วันเสาร์ที่ 27 มีนาคม พ.ศ. 2553


Juice,pepper and salt, washed down with an ice cold beer rates as an all-time favourite on my top 10 beach food list.With handy chunks of fresh baguette to soak up the remainder of the tangy sauce,the snack’s place on my list was confirmed The tase was unbeatable but sand between the toes and a fresh sea breeze most certamly boosted the rating.
This memory has created a challenge for each subsequent beach trip to fine and equivalent if not better,dish.After all isn’t the menu as essential to a beach holiday as the beach itself? Exotic fiavours and famitrar favourites are eaggrly anticipated after the sun sets on another long day of dorng very little.Koh lanta yai was the destination for my latest search,the
44 Sawasdee June 2005thought being that tropical Thailand would surely reveal some worthy challengers. According to Chef Francois Desmidt at the island's Pimalai Resort and Spa, it's the "variety of fresh flavours and low calories" that make the Kingdom's renowned cuisine ideal beach food. I also like to think of it as impact food, full of vivid combinations of clean flavours that simply cannot be ignored, even when you're doing nothing.Possibly the best place to start is the Pimalai, a five-star resort on the island nestled in tropical gardens overlooking Kan Tiang Bay. The beach restaurant Rak Talay recognises the simple decadence of barefoot dining, especially in thatched pavilions surrounded by pandanus palms on a quiet cove. High-backed chairs combined with hanging bamboo lanterns add to the beachcomber-chic feel, while a large central table wouldn't look amiss on a Survivor set, ideal for a winning team's reward after a hard-fought challenge. But I digress. It was the food I was after.
A light but satisfying grilled sea bass, infused with a coriander and garlic stuffing, came first. In hindsight it didn't need the accompanying, pepper sauce but if it was put before me it had to be tried. A serve of suitably crunchy stir-fried vegetables in oyster sauce then rounded out the meal and as if on cue the live entertainment kicked in. Fortunately it wasn't a cheesy resort band clad in clashing Hawaiian shirts. Instead, fire twirlers on the hill across the cove provided a flickering display. Poolside at the Pimalai — a little bit of five-star decadence never hurt with your meal. Opposite, clockwise from top left: Catching a ride in Saladan; reminde.rs of how far away the real world is; fried seafood at Viewpoint; arid Thai food to go at the local market.
Dinner at Baan Pimalai, the resort's main restaurant involved a lot more food. Often guilty of over-ordering, I couldn't have predicted the generous portions to come. Extremely generous in fact. Tuna carpaccio wasn't ate expected thin slivers layered around an oversized plate. Instead the tasty appetiser was a main-sized serving of thick slices sprinkled with parmesan. The quick-marinated snapper was equally generous. Slivers of the raw fish tossed in a ginger-and-garlic marinade still make my mouth water a few weeks after the visit. Deep-fried red shallots added contrasting crisp and, undoubtedly, it was this layering of fantastic textures and full flavours that made such a vivid impression.
KOH LAftt'a DU!ETER TRAIN OTHER MORE FAMOUS Thai islands. Directions are also much simpler. "If you don't slow down you'll drive straight through it" warned one resident. We complied and pulled up just over the crest of the hill on the cross-island road at the Viewpoint restaurant. Pleasantly music-free, cicadas and bird-life provide the soundtrack to a spectacular vista overlooking the eastern side of the island and the lime-green waters beyond. An added bonus was the sunset call to prayer that got underway during our initial visit but, unlike the tiny mosques that are visible all over the predominantly Muslim island, this one was obscured by the lush foliage below.
"Playboy salad" leapt off the pages of a menu crowded with standard fare. The explanation went something like this: "Playboys have many ladies and this salad has chicken, squid and prawn. All mixed up." So was I. The analogy was a tough leap but Ja, the owner, went on to describe it as a stir fry with red onion, fresh chilli for added fire, lemon, fish sauce, some sugar and cashew nuts tossed in at the last minute. Satisfied with a thirst-quenching lime soda for the moment, my interest was peaked enough to return the next day.
Unfortunately, on the following two days Khun Ja was away and the chef on duty had not mastered her speciality. So while the playboy salad never materialised, other chicken dishes did. One version was fried with fragrant basil. The other was slightly oily with ginger but similarly a tasty mid-afternoon snack. Anyway the view certainly made repeat visits worthwhile.Initially, the food options on the rest of Koh Lanta didn't look promising. The island has seen busier times and most restaurants offered limited menus to cope with the recent downturn. However, the menu at Sonya's was a surprise in more ways than one. Abakery screams holiday decader tte and the sign in front held the promise of pain au chocolat and the aroma of brewing coffee. Those thoughts were soon dashed by Witoo, the proprietor, who announced shortly after our arrival that no bakery items were available. A look at the menu was in the offing. It turned out to be quite a read.
Not many restaurants have the food starting on the sixth page. The preceding pages at Sonya's are filled with Khun Witoo's musings on life. It's where this former business editor of The Nation, a Bangkok daily, explores a number of themes, from the inviting open-plan architecture of his restaurant to community values. It is all aimed in his own words "towards a healthy life of learning beyond stress and a greed-based information chaos". Selected quotes from Shakespeare, Hannibal, Aristotle and other historical notables are also peppered throughout the menu. Essentially, Sonya's specialises in soul food. The mango pancake wasn't bad either.
On the corner down the hit from the Pimalai sits the Drunken Sailor with bean bags on its verandah and reggae tunes drifting out into the street. b seems an odd choice of name for a café that's alcohol-free. "It's prohibited by our Muslim landlord" explains the owner. Her name? Sherry. The cafe title actually has a floral connection; a fragrant Thai flower that exudes its perfume at night. And coffee is the passion of this self-taught aficionado who, like Khun Witoo from Sonya's bakery, dropped out of the rat race and moved down from Bangkok.
48 Sawasdee June 2005The extensive espresso menu offers a variety of caffeine doses. Choose from ristretto, doppio, macchiato and con panne among others to get the day started or to keep it going. Baking ingredients and paraphernalia, including an impressive mixer, did lay idle though — yet another testament to busier times. More hungry diners are clearly needed.
as bustling as Lanta Yai gets but I was doubtful of finding great food, especially amongst the multiple souvenir stands, undoubtedly stocked directly from Bangkok's Chatuchak Weekend Market. Dive shops seemed to be the other main industry. Surprisingly, however, the waterfront road crammed with restaurant piers did reveal a gem.
Turn right at the boat ramp — no maps are needed in this town — and ignore the generic clip-art menus that tend to over promise. You know the ones that make you feel you've read it a dozen times before. I also shy away from restaurants with plastic grapes and nautilus shells adorning a menu stand out front. #25 avoided all the obvious maritime kitsch, even with its name, and opted for a shaker chic feel instead. Smooth, solid planking underfoot, always reassuring, and spartan, unfussy decor indicated that food was the priority on this pier.The gaeng massaman gar (massaman chicken curry) was a rich, nutty mix of tender chicken, potato, juicy tomato chunks, onion and coconut cream. Meanwhile the torn yam hed (hot and sourmushroom soup) which had a refreshing homemade look was somewhat lighter but a whole lot spicier. As it turns out the fresh lime leaves, coriander, chillies and lemongrass used to create the perfectly fused flavours were all plucked from the potted garden on the pier next door. The neighbour happens to be the mother of #25's owner. The older sister operates Catfish, the restaurant on the other side and mom watches over proceedings on both.
The trip into Saladan was actually quite a food fest after all with a dessert stop at Abdul's Pancake street cart on the main drag. Here the banana roti is sweet and soft, yet slightly crunchy, but part of the simple joy of roti is always watching the show as the dough is kneaded, stretched, flung, pressed and folded into shape then fried in ghee. A sticky drizzle of sweetened condensed milk follows and precision wrapping is an artful finishing touch. In this case Abdul's deadpan expression throughout also added to the theatre.A glass of wine in hand, the shore on one side and the setting sun on the other made for a spectacular departure by speedboat from Koh Lanta. It also afforded some contemplation about how inland diversions had sidetracked the original mission of beach food on this trip. Sand was not always underfoot but the best dishes had still coincided with open-air settings and spectacular views of the water. It would be too predictable to say that I'd found a replacement beach-food favourite. Suffice it to say my priorities remain the same with the menu being as essential to the holiday as the beach itself.

Malakor - papayas can be eaten sweet when their meat is bright orange or sour when it's green:

Kluay - there are 20 different varieties of banana in the Kingdom and even more ways to eat them all;

Farang - the white flesh of guavas is simultaneously crispy, sweet and slightly sour.

