Escape from the humdrum

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Pattaya may have a sleazy reputation and many tourists associate the city with sex tourism, thanks to a great number of go-go bars and easy availability of women “escorts.” However, there’s more to Pattaya than the superficial reputation that it has. It offers more, even for the family holiday makers. Today’s Pattaya offers varied experiences to a traveler. Pattaya was fated to be a resort city. First and foremost, its advantage derives from its being a seaside city, and we all know that the sea – and, its follows, the beach – is always an attraction for those seeking to escape the humdrum of office-home routine and big-city life. Pattaya’s proximity to Bangkok makes it an ideal weekend getaway.

The city itself is not big, that is, if you think of a big city in the league of a megalopolis, and so it exudes a casual, indeed resort-like quality. This is evident in the city’s many open, bistro-style eateries that are perfect settings for early-morning, leisurely breakfasts cum newspaper reading. Breakfast by the beach or in one of the restaurants lining the city’s seaside boulevard in Jomtien Beach is another defining moment.

You have a choice of renting a reclining seat right on the beach and ordering food from local vendors or eating in one of the many restaurants just across from the beach. Eating in the restaurant may not give you a view of the sea but instead of a sea of beach umbrellas, but still you get the feel of eating by the seaside, a feeling that is out of the ordinary. The Jomtien Beach itself is something to explore or just laze around, a more relaxing alternative to the busier Pattaya Beach in the northern part.

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This charismatic area can be as peaceful as crowded. You may just sit in the beach and engage in people-watching, read a book or watch sea activities from wind-sailing to parasailing, and so on, if you’re not yourself doing any of these sea sports. If you’re after the actual fun, you can rent a jetski for about Bt700 per half hour. A banana boat rents for about Bt1,500 for 30 minutes (a banana boat can be shared by four persons). Rent rates may vary, depending on the season.

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Benjarong art A royal heritage

The early Rattanakosin period some 200 years ago saw the peak of Chinese influence on Thai arts and literature. But with Western culture widely spreading in Asia, the Thai slowly lost interest in many Chinese-inspired arts forms, including benjarong and other kinds of ceramics. Of late, however, interest in ancient Thai pottery and ceramics has been rekindled, leading to benjarong’s remarkable comeback. Centuries ago, this ancient Chinese-Thai porcelain ware simply vanished from the Thai handicraft scene.

p3Invented during the Ayutthaya period, benjarong is a combination of Thai ingenuity, Indian designs and Chinese craftsmanship. Originally, benjarong was intended for the exclusive use of the Thai royal court. Original designs were used in the production of plates, spittoons, pedestal dishes and jars. As Western influence grew during the late nineteenth century, new items were created using also existing designs.

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These included teapots, teacups with handles, saucers and spoons. Today, collectors prized benjarong for its exotic exuberance and ornate decorative themes. It is regarded as one of the best samples of Thai ceramics. Many original benjarong pieces have survived and can be seen in royal Thai households and at the National Museum.

 

 

p5Benjarong is reflective of incredible workmanship, artistry and detailed design. The cost of benjarong is reflective of the hours and days needed by individual artists or teams of skilled craftsmen to hand-paint individual pieces and full sets. Deft applications of color through single brush strokes result in a raised surface feel. Several big and small factories in the provinces now make benjarong with attractive designs to meet increasing local and international demand.

DETOX BY MASSAGE

Blurb: A good Thai massage is believed to be therapeutic, stress relieving and muscle relaxing. Treatment takes about two hours and is believed to add years to your life By the time King Rama III ascended to the throne, massage had become a way of life in Thailand, so much so that he ordered that the basic theories be carved in stone in the Wat Po compound. Thus, Wat Po has become the center for traditional Thai massage.

At the Wat Po “centers”, the same basic principles are followed by massage practitioners, with slight variations in style. The “mor nuat” (literally “massage doctor”) press their fingers on muscles that the patient cannot reach himself. They also stretch the arms and legs. Usually, their efforts are centered on the area where the patient has a problem — be it an aching back, stiff neck or tennis elbow. It takes about two hours to conduct a complete Thai massage, which is believed to add years to your life.

The body is first treated from the waist down. The pressure points are then worked on to get energy flowing. Thai massage isn’t painful; in fact, it’s soothing and relaxing. Most people find massage an excellent way to unwind after a hectic day of shopping, excessive partying, or after a week of hard work. Thai massage is a form of relaxation, and some practitioners believe it can cure a number of common ailments.

Another ancient curative art known as foot reflexology has also become very popular in the last few years. In foot reflexology, nerve endings on each foot are stimulated. This is considered another form of holistic healing that is said to have originated from India and spread to China some 5,000 years ago. Both feet, — known as the second heart of the body — have 14,400 nerve endings and over 100 reflex zones. Pressure and massage on a certain zone of the foot stimulates and heals the corresponding organ in the body. Practitioners say reflexology eliminates uric acid deposits in the feet and improves blood circulation at the same time. It also ensures good health.

