It had been hyped up about as much as it is possible to hype a restaurant. Authentic southern fare. High-quality ingredients. The best tasting Southern Thai food outside the south. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard this sort of thing before and seldom does it match the hype. And to make matters worse, this restaurant wasn’t in Bangkok at all, but a 200 km / 2.5 hour drive away.
My better half and I joined two of her female friends one Sunday for a day out, Thai-style. These girls work hard and when the weekend comes around they like to do things that make them happy – and for them nothing beats lunch at Nina’s in Khao Yai.
I was not sure whether I would join them. We’d all been out for a big Thai spread the night before, following a day out in Bangkok looking at houses. No, we were not looking to buy, rather it’s a fun way to spend an afternoon cruising around, looking at new developments, seeing what’s out there and generally enjoying a day out. Frequent stops for snacks, a running commentary about a part of Bangkok I don’t know so well and being in the company of these Thai girls chattering away about all the latest gossip, both in their respective lines and the country at large, is fun. I’d already spent one day with them, did I want to spend most of the next day with them too?
We’d been out that Saturday night and had a big Thai spread at one of those open-air Thai-style restaurants out Bang Na way. In a restaurant with perhaps a couple of hundred tables, I was the only white guy. I had been a bit too enthusiastic with the larb gai which was a bit spicier than I could handle – spicier than the girls could handle, it has to be said – and I didn’t want to be that guy on road trip who kept asking if we could stop at a public toilet. But in the end I decided to join them and I am glad that I did – and my stomach did its part and there were no ill effects from the larb gai the night before.
Sunday morning traffic in Bangkok isn’t too bad and with us flying up the motorway, it was ironic that the first gossip session of the day was speed cameras. All three girls agreed that speed cameras were a terrible idea. It was too early in the journey for me to say what I really think so I just grunted in agreement. When I asked them the question that has perplexed foreign residents in Thailand for years, and whether it really is true that when Thais are issued with a speeding ticket they never pay it because there are never any consequences, they confirmed it is true. They all have first-hand experience. A speeding ticket from a traffic camera is like a pamphlet in your mailbox from the local pizza outlet – something you ignored. Why would failing to pay a fine for a speeding offence have consequences, they asked me, perplexed that I would even think of something so silly! There we were, cruising around 130 km/h up the expressway, and the conversation was about how speed cameras are no good at all.
The other reason I had been unsure whether to join them is that I know how these things can go – the plan is always loose. You don’t know how long the day trip will last, what time you will get back, or where you will stop along the way. On a day trip in Bangkok, if things get boring you can just jump in a cab and head back to the hotel. But in the provinces that isn’t an option. You’re stuck for the day and Thai-style outings can run deep in to the night. OK, so there was no column to write and I didn’t need to be anywhere but at the same time you just never know where you might end up. Thais can be spontaneous – and you could end up visiting some place another hundred kilometres up the road on a whim. But these girls are fun to be around so whatever they decided to do, I knew it would be fun.
They’d talked up our destination, Nina’s, in a way I have seldom heard anyone talk up a restaurant. And some of what they said had me scratching my head. The owner does everything in the kitchen herself from Southern Thai, to a few Isaan dishes to Western-style baking – and it’s all fantastic, the girls claimed. That’s when I started getting doubts – how many people can cook so many different styles of food really, really well?
It was perhaps 11:00 AM and we’d been in the car perhaps an hour and a half and were still an hour or so out from Nina’s when the girls called the restaurant and spoke with the good lady Nina herself. We were driving up from Bangkok especially for lunch, they explained, and asked if we could put in our order now so that it would be ready when we got there. No problem! A long list of food items was rattled off, our order placed. All done, the ladies were excited like a child the night before Christmas.