Ma-muang - sweet. juicy and always refreshing mangoes come in various forms across Thailand;

Mahng-koot - a delicacy, mangosteens offer a distinctive and delicious flavour and are hest from fVlay to September;

Lamyai - the juicy pulp of longans has a sweet, delicate flavour that is at its best in July and August;

Ma-prao - whether you prefer its milk or its soft flesh, coconuts are the most versatile of fruits.

Ng-or -- a liairy red-and-yellow rind, rambutans are deceivingly simple and sweet:

In Thailand, hospitality

In Thailand, hospitality is a way of life. An integral part of Thailand's culture, the art of caring is as much a part of the kingdom's ancient heritage as its beautiful beaches and awe-inspiring temples.
This unique Thai hospitality is evident throughout the country's service industries, placing them into a class of their own. Small wonder then that Thailand's healthcare and tourism sectors have enjoyed phenomenal growth in recent years, making the country one of Asia's top choices for quality medical treatment.
In Thailand, hospitality is a way of life. An integral part of Thailand's culture, the art of caring is as much a part of the kingdom's ancient heritage as its beautiful beaches and awe-inspiring temples.
This unique Thai hospitality is evident throughout the country's service industries, placing them into a class of their own. Small wonder then that Thailand's healthcare and tourism sectors have enjoyed phenomenal growth in recent years, making the country one of Asia's top choices for quality medical treatment.
With state-of-the-art facilities both in Bangkok and around the country, internationally accredited medical personnel, a convenient location, beautiful scenery and a balmy climate, Thailand is already a preferred healthcare destination for foreigners from overseas and neighboring countries.
The Thai Government has now taken this popularity a step further. In recent years, it has collaborated with the private sector to establish the country as a hub of medical excellence in Asia and the wellness capital of the region, while ongoing research and development seeks to share the wonders of Thai herbs internationally, with the ultimate aim of making Thailand Asia's healthcare center.
With the Ministry of Commerce's Department of Export Promotion working tirelessly to promote Thailand's healthcare services overseas, by the end of this year it is estimated that the number of international patients in Thai hospitals will pass the one million mark, an increase of more than 10% from 2004.
While the market quality of Thai wines has na.proved dramatically,
Khun Viravat may be the most committed winemaker in the country.
"This will all turn into 40,000 bottles next year," he said, proudly surveying vineyards planted on a 630-metre high plateau and watched over from a nearby hilltop by a Buddhist temple. Khun Viravat puts high hopes into his Shiraz rootstock imported from Israel's Jordan Valley. Thai growers have tried virtually every vine variety, but Shiraz, which may have originated in Iran in ancient times, seems to do particularly well in Thailand, along with chenin blanc from France's Loire Valley.
THAT NIGHT, AT THE HARVEST PARTY AND as 60 genuine grape pickers spread out over his estate, Khun Viravat unveiled "La Fleur", at 3,900 baht (US$102) a bottle the most expensive Thai wine ever. With only 1,100 bottles turned out, several invitees snapped up the Shiraz. "Medium bodied with a lovely bouquet and a long aftertaste," pronounced Mullen, who pens a weekly wine column for The Nation in Bangkok.
As fireworks burst overhead and guests soaked up the wine and an atmosphere reminiscent of French provincial festivals, the real work of wine production was beginning at the winery, a charming, Old World structure built right into a rocky hillside.
At its entrance, workers supervised byPeople travel to Thailand from across the globe to receive treatment for such complex diseases as cancer, chronic tendonitis, ortheo-arthritis and cardiovascular disease, among others. The country is also a favorite destination for elective operations such as hip, knee and other joint replacement, as well as for cosmetic surgery of all kinds.
Overseas patients are drawn to Thailand by a number of factors. First and foremost, there is no waiting list, since there are over 30 private hospitals accredited to serve foreigners. Secondly, the facilities and services are on par with, and in many cases, even better than those overseas, while costs are far less. Some hospitals, for example, even offer trans-satellite electro‑
cardiogram transmission while others the kind of service more commonly associated with five-star hotels, with an expert concierge, gourmet meals, a halal kitchen, prayer rooms, and even tour packages for the family.
But above all, it's the open arms of the Thai people and their unique art of caring that makes Thailand the place to be for world-class healthcare in Asia.

While the market quality of Thai wines has na.proved dramatically,

Khun Viravat may be the most committed winemaker in the country.
"This will all turn into 40,000 bottles next year," he said, proudly surveying vineyards planted on a 630-metre high plateau and watched over from a nearby hilltop by a Buddhist temple. Khun Viravat puts high hopes into his Shiraz rootstock imported from Israel's Jordan Valley. Thai growers have tried virtually every vine variety, but Shiraz, which may have originated in Iran in ancient times, seems to do particularly well in Thailand, along with chenin blanc from France's Loire Valley.
THAT NIGHT, AT THE HARVEST PARTY AND as 60 genuine grape pickers spread out over his estate, Khun Viravat unveiled "La Fleur", at 3,900 baht (US$102) a bottle the most expensive Thai wine ever. With only 1,100 bottles turned out, several invitees snapped up the Shiraz. "Medium bodied with a lovely bouquet and a long aftertaste," pronounced Mullen, who pens a weekly wine column for The Nation in Bangkok.
As fireworks burst overhead and guests soaked up the wine and an atmosphere reminiscent of French provincial festivals, the real work of wine production was beginning at the winery, a charming, Old World structure built right into a rocky hillside.
At its entrance, workers supervised by

two French experts sorted through incoming baskets of grapes from the chilly countryside — picked when cool, the grapes take on more colour — eliminating greenish, unripe bunches. It's attention to such details, down to the size and shape of the oak casks, that makes the difference between first-class wine and yin ordinaire.
"The only way to produce a good wine is to be passionate about it," said Raphael Vongsuravatana, the son of Thai-French parents who own three vineyards in France. The Bordeaux resident was employed by Khun Viravat to instil just such passion and precision into his operation, along with a French oenologist, a Thai soil expert and another Frenchman, Jacques Bacou, whose already wine-savvy children constitute the tenth generation of wine-makers in his family. Naturally, Khun Viravat's winery and its techniques are modelled along classic French lines.
"Two years ago I wasn't so optimistic. But since then, there's been huge progress and the potential is high for Thai wines," said Raphael, inspecting with Jacques every aspect of the winery operation the next morning. "There will be a good market when people realise there is good Thai wine."
But hurdles remain and output is modest. Last year, Thailand produced 860,000 bottles, mostly for domestic consumption, compared to some 850 million from 13,000 wine growers in Bordeaux alone.
The skills of everyone from pickers to winery operators still need to be upgraded. On the marketing side, the Thai Wine Association, founded last year, hopes to educate the public about Thai wines and push for lowering of one of the world's highest excise taxes on the product. This makes them barely competitive on the domestic market and, as association president Khun Visooth points out, it's cheaper to buy Thai wine in Paris than in Bangkok.
Then there are the wild elephants. Last year a mother and her calf sneaked out of Khao Yai National Park at night to feast, not on grapes but in a cornfield right next to Khun Visooth's estate. The trespassers had to be shooed away from the vineyard.Now, tell me about a Tuscan or Burgundian wine grower who has to worry about jumbos?

A handful of vineyards in Thailand

AS MIDNIGHT NEARS, GUESTS ARE PROMPTLY handed garden clippers, headlamps and small wooden crates. Then, the well-heeled crowd is dispatched into star-lit vineyards. Bulging bunches of grapes are snipped off the vines. Laughter erupts as a violinist and an accordion player move along with the enthusiastic novices, belting out lusty tangos. Then come the maidens in loose peasant dresses jumping into wooden vats to squash the newly cut grapes with their lovely bare feet. It's the Midnight Harvest Party when the first grapes of [he 2005 vintage are handpicked at one of Thailand's top wineries.
Wineries, you say? In tropical Thailand? Decidedly yes. This scene plucked out of what could well be European wine lands, blended with Thai-style sanuk, or fun, was staged at the scenic, hilltop Village Farm and Winery, among the half-dozen major wine-making enterprises in the Kingdom.
Granted, Thai wines are not about to knock French Bordeaux or California's chardonnays off anyone's top wine list, but the decade-old industry is making headway and, over the past year or two, has crafted a few
wines that Bangkok-based connoisseur R. James Mullen describes as "making a statement, wines you can talk about".