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Crab dining in Pattaya

One of the simplest and most popular ways of enjoying the crabs is to order them streamed (neung) and served with a number of different sauces. The one which complements the flavor of the crab, according to the many locals, is prik manao, a mixture of chopped chilies, lime juice, garlic and soy sauce. For a more interesting dish, you might want to try fried blue crabs with curry sauce (poo pat pong gari).

There’s also poo ta le pahd pong gari, which is made tangier by the addition of spring onions, and poo too ka-teum phrik Thai that’s flavored with garlic and pepper. A milder alternative is Chinese-style hot pot crab with vermicelli (poo op wun sen).

In some hotel menus, one can order the special mud crabs that must be cooked alive to get the best taste. Unlike blue crabs, which are sought mainly for their body meat, connoisseurs of mud crabs go for the claws, the meat of which is said to be superior to that found under the shell.

Some restaurants suggest reservations since preparing mud crab dishes take some time thanks to their thick shells. For those who don’t want to wait, there’s always fried stuffed crabs (poo ja), which is basically crab meat, pork, eggs and spices cooked in the shell. Try also mud crabs cooked in coconut milk and deep-fried crab skulls dish (kanchiang poo neung)

HERBS AND SPICES IN THAI COOKING

p1Thailand’s kitchen has all the raw ingredients that one may find in any other kitchen around the world. However, these individual ingredients like the common herbs and spices are carefully mixed to produce a unique Thai taste. The proper combination of these ingredients is considered an art and involves time, skill and delicate adjustment. The special combination is what gives Thai food its very distinctive character.p6

It is also interesting to note that the 20-30 main herbs and spices which form the basis for Thai cooking are often used in approximation. In fact, most Thai cooks don’t use food processors, oven, measuring cups spoons and all those weighting devices. Most local cooks when asked about how much or how many of this or that ingredient to add, they’d just say. “I just know.” Many times, the amounts they use are no minimal that you wonder if they have any effect at all. However, to a trained palate, it oly takes one taste to know what is missing. Some of the essential herbs and spices in Thai cooking are coriander (phak chee), Thai holy basil (bai ka prao), kaffir lime leaf (bai ma krood), lemongrass (ta krai), bird chilli (prik khee noo suan), lime (ma nao), galangal (khaa), ginger (khing), turmeric (kra chai), saw-leaf herb (phak chee farang), shallot (hua hom daeng), garlic (kra tiem), spring onion (ton hom) among others Coriander or phak chee leaves are used often as garnish.

It stems and roots are used as seasoning I many Thai dishes, while its seed is p5used to spice up the Thai curry. No Thai kitchen would be complete without a good supply of fresh basil. Thais make use of several types of basil in their cooking. The holy basil (bai ka prao) being the ost common one. These intensely aromatic dark green leaves with purplish flower is commonly used in stir-fried chicken, beef, pork or seafood or added into the curry.

Kaffir lime leaf or bai ma krood, has freshly green and glossy color and its shape resemble a figure eight. These leaves can be finely shredded and added to salads or tom and added to curries and soups like tom yum. Lemongrass or ta krai, for some dishes, is chopped and pounded, other times it is simply cut into long pieces and “bruised” (bent and kneaded or even lightly cut in several places) to release the scent and flavor for soups and curries. Indispensable in tom yum, and often mixed with onion, chilli and coriander then topped on sardines. The smallest of the chilies, called bird chili or phrik khee noo suan, is the hottest. Whether ground fresh, dried, chopped, whole or mashed, these spicy chilies are in almost Thai dishes.

p4You often have to warn our cook not to put too much in your dish if you don’t have the tongue for this fiery thing as Thai dishes are normally spicy. Galangal or khaa is a relative of ginger (khing), as is fresh turmeric (kra chai). It is used like ginger root in cooking, but is is different in flavor, tasting slightly medicinal. It is sometimes referred to as “aromatic giner.” Thai cooks often use it to help eliminate any unwanted fishy smells from shellfish and other seafood dishes. Saw-leaf herb or phak chee farang also known as the saw tooth herb, taking the name from the appearance of its long, slender and serrated leaves has a similar but rather more pungent flavor than the coriander leaf.

p8Most commonly used in meat or fish soups as stews. Among other numerous Thai herbs and spices commonly found in Thai dishes are spring onion (ton hom), pandan leaf (bai toey), pepper (prik Thai), mint (bai saranae), Chinese chives (kui chai), garlic (kra tiem), bay leaf (bai krawan), cardamom (look kra wan), criton (som za), cumin (yi ra), tamarind (makham piek) and shallot (hua hom daeng).

Hot stone cure

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Heat and massage create a relaxing gentle yet effect body treatment Hot stone massage is one of the fastest-growing massage techniques in spas throughout the US and Europe. This form of bodywork involves the use of heated and cooled stones applied to the body in various ways to bring about relief to stiff and sore muscles resulting in the alleviation of many chronic and acute problems.

The use of different temperatures on the body to bring about certain reactions has been done for eons, and many different types of practitioners know that adjusting temperatures in a bodywork can aid clients in healing. Hot Stone Massage combines heat and massage to create a relaxing, gentle yet effective treatment.

