Friday, 16 April 2021

Not Just Chicken and Rice

One of the most common and popular dishes in Thailand is chicken and rice, otherwise known as ‘khao man gai’. It is a dish that is found in Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia. Each country has a slight variation on the dish. However, for the true chicken rice aficionados it has to be prepared by a Hainanese chef to be an authentic khao man gai.

Hainan is a large tropical island belonging to China in the South China Sea, on the other side of the headland to the east of the Gulf of Thailand. There has been a long history of emigration from Hainan to Thailand. Many years ago Hainanese immigrants bought their special chicken rice recipe to Thailand where it quickly became popular and eventually became regarded as a Thai dish. Today most casual foreign observers imagine that khao man gai is a traditional Thai dish, but it isn’t.

Real Hainanese chicken rice is made from Hainanese chickens, especially chickens from the Woen Sang region of the island. Traditionally older birds are used as they produce more oil and make the dish more flavoursome. A whole chicken is steeped in sub-boiling temperatures in a pork and chicken bone stock. The stock is from a master stock that is continuously reused by topping up with water. This is the Chinese preference for a master stock that is no longer easy to find (often for reasons of hygiene) in Singapore and elsewhere in Asia and South East Asia.

The oil from the chicken is essential to khao man gai, so much so that the literal translation of the Thai phrase is ‘rice, oil, chicken’. The best Thai khao man gai dishes are made by Hainanese chefs ideally. They also use free range chickens. The dish is served with a garnish of cucumber, coriander and sometimes chicken blood tofu. There is usually an accompanying bowl of chicken broth. The sauce that is poured over the dish is made from ginger, chilli, garlic, soy sauce and vinegar. In Thai the sauce is called ‘tauchu’.

Although lots of Hainanese people made their way to the Samui Archipelago, they are mostly naturalized Thais who have lost their Chinese cultural heritage over the generations. It is thus far from certain that any of the Chinese / Thai found in Thongsala can be regarded as Hainanese master chefs capable of making the finest khao man gai. However, you get a good plate of the dish at the small local restaurants in Walking Street in Thongsala as well as at Pantip Market. Typically, a dish of khao man gai in Thongsala costs 40 Thai Baht. It is cheap but delicious food. Sometimes even the cheapest dishes have a fascinating history and made by certain chefs can be considered special cuisine.

Khao Man Gai in Thong Nai Pan

The only place to buy khao man gai in TNP is from a Thai lady on a motorbike. She comes around 1pm - 1.30pm every day and does the village and the main road in Yai. It costs 50B. The main dish comes in a box and you get a small plastic bag with the chicken broth.

Friday, 3 January 2020

Are Tourist Figures Up or Down?


The simple answer is that no one really knows. All tourists staying at both hotels and private villas should be registered on arrival. Thus, the question should be easy to answer. However, the custodian of tourist figures is TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) and they are famous for being far from transparent. Their agenda is to promote tourism, increase revenues; not to publish accurate records.

Any Thailand watcher will have noticed that most stories in Thai Visa and elsewhere have quotes from industry figures, anecdotal comments from hotel owners, but few verifiable facts.

There are figures available on the official TAT website (https://marketingdb.tat.or.th/en/web/guest/tatwebportallink)  if you follow the link in the footer. These show arrivals to all the main international airports in Thailand. The caveat is that they only display the last 2 days compared to the same day last year. For 1st and 2nd January 2020 arrivals are actually up 3.9% on 2019. On 1st January 2020 51,901 people entered the Kingdom of Thailand at Suvarnabhumi Airport. So should hotel owners, bar owners, tour operators etc. be worried?

Well industry bigwigs such as TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) chief Yuthasak Suphasorn thinks so (https://thethaiger.com/hot-news/tourism/tat-chief-blames-high-baht-for-drop-in-tourists-to-thailand). On June 29th 2019 Suphasorn claimed the previous 3 months had seen a drop in tourist numbers. More recently, Thai Visa published an article (https://forum.thaivisa.com/topic/1141495-phuket-facing-worst-tourism-crisis-in-three-decades-half-of-hotel-rooms-empty-in-2020/?utm_source=newsletter-20200103-1246&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news) claiming industry experts expect a 20% drop in tourism in Phuket in 2020. Articles such as these are designed to generate comments below the line for Thai Visa Forum and for industry Brahmins to put pressure on the government.

