Author Archives: Siam Jai

Fried Ice Cream

Reading one of Richard’s recent comments reminded me of a really strange but extremely delicious Thai food: fried ice cream. Mmm.. just writing about it makes me hungry! Here, take a look:


Top and bottom view of this unusual delicacy

Fried Ice Cream?

Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. 🙂 Instructions seem simple at first glance: take a scoop of icecream, cover it with a layer of batter, and then dip it into boiling oil.

Now some of you may be thinking along the lines of my first thought when I heard about it: “are you crazy? Ice cream in hot oil? It’s gonna be a soggy mess!” And sure it would be, were it you or me standing at the frying pan. 😉 But in the hands of a skilled Northern cook, this technique can turn even the most boring scoop of vanilla ice cream into a yummy delicacy.


You can see from this cross-sectioned pic that it’s not soggy at all; the ice cream inside is still solid and frosty. I guess the secret lies in the thickness of the batter coat, and the time it’s spent in the boiling oil. Take it out too soon and the batter doesn’t fry properly; leave it in for too long, and the icecream melts inside. It takes skill and experience to get it right.

Oh, by the way, want to hazard a guess how much a scoop costs up here in a Chiang Mai mall? Send answers below in a comment – I’ll post the answer later.

Cheers! 🙂

Ten ways to know you’re in Isaan

Isaan without pink glasses

lao market

Isaan is a wonderful place. It’s like anything else in Thailand, the whole region has its unique charm. The lush greens of the tropical rice paddies and palm trees, the simple folk, their culture all bring about a certain rustic charm; no wonder that many of us tend to write about it with our pink glasses on!

But an Isaan life can be a wonderful and fun adventure even without the pink glasses on. So this morning I sat down and recollected some of my memorable experiences while I lived there. Below are ten points of the real hallmarks of Isaan life. Although some may sound like complaining, these are all treasured memories, and are expressed with light-hearted fun in mind. Enjoy! 🙂

You know you’re in Isaan when

-in the shop, thick layers of dust cover Coke and Fanta bottles, while Mekong and Beer Lao bottles are always new and shiny.

-the 6-pm national anthem is the signal to close up shops, go home and sleep.

-the first cry of the rooster is the signal to crowd the markets and blare morlam karaoke for the listening pleasure of the entire village.

-you can drive on a four-lane road without seeing any cars; in fact, in a half hour you’ll come across more cow-poop than cars!

-at a restaurant, you ask for a glass of drink, they give you a bottle (“geo”).

-the number of local women interested in marrying you is directly proportional to your age – but their age is inversely proportional to yours!

-upon hearing you speak Thai, people assume you must be married to a local gal.

-you see buffaloes and chicken roaming in-and-out of schoolyards.

-you compliment your host for the colorful patterns of the tablecloth, and then you see him using the same thing as a loincloth! And towel! And blanket! and just about everything else you can think of.

-the only thing removed from the chicken in the soup are the feathers.

This is just the top of the iceberg, there are many more; feel free to add yours below! And don’t forget: no complaints, just light-hearted fun! 🙂

’til next time,


Northern Songkran Traditions

Catching up with life…

Happy New Year! 🙂 It’s nice to be back after such a long absence. Work is going as usual, but I’ve been quite busy lately with a number of exciting projects. Cherry and I are making our own website which also includes a personal blog that we update regularly. Add an overseas trip sometime in June, and you see why our hands are full!

Oh, I think I didn’t talk about Cherry here yet. Well, she’s a PhD student at CMU; she’s kind, smart, fluent in English and she’s also the girlfriend of this lucky guy SiamJai here. 😉 You can find out more about our lives in our personal blog, Life Wonders. I will still keep writing about Thailand here, but personal life articles go over there.

So now back to the main topic of this post; Lanna-style Songkran.

If you think of a Chiang Mai Songkran, the likely picture in your mind is about throngs of drenched people standing at the canal, merrily swinging buckets full of chilled klong water, soaking each other and the nearby cars stuck in traffic jam. I know – I did just that. 😉


However, it wasn’t always this way. The now-popular waterfight overshadows the more intricate patterns of Songkran customs, dating back to the times this land was called Lanna. Today I want to tell you about some of the traditional ways we’re celebrating Songkran in the North.

The Northern Songkran festival was originally spread over four days, with each day having a different theme:

1. วันสังขารล่อง (Wan Sangkhan Lohng, Apr. 13): the cleansing
sandcastle Let’s start the new year fresh and clean! Northern Thais take this literally, and so they spend this day cleaning their houses and taking sacred Buddha images from temples for ritual cleansing ceremonies. They wash the statues gently with lustral water scented with fresh petals of the jasmine flower. The statues are then displayed in a colorful parade of monks, floats and bands. These parades are a great spectacle, and an excellent opportunity to listen to authentic Lanna music.