THAIS HAVE BEEN CONCOCTING WINE FROM rice and fruit in their backyards for centuries, but the grape variety was only introduced in the mid-1990s when a now-deceased construction tycoon, Chaijudh Karnasuta, started his Chateau de Loei in the mist-streaked hills of the northeast. having imported French rootstock and expertise.
More recently, several wineries have sprung up in what is rapidly becoming Thailand's answer to California's Napa Valley or the "Golden Coast" of Burgundy --- the picturesque, rolling countryside around Khao Yai National Park, just over two hours' drive from Bangkok. Nestled in valleys and clambering up hillsides, where growing conditions are as favourable as they get in Thailand, stretch vineyards of Village Farm; Granmonte and PB Valley Khao Yai Winery, the latter owned by the same folks who brew Singha beer.
"When I was a student in Germany in the 1960s, I didn't like drinking beer. I liked drinking wine but I couldn't really afford it then. And I loved visiting the wine-growing region along the Rhine River," says Granmonte owner Visooth Lohitnavy by way of explaining why he eventually went into the business. After a 30-year career as a top business executive, and a fling on the Southeast Asian car-racing circuit, Khun Visooth and his vivacious wife Sakuna bought land below a range of craggy hills, planted vines and built a lovely family villa.

June 2003 Sawasdee 19The vineyard yielded its biggest harvest this year. with 50,000 bottles expected to be corked. Some will be sold in Granmonte's tasting room or served in the intimate, rustic restaurant VinCotto where Khun Sakunc turns out shrimp-and-grape salad and other superb dishes.
Before dinner, Khun Visooth opened a Granmonte 2002 Celebration Chenin Blanc, relaxing in a breezy pavilion perched above a reservoir that waters his vines. In the vinous vocabulary of the cognoscenti, Mullen, who helps select wines for Thai Airways International's business-class passengers, offered the following appraisal: "It's developed a lovely little lemon-like flavour with a hint of honeydew melon. Clean, good balance and integrated. It's coming across quite pleasantly."
The next morning, Mullen sniffed, eyed and tasted more Thai vintages around towering oak casks and stainless-steel tanks at the nearby PB Valley, which includes Thailand's largest winery, one capable of fermenting enough grapes to produce up to one million bottles a year.
The expansive domaine, featuring bungalows and a new restaurant to capitalise on a growing number of wine-country tourists, is the work of Piya Bhirombhakdi, the "Beer Baron of Thailand". But wine had always been a parallel pursuit. In his youth he experimented with wine-making

at home, then sought out German expertise and went into the business, though with a dash of the quixotic spirit that characterises other Thai vintners.
"I could have made more money elsewhere, but I love to do what's fun. You can't take it with you when you go. The people who make wine are happy and they make those who drink wine happy too," he said over lunch at the estate's Great Hornbill Restaurant. The beverage, of course, came from his surrounding vineyards — a Pirom 2003. "It's moving in the right direction," noted Mullen approvingly.
Luckily, like Khun Piya, most Thais who have ventured into the wine world are endowed with deep pockets because few, if any, have made much money so far. But that's not unusual, says Mullen, noting that many in his home state of California, Hollywood stars and dot-corn millionaires among them, are attracted to the romance rather than the profits of the grape.
For some, like Village Farm owner Viravat Cholvanich, the creation of a top quality wine in Thailand; with its less than ideal climactic conditions and lack of a wine culture, also becomes a challenge, almost an obsession. A meticulous engineer whose core family business involves electricity,

spicy crispy fish salad

With Thailand's year-round bounty of vegetables and herbs, spicy salads burgeoning with fresh fare showcase the interplay between seasonal flavours and textures. Amplifying the modest tartness of a Western

herbed vinaigrette, the Thai-style salad dressing employs lime juice, fish sauce, chillies, garlic and palm sugar to create an explosion in your mouth.
Slivers of taling- piing, a green fruit, impart a mellow sour tang in yum plaa salid. Once commonly used in many traditional Thai dishes, especially in the south where it is prevalent, taling piing are today only found in private gardens and the kitchens of connoisseurs. Tossed with crispy slices of dried fish, shallots and a mountain of finely sliced lemongrass, the spicy salad is a perfect accompaniment to an ice-cold beer.With the plethora of ahaan waang offering a seductive array of dishes catering to all palates and budgets, you may be tempted to ignore your mother's warnings about how excessive snacking will ruin your appetite for the next proper meal. After all, why resist, you might argue reasonably, when the snack is a meal in itself?


NANG PAKKAD KAEW (lettuce wraps)

The Thai leisure class once whiled away hours with betel nut chewing, wrapping betel nut slices into packages of chaplu leaves spread ' with reddish lime paste, which imparts a
natural tingling buzz. Although chewing betel nut has gone out of favour, and with it its attendant ritual and assorted paraphernalia, the taste for miang is still as strong as ever.
Assembled in a similar manner to betel nut, miang refers to a vast range of ingredients wrapped into a bite-sized portion. The filling can range from steamed plaa to (mackerel) to thin slices of meat, accompanied by diced young ginger, shallots, unpeeled lemon,
fresh chillies and peanuts. The wrap is usually provided by any young leaf — in addition to the ubiquitous chaplu leaves, kale, tong-tang and lettuce are common. In a nod to Vietnamese cuisine, noodle sheets are sometimes used. To complete the balance of sour, salty and sweet, with a little bit of spiciness, the fillings are bound with a sticky herb sauce. Each diner wraps his or her own.

gai takrai

Thailand. By 10:30 each morning in offices throughout the Kingdom, colleagues begin to confer over the most anticipated matter of the day: where to go for lunch. An important consideration in this decision is the proximity to various snack vendors, as the meal itself is seldom enough to tide over the average Thai stomach, and any public-spirited
person will return to the office bearing a generous selection of finger foods to share.
Set off for a road trip with a Thai family and discover that, in addition to ample supplies of crisps and nibbles brought along, the itinerary will involve frequent stops at acclaimed restaurants and fresh markets to sample the local treats. Even a late night out will often wind up with a Thai-style culinary nightcap, perhaps a plate of Hainanese chicken rice from street-side stalls that remain brightly lit and bustling with customers till the wee hours of the morning.The penchant for snacking is so deeply ingrained that, in the cosmos of Thai cuisine, there is a category of dishes that are classified simply as ahaan waang. Composed of a variety of savoury dishes, ahaan waang are served between proper meals, often to accompany moments of relaxed socialising. As family members and friends sit down on front verandahs to enjoy a companionable snack together, most of the repertoire is presented in con­venient bite sizes. Delicacies such as chaw muang (lavender-tinted, flower-shaped dumplings) hark back to more gracious times and centuries of influence from the royal kitchens, for the preparation of the dainty servings required not only nimble fingers but also many hours spent mincing and moulding. Less refined, but equally tasty, isthe wide range of street fare that offers a low-fuss snack packaged for a quick treat to go.The eye-popping combination of spices and herbs liberally employed in the concentrated morsels of ahaan waang dishes reflect thevaried influences on Thai cuisine from Chinese, Indian. European and Middle Eastern quarters over centuries of trade and diplomatic exchange. With ever more cosmopolitan fare atfallable in Bangkok in the past decade,

the palates of local diners have become accustomed to a new culinary renaissance, which has challenged restaurateurs to reconsider even favourite Thai dishes. At Taling Piing on Pan Street off of Silom Road in Bangkok, proprietor-chef Thipmani Chanyavongse recasts ahaan waangthrough her French Cordon Bleu training, resulting in a range of beautifully presented modern renditions of local classics.
GA! T4KRAI (grilled lemongrass chicken) Every major street corner in Bangkok plays host to an alfresco barbeque stand, advertising satay or Northeastern-style grilled chicken with savoury plumes of charcoal-laced smoke wafting down the soi. Paired with steamed sticky rice, either option makes for a handy snack to be relished on the spot by famished school children and construction workers alike.
Gal takrai brings together the delectable moistness and presentation of satay with the distinctive flavour of the grilled chicken, whose secret lies in a pounded paste of coriander roots, garlic, peppercorns and lemongrass. The traditional marinade is given an added depth and an ochre tone with the cumin, tumeric and galangal that is satay's flavour base, derived from Arab cuisine by way of Malaysia. Basted liberally in the marinade and threaded on bamboo skewers, gal takrai comes with the Northeastern favourites of som tam (spicy green papaya salad) and sticky rice cleverly packaged as mini spring rolls.
ROT! GAENG NUEA (green beef curry with Indian-style flatbread)
In the early hours of the day, Indian roti vendors pushing carts topped with flat griddles set up shop to catch the breakfast crowd. With practiced flips of the wrist, coiled-up balls of dough are flattened, then pan-fried to golden brown. The layered flatbread can be enjoyed plain or with sweetened condensed milk. Each roti is rolled up into a sheet of brown paper to allow for easy handling.
Served with curry, the light street snack becomes a substantial meal. Green curry and roti is particularly popular. Beef is stewed until tender in a broth seasoned with fiery chillies, before being added to thick coconut milk curry, ready to be absorbed into the folds of the flatbread.

cuisine with the influx of Chinese migrants into the country, especially during the Qing Dynasty. Older Bangkokians will still remember this favourite being hawked on the streets of the city Lna until the post-war days. Preceded by the cry of "ji cheong fan", Chinese hawkers bearing bamboo baskets plied the narrow alleys, offering the freshly steamed rice-noodle rolls filled with ground pork, bean spouts and dried shrimp bathed in soy sauce. Clients would hunker down on small chairs with bowls of hot congee accompanied by bites of the noodle rolls — a quick breakfast on the run for a mere 50 satang.
Over the years, the simple Cantonese noodle roll has migrated first into the hands of Chaochow chefs, then into the kitchens of the spice-obsessed Thais, sparking some flavourful twists in the evolved version of kuaytiaw lod. A plump noodle parcel filled to capacity with ground pork and beansprouts is topped with a garnish of dried shrimp, tofu and shiitake mushrooms in a rich Chaochow-style stewed palo gravy. A sprinkling of deep-fried garlicand an accompanying sauce of crushed yellow chillies provide the essential Thai fillip to the dish.

