Sunday, 17 July 2011

Review: Baanrimtaling Guesthouse, Chiang Khong, Thailand

Chiang Khong is the place to come if you want to do the land (and water!) crossing into Laos.  We took the bus from Chiang Rai to Chiang Khong which takes between 2 and 3 hours…it is a slow journey but quite stress free and calm!  Arriving in the town we walked over to the riverfront and the first place we came across was the Baanrimtaling Guesthouse.  We instantly loved it and knew it would be perfect for relaxing for the afternoon.  It is run by a really lovely woman who has a really good, helpful set up.

After settling into our room on the waterfront we had a delicious phad thai.  Phad thai is one of my favourite thai dishes and in our short time in Thailand I had only had it once so it was a treat!  The noodles were perfect, the fresh smoothie which accompanied it was refreshing and the view peaceful and beautiful.

The owner helped us to organise our boat ticket for the morning and she also booked us onto her free drop off service which takes you to the border.  It really was such a nice treat in the morning to not have to think about where to go and how to get there.  Before this free drop off we enjoyed a tasty breakfast and had a packed lunch of fried rice made up for our journey.  The slow boat to Luang Prabang takes 2 days and there are only snacks on board so it was definitely good to take lunch with us.  The Baanrimtaling Guesthouse is really a great last stay in Thailand, friendly owner and staff, gorgeous food, cheap prices, get your own drinks policy, help for crossing the border…what more could you want?

Food Glossary: Durian

The durian is widely know in Southeast Asia as the 'king of fruits' and stands out not only for it's spiky, thick outer skin but it's unique and terrible strong smell!!  The smell is so bad that the fruit is banned from some public places!  Despite this it is known as an expensive fruit for those who can afford the luxury.  I finally sampled it when in Vietnam and I have to say I thought it was terrible!  The texture is mushy and flavour much like the smell.  I did speak with many locals who really enjoy the fruit though and who said that it does take a bit of perseverance with!

Food Glossary: Phad/Pad/Phat Thai

Pad thai is simple and delicious!  It is one of my favourite thai meals as it always guarantees to be satisfying and yummy!  It is a noodle dish using tamarind as the base of flavour and egg fried and mixed in along with bean sprouts, pak choi, spring onions, prawns and/or tofu and chicken.  When served traditionally it comes with peanuts on top and a wedge of lime to squeeze over it.  The mix of textures is brilliant and you can make it as spicy as you want (or not) by the amount of chilli you add.  This is one of Thailand's national dishes so make sure you try it when visiting the country!  (note - the 'pad thai' sold on the street on Koh San in Bangkok is not the real thing - it is not using tamarind as the base so it is really just a stir fry, which although is nice is not half as good as the real thing - but is very cheap!)

Friday, 8 July 2011

Review: Lebua's Sky Bar@the State Tower, Bangkok, Thailand

The Sky Bar is an absolute must visit in Bangkok in my opinion.  The view is unbeatable, the dome at the top an incredible building success, and the ambiance unique.  There is a dress code for this bar, so no flip flops, shirts for the boys etc. and smart for girls.  (We learnt this by being turned away after a day of sightseeing, in a very friendly manner however!!)

It goes without saying that the drinks here are pricey – you really are paying for the location so I would actually recommend booking ahead for one of the restaurants as in comparison they are not so highly priced and it will allow you to enjoy the setting in a more relaxed manner.  The night we were there a live band performed as well which must have been pretty exciting for them!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Review: Bakoel Koffie, Jakarta, Java, Indonesia

In Jakarta it can be hard to find a coffee shop that is not a starbucks or not in a shopping mall!  So when we discovered Bakoel Koffie we were very excited and ended up spending a few afternoons relaxing there reading and using the wifi….and of course drinking the fantastic coffee!

The company is the oldest coffee roaster in Java with a history dating back to 1878.  Liauw Tek Siong, an immigrant from southern China bought fresh coffee beans from ladies who carried them in ‘bakoel’ – which are traditional Javanese baskets, and roasted them using firewood.  Business flourished from that day and eventually the coffee shop itself was opened back in 2001 by the fourth generation of the family and named to give tribute to the ladies carrying the coffee beans back in the 1870s.  In addition the logo for the store which you can see in the shop windows, pays homage to these ladies.

The shop sells three blends of coffee – Heritage 1969 (Sumatran beans), Brown Cow (northern Sumatra and Java beans), and Black Mist (Sulawesi and Java beans).  They recommend using different blends depending on what type of drink you want to try and I can say that they are all amazing!  I can’t remember which is my favourite sadly…but I can say that I enjoyed every cup of coffee drink I had here!

