Thailand, the land of my childhood, still mesmerizes me with its unusual and controversial conglomeration of right vs. wrong, good vs. evil and beautiful vs. not so beautiful. Buddhism has been ingrained in the life of every Thai person and is represented in a landscape dotted with holy images, elaborate shrines and soaring pagodas. At the same time, due to economic hardship, financial opportunities, and/or just plain convenience, some women and men are driven to a life as a sex slave, a child laborer, a drug dealer, etc. These two poles exist side-by-side, harmoniously in Thai society. For example, holy images are enshrined and prayed for in most business establishments including go-go bars, nightclubs and brothel houses. However, the attribute you will notice most about Thai people in all walks of life is their hospitable manner. They are so polite and easy-going, always adhering to the phases sabuy sabuy (relax), sanuk (fun), mai pen ri (never mind) and jai yen yen (take it easy or calm down). They seem to try very hard to please strangers and guests to ensure that they have a good time.
Besides its people, Thailand offers diversified sights, sounds, tastes, and smells. The Thai kingdom is divided into four regions each with its own distinct climate, dialect, art, customs, and cuisine. Ancient sites and cities offer some background of each region in its artistic and cultural development. You can see awe-inspiring pagodas, glittering temples and majestic royal palaces of various shapes and artistic styles. Aside from a regions arts and crafts, the cuisine represents the culture and daily life of the regional people. An array of exotic tropical fruits and local goods offered in open-air markets challenge your taste and your bargaining skills.
A unique landscape also distinguishes each region with the high rugged ridges, lush hills and valleys of the cool north through the colorful, bustling central plain to the tropical white sand beaches, remote enchanting islands, friendly marine life and towering rain forests of the south.
Chat of Unusual Touch leads you through these phenomenal experiences in Thailand. Chat, as an insider, takes you to see the authentic, personalized, in-depth vision of Thailand. Chat, as an outsider, shows you Thailand as it is without any judgments. Lets have fun and be mesmerized by Thailand!
Chat of Unusual Touch travels through Thailand and Southeast Asia 2-3 months out of the year doing research and sampling local dishes for his articles and cookbooks. His students and friends always accompany him on this, sometimes long journey. Recently, his companion list is getting larger requiring more organization and planning. So, Chat has finally decided to organize small groups of people to do what he enjoys most: traveling, eating and now showing his students, friends and food enthusiasts a good time in his homeland.
Complying with the Thai attitudes of Sabuy Sabuy (easygoing) and Jai Yen Yen (take it easy), the trips are organized so your vacation can be enjoyed at a leisurely pace. We will see and experience various aspects of Thailand -- both beautiful and not so beautiful. We will walk among ordinary people, feel and touch their colorful culture and taste their diversified cuisine. There will be off-the-beaten-path trips with limited services and indulgent trips with luxurious provisions, but wherever we are, food is always plenty and delicious.
Chat of Unusual Touch often asks members to adopt a give and take attitude to get along. It is imperative that all members behave as a unit to achieve the same goal of having a good time. Disruptive and self-centered manner of any member can jeopardize the trips tranquility and harmony, and may result in being dismissed from the group with no refund. Please keep in mind that you are among friends and families during this trip. Examine yourself closely before taking a trip because your attitude is the most important part to a memorable and enjoyable trip.
There are several choices to be made about which one of the three trips you would like to join. By looking at the trip details, determine which trip would suit your duration, cost, and date of travel and which itinerary best suits your interests. But, most importantly, determine whether or not this trip is right for you?
A little adventurous, a little luxurious, a lot of unusual touch, action and good foods are only beginning to describe the trip. The trip is perfect for the first time explorer of Thailand or a past visitor who would like to receive a greater depth of understanding of Thai life and cuisine . You are a flexible explorer and observer interested in learning other cultures. You are active, willing and open-minded to absorb and connect with the real Thailand.
You will taste authentic Thai cuisine in every meal throughout every region. Many varieties of foods, both spicy and mild, will be ordered for family style dining. For those who are highly sensitive to spicy food you can request the chef to tone down the heat. But spiciness is a relative term a toned down version may still be too hot. This trip might be an opportune time to develop your spicy toleration.
Accommodations in a variety of convenience levels will be provided throughout the trip. Some have air conditioners; some have fans; some have open-air tropical breeze; some have hot water and some dont. But they are all clean, safe and convenient with adequate services. Accommodations are double occupancy based on two persons sharing a twin-bedded room. Sometimes, depending on the availability of the twin-bedded room, members are occasionally asked to share a dorm-style long house mostly on the remote tropical islands. If you expect a first-class or five-star international hotel with all-luxurious services and amenities, this trip is not for you.
Adult trip members come in all ages and backgrounds ranging from 18 80 years old, but they all have good stamina. The trip is not recommended for children; however, children of a certain age with exceptionally mature manners and stamina to keep up with adults may be considered on a case by case basis with their parents.