Being a passenger in a car in Thailand (as opposed to a bus, or train) is enjoyable, not for the scenery but for everything you see along the way, from some of the contraptions on the road to the vendors selling on the side of the highway. And in different provinces there are different specialities, many of which are sold road-side at giveaway prices. Rather than go to the farmers’ market, the farmers come to you. From fresh coconuts to seasonal fruit to amazing sticky rice (that you eat on its own as a snack / dessert) to grilled bats, there’s always something interesting to stop and try. That’s one of the things I like so much about Thailand, you never know what you’re going to come across next.
I hadn’t given the restaurant much thought but at the same time it was not quite what I expected. It is housed in a modest building set back a little from the main road with an interior that is more café than restaurant. But then it is a cafe too with great coffee – and Nina’s prowess in the kitchen really does extend to fabulous baking and Western-style cakes and desserts.
We’d not sat down long when plates of food just started appearing. Large portions of home-style Thai cooking – and it all looked really good!
There were too many dishes to list, but my favourite, the crab curry, was unlike anything I have ever tasted. The girls feared I would not be able to eat it and it would be much too hot but in the end it was mild – no spicier than a typical yellow Thai curry (gang gahree). But it tasted nothing like yellow curry, even if it looked similar. Crab dishes in some Thai eateries can be disappointing as they often skimp on the (pricey) crab, but this bowl was loaded with large chunks of crab meat.
The menu features many southern dishes but is not strictly southern Thai fare. The garlic prawn was the best version of that dish I’ve ever had. Ever. No doubt about it.
Like when you dine with the French, when the food came the conversation turned to the food before it went off in other directions and we covered the topic which inevitably comes up when you have Western men and Thai women together at the same table – inter-racial relationships.
Now let me first tell you a bit about the two ladies we were out with. University-educated in Bangkok with good jobs, at the same time they’re not academic superstars – both speak only basic English. They are probably typical of the new generation of modern, urban, professional Thai women.
When it comes to dating and relationships, Western men don’t hold any special appeal for them whatsoever. They don’t get excited about the Western look and while they have nothing against Western men, they are quite happy with Thai men. Their dream man? A Thai guy, as in “Thai Thai” – meaning not Chinese Thai, not luk-kreung (half Thai / half farang) but 100% Thai. A Thai guy with a good job and family values.
Their perceptions about Western men surprised me. Their observations of white guys living in Thailand is that many are poor. They see far more poor white guys than they do white guys doing well for themselves. And they’d rather not get involved with a poor guy, be it Thai or foreigner. They maintain that this is not just their perception. Many of their friends think much the same when it comes white guys living in Thailand.
That’s not to say that these ladies are gold-diggers – they’re not – rather that there are things they wish to do in life that dating a man with a modest income just wouldn’t allow. And no, they’re not in to designer labels and neither are they dripping in gold or in any way showy. To look at, you wouldn’t know they were big earners. They simply prefer a guy with ambition, preferably someone who has already established himself as no stranger to success who will not be a drain on them. That’s the nightmare scenario – getting involved with a guy who has money problems, or problems generally. They’re quite happy paying their own way – but they don’t want to have to pay for someone else.
And age gaps came up too. These women – early to mid 30s – would prefer a guy about their own age. Older is ok, but an age gap of, say, more than 10 years might be too much. No number was agreed on, but certainly dating a much older guy would not be cool.
But I digress; this was not supposed to be about relationships but a trip to a fabulous eatery. The food at Nina’s is fantastic, the best southern Thai food I have ever had and right up there with the very best Thai food I have had anywhere.
When I first went to Thailand all those years ago I had romanticized that all Thai food would be like this. Oftentimes I was disappointed and on this most recent trip I had a few Thai meals that weren’t even as good as I could make myself. But Nina’s….wow, there’s no other word for it. Wow! It’s Thai food as good as it gets.
Day trips with Thais can be a bit hit and miss and I have heard so many stories of the white guy being taken on a day trip with the family, leaving before the sun comes up, returning at midnight, sitting in the cab of a pickup truck in the hot, baking sun, doing things and going to places that he didn’t enjoy and feeling like the main reason he had been invited along was his putting petrol in the tank and paying the restaurant bill.