The comments below the line invariably pick up on the same remedies - lower the value of the Baht, change the visa system, reign in the con men and the overcharging taxi drivers and stop making new regulations to inhibit tourism such as banning vaping, enforcing licensing hours, and making life difficult for ex-pats with more burdensome requirements for reporting their whereabouts and income.

All of these things impact tourist revenues. In the past the upswing in tourists from China has off set falls in numbers of European tourists. Indian tourists are also cited as being the new cash cow. Those with just the briefest knowledge of Chinese tour groups and Indian tourists will know that the situation is not that straight forward. For a start those on tours tend to spend most of their money buying the tour in their own country and may well not add much to the local Thai communities where they visit. Moreover, bar girls and others who work in the demimonde find such tourists economically small fry.

On the ground anecdotal evidence abounds. Thong Nai Pan in Koh Phangan had periods during the high season for the summer holidays in 2019 where not a soul was to be seen, the bars empty, the dive boats left at their moorings. People complain in Phuket that hotels are virtually empty but room prices are high. The grizzled veterans of girly bars claim the night economy is not a fraction of what it once was.

Common deflection strategies include mentioning the increased competition from Vietnam as a holiday destination, the trade war between China and the USA, and the impact of Brexit. These are clever ruses to avoid dealing with the Thai Baht that is ridiculously high - getting only 30 odd Baht for one British Pound is profoundly off putting, especially as Thai businesses work on a model of increasing prices every year. And then there is the junta continually changing the rules. Visas are waived and then required. Where you can renew visas is a constant question asked. Confusion over travel insurance abounds, and what the government insurance policy actually provides. Hey you might as well go to Vietnam. Despite having a communist regime, they seem more in tune with the requirements of tourists.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Sand in My Shoes Beach Loft


Those who have visited Thong Nai Pan Noi will know that the perfect spot on the beach is in the middle, just past the monotony of the Rasananda spread of luxury bungalows and just before the fiefdom of Thong Tapan. It is the spot where Pong's used to be, and the Flip Flop Pharmacy. Now it is the Sand in My Shoes restaurant. To maximise the revenue from the superlative location they are now offering accommodation.

The Sand in My Shoes Beach Loft consists of 2 rooms in a building behind the restaurant for rent. One is the Family Room and the other is the Deluxe Double Room.


Family Room at Sand in My Shoes

The family room has a total internal space of 64 metres squared. It contains 2 double beds and 2 sofa beds and so theoretically could sleep a family of 6. There is a hot water bathroom with shower as well as a balcony. The room has air-con and cable TV.

The room has a modern decor with new furnishings. Hardwoods and neutral tones create a relaxing and stylish atmosphere. There is also a small open closet with a safe on the floor to store your valuables.

Room rates for the family room start at 8,500 Thai Baht a night. This price includes breakfast at the restaurant.

Deluxe Double Room at Sand in My Shoes

The cheaper deluxe double room has an internal space of 32 metres squared. There is a hot water shower, air-con and a cable TV. The room also has an adjoining balcony with sea views and table and chairs.

This room is finished to a high standard. While there are hardwood floors the walls are bare concrete. It gives the room a modern and minimalist feel and is a style popular in Thailand (although I suspect a style that will soon look dated).

Price per night for the deluxe double room start at 6,800 Thai Baht. This price includes breakfast at the Sand in My Shoes Restaurant.

Conclusion

These 2 rooms are somewhat on the expensive side. The same price can get you a private villa. However, they are just a stone's throw from the beach (in the picture you can see the rooms behind the beachfront restaurant). They are nicely finished and comfortable.

For some people staying next to a restaurant is convenient. For others it can be noisy, and although the rooms have their own entrances separate to the restaurant there could be issues for those who highly value their privacy. The restaurant normally stops serving food at about 10pm and is normally empty by midnight. It is a popular spot to eat and has plenty of great reviews. The good news for people booking to stay at Sand in My Shoes is that it is not a party spot with loud music, so you won't be kept awake all night by banging techno beats.

The staff are friendly and have garnered plenty of positive feedback  from guests staying in the rooms.

Click here to check availability for Sand in My Shoes