วันพฤหัสบดีที่ 25 มีนาคม พ.ศ. 2553


well. In a state of disrepair, the 19th-century teak structure on the north side of Northern Thailand's Wang River in Lampang looks nothing if not forlorn. And it's looked worse. It has been cleaned up recently and some immediate structural problems have been repaired, though there is much work still to be done. Early in the 21st century, the mondop — a pavilion used
to house a sacred relic or an image of Buddha — is no longer only relevant to the surrounding community and with history buffs but to the country as a whole given its now one-of-a-kind status. Its tiered roofs are reminiscent of similar buildings as far away as Nepal, its overall design a delicate mix of Burmese and Lanna styles. Four seated images of Buddha face in each of the cardinal directions, while a tin bodhi tree, inexplicably sprouting pinecones that are found nowhere else in Thailand, rises in the middle to the roof. On the ceiling are images of animals, again facing each of the four compass points, and floral carvings. All of this had been encircled by 1,080 Buddha votive tablets, most of which went missing during the Second World War when Japanese soldiers occupied the temple. But the exterior of the tiered roof is now layered with misguided preservation efforts: originally a tiled roof, cement has been haphazardly spread on top of these tiles adding too much weight to the structure. Today this is cracking off.
The structure is built on a man-made hill that represents Mount Meru, the sacred mountain central to the Buddhist cosmic universe. At ground level, each of the mondop's four corners is graced by a teak image of a lotus, a symbol of purity leading some to speculate that maybe the temple is floating. Problems with drainage have made that more of a literal possibility, with the viham surrounded by concrete and cement tiles instead of simply by sand. It's difficult to say what has been more detrimental to the viham over the years, time or man.
LATE IN THE 19TH CENTURY, SIAM WAS CONCERNED WITH FENDING off European interests in the region. Using a more flexible approach to international relations than its immediate neighbours, the nation kept both French and British interests at bay, largely by playing one off of the other but also through compromise and by conceding territory along the Mekong River to the French and in the south of the country to the British. While difficult to appreciate at the time, this is something it accomplished with considerable success.

by the volunteers. Above: Two priceless Lanna-era manuscripts.
This was the era of King Mongkut and, later, of his son Chulalongkorn, both of whom provided Thailand with a strong guiding force. While opening up to the world beyond its borders, the nation took a balanced approach both at home and abroad, its strength domestically thanks to its devout Buddhist roots as well as the monarchy. Into this setting, Wat Pongsanuk was built likely in 1886. Then as now, Buddhist temples were the centrepiece of any community, being places of worship, education, healing and simply as meeting places.
What's more this region had been repopulated by the Tai Lu centuries before, originally from Yunnan Province in China, a people noted for social cohesion and for maintaining their traditions, including the distinct architectural style incorporated into their temples. Some of this spirit remains today.
AS IN THE WEST, RESTORATION WORK ON HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT sites in Thailand often has been haphazard. Not enough research precedes most projects. Getting back on the right track is often a combination of timing, the energy of a handful of individuals and sheer luck. Determining where all of this coincided as far as Wat Pongsanuk is concerned is as difficult
as predicting the specific origins of the temple itself. One starting point is October 2004 when Angela Srisomwongwathana, a Chiang Mai-based photographer who shot the images accompanying this story, saw an opportunity to properly preserve

an important and now rare piece of Thailand's past. At first, few understood her concern. "I realised there were other agendas in other projects," she recalls of her previous forays into restoration work in Thailand. "Most of those I've seen I could not do
anything about. This was a good chance to put some thought into such a project."
There was a second aim: to invite Thai university students interested in restoration work to take part; to see why previous conservation attempts around the country have not been successful. Currently, three universities — Chiang Mai, Silpakorn in Bangkok and Rajabhat Chiang Rai University — are involved with the project. A group totalling 44 students are cleaning the mondop, taking stock of its features and measuring it for restoration work. Three-dimensional architectural detailing on computers, hand sketches and even the photography by Khun Angela all contribute to the research now being done.
Yet all of this influence is coming from the outside. Given that, to this day, a Buddhist temple in Thailand is the focal point of the community it serves, what do those people want to see done to their wat? Last March, Woralun Boonyasurat, a researcher and lecturer in Lanna architecture at Chiang Mai University's Faculty of Fine Arts, along with Khun Angela addressed just this issue with the community. Today, that means about 800 households in the immediate area but given the temple's historical importance, with the population from the surrounding provinces there are about 10,000 people who have a direct interest in the plight of Wat Pongsanuk. Of course, the community was in favour of the much-needed restoration work. What they didn't understand was the amount of time, effort and funding it would take.Convincing them was no easy task. One thing Acharn Woralun did was to show interested locals a 2001 book by British photographer Michael Freeman in an effort to underscore the historical relevance of Wat Pongsanuk. What they began to see is truly astounding.
Typical for a Lanna-style temple, Wat Pongsanuk uses motifs from the forest in its teak carving. Despite the strength of this hardwood and its ability to resist termites, most such woodwork in Northern Thailand has been lost to the ravages of time. The teak in the mondop is intricately coloured, though much of this might simply be from previous restoration work.
It's likely that craftsmen from Keng Tung in Burma or from Phayao built the original temple, with its mix of Lanna and Burmese styles. This area of what is now Thailand was noted in the 19th century for its Burmese teak merchants and some of the designs were copied from earlier Lanna styles.
The viham boasts three roof tiers topped with a spire and hti, a Burmese-style umbrella. The intervals between the two upper tiers of the roof are treated as false stories and are decorated with paintings, fretwork and windows. Among the detailed carving are kinnara, half-human, half-bird figures; and, on the upper levels, hongsa, a mythical animal that in this case resembles a sacred swan, and again is a symbol of purity as well as a link between the aquatic and heavenly worlds. Large gabled porches, each with its own detailed woodcarving, project out on each side to give the entire structure its cruciform shape.
Yet serious problems abound. Major among these, aside from the leaking roof and the moisture from the ground surrounding the viham, is that there are metal bars surrounding the four seated images of Buddha, an attempt to keep them secure.
Even so, convincing others of the need for restoration work was a hurdle. "At first, many people didn't understand the project," admits Khun Angela. Eventually, with monthly visits to Lampang, people saw how determined these two were.
Slowly, a bit too slowly at times, support began to fall into place, a turning point taking place a full year after the duo's initial forays into restoring Wat Pongsanuk. On one trip to Lampang, the head abbot casually mentioned the hundreds of Buddha images he had placed in the mondop's ceiling. The photographer and professor, of course, were both intrigued. They were then shown 280 images of the Buddha that were taken down from the ceiling of the structure. The abbot was convinced that these images, which he had been placing inside for 35 years, should be cleaned and kept under lock and key.
After the time-consuming process of cataloguing and photographing, with everyone from the monks to locals to university lecturers and their.students involved, these priceless images now sit in protective glass cases along with a series of hand-painted scrolls kept locked in a room adjoining the monk's quarters. Within the confines of this small, dusty room was enough imagery and records to fill a small museum but more importantly, a clue as to the area's past.
Among the figures are reclining, walking and seated images of the Buddha, some adorned with the circular script of Lanna that has as much in common with Burmese script as it does with Thai. Some are estimated to date back several hundred years. Another find is a wooden votive tablet that was likely removed from the mondop as well. Among the colourful scrolls, which are drawn on both sa paper and what is likely imported cloth, is one colourful scene where precious stones fall from the heavens. There any indications that this could be 100 years old, yet just as astonishing is that the abbot admits that no one has likely laid eyes on these scrolls depicting Jataka tales for 50 years or more.
Outside the temple grounds, things have been gaining pace. For starters, the Lampang municipality has granted a modest budget for restoration work. Just as importantly, the local community has recognised that, done properly, such work takes time. Now a December exhibit is planned tentatively for
Silpakorn University in Bangkok. "I think this is a conservation project that started with the locals," says Acharn Woralun. "We've tried to create awareness among them." Anyone wanting to contribute to the restoration fund can do so through the Boonyawat Branch of the Siam City Bank (account name: Wat Pongsanuk Nua; account number: 502-2-22269-3).
The project has taken on a life of its own and has become more than the simple restoration of a temple. The answer to any one question those involved ask is likely to also bring about further queries, to the point that the latest is gauging exactly how old Wat Pongsanuk is.
As the project moves into another stage, it's also apparent that there's more to this than the preservation of a single structure. "Many communities have old temples but they don't know how to preserve them. So this is the leading example of how to do this," says Acharn Woralun, even though she readily admits that this is a learn-as-you-go project.It only seems fitting then, given the role of meditation in Buddhism, that the temple can put anyone into a reflective mode. As the midday sun peeks through the clouds, Acharn Woralun squints at the mondop and attempts to figure out her own role in the preservation work to be done at Wat Pongsanuk. There's much to be done. "The history of Lanna," she says, "has been lost to a degree but we're trying to put all the pieces back in this jigsaw.