It was a fun day out, with good company and wonderful food. The conversation was great and try as I might, they would not let me contribute a single satang. A day trip with Thais can be a fabulous way to see parts of the country and enjoy places far off the farang grid you’d never otherwise know about.
Last week’s photo was taken from the pedestrian bridge that crosses Sukhumvit Road near soi 7, looking down at the motorbike taxi stand near the start of the soi. The area behind the fence used to be a thriving marketplace but everything was torn down a few years ago and nothing much has happened in soi 7 since. This week’s photo is taken in an area of Bangkok where you get a lot of foreigners – where is it?
Stick’s Inbox – the most interesting emails from the past week.
Nana Plaza security.
Security in Nana has been really bulked up and my guess is that this is to stop the sly, YouTube-style video folk operating inside Nana Plaza. The entrance now has 3 lanes – one for punters, one for the go-go staff and a thin exit alongside Big Dogs. The one for the staff has a big table for security use so the space is cramped to say the least. I made the mistake of following GFE down her lane and was almost man-handled into the other but I fortunately brushed past the security guard before he really thought about doing enough to stop me. One point which I did notice was the lack of Middle East / Indian people within. Perhaps the security guards put them off?
Chinese to take over the Bank of Isaan?
I was chatting with a friend in Pattaya about the large numbers of Chinese tourists visiting Thailand. Given the male to female imbalance in China, it cannot be far away that the Chinese males will look at Thailand for potential spouses. Also, there has to be huge potential for online dating agencies purely for Chinese men. I cannot help but feel that the farang Bank of Isaan with its many branches that looks after so many Thai families may become a thing of the past within a generation. I think the significant point is that the Chinese will become an even more dominant player in Thailand. As the Chinese proverb goes, ‘We live in interesting times’.
Booze and babes trumps the American dream.
It has been a while since I visited Thailand as the Philippines has become my destination of choice. I recently purchased a condo in the main business district, Makati. Like Bangkok, new eateries are popping up daily, quite a change from 5 years ago. Much like Thailand, I have seen an influx of mid 20’s to mid 30’s expats trying to find ways to stay in country. There is not much here unless you are on contract from overseas or running your own business. I have watched the downfall of 3 such guys in the past year – get girlfriend, get her pregnant. Party guy becomes family guy trying to scrape together enough money for a decent apartment and living expenses. I have tried to talk with some of them regarding pensions, salary, healthcare etc. They don’t want to hear it. I imagine in the next 20 years there will be a lot of expats near poverty here as prices continue to go up. Two months a year is more than enough for me. Perhaps after retirement I may live there full-time. It just boggles the mind how so many throw away their prime earning years for booze and girls.
Gogos don’t have the same pull.
Things are changing as am I. On my last trip in May, for the first time since my first trip in 2000, I never made it into a gogo bar. I set out a few times but only got as far as the beer bars. Whilst I honestly didn’t miss it at the time, I kind of feel I missed out now.
The pleasures of Pattaya’s soi 6/1.
I took a mate down to Pattaya soi 6/1 a few months ago and right on cue, this 2-metre, 120-kg ladyboy appeared out of the cover of branches of trees by the fence and wanted to take him upstairs for a massage. It scared the hell out of him, and me too if the truth be known but I was expecting it. That’s why I took him there. He is a bit conservative. I took a short cut there about a year ago when walking from middle road to Soi 6 one afternoon (while the wife was at a conference.) I got a fright that day when there were 3 or 4 tall ladyboys blocking the road at 2:30 on a Friday afternoon. I would never go down there at night! I am quite relaxed around all types: girls, gays, trannies, whatever; but right there is something WAY outside of my comfort zone.
Stick’s air-con question answered.
