It wasn’t all sticky rice and grilled meat for the last couple months. Setting out on a road trip to central Laos with my trusty driver Christophe (above, on the left), I picked up a grab bag of French goodies at Les Boutiques Scoubidou, Vientiane’s best French deli:
There was raw milk camembert, saucissson and liver pate. Both loaves of bread were from Le Banneton, Vientiane’s best bakery. And because I was with Christophe, who is Lao but who spent most of his life in France, lots of pastis. All of this was enjoyed in a bamboo hut at the edge of the Nam Lik:
The other gentlemen controls the cross-river ferry here, and in his youth was a revolutionary fighter, having fired his gun at American planes in Vieng Xai in the late 1960s. He ate more camembert than I expected.
In addition to being a fan of pastis, Christophe is also an excellent driver, speaks fluent French and decent English and knows Laos like the back of his van.
+856 21-223 663, +856 20-550 4604
Les Boutiques Scoubidou
Th Tha Deua
+856 214 073
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I’m finally back home after about two months in Laos, and yet again, am craving odd Thai dishes. This time it’s kuaytiaw reua (boat noodles), so naturally I headed to the heartland of the dish (and possibly one of the more underrated food cities in Thailand), Ayuthaya.
Inside knowledge from a local led us to Jay Nit, a longstanding ‘restaurant’ on the man-made island that forms Ayuthaya’s old town. To get here you have to walk through Wat Ratayachai, a temple at the edge of the Chao Phraya River, until you reach what looks like a dilapidated wet market at the edge of the river. The place is frankly filthy, but filthy in that reassuring Southeast Asia way that often suggests good eats.
The ladies here claim that the restaurant has been in business for 40 years, although only the last decade has been on solid land:
The noodle dishes at Jay Nit, which include yen ta fo, are done at two stations, although I didn’t really understand the division of labour (one pork station and one beef?). Regardless, they’re doing something right. The broth of the pork version was satisfyingly thick, thanks to the addition of blood, but wasn’t actually as rich or as spicy as it appeared. But I was most impressed with the pork (illustrated at the top of this post), which was fatty and tender and served in thick slices not unlike a very good bowl of Japanese-style ramen. And unlike most other places in Ayuthaya, the servings here are rather generous (boat noodles are typically served in tiny bowls that sell for as little as 10 or 15 baht – possibly a legacy of the dishe’s waterbound origins), making it a heartier version of the dish than most of its counterparts.
More boat noodles to follow; in the meantime, another good bowls can be got at Lung Lek.
Wat Ratayachai (Wat Jin), Ayuthaya
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Urai, a boat noodle restaurant in Ayuthaya’s Sena District, is part of a government-funded scheme called Thong Fah (‘Blue Flag’) that has established exceedingly cheap restaurants, often serving regional dishes, around the country (Mae Sri Bua in Mae Hong Son is another Thong Fah restaurant I’ve previously blogged about). I think a bowl of noodles here cost 15 baht (less than 50 cents).
As illustrated above, the broth at Urai is practically coffee-like, and is almost certainly the darkest and thickest I’ve encountered. Yet despite this, it was somewhat under-seasoned, and really need a few splashes of fish sauce and a generous scoop of dried chili. And in contrast to that of previously-mentioned boat noodle joint Jay Nit, the meat here is nothing special, having been simply flash-boiled. On the other hand, the noodles at Urai are served the traditional way, in tiny bowls:
I believe I ate four…
Urai is located in Sena district, about 15km west of Ayuthaya. It’s the only boat noodle place in town, and is located right at the bus terminal.
Located at the bus terminal, Sena District, Ayuthaya
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I arrived back home in Bangkok to some pretty bizarre circumstances. While I was in Laos, red-shirted protesters took over a large swathe of central Bangkok, from the central shopping district to the edge of Lumphini Park, directly opposite my apartment. They’ve occupied this space for several weeks now, having barricaded themselves inside an intimidating fence of tires, bamboo poles and barbed wire (for background on the current conflict in Thailand, go here or here). The conflict has escalated in the last few days, and yesterday there were rumours that the protesters were going to be surrounded by the military and police at 6pm. At about this time I left my house with the intent of taking a few pics and documenting what was going on in my neighbourhood. While wandering around the red shirt camp, I happened to run into ace reporters Newley Purnell and Anasuya Sanyal, and here are some of the things we saw that night.
View over the Silom area, with hotels and skyscrapers in the background and the medieval-looking tire and bamboo fence in the foreground:
A closer look at the fence and one of its guards:
It’s said that the protesters have soaked the fence in gasoline, and will set it on fire if attacked.