living off the land

not be destroyed. We must restore the forest which has been destroyed so that it will be revived — both the natural forest and the farmed timber forest are for people's use.
"We must improve the quality of the people's lives. They should have stable livelihoods and land to farm, and not suffer hardship. The people should live in harmony with the forest, like a little house in the big forest, with the people serving as the guardians of the forest."
With these words, Her Majesty Queen Sirikit initiated the Highland Agricultural Development project in 2002, after visiting highland communities in the northern provinces of Phayao, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
Throughout the 60-year reign of His Majesty King Bhumiphol Adulyadej, Her Majesty has long been concerned about the intertwined problems of deforestation and rural poverty. An enthusiastic naturalist who has accompanied His Majesty the King in his travels to all corners of the nation, Her Majesty has become keenly aware of the environmental problems facing the country due to increased population pressure and forest encroachment, as well as large-scale commercial activities such as logging.
During her annual birthday address, which takes place this month, and in speeches upcountry to both government officials and local villagers alike, she often makes an impassioned plea for the Thai people to join hands to help save the nation's precious natural resources. "In 10 years time, we will face a water shortage. The way to solve this problem is through reforestation", Her Majesty declared in January 2004 during a trip to Doi Bo Village in Muang District, Chiang Rai province, awakening her audience to the severity of the problem facing not only the village, but to the country as a whole.
Located in remote areas upwards of 500 metres in altitude, many of the communities included in the project were impoverished, relying on the exploitation of increasingly scarce natural resources to eke out a living, by cultivating rice, maize, opium poppies and gathering forest products. Most of the villages are communities of the Akha, Muser, Yao, Lahu and Lisu hill tribes. A number are located along drug-trafficking routes near the Burmese border.and-burn agricultural practices led not only to deforestation, but also to forest fires, soil erosion and the destruction of natural watersheds. The resulting water scarcity made farming even more difficult and exacerbated the problem of food scarcity. Poor nutrition was coupled with bad sanitation and housing conditions, contributing to diseases and weak health. The below-subsistence conditions forced youth to migrate into the towns looking for higher-paid jobs, leaving only children and old people behind in the villages.
Trapped in this vicious cycle, the villagers in these areas faced an uncertain future with decreasing agricultural yields and income, thus encouraging further encroachment of watershed areas. Meanwhile, this pressure on the land took a toll on the environment, with barren hilltops, flash floods and dwindling streams becoming an increasingly common occurrence in the once lush and verdant forests that covered Northern Thailand.
In response to these problems, Her Majesty the Queen launched the Highland Agricultural Development project in order to offer the communities there a better quality of life; to help them learn and apply agricultural theories to earn a living; to safeguard and renew natural resources such as the forest, land and water; and to support the governmental policy of eradicating instability and drug problems in the border areas. In line with all the Royal Development Projects, this project is founded on the principle of helping the people in order to enable them to help themselves and become self-supporting. Learning by example, they are able to use their knowledge to benefit themselves in the long term.
The development project is guided by the "sufficiency economy" philosophy of His Majesty the King. His Majesty has defined sufficiency as "...having enough to live on and to live... It means having enough and being satisfied with the situation. If people are satisfied with their needs, they will be less greedy. With less greed, they will cause less trouble to other people." Articulated and put into practice more than 30 years ago, the philosophy emphasises following the middle path in both the development and management of the country at every level of society, from the family up to communities to the state. In agricultural production, farmers are encouraged to learn to first produce enough for their own consumption and sustenance, before marketing the surplus to others.In keeping with the holistic approach to the development work undertaken by the Royal Family, which encompasses all dimensions of human development from health to education to security, the project enjoys full co-operation from a wide range of government agencies, local government and the villagers themselves. Each partner has actively contributed their expertise and goodwill for the success of the project — among this long list are the district and provincial governments, the Royal Thai Army, the Natural Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, this last part of the government includes groups as diverse as the Land Development Department, the Royal Irrigation Department, the Livestock Department and the Fisheries Department.
Currently, there are 18 project sites under Her Majesty's patronage in the three provinces. At each of the sites, a Highland Agricultural Station has been established. Providing both land and technical expertise, each station serves as a learning centre for the local villagers in the production of highland crops, with an emphasis on using appropriate agricultural practices. Under the guidance of agricultural professionals, the villagers test crops suitable to the cold climate, as a substitute or supplement for the crops they are already growing. The project emphasises a non-toxic approach to agriculture, eschewing chemical fertilisers and pesticides in favour of organic alternatives. Her Majesty has noted with concern that these "chemicals are very harmful. They ruin the land and destroy the forests. We should find a way to control their use, for the benefit of the country."

At any one station, hundreds of fruit trees are planted —including persimmons, pears, peaches, chestnuts, macadamia nuts and avocados. Arabica coffee has flourished at this altitude. Garden vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, pumpkins are also grown for local consumption and for the market. The vegetables are sold in nearby villages, Chiang Mai and Bangkok. In the future, dedicated urban retail outlets will provide city dwellers easy access to the garden-fresh produce year round.Her Majesty has also encouraged the planting of flowering trees and plants, which would attract tourists in the future, providing income to the villagers from eco-tourism.
By going through the complete agricultural cycle from land preparation to planting seedlings, transplanting, care taking and harvesting, the villagers gain confidence in their enhanced skills. They are then able to introduce the techniques on their own farms, leading to higher productivity and yields, allowing for increased home consumption, lower food expenses, and most importantly, better health and nutrition.
The villagers learn to develop and maintain small-scale irrigation systems using check dams, irrigation channels and ponds for storing and directing water. The hillsides are terraced to maximise arable land and to help shore up the slopes. The villagers are helped to set up agricultural co-operatives in order to establish production and marketing plans. Some of the co­operatives have started agro micro-industries to increase the value-added potential of their products.
To supplement the villagers' nutritional sources, fish and frogs are released into the waterways, while poultry, sheep, goats and other livestock are raised both for food as well as for products like wool. In recognition of the Convention of Biological Diversity, Her Majesty has stressed the need for surveys of the existing species in the area at the start of the project, and to monitor their populations carefully after the introduction of these animals, in order to determine the impact on the local eco-system.In addition to the land devoted to cultivation — typically numbering in the hundreds of rai — an even more substantial area, often at least one thousand rai or more, is set aside for reforestation and conservation activities, in accordance with the project's overall land and water conservation strategy. Vetiver grass is grown on steep slopes to prevent erosion and check dams are constructed in watershed areas to help retain water. Trees are planted in deforested and watershed areas. Community forests are cultivated for fuel and for use by the villagers. A number of near-extinct and endangered species of flora and fauna are raised and released back into the wild, including native birds, deer and forest orchids. The work is undertaken by a corps of volunteer forest rangers, comprised of the villagers themselves, who pledge their services for the protection of the forest.
As with all Royal initiatives, at the heart of the Highland Agricultural Development project remains the well-being of the people in the immediate area. Since its start, thousands of villagers have been directly touched by the project. Tens of thousands more have benefitted indirectly as the lessons from the agricultural stations have been transferred to surrounding communities, who have since learned how to improve their agricultural and ecological practices for a sustainable and self-sustaining future. Indeed, the loving concern and gracious wisdom of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit has been a blessing for the entire country, as the forests of Thailand are being renewed and the watersheds saved.

in the northeast ,we rely on

rainfall so during the dry season growing mulberry is one thing the local farmers can do," explains Tidarat Tiyajarnorn, an

engaging local woman who works at a group called Silk Net. In her advisory role with Silk Net, Khun Tidarat acts as a link; she works with 30 villages in and around Chonnabot, each of which supplies small weavers or factories with silk yarn.
A day spent with Khun Tidarat only underscores the idea that silk is relevant to Thailand on many levels. For the farmers, dyers and weavers she works with, many of whom are female, the silk business is a way of life, a way of earning a living. Compared with raising animals or growing fruits or vegetables, silk is more economically viable. The often-costly process of transporting goods to market is eliminated partly with the help of organisations like Silk Net, but also because there's no pressing sell-by date, no urgency to get to market.
Around the country, silk is inextricably linked with religious and social life. Its cultivation is connected to the seasonal cycle of growing rice that sees women work in the fields during planting and harvesting, turning to silkworm rearing, spinning, weaving and dyeing during the rest of the year.