Just a short comment on the air-conditioning question. The air-con regulates the air temp to the set temperature of 22 degrees, while the wall temp is not affected much (unless the building is very well insulated). So even the inner side of the wall is much warmer than 22 degrees in Bangkok and colder in New Zealand. Therefore the radiation equilibration between your body and the wall heats you up in Bangkok, while it drains heat from your body in New Zealand winter i.e. cools you down.
Billboard (top floor, Nana Plaza) will throw a party next Saturday, September 22), to celebrate their 3rd anniversary under current management. Things kick off at 8:00 PM with buy 1 get 1 free on selected drinks, a free buffet including pizza and chicken wings, a complimentary gift, sexy shows and more than 100 dancers. Billboard is the best bar in Nana Plaza, arguably the best gogo bar in Bangkok and the place to be next Saturday night.
A rumour that has persisted for many years now, apparently Team Crazy House have finally got the go ahead to open a new gogo bar on Soi Cowboy proper. And with that, the long-running restaurant at the soi 23 end, The Old Dutch, will be history. The new Crazy House is expected to open in November. Crazy House has long had punters and industry observers scratching their heads about how it opened in the first place, and how it manages to stay in business. Soi Cowboy is not a designated entertainment area. What does that mean, you ask. It’s actually a big deal because it means licences for new gogo bars in Soi Cowboy – or anywhere that is not a designated entertainment area – cannot be issued. All the existing Soi Cowboy bars’ licences were grandfathered through but Crazy House opened long after gogo bar licences could be issued…. Perhaps that’s why it says “restaurant” on the side of the building?! The word is that Crazy House is not going to knock the wall down and expand the bar with an entrance from Soi Cowboy proper as had been mooted, but will build an entire new bar. Crazy House 2, perhaps?
It’s the rainy season in Thailand now which can mean the bars are quieter – fewer visitors at this time of year and fewer girls in the bars when the heavens open late afternoon and early evening which makes going to work for the girls just too much hassle.
Why oh why do some bars try it on with locals in the low season? That’s what happened at Moonshine, one of the smaller, single-shophouse bars on Soi Cowboy to a mate of mine last night. He offered a girl a lady drink; she came back with two. He looked at the bill and said choose one, I ain’t paying for two! Bars depend more on local expat custom at this time of year and ripping off local expats is just plain dumb. No idea if this was one girl gone rogue or if she was acting under instruction from the mamasan, cashier or whoever. If this happens to you in a bar, don’t be shy to refuse the second drink (but do so knowing that her attitude will likely turn sour and you’re probably best advised to head somewhere else). And with some bars charging close to (or even more than) 200 baht for a lady drink, the bill can run up quickly. One doesn’t want to be cheap, but at the same time one does not want to feel like they’re being ripped off.
Dollhouse has the best value happy hour in Soi Cowboy – not because it has the cheapest prices (it doesn’t), but because there is a full stage of dancers from early on. There are some good happy hours on Cowboy but some of them offer cheap drinks and hardly anyone on stage. Dollhouse has a full complement from early on.
Big Dogs at the mouth of Nana Plaza was to undergo a bit of a refurbishment by taking away the toilet area and increasing the seating area. This necessitated closing a couple of days this week but it should be back open now.
Following on from what I wrote in last week’s column about being challenged when taking photos inside Nana Plaza, management of Nana Plaza would like to clarify a few points. There had previously been confusion and crossed wires regarding the rules about photography with the security team and they have since been clarified. Visitors to the plaza may take photos in the common areas of Nana Plaza with smartphones, in fact this is not only allowed but encouraged. Photos and video with pro gear is prohibited unless the photographer has been granted permission in advance by Nana Plaza management. Of course, photography within the bars themselves falls under the rules of each individual bar and is generally a no-no. Nana Plaza’s marketing department provided the following guidelines:
- Take photos with your smartphone in the common areas of Nana Plaza.
- Check-in to Nana Plaza on your social media accounts.
- Share and tag you pics online.
- Respect the privacy of others – not everyone wants to be the star of the show.
- Use professional photography or video equipment.