Inside the fenced area (no, those rocks aren’t for landscaping):
Guarding the fence:
While I was in the area I happened to see Khattiya Sawasdipol, better known as Seh Daeng (Commander Red):
a rogue military general and hardline red shirt supporter who has allegedly likened himself to the Mel Gibson character in the film Braveheart:
Only moments after these photos were taken, Seh Daeng was shot while being interviewed by New York Times correspondent.
Soldiers along Silom, later that night:
Motorcyclists being chased away from the fence by a group of shouting red shirts near Lumphini Park:
Government soldier looks for snipers on Thanon Rama IV, Bangkok
Today government soldiers clashed with anti-government ‘red shirt’ protesters in several parts of Bangkok, including my neighbourhood, the Silom/Rama IV area. The following are a few images from the clashes, which as I write this at 6.30pm, have yet to cease. For details, go here.
Anti-government ‘red shirt’ protesters taunt soldiers, Rama IV, Bangkok
Locals cautiously watching the conflict unfolding on Rama IV, Bangkok
Red shirt protesters stand their ground on Rama IV, Bangkok
Red shirt protesters taunt soldiers, Rama IV, Bangkok
Soldiers prepare to fire on red shirt protesters, Rama IV, Bangkok
Red shirt protesters taunt soldiers on Thanon Rama IV
A violent confrontation between red shirt protesters and government soldiers along Rama IV
Soldiers preparing to fire at red shirt protesters on Thanon Rama IV
Soldiers firing an alleged mixture of rubber bullets, blanks and real bullets at protesters, Thanon Rama IV
Captured red shirt protesters near Lumphini Boxing Statdium, Bangkok
Soldiers unrolling barbed wire along Rama IV, Bangkok. Smoking tires can be seen in the background.
Locals look at burning tires on a bridge near Thanon Silom
I live just off of Thanon Silom, which in addition to being the area of Bangkok with arguably the most restaurants and street food, is also directly adjacent to the epicentre of the current conflict. As a result, the streets in this part of town feel particularly empty today:
Shops are closed, rubbish isn’t being collected, armed soldiers outnumber civilians, and the contents of my fridge are starting to run low. And what is normally an area with an overabundance of food has now been reduced to one stall, the lone noodle vendor pictured at the top of this post.
Stopping by for a bowl today at lunchtime, I had the following conversation with one of the ladies running the stall:
Wow, you’re open today. Aren’t you scared?
Yes it’s scary, but I have to earn money. We haven’t been able to open in five days!
How has it been today? Have you heard any gunshots or explosions?
Yes, but from way over there [points towards Lumphini Park].
You must be selling well since you’re the only place to eat at Sala Daeng. How late will you stay open?
We’re almost sold out now!
And indeed she was selling well, with the bulk her customers, not surprisingly, hungry journalists:
Damage and burning along Rama IV, Bangkok
Yesterday was relatively quiet, at least in my area, but this was the scene five minutes’ walk away, along Rama IV. The smoke is from burning tires, and was accompanied by explosions (mostly harmless but very large rockets fired by the protesters) virtually every 20 seconds. A surreal and frightening scene.
As mentioned previously, yesterday was generally quiet in the Silom area, at least until about 1am. Shortly after falling asleep I was awakened by the sound of several very large explosions and the pop of sniper rifle fire (as opposed the rattle of machine gun or the blasts of shotgun fire the previous nights) very close to my house. Wandering out this morning to survey the damage, it became clear exactly how close the sounds were: the Dusit Thani Hotel, which I can see clearly from my balcony, had been hit by a grenade (see pic above). Guests were apparently herded into the basement in the middle of the night, and as of today, the hotel has closed, its employees helping people evacuate from this area’s now empty streets:
The government has set a deadline of 3pm today for everybody to leave the protester’s main camp, which begins at Lumphini Park:
and stretches all the way to the shopping district at Rajprasong. It’s 2.30pm as I write this, and the recent death of influential red shirt supporter Seh Daeng, the sound of explosions, mysterious small planes passing overhead and ominously, dark clouds and thunder, contribute to a very dark, tense atmosphere.
Incidentally, if I’ve gained anything from this experience, it’s the knowledge that the seemingly useless internet application Twitter actually has a practical application. In the words of Bloomberg reporter Dan Ten Kate, ‘It’s like having sources all over town,’ and many journalists and observers use it via mobile phone to keep up to date on what’s becoming an ever-expanding conflict. I follow it compulsively from home, and if you also desire minute to minute updates on the situation here I can recommend feeds from Newley Purnell, Patrick Winn, Alastair Leithead, Andrew Marshall, bangkokpundit and Agnes Dherbys.
Tanks crossing the barricade into the protesters’ camp, Bangkok
As of about 8.30am this morning, and after several hours of early morning fighting, tanks have crossed the protesters’ tire and bamboo barricade near Lumphini Park to. This is significant, but it still remains to be seen what will happen, and I continue to hear gunshots and explosions as I write this.