As we drive due south of Chonnabot, one thing is readily apparent. Khun Tidarat is quite passionate about Thai - silk, but she's even more passionate about people and the communities they live in, a fact that eventually betrays her background in social science.
Raising silkworms is a process that hasn't changed for centuries. The Thai silkworm can spin a filament that is up to 700 metres long, which sounds impressive until you realise that more than 500 cocoons are needed to weave a single necktie; 4,000 for a blouse. Three types of silk are obtained from reeling the filaments of the cocoon: mai ton or hua mai, large, coarse threads from the outside of the cocoon; mai klang or mai song, threads obtained from a cocoon once it is finished and then replaced by another cocoon; and mai not or yod mai, which is obtained from the innermost part of a cocoon and is very delicate. This last type of thread is the most expensive type of silk.
Yet the key to modern, top-quality Thai silk weaving today is using organic yarn, as is evident in the new system of four grades. Worldwide, the demand for silk is on a frame and is ready for reeling. Once this is done, bobbins are arranged in a particular order that will reproduce the pattern. In this part of Thailand, matmii patterns centre around flowers, plants and animals.
At the next level, this in a factory setting, is silk weaving for export. In Chonnabot itself, Silk Avenue is one such concern. Its 68 staff work in a clean, modern environment, many of the designers and weavers having been raised nearby in a silk-weaving household. While Silk Avenue's work is largely sent overseas, the company will soon feature in the national spotlight with a beautiful blue weave adorning furniture in Bangkok's new Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Just down the road at the other end of town is a silk centre that highlights silk as a craft. The results on view here are often stunning, though sadly not always for sale.

Back in Khon Kaen is a small shop called Prae Pun (tel: [66-431 337-216), which is a return to the grassroots level of weaving. This is one instance where village women do venture to the city, running a store selling their work in cotton and silk. Unlike much of what's found in Bangkok or abroad, the weaving here is muted, coming in earthy colours largely centred around tan, brown and yellow. These are the shades of Isan, an often dry, dusty plain in the country's northeast where tradition continues to hold sway in the form of the beginnings of a bolt of Thai silk.

Queen of cloths

THE LANDSCAPE AROUND CHONNABOT IS flat, dry and unspectacular. Deep into the dry season, the local cattle are as scrawny as the chickens, fields for crops are a
muted brown and the soil crumbles in your hand like dry cake. In fact, the only thing green in any direction is a cluster of mulberry trees. Oddly enough, this setting is a perfect starting point for that most Thai of industries, silk weaving. That some of the most vibrantly coloured silk in the world could start life here is a mental leap of faith. Until, that is, you meet those involved at this, the grassroots level.For the uninitiated, Chonnabot is more or less 60 kilometres southwest of Khon Kaen in Northeast Thailand. Due south of it is Hau Fai, a modest village where mulberry trees, on whose leaves silkworms feed, and a collection of silkworm farmers toil. The village has been raising silkworms and dyeing yarn for, well no one can actually remember, though the day we visit coincides with thefuneral of a
By Chris Kucway
THE LANDSCAPE AROUND CHONNABOT IS flat, dry and unspectacular. Deep into the dry season, the local cattle are as scrawny as the chickens, fields for crops are a
muted brown and the soil crumbles in your hand like dry cake. In fact, the only thing green in any direction is a cluster of mulberry trees. Oddly enough, this setting is a perfect starting point for that most Thai of industries, silk weaving. That some of the most vibrantly coloured silk in the world could start life here is a mental leap of faith. Until, that is, you meet those involved at this, the grassroots level.
For the uninitiated, Chonnabot is more or less 60 kilometres southwest of Khon Kaen in Northeast Thailand. Due south of it is Hau Fai, a modest village where mulberry trees, on whose leaves silkworms feed, and a collection of silkworm farmers toil. The village has been raising silkworms and dyeing yarn for, well no one can actually remember, though the day we visit coincides with thefuneral of a 92-year-old villager who spent her life raising silkworms. Word is that she couldn't remember anyone in her family not raising silkworms. Hau Fai is a speck on the map, to say the least, including 228 households, many of which have either weaving looms or bamboo racks of silkworms underneath their living quarters.
FOR SEVERAL DECADES NOW, HER MAJESTY Queen Sirikit, who celebrates a birthday this month, has championed Thai handicrafts, not the least of which is silk, around the world. Since 1976, she's done this through the Foundation for the Promotion of Supplementary Occupations and Related Techniques, better known as the SUPPORT Foundation. In total, the foundation has trained rural Thais how to make a living from 23 different arts and crafts. Yet, the silk industry is the one that -is synonymous with Thailand. In fact, it's vastly older than the country.Northeast of Chonnabot on the KhoratPlateau is the village of Ban Chiang, now more of an archaeological site than anything else. Yet among the finds there have been unwoven and undyed silk thread remnants that date back thousands of years to the area's prehistoric civilisation.
So silk and Siam have a long, detailed history but suffice it to say that by the 16th century, European traders had discovered the cloth as a valuable commercial item in this part of the world. By the 19th century, despite the role that fine silk played in Siamese high society, sericulture remained a cottage industry due to the flood of imported fabrics from China, Japan and as far afield as Persia.
Fast-forward to the present day and history is repeating itself in that, until the mid-20th century, local silk production was only prominent on a small scale. That's when Her Majesty the Queen got involved. The interest continues to this day. Her Majesty's latest initiative is to certify Thai silk in order to authenticate and protect the reputation of the cloth from imitation fabrics. Thai silk will be divided into four grades based on specific silk type and production processes, including weaving and dyeing. Gold will indicate premium silk made using traditional methods, silver will be accredited to silk made from specific breeds of silkworm, blue is for Thai silk that uses chemical dyes, and green will indicate silk blends with other fabrics. The reasoning behind such specific labelling is obvious: once again today, mass-produced silk from elsewhere in Asia is a threat to this local industry.

วันจันทร์ที่ 15 มีนาคม พ.ศ. 2553

In the distant past, it was said, 'Bang Chang is the outer orchard and Bangkok is the inner orchard'.

In the distant past, it was said, 'Bang Chang is the outer orchard and Bangkok is the inner orchard'. Known as Bang Chang, the old orchard community from Damnoen Saduak Canal to the Bang Khonthi­Amphawa area in Samut Songkhram province is famous for coconut sugar production. Bang Chang boasts many canals linking with numerous channels. Since this area is full of water, it is suitable for growing various kinds of fruit, especially coconuts.
The distinctive coconut variety in this area has been selected from general coconuts that produce a large amount of fresh sugar palm nectar, or nam tan sot, regularly. The larger spadix a coconut has, the greater amount of sugar it gives. Major varieties grown here include Sai Bua, Thale Ba, and Suricha.
The process of making coconut sugar begins with the orchard grower places a bamboo pole on a coconut tree for him to climb up to select spadices suitable for tapping. A suitable spadix must not be too tough to be cut off. After the suitable spadix is selected, its tip is cut open about 3-4 inches wide with a sharp knife. Then a string is tied to bend down the spadix, which will droop for seven days. The tip of the spadix is sliced daily to allow the sap to flow out continuously. In the seventh day, the sap fully flows out, and the knife is used to cut off the cover of the spadix. Next the spadix is tied with a string, and a cylindrical container is used to hold the sweet nectar dripping from the cuts. Small pieces of the payom bark are added into the con­tainer as a natural way to prevent the nectar from turning sour or being spoiled.
The sap is usually collected twice a day, one in the morning, at about 5:00 a.m., and the other one in the after­noon, at about 5:00 p.m. Spadices produce more sap in the morning than in the afternoon because of longer hours in the drooping position during nighttime. The grower brings with him a vacant container to replace the filled one each time he climbs up the tree.
After the nectar from the coconut tree is collected, it is-filtered through a thin white piece of cloth, which keeps out pieces of wood, coconut flowers, insects, and dust, and through a sieve, called krachon in Thai. Then the lightly fluid is poured into a wok over an earthen stove. It is boiled for about one hour after when it becomes concen­trated syrup in dark yellow. Later, the work is placed on a bamboo basket andthe sugar is whipped to a smooth texture with a wooden stick. The brown coconut sugar is then dropped in small lumps, or spooned onto shallow round molds and left to set and harden. About seven bucks of fresh sugar palm nectar can be made into one buck, or 30 kilograms, of dried sugar.
Today Bang Chang coconut sugar is regarded as a product that makes a name for Samut Songkhram. When compared with coconut sugar in other areas, Bang Chang coconut sugar is more aromatic and even sweeter. So it is popularly used as an ingredient for numerous kinds of Thai food and dessert.

