hundred years ago.
There are nine acts in total during the performance. These are: The Founding of the City, The Glory of Rattanakosin, The Civilization of Siam, Democratic Siam, The King in the Heart of Thai People, The Royal Paths of His Majesty, Royal Virtuoso, The Heart and the Pillar of the Kingdom and Paying Homage. I am very familiar with the History of the Kings, but it was good to be able to see new photos and film footage as well as listen to live performances of His Majesty’s compositions.
The 90 minute show takes place on the lawn in front of Sahathai Samakom This is the area that you see when you first enter the gates of the Grand Palace. The show starts at 7 p.m. and runs nightly apart from Mondays. Tickets cost 500 baht each and you can use the seating plan to choose where you want to sit. The tickets have to be bought in advance at the Grand Palace during office hours only. You cannot buy on the door.
Although I enjoyed the show immensely, it should be noted that it has been designed for a Thai audience. Foreign tourists who don’t speak Thai or are not familiar with Thai history, might find it confusing at times. The performances and the multimedia productions should be enjoyable for everyone. But there are long stretches of voice-over in Thai. They do have screens on either side for projecting English subtitles, but unfortunately it was only used for a brief description of each act. It should also be noted that photography during the performance is not allowed. I was able to take these pictures from the media area at the back.
Thai Buddhists have believed for a long time that they will make good merit if they release fish and birds at a temple. The idea is that you are doing good by giving a creature its freedom. However, its often a short-found freedom as these creatures are often re-captured to only be sold again to the next person who arrives at the temple. The original idea behind releasing fish was to help those creatures left stranded in rice fields after the waters had receded from a flood. Villagers would save the lives of the fish by releasing them into a nearby canal or river.
These days, people don’t have time to search flooded rice fields or woods for trapped creatures. So, they pay other people to do this for them. When they arrive at the temple there are already fish and turtles in tubs and birds in small cages. However, these creatures haven’t been rescued. Far from it. They were trapped and caged by these sellers and then brought to the temples. The Thai Buddhists think that they are making merit by releasing the birds and fish. But, in reality, they are supporting this practice and the people that take away the freedom from these creatures.
I don’t know about you, but in my book it would be a sin to pay these people money. An increasing number of abbots also agree and they now ban these vendors from their compounds. It is actually big money for these people and presumably they give a cut to the temple. Several temples that I visited last weekend had many tubs of different kinds of fish. Each were labelled clearly telling the name of the creature as well as what kind of merit that you would make in releasing it. In addition, there were also charts telling you how many creatures you should release depending on what day of the week that you were born. Apparently, as I was born on Wednesday evening, I should release 12 creatures.
What do you think about this practice? Is it quaint and harmless or should it be banned completley?
Recently I was in Bonn which was clouded most of the days. Then suddenly on 16th January, the sky cleared. From the bridge over the Rheine, I snapped the restaurant opposite the Hilton Hotel, bathed in morning light. Thai food in Bonn is also available in multi-cuisine restaurants.