- Take photos inside any of the bars without the owner’s / manager’s permission.
- Be intrusive to other customers or staff around you.
- Take photos for commercial purposes.
If you wish to take photos within Nana Plaza with a decent camera, you can get in touch with the Nana Plaza general manager at : [email protected]
And one reader has told me of the hilarious sight of some cheeky punters attempting to enter Nana Plaza while carrying an opened bottle of water. Security inform them that they cannot take a bottle of water in with them and apparently some chose not to enter Nana Plaza rather than give up the bottle of water they were carrying. What a hoot!
And let me kill the idea that Nana Plaza might consider introducing an entrance fee to get in to Nana Plaza. It has been said that the security check at the entrance to the plaza is a bit like passing through security to get in to a club / disco – where you often have to pay a cover charge. Could one day a fee of say 200 baht be charged to get in to Nana which gets you a voucher to be redeemed for your first drink? It makes sense on one hand as it would prevent lookyloos and those who just want to enter and wander about – and there are plenty of them these days in the bar areas. It won’t happen. The tenants i.e. the bar owners wouldn’t stand for it.
There are of course a couple of bars that insist you buy before entering / as you enter. Bacarra in Soi Cowboy has had a policy for a number of years whereby (most, not all) customers have to buy a drink at the small bar outside before they pass through the curtain and enter the bar proper. And up the road in Thermae, customers have long been corralled to the bar to buy a drink before doing a lap. Of course, anyone entering any bar or bar area should buy a drink and anyone who wants to roam and enjoy free entertainment is a little cheeky. At the same time, the way the staff in some bars push people to buy a drink seconds after entering isn’t the friendliest welcome – and Bacarra is the classic example of this.
With so many big hotels going up on Soi Nana and something of a gentrification of the area taking place in the seedy soi, will that have any effect on the soi in general? Next time you’re in Soi Nana, take a walk down the soi during the day time and see what I mean. Big hotels are popping up – the Soi Nana Novotel is due to open on October 1 – to add to those that have already sprung up. The number of mid-range hotel rooms on Soi Nana is going to explode – and with the Nana area very centrally located in terms of greater Bangkok and convenient in terms of the skytrain, the Nana area will be popular with mainstream visitors. Could this have any effect on night-time Soi Nana? Will there be a cleanup or what the Thai authorities just love, a crackdown? And what does it mean for the shophouses with small businesses which clearly don’t have much of a turnover. They can hardly be viable. How much longer will they last?
In my comeback column I mentioned pricey barfines at Mandarin, but at the same time I ought to mention that they have some great drinks deals – see above. These daily drinks specials run all night long.
What is it in Soi Nana with all of the motorbikes parked against the kerb late at night? I don’t ever remember seeing that before. The lineup of motorbikes parked against the kerb on the Nana Hotel side of the soi stretched way down the soi – dozens and dozens of bikes – and in many cases freelancers were perched on them. What’s that all about? Are freelancers riding to Soi Nana and parking up kerbside and doing their business beside their get-away vehicle? Or has, perhaps more likely, a parking area for motorbikes in the Nana area been removed / built over / closed and there is nowhere else for workers in the soi to park their bike? It’s not something I saw in the past. Admittedly, it was so long between visits that this might have been a regular thing for some time, but it was new to me. The whole scene very much reminded me of Saigon where youngsters park up kerbside on their motorbike and socialise.
On that matter, there were more street-walkers about than I have seen on Soi Nana in a very long time and it felt a little like Beach Road in Pattaya by night.
Welshman Marc who used to keep things pumping at Dollhouse Soi Cowboy is doing his thing at Dollhouse Pattaya. Old friends are encouraged to pop by and say hi while anyone who is at a loss of which bar to drop by in Sin City should consider sticking their head inside Dollhouse.