Amphawa Floating Market

Amphawa Floating Market is an old community that still retains its age-old tradition. For genera­tions, the community has been known for the abundance of deli­cious fruits. More importantly, it is the birthplace of King Phra Buddha Lertlah Napalai and two queens, namely Somdej Phra Amarindramatya, the royal con­sort of King Rama I, and Queen Somdej Phra Sri Suriyendramatya, the royal consort of King Rama II. Other celebrated sons from Amphawa include famous poets like Luang Pradit Pairoh and Khru Euar Soonthornsanan.

As the sun sinks, scores of boats head for Amphawa Canal, each laden with merchandises for sale in Thailand's only evening floating market. This is a familiar weekend scene on the Mae Khlong River in Amphawa district, a smalldistrict in Samut Songkram where villagers still live in age-old communities, and make a living in farming, and growing fruits. The sight of wooden houses at the canal's embankments, and paddling boat vendors evoke memories of another time when riverside trading in a floating market, was thriving and vibrant.

"Deep-fried mussels, anyone?" The call of a vendor from a distant boat caught my attention. She was a plumb, dark-complex­ioned vendor in her 40s and her forehead was beaded with perspiration. Yet, she handled the oar expertly and with ease. Further on was a boat laden with a colorful assortment of fruits - green and yellow bananas, lychees and white pomelos. Across from these boats were those ready to feed the hungry with their choice of favorite dishes including fermented rice noodles, stir-fried Thai noodles, grilled lobsters, and barbequed squid.
Old wooden houses line both sides of the waterfront. Some operate as guesthouses; others are shop houses that sell a hopscotch of things such as traditional coffee, hand-made souvenirs, postcards, picture clips, and notebooks and one of the most popular shirts silk-screened with 'Amphawa' logo. However, the most favorite buy is the age-old traditional desserts, which date back to the days of King Rama II. Among the most delectable, are Rayrai, hrume, thong­aek, cha-mongkut and sanehchandr all of which taste as good as they look and would please many a sweet tooth.
By the time you think you have taken in all of the scenery and the food that Amphawa offers, it is dusk, and it is time to ride a boat to watch the fireflies. Through the expanse of the waterways of Amphawa, the boats steered slowly. A cool and refreshing breeze brushed against me bringing with it the sweet scent of Mae Khlong and I took deep breaths of the fresh air.
The boat followed the curves and bends of the small canals, passing temples and houses, one community after another. As it approached a grove of Lamphu trees (Sonneratias), the boat stopped. A voice then whispered: "See the tree over there?" We followed the direction of his
• finger to the Lamphu trees ahead and saw flashes of light from the fireflies, reminding us of flashing lights of a Christmas tree.
"Are they fireflies? Where are they coming from?" a small girl asked her grandma. And before she could answer, the young guide explained:
"Fireflies make their home in Lamphu trees where they lay their eggs. As soon as they die, the young fireflies leave their cocoons. Therefore, poaching Lamphu trees is like cutting short their life cycle. That's why we see fewer fireflies these days".
I remembered that as a child, I saw a lot of fireflies in my backyard. I even took some home in bags to show their sparkling lights to folks at home. Unfortunately, out-shined by electric neons, no one ever saw their lights and out of compassion, I returned them to nature and I forgot about them. In Thailand, Amphawa is one of the places where fireflies still thrive - thanks to the briny waters there, and the dews on the Lamphu leaves. All too soon, the boat left the groves of Lamphu trees and we were back at the Amphawa Floating Market. As the night was still young, many tourists were still up and about. The air was cool, and the lights from the houses illuminated pleasantly on the floating market. I decided to look for supper before retiring for the night.
It was dawn. Three monks in their boats were out for morning alms. Skillfully, they paddled the boats across the still waters of the Mae Khlong River. I said a prayer of offering in silence, food raised above my head. When the first monk stopped for alms, food was poured into his two-layered food carrier. Following a libation for the dead, blessings were said, the moment that called to mind the beauty and the different places I have enjoyed. Indeed, the recollection was a deep reflection that brought much inner peace.

The ubosot of Wat Bang Goong was our next destination. The very fact that the ubosot is covered by a huge banyan tree made this temple all the more interesting. Its interior is dominated by 'Luang Paw Bodh Noi', a red sandstone Buddha statue in the attitude of subduing mara cast in the tradition of the Ayutthaya Period. It also boasts of some fine wall paintings with which depicted the story of
the Buddha and his reincarnations. Unfortunately our vision was blurred by the thick veil of smoke from the numerous incense sticks.
Wat Bang Goong is said to be an old place of worship built during the Ayutthaya period at the time when the country was at war with the Burmese. King Ekadhat ordered the deployment of the navy from the south to the area. Soon, 'Bang Goong Camp' was set up and a wall was built around the temple. However, following the defeat of Ayutthaya in 1767, the camp was deserted. When King Taksin the Great made Thonburi the new capital, the Chinese were drafted as army reserves. By then, the camp was renamed 'Cheep Bang Goong Camp'. In 1996, the Department of Fine Art designated Wat Bang Goong as an ancient monument .
An hour later, we were standing in the compound of Wat Kae Noi by the Mae Khlong River in Tambon Kwae Om. The temple is noted for its interesting origin and the beautiful wooden walls inside the chapel. First built on a bamboo raft; the existing temple is the third of such buildings built on land by Phra Khru Samutdanuntakoun (Prae Nondo), the seventh abbot of the temple. The exquisite woodwork on the chapel walls was made by craftsmen from Phetchaburi. The front and back panels feature woodwork with scenes from the Buddha's Great Temptation by the Mara and the livelihood of the local people. On the left and right, the delicate wood-carved walls portray the stories of the Buddha's ten reincarna­tions. The fine woodwork was achieved through a special technique of in-laying a soft wood called Mokeman into the teakwood. Large planks of Malabar ironwood were used for the floor. The interior is dominated by a Buddha statue styled in ancient Chinese art.
Having paid our last respect to the presiding Buddha statue, we stopped by a roadside eatery for lunch before moving on to the nearby King Rama II Memorial Park which was built to commemorate the late King who was born here. Interesting features inside the King Phra Buddha Lertlah Napalai Memorial Park include a khon courtyard which serves as an open-air theatre, a traditional reading building and a plant corner where plants are available for purchase. Located nearby is the King Phra Buddha Lertlah Napalai Museum, comprising five group buildings of traditional-styled architecture. On display were artifacts along with period exhibits such as utensils from the early days of the Rattanakosin Period, ancient weapons, Buddha statues, dressing tables, mirrors, kitchen and toilets from the homes of the middle class. Next to the museum is a garden with a collection of some 140 species of plants and flowers that are commonly found in Thai literature. The area also showcased sculptures of characters from Ngoh Paa and Kraithong, the two plays written by King Rama II.With a farewell dinner at the Amphawa FloatingMarket, I ended my trip with happiness and peace.

Thai Houses on the River Bank

For centuries, the lives of Thai people have been inextricably related to rivers and canals. They make use of them for consumption;:agriculture, and other activities. So a waterway is regarded as a lifeline, bringing people of different languages, races, cultures, and faiths to become as one in a community. Thais usually built their homes along waterways and used boats as a major means of transportation, which reflectedtheir way of life in harmony with nature.

Since Thai communities were situated on alluvial flat areas, Thai houses were raised on pillars to protect the main structure from flooding and to facilitate ventilation. The open area under the raised main structure is also used for storing farming tools and fishing instruments.

The Thai lifestyle and consumption habits have changed in accordance with the modern world. Even so, vegetable plots for sweet basil, ginger, galingale, fragrant screwpine, and other herbs are still found along canal banks. Early in the morning everyday, orchard growers travel along canals to sell their fruits and vegetables at local markets.

Tak Bat Dokmai

Tak Bat Dokmai is an ancient unique ritual for residents of Phra Buddha Bat district in Saraburi province. It is held only once a year at this temple during the time when Dok Khao Phansa, or Lenten flowers, are in full bloom for three consecutive years.