As soon as you enter the coffee shop there is a feeling of warmth from the staff’s smiles and friendly greeting, the sound of the coffee grinding, the intoxicatingly rich smell of fresh coffee, the cakes and delicious looking food, the wooden furniture and inviting sofas and the buzz of contented customers.The shop stays open until at least 9/10 at night which is nice and the staff are happy for you to spend as long as you want there without hassling you to buy more!  It’s hard not to be tempted though and you can see below a selection of foods we sampled whilst there!  If you are craving western food then there are some good options on offer here.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Review: Bharani@Thailand Creative Design Centre, Bangkok, Thailand

The Thailand Creative and Design Centre (TCDC) is a really interesting centre at the top of the Emporium shopping mall in Sukhumvit area of Bangkok.  I headed over for a wonder round after visiting the Jim Thompson House, also well worth a visit.

The centre is home to exhibition space, a shop, film gallery watching space, a resource centre, a restaurant - Bharani and café.  I had heard good reports about the café and hadn’t eaten all day so when I arrived I did not hesitate about grabbing a table to eat!  Unfortunately I did not realise that there was also another restaurant so didn’t end up eating in the one I had been recommended.  However, I was not disappointed with the food at Bharani, even if it was a little pricier than my usual meal in Bangkok!

The restaurant is lovely and you can see into the open kitchen which is nice.  I ordered some salmon with rice and it was really tasty.  I gobbled it down!  I have to say the salmon portion was definitely stingy – it should have been twice the size, and the rice portion was huge!  However, both were cooked really well, crisp fish skin but succulent inside and the flavours were lovely.  It was really relaxing to sit and enjoy food and a drink here and so I would definitely recommend.  Although I’d still like to try out the café near to the resource centre so anyone who has been let me know your thoughts!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Review: Cabbages and Condoms, Bangkok, Thailand

Cabbages and Condoms is born out of the Population and Community Association’s (PDA) desire to raise awareness about family planning and birth control in Thailand.  The restaurant’s name is designed to seek acceptance and refers to the PDA’s desire that condoms and birth control be as accessible as vegetables.  The PDA, founded in 1974, is one of Thailand’s largest, most successful private, not-for-profit development organisations.  At the time 7 was the average number of children per family and at 3.3% population growth the country would not live up to its development potential if it continued at this rate.

Initially the PDA organised distribution of birth control methods through local volunteer representatives across the country and an integrated approach of working alongside communities has remained central to their approach.  Today the restaurant has a strong reputation and is a thriving restaurant in Bangkok attracting tourists, ex-pats and locals.

From the moment you enter you are confronted by condoms in a range of ways!  There are figures including that of Tiger Woods, made entirely from coloured condoms, light bulbs decorated with them, and every customer is given a free condom.  In addition there are numerous information posters around the restaurant, from detail about their work, to research into population and birth control and posters showing different positions!

The menu here is extensive and has every Thai dish you can think of.  We ordered a spicy papaya salad (Som Tum Thai) and a green curry.  Both were pretty spicy!  The salad was fresh and tasty, and the curry was pretty good although a little small on serving.  The service was slick although the bill was confusing as you are just told a total rather than given an itemised bill.  The setting for the restaurant is really pretty and atmospheric and overall it was an interesting eat and nice to be supporting the cause.  The prices were a little high but I don’t think the crowd minds as it remains busy.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Review: Prata Saga Sambal Berlada stall, Little India, Tekka Market, Singapore

In the heart of Singapore city’s Little India is the Tekka food market.  Inside are hundreds of food vendors each in small stalls and cooking up a range of aromas.  It is not just Indian food you can find inside the market, but it is the reason we went so we choose a prata/murbartha stall.

Prata bread is one of my favourite Indian small meals that I fondly remember enjoying whilst visiting India on work trips a couple of years ago.  I have tried to find it in England ever since but have had no luck.  So this market made me really smile and excited about the prospect of having some of the tasty bread once again!

We had a chat with the friendly owners of the Prata Saga stall whose family were from beautiful Kerala in South India.  He showed me step by step how he made the bread and we ordered fresh juice to accompany our meal from the next door stall.  I had the chicken murbatha which had egg, chicken inside and James had the egg and cheese prata.  Both were served with a delicious curry sauce for dipping the bread in.  the meal was perfect and left me craving more despite being full!