On Sukhumvit soi 11, Zak’s closed some time ago. The word is that the landlords tripled the rent from 400K baht / month to whopping 1.2 million baht / month – and amazingly, they found someone willing to pay it, a new player in town. When rents go up that much there is a flow on effect – and it is not good for consumers. Other landlords on the street know how much that landlord now gets – and can you just imagine that they are rubbing their hands together at the thought of how much they will be able to charge when existing leases coming up for renewal. If another tenant down the road is willing to 3x the market rate, surely their current tenants can pay that too?! Existing business owners in soi 11 should not be shocked when leases come up for renewal and landlords look at hiking rents to the extent that their business may no longer be viable in that location. Needless to say, some business owners on soi 11 are not happy at all happy about where things may be going.
And on the subject of soi 11, the sub soi which was home to Cheap Charlies and Charley Brown’s amongst others has been cleared and is ready for the new development to start going up. Some say it will be a condo, others a hotel.
Long-term rival of ThaiVisa, TeakDoor.com is up for sale. If you are interested, please send an email to [email protected] and I will forward it to the owner. The asking price is very reasonable indeed.
There have been large police checkpoints this past Friday and Saturday nights around 2:00 AM on Sukhumvit Road at Phrom Pong / Emporium / Emquartier. If you pass through, as a foreigner you may be asked to get out of the vehicle you’re in, be patted down, asked to turn your pockets inside out and may even be asked to open your wallet for the constabulary to take a look – for drugs, I imagine.
Why is it that 2 baht coins still don’t work in the BTS ticket machines? It’s been 13 (!!) years since the 2 baht coin was released yet the ticket machines for the skytrain still don’t accept 2 baht coins. Surely it cannot be that hard to reprogram the machines to accept them?! If you use the skytrain regularly I’d actually say to avoid using the ticket machines and get a stored value card as the queue for the ticket machines can be long and slow, made worse if you find yourself behind visitors who don’t know how it works or behind someone who pays for their fare using all 1 baht coins. That the skytrain coin machines still do not accept 2 baht coins is ridiculous.
Speaking of mass transit systems, is there a longer lag reading stored value cards when using the underground train these days? I swear it took much longer for the card to be read at the turnstile than it did in the past….plausible given that there are more people using the system. Perhaps their central computer needs beefing up? Maybe I have this totally wrong, but as someone who does not live there any more you tend to notice things like this.
Count me amongst those who like Suwannaphoom Airport. I know plenty romanticise arriving in Bangkok at Don Meuang Airport but I much prefer the new one. It’s easier to get to, and much more spacious. There is, however, one complaint I have: why is the temperature inside Sunwannaphoom Airport so warm – almost like the air-conditioning system cannot cope / is not set at a low enough temperature? Part of the appeal of visiting Thailand is the warm weather but is it necessary to replicate the outside temperature inside the airport terminal?
A German was slashed with a knife near the MoChit BTS station in Bangkok.
The Daily Mail looks at some of the odd phrases in the Thai script Westerners have tattooed on their body.
The Nation took a closer look at the bust of Alexandre Cazes in Thailand last year.
A fish pedicure in Thailand goes horribly as a lady’s toes have to be amputated after being nibbled on by fish.
All 1,400 Nigerians resident in Thailand are to be checked on by the tourist police to make sure they’re not up to no good.
Sometimes what people have to say can be surprising and I always like to find out why people think the way they do. What 2 of the ladies in today’s opening piece had to say about Western men resident in Thailand shows how perceptions have changed massively in the space of a generation – I never heard anyone in mainstream Thai society before say that they felt white guys resident in Thailand appeared to be poor. The truth, of course, is that today some white guys in Thailand are doing it tough. A friend commented recently while up in Isaan how many of the foreign retirees were miserable – which he attributed to their financial situation. How widespread the perception is that a certain strata of white guys in Thailand may be poor is, I do not know – but I suspect it’s not that common…..I am tempted to add “yet”. While it is likely that only a small number of Thais feel this way about some of Thailand’s farang residents, what it does show is that perceptions – and reality – in Thailand are changing.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]