Thai people's faith in Buddhism is reflected in many rituals and festivals passed on from generation to generation. Among them is Tak Bat Dokmai, a floral offering merit-making ceremony, which coincides with the start of the annual Khao Phansa, or the Buddhist Lent. Tak Bat Dokmai is a unique merit-making ritual held at Wat Phra Buddha Bat, the Shrine of the Holy Footprint, in the central province of Saraburi.
According to Buddhist beliefs, Tak Bat Dokmai is considered highly meritorious, as a legend has it that King Pimpisarn of Rajakruh, an India king who reigned during the lifetime of the Buddha, liked jasmine very much. He ordered his court official to bring him eight handfuls of fresh jasmine flowers each day from the court garden.
One day while the official was gathering jasmine, he saw the Buddha, accompanied by a number of monks, walking around to accept alms given by the general public. He noticed a halo around the body of the Buddha. His faith in the Buddha sprang to life and he decided to present the jasmine collected for King Pimpisarn to the Buddha, even though he realized that he might be executed on the charge of not following an order of the King.
He remained to accept his fate, but fearing more punishment, his wife fled their home. When the King was informed of this story, rather than being angry, he was very glad. So he gave rewards to the flower official in return for his merit and the official lived happily.
The Tak Bat Dokmai floral offering merit-making ritual takes place on the first waning moon day of the eighth lunar month each year. It falls on July 30, 2007 this year. On the morning of the day, local people present offerings and engage in merit-making activities at Wat Phra Buddha Bat in Phra Buddha Bat district.

Later in the morning, young and old people venture out to gather the Dok Khao Phansa, which somewhat resembles the krachai, or turmeric, with flowers in large white, yellow, blue, or blue-violet sprays. This variety of flower is available on the forested foothills near the Shrine of the Holy Footprint. Because it is usually in full bloom during the Khao Phansa period, the flower is called Dok Khao Phansa.
It is difficult to find Dok Khao Phansa in yellow or white, but the violet one is rarely seen, so it is considered even more meritorious to present it to monks.
While going to gather Dok Khao Phansa, young people sing and dance along the way. The group of young people goes one
way, while the older residents go another way. They may make an appointment to meet at the temple, or elsewhere.

As a prelude to the floral merit-making ceremony in the afternoon, a variety of traditional folk games and cultural performances are performed. They include krabi krabong (literally Sword and Staff) and folk songs, followed by a candle procession and the parade of Lenten candles, farm vehicles, long-drum dances, dragon dances, and traditional costumes. This is capped with a procession of Tak Bat Dokmai. Buddhist devotees line up along both sides of the street, forming a long line that extends from the mondop (square structure with a spire) of the shrine.
While the monks are ascending to the shrine, they receive flowers from the people. The flowers are taken to pay homage to the 'Holy Footprint of the Buddha' at the Chulamani Pagoda, where an antique replica of a tooth relic of the Buddha is enshrined. They will also be presented to the nearby great pagoda, which is believed to contain another relic of the Buddha, part of his bone. This great pagoda is comparable to Phra That Phanom in the Northeast, a revered structure that also holds a relic of the Buddha.When the ceremony is completed, the monks walk down from the mondop. The Buddhist devotees waiting outside pour water over the feet of the monks and novices in the belief that in doing so; their sins will be washed away.

Floating Markets : Symbol of The Traditional Life in the Age of Change

A typical floating market can be seers amidst river bends and tributaries, and the villages along their river banks. In the early mornings, klongs or canals were often jammed with boats selling a wide of 'ready-to-go' food such as soup noodles, coffee, and coconut pancakes. Traffic was slow as villagers waved the boat vendors near if something whetted their appetites. The mood was totally relaxed and convivial - vendors and customers would chat up like old chums. and soon neighbors would gather buying poll food and enjoying the gossip of the day -
but only ever so briefly as the boat vendors
would move on in search of new customers. Indeed, in reminiscence, the floating market with the vendors gently paddling their sampans (small boats), indeed repre­sents a charming picture, reflecting the rich abundance of the country's heartlands and the simple lives of the people who chose to lived there.
The floating market actually evolved at a time when there was an organized farming system which facilitated for villages to yield good crops. However roads were non-existent then, and in order for villagers and farmers to sell their surplus crops, they turned to the waterways as a means of commuting, and indeed as a distribution channel for their crops to reach the community of buyers. Such meeting places gradually became floating markets.
Hence floating markets in Thailand have existed since the Ayutthaya Period. Historical archives, temple murals and memoirs of western missionaries recorded that Talad Koo Mal: Rawng, Talad Paak Khlong Wat Derm, Talad Hua Raw wereamong the more popular floating markets then. Floating markets were generally named after the canals or the sites

People in the heartlands of Thai‑
land have long lived in the water
community - in sync with their
simple way of life with agricul‑
ture as their main livelihood,
trading whatever surplus from
their harvests within the river
community at floating markets.where the local people met in daily trading activities
During the Ratanakosin Period, more canals were dug to meet transportation and defense require­ments and soon this extensive web of canals won the city its the nickname of 'Venice of the East'. However, following the endorsement of the Bowing Treaty, the way people traded started to change. From serving basic needs, production was then needed to serve the rapidly growing demands both in the local and foreign markets. As a result, a spate of canal digging ensued to facilitate ease of transporta­tion and accessibility. As more agricultural belts emerged subsequently, in tandem with the expansion of communities, so did the a number of major floating markets. Paak Khlong Talad between Chakpetch Fortress and Pee Sua Fortress was one of them, although this was subsequently turned into a land-based market to serve as a major wholesale market for farm produce; and so, until the present day.
Other floating markets which will be long remembered is Talad Nam Khlong Mahanark which was once a vibrant floating market where a large variety of merchandises were offered for sale. The elderly would still remember the days when sampans were 'market-stuck' - referring to the kilome­ter-long queues to access the canal during the peak hours of the markets. The embankments, which had mix of rich mansions and humble dwellings, were usually hives of activities - including noisy merchants trading and negotiating, and villagers socializing.
The term 'market-stuck' refers to the appointed time for trading i.e the busiest time of the floating market. Sunthornphu, one of the country's most celebrated laureates, described that most paddlers were local Chinese women. As Thai men had to serve the country with national duties, it was left to the Chinese who were exempt from such duties, to develop the trading business - hence explaining the historical role of the Chinese in the business community. Farm produce were generally available from Thai woman vendors while consumer products and a wide range of imported products from China such as tea leaves, fans, umbrellas, paper, silk, tableware and dried fruits, among others, were traded by Chinese merchants. Chronicles from the reign of King Rama III described sampans offering speciality products such as : terra-cotta water containers, coconut oil, liquor, fish paste and fuel wood from neighboring provinces - were also seen in the vibrant floating market.As progress never stands stills, so development continued in many parts of Bangkok. More roads were built as commu­nities expanded, both in the urban as well as rural areas. Gradually, life along the waterways slowly declined and soon river communities, houseboats, and similar vessels, and even the floating markets gave way to modern infrastructure. With an increase in the number of land-based market stalls, people started to prefer land transportation over using the waterways. The floating markets had met their fate, itseemed and many were forced out of business while others were forced to change.
The busy Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Ratchaburi province, must undoubtedly be the most familiar floating market for foreign tourists in Thailand. Originally a traditional open-air floating market, where farm produce were traded, this market has changed forever. With easy accessibility, tourist activities and souvenir shops, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market soon became one of Thailand's most famous tourist attraction. In a way, it is now a picture postcard destination rather than a way of life. Yet, there is no denying that Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is the living legacy of the country's floating markets - a legacy which will continue as long the charm of waterways trading continues to prevail.
Other floating markets elsewhere such as Talad Nam Tha Kaa and Talad Nam Ampawa in the province of Samut Songkram, continue to delight locals and tourists alike. The beauty of the traditional river community is all there in perfect ambience : idyllic scenes of wooden houses lining the riverbanks, small sampans, friendly villagers. The increasing number of visitors indicates that people still long for that getaway for a taste of the traditional way of life - to explore the canals and the villagers, the old residences and temples that seem somehow untouched by time.Time may have brought with it many changes and the originally vibrant floating market might have given way to present-day infrastructure. However, it is worth remembering that the charm of the floating market is worth preserving and it is important that the floating markets continue to stay. To ensure this, careful planning and joint venture initiatives between the public sector and the local residents are needed especially to combine the traditional ways of life with modernization and tourism in a harmonious way. One important aspect is to keep the canal environment clean. Visitors too can help if they would respect the markets and help keep it clean. With such efforts, the floating market will continue to delight us all, as a legacy of the traditional way of life, for a long time to come.