When people ask me about the foods they should try in Thailand, the first thing that pops into my mind is somtam (green papaya salad). There’s something very uniquely Thai about the dish; it, almost like Thailand itself, cobbled together from a myriad of ingredients. These include green papaya, halved peanuts, Thai fish sauce (nam bpla) tomatoes and dried shrimp. While the ingredient list admittedly looks less than appetizing, they’re transformed into a flavor sensation in the hands of a good cook. (For a good traditional somtam recipe, try these directions from Thai food blogger SheSimmers)
Because the papaya is green, it’s not sweet, but instead has a really “fresh” and “crisp” flavour. Saltiness comes from the fish sauce and dried shrimp, while peppers, beans and peanuts add depth and texture to the dish.
On a recent trip to Baan Somtum (House of Somtam) in Bangkok, I had the opportunity to sample a wide array of different somtams. Amidst the traditional styles and versions incorporating apples (this didn’t quite cut the mustard with me) and coconut, I tried “fried somtam”. By my great powers of deduction, I presume that the green papaya shavings are deep fried to the point where they resemble shoe string onion rings. Served on the side of the heaping pile of fried deliciousness was a bowl full of traditional somtam “sauce”.
Fried Somtam from Baan Somtum
I’ve concluded that this is Thailand’s version of ketchup and fries, except fried somtam is much more delicious. The fried papaya strips were crispy perfection and I think the heat brought out a subtle sweetness in the fruit. Dipping one delicate fry into the somtam sauce resulted in pure cuilinary bliss in my mouth. Crispy, sweet, salty and textured, it had all the contrasting dimensions so prevalent in Thai cooking and was totally compatible with my western palette. After trying it I immediately proclaimed that this was the greatest food ever and proceeded to consume many hundreds of calories worth of crispy goodness.
I