Basalt stones are the medium, and the hot and cold temperatures are the massage. This vascular gymnastics of the circulatory system assists the body in self-healing. Stone Massage goes beyond the physical experience of typical massage by entering deeper dimensions of relaxation, health and well being, creating a positive approach to the “body-mind-spirit” philosophy. Stone Massage produces alternately sedative and re-energizing responses to the body.

They physiological benefits of alternating hot and cold to the body have long been medically proven, and clients love the potent recharge they receive from the treatment. Basalt, the most abundant of the volcanic rocks, is a modified igneous rock that is formed by volcanic and sedimentary action. Basalt rocks got their smooth, potato-like shape and size from long years of stream or water activity. Since the dawn the time, people have been drawn to the energies of stones.

You need only look around to see the traces we have left from centuries of walking on Mother Earth. Monstrous stones have been carried unspeakable distances to honor kings and gods. We have created monuments of stones, where we have carved our faces and those of our gods. There worry stones people carry in their pockets, and stone fetishes are created for many forms of healing, rebirth, wealth and relationships.

The American Indians call the stones the “Stone Clan People”, Shamans, medicine people and spiritual leaders from all over the world use stones and crystals in their healing ceremonies. Each color and type of stone reflects energy, purpose, clearing and releasing effect on the clients as it is being used. In Hawai, the Kahunas use lava in their healing treatments. The lava stone represents healing and protection. In the Philippines, it is a common practice to use a rough basalt stone to slough off old, dry skin. In Russia, there is a tradition of using heated black stones in the bath. Even in the days of cowboys, it was common practice to heat stones in the fire and place them on the ground under one’s bedding. You can try Hot Stone Massage while you’re on holiday here. Your hotel concierge should know a spa that offers it.

 

The small-island charm of Si Chang

 

p4Just off the coast of Chonburi is a perfect island getaway – easy to reach, its sights can be toured in less than a day, leaving one enough time for the beach. Ko Si Chang’s main draw, however, is its sleepy vibe and smalltown charm that other Thai islands lost long ago in the drive to attract tourists. Getting to Si Chang is easy thanks to regular mini-vans to the port of Sri Racha. When you arrive, it’s worth taking a look around.

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Because of the many Japanese companies based in the area, businesses cater especially to Japanese expats – every second shop is a sushi bar and most signs are in Hiragana. Boats to Si Chang leave hourly and aren’t for the faint-hearted. At first glance, they seem rickety and most are overloaded with day-trippers carrying fishing gear. Sri Racha is close to the Laem Chabang deep sea port, so there’s a lot of shipping and the ferry boats often weave between the bigger vessels. Jump ashore at Si Chang’s bustling pier and you’ll be offered (in the laid-back island way you’ll learn to appreciate) a Tuk-Tuk. These aren’t the cramped and view-blocking Bangkok versions, but large four-seaters with room to stretch out.

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It’s cheaper to take the same driver if you want to see the sights. If you’re just here for a beach break, the island’s best spot is the bay of Tham Phang, on the west coast. There is a nice stretch of sand and sheltered swimming with no annoying jet-skis. I like to spend the day sitting under the beach umbrellas eating fresh crabs or barbequed shrimps, but there are other attractions if you can get out of your deck-chair. And it’s worth exploring Si Chang.

Despite being small, the island plays its part in Thai history. Thailand is justly proud of having never been colonised, but Si Chang was briefly taken over by the French in 1893 during a struggle over control of Laos. Until then, the island had been a getaway for King Rama V the Great, who built his teakwood home here: the Manthatratanarote Royal Mansion. After the Gallic incursion, the mansion was taken down and rebuilt in Bangkok where it’s now better known as Vimanmek Palace.

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But the lovely landscaped gardens are still intact and show it must have been a glorious place in its heyday with inviting bathing pools under the trees, made up like natural grottos. While only the foundations of the palace are still in place, the sturdy teak homes King Rama V the Great built for people to recuperate from illness still stand, with grand views of the Thai coast. Take a walk out on the handsome wooden pier and you can see dozens of international ships at anchor.

It seems little has changed since the 17th century when the island was called Amsterdam due to the huge number of vessels belonging to the Dutch East India Company. Do visit the sprawling Chinese temple on the hill known as San Chao Pho Khao Yai, with its colorful dragons, mystical murals and ancient statues. A cute cable car is there to take you up the hill. Further above the temple is a replica of a Buddha Footprint in its own shrine. The view from the top will take your breath away, if there’s any left, as it’s an exhausting climb. Top tip: there is a back road to the top where your driver can drop you off.

The relic was brought from India by Prince Damrong Rajanuphab in 1892 and is now a pilgrimage site. When staying overnight, enjoy the sunset views from the Tham Phang point before visiting the old town to eat. There are seafood places by the roadside cooking freshly caught produce. There’s no nightlife on the island, other than watching the locals wandering round chatting in their pajamas. It seems a long way from partying Pattaya, down the coast. But this little slice of yesteryear offers the perfect break.