Our primary ground transportation is a van or two vans depending on the number of tour members. Other ground transportation is provided to get to the off-the-beaten-path destinations. Train, automobile, boat, canoe, and in some occasions, elephant or other tame riding animals are included. At some hard-to-reach destinations, climbing in and out of vehicles such as boats and stepping in and out of water is unavoidable.
Geographically embraced by the rugged ridge of mountains, Tanow Wasri, with the highest peak at 8,445 feet, the north has a pleasant cool climate compared to the hot and humid weather found in the southern regions. The mountains form a natural border to Burma (Myanmar) and Laos and intersect at the infamous Golden Triangle. The mountains slope down into the fertile Northern-rolling plateau, creating four sister rivers: the Ping, the Wung, the Yom and the Nan. These four rivers combine together to form the mighty Chao Praya River which flows through central Thailand.
Though Thais in general are quite mellow, adhering to the Thai motto Sabuy Sabuy meaning "whatever". I have found Thais in the north to be extremely Sabuy Sabuy. The temperate climate and fertile land have shaped the mellow disposition and peaceful way of life. The Thais in the north have seldom had to face economic hardship. Their crafts, architecture, language, cuisine and conduct are the highlight of Thai civilization.
I may describe the northern people as mellow, but the pungent spices and chili pastes in their cuisine run counter to their mild disposition. The neighboring countries of Myanmar and Laos influence their culinary tradition. Gaeng Hung Lay is a popular Burmese-influenced curry dish, as well as Khoa Soi, the signature dish of the north. Not to be dismissed is the Laotian-influenced Khao Neaw, or sticky rice, which is their regional staple rather than the soft, boiled jasmine rice of the central and southern regions. Namprik, a basic element in every meal, is a chili dip or sauce accompanied by fresh or cooked vegetables. Namprik ranges in heat intensity, from the mild Namprik Ong (minced pork with tomato and spice mixture) to the fiery Namprik Tadaeng (dried red chili with spices and shrimp paste).
The cool climate of the north produces annually a unique fruit that grows only in this region called Lumyai in Thai or Longan throughout the rest of the world. Longan plays an important role in northern desserts, both as a fresh fruit and for its unique flavor and texture in sweet rice pudding, syrup and beverages.
The northern hospitality is most evidently shown in a traditional feast called Khun Toke. Khun Toke is a classical style dinner customarily offered to important quests or dignitaries. A round 2-foot tall table with an upward rim is constructed or carved out of wood then polished, decorated, and lacquered. Several dishes of food are arranged on this table and served in front of the guests who sit awaited on the floor. The meal typically consists of northern delicacies such as Gaeng Hung Lay, Gaeng Hoa, Namprik Ong, chicken salad, pork rinds, sausages, rice puffs, fresh vegetables, and Nam Ton which is a beverage. Accompanying the meal is a woven bamboo container, Kratip, full of sticky rice, a bowl of water for rinsing ones hands, and hand-rolled local cigarettes called Khee Yo. This mouthwatering feast seldom goes without a treat for the ears and eyes. Northern classical dances and music are typically performed throughout the meal.
The central region has fertile flatlands, which spread out around the Chao Praya River; the lifeblood of the region. The river originates in northern waterways carrying silt and nutrition to annually revitalize the central regions land. The land, in return, yields a large-quantity of high-quality agricultural products year-round with the support of a complex irrigation network. This network also serves as a commuter highway for people and goods, thus the region is dubbed the "Venice of the East. Bangkok, the capital city, is the center of Thai economy, politics and culture. It houses all major governmental institutions, including the leading educational, medical, sporting and cultural facilities. The capital city is centrally located and flanked by the gulf of Thailand where sea going ships transverse. Bangkok with a population exceeding 10 million, attracts people from all regions, primarily for economic purposes. Similar to any big city, Bangkok has become a metropolis with its own set of problems. The high price of being a capital city is that it is one of the worlds most polluted and congested cities. Each year, due to inadequate drainage, flooding periodically paralyzes the city and casts its burden on the life of its inhabitants. Despite these obstacles, Bangkok still grows and attracts more people, yielding a colorful conglomeration of flavors and cuisine.
The best food merchants bring their trade to Bangkok to challenge an elaborate, sophisticated and contemporary food scene. The central region covers both sides of the gulf of Thailand where abundant supplies of seafood are transported daily for enormous consumption in Bangkok. Along the Gulf, cities such as Rayong, produce one of the best Nam Pla (fish sauce) and Kapi (shrimp paste) which are essential to almost all Thai dishes. All year round, the central plain produces the majority of the countrys fruits and vegetables, such as Som Keow Wan ( sweet tangerine) and Mamoung (mango). These fruits and vegetables, along with seasonal fruits and vegetables imported from other regions, make Bangkok markets perpetually vibrant with colors and choices.
Food of the central region, especially in Bangkok, has been often modified to fit shifting trends. It reinvents itself regularly to keep up with the demands of challenging new tastes, influx of new ingredients, and new life styles. In every visit to Thailand made during the past few years, Ive found new creative concoctions formed by mixing and matching local ingredients and techniques to invent new dishes. At this point, I have to credit the new generation of chefs who break through the traditional and conservative barrier in Thai cooking to bring its sensations to new heights.