2. วันเนา (Wan Nao, Apr. 14): the preparation
If you were to see this day in the times of Lanna as an outsider, you’d be disappointed. Nothing special from the visitor point of view. Locals stay inside, busy preparing everything for the big day – tomorrow. Women and girls cook and preserve food for the next day’s offerings, while men and boys are out there collecting sand from the Mae Ping for building sandcastles. (Nowadays, offerings are bought at supermarkets, and sand is arranged by the temples themselves, and hauled by large trucks to the scene). People make sure that at the end of the day everything is ready for the highlight of the celebrations…

3. วันพญาวัน (Wan Payawan, Apr. 15): the offering
offering This is it; the big day. Everyone wakes up early in the morning, taking the previously cooked and preserved food and fresh fruits for a mass merit-making at the temples. Besides offering food and everyday supplies, people also make merit by releasing captive birds and fish.

Although the calendar says otherwise, popularly Wan Payawan was regarded as the beginning of the new year, and thus much emphasis was placed on proper conduct and good deeds for this day. You see, people believed (and some still do today), that whatever they do in the beginning of the new year will affect the rest of the year. Thus they take particular care and they refrain from bad speech, bad thoughts and actions, as well as abstain from sex. These rules are similar to those of the Vegetarian Festival, and for similar reasons.

Once the offerings were done, people started sprinkling water at each other. This is not to be mistaken with the respectful sprinkling of the elderly – it was a bit more playful and relaxed. Yet, it was still much more reserved than today’s all-out waterfights. People carried silver bowls filled with water, dipped their hands into it, and sprayed water gently over each other by shaking water from their fingers.

4. วันปากปี (Wan Paak Bpee, Apr. 16): the respect
respecting the elders Perhaps the most known aspect of Songkran traditions is performed on this day; the formal respect of the elderly by sprinkling lustral water on them. But in the days of Lanna, there was more to that.

The day began with remembering the ancestors in the morning – perhaps a Chinese influence. Then the younger people gathered around the family elders. (Remember, in those days Thais lived in extended families, many generations under one roof). They approached the elders with bowls of scented water, which they poured on their hands (not over the shoulders as popularly assumed), while saying words of respect. The excess water flew into a red bowl that was placed underneath the elders’ hands. At this time, traditional mor-ham shirts and other items were also presented to the elderly.

After the participants asked for the elders’ forgiveness for any disrespectful behavior in the past, the elders dipped their hands into the lustral water and wet their own heads, while blessing the participants. Finally, they all went to the temple together to perform สืบชะตา, a ceremony to prolong life.

(Thanks to and for some of the information used in this blog. All the pictures are from personal collection.)

Until next time,


Thai culture is killing Thais

It’s rare that stuff related to my job makes news, but that’s what happened just now. If you follow Thai news, you may be aware of the recent botulism outbreak in the northern province of Nan.

What the news tell you is that about 150 people got down with botulism last week, and that health officials traced the outbreak of this deadly disease to canned bamboo shoots consumed at a temple fair. They also say that botulism is such a rare disease that vaccines have to be imported from other countries, including the US and Canada.

It’s actually not the microbe that’s the problem, but the toxin it produces. Botox is a favored bioterrorist weapon, next to anthrax. But terrorists are not the ones responsible for this outbreak. Not even the microbe. The real culprit is Thai culture. To see why, let’s go beyond the news.

I dug up a CDC report of a botulism outbreak in 1998. It happened in Nan, many people got sick from eating canned bamboo shoots, and vaccines had to be imported from other countries. That was eight years ago.

Ajarn yai, the greatest teacher of all

Ajarn yai – many of you may know this phrase as “school principal” in Thai. Today I want to tell you about a Thai custom that will give this phrase a very different meaning. 🙂

If you visited our university last month, you’d have been greeted by the solemn sight of black-and-white drapes hanging from the walls of the doorway, and the throng of neatly dressed undergraduates lining the entryway. As you’d step inside and walk down the hallway, you’d be aware of the large flower garlands all along the walls, sometimes surrounding lists of names. You could suspect that something or someone is being honored there. The chants coming from behind a closed door would confirm that notion.

If you’d step closer and peek inside through a window, the first thing you’d notice are the nine monks sitting on elevated platforms, chanting to an avid audience of Thais dressed in black. Something strange in the middle of the room: large black bags, holding unknown things. The group of skeletons standing in a corner give an eerie hint of the bags’ ghastly content…