The southern peninsula stretches down between the Gulf of Thailand and the Indian Ocean. Beautiful beaches attract tourists from around the world, thus there are big investments made in the resort and hospitality businesses. As an example, Phuket Island, with its tropical paradise, convenient international airport and luxury hotels have earned the reputation of being a first-class tourist destination. Many southern beaches have been featured in numerous movies, notably The Beach and Diamonds Are Forever. The landscape of the south varies dramatically from the rolling green rice fields in the central region to the tall trees of rubber plantations and the sloping hills of coconut palms and spiky pineapples of the south. These plantations are watered by a nearly eight-month rainy season. Some parts of the south still have dense jungles, which have been preserved for rare and endangered animal species.
The south experiences and accepts greater religious diversity than the other regions. A concentration of Muslims in the south constitutes the second largest religion in the Thai kingdom. The southern language is the most distinctive and difficult to comprehend according to the central standard. Farther south near the Malaysian border, the southerners also speak Malay and have absorbed a Malay way of life. Southern cuisine reflects the neighboring influence of Malaysia with Muslim curries and the avoidance of pork. Coconut is locally produced and presented in many regional dishes. Seafood dishes, Pla Phao (grilled banana-wrapped fish) or Goong Seap (prawn skewers), are ingeniously prepared in a uniquely southern way. Gaeng Leung (yellow soup) and Kaeng Tai Pla (fish tripe soup) owe their origins to the south, where their special ingredients grow. An indigenous plant, Sataw, is produced only in this region and transported all over Thailand as a southern delicacy.
Ever popular, the south recently received tremendous amounts of tourists, bringing wealth to the local people, especially in well-known destinations such as Phuket and Samui Island. The standard of living among these places has increased so drastically that some places are too far reaching for most of the Thai people to visit. The southern food scene has been modified to accommodate Western visitors and the Western palate. Thus, the tastes are less challenging and diversified as perhaps the other regions. Fortunately in some restaurants, the local dishes still maintain the taste and integrity of Thai cuisine.
The second largest region in Thailand, the northeast or Esan covers 1/3 of the total land area. In many regions here the soil is poor and the farmers depend solely on nature for the right amount of rain. They often endure prolonged and frequent droughts or floods. At one time, the drought must have been so severe that part of the vast barren land was named Kula Rong Hai, which means, crying Kula. I have been told that Kula is an indigenous bird, whose habitat often suffers from the drought, but the bird always survives. Once the drought got so intense that even the bird cried.
The neighboring country, Laos, has long been an influence on daily life of the Esan people. It shows in the architecture, language and unique cuisine. Along the Mae Kong River, bordering Thailand and Laos, the Esan people speak Laotian fluently, and some have accepted Laotian culture and traditions. In fact, I cant find much difference between Esan and Laotian people in this part of Thailand, except for which side of the Mae Kong River they are from.
Facing the extreme conditions, the Esan people have had to be resourceful. Their cuisine reflects the creative ways they have of making the best use of local ingredients. Instead of steamed rice, the Esan people prefer sticky rice or glutinous rice considerably heavier both in weight and how it feels in the stomach. Laap, an Esan signature dish, employs only a few ingredients and is quick and easy to prepare. Jaew, or chili dip, is an essential part of the Esan meal. The Esan people prepare several kinds of fiery hot Jaew, to accompany the sticky rice and vegetables during extreme weather conditions. Esan soup is also simple to prepare with one or two dominant flavors from local herbs and spices. Since they dont have the luxury of coconut milk , their soup is a clear broth. Savory Esan dishes are usually prepared without sugar. The sweetness comes from creative use of ingredients such as Esan sweet cilantro or sweet basil.
Whereas natural products from the earth in this region are mostly the same as those in other regions, they are prepared differently. For example, Tum Som, the Esan green papaya salad, is comprised of papaya, fish sauce, lime juice and herbs. In contrast, by reversing the name in the central region to Som Tum, elaborate ingredients such as dried or cooked shrimps, tomatoes, sugar, and peanuts are added. Esan produces most of Thailands preserved meat and vegetable products, as they never know when the drought or flood will strike. The most famous of these products is raw salt-fermented fish, dried and salt-cured beef and bamboo shoots in brine. The raw salt-fermented fish appears in several Esan dishes as a flavor enhancer. To survive the extreme conditions, the Esan people have developed unusual delicacies, such as deep-fried silkworms, grilled lizards, crickets and red ant salad.
A traditional dinner of the Esan called Pa Khao Lang is similar to the Khun Toke of the North. Guests are offered a tray of local delicacies such as Laab Moo, bamboo shoot soup, sour fish, salted beef, Tum Som, BBQ chicken, Jaew dip, vegetables, Khao Maow, and baby bananas. Katip of sticky rice and water for rinsing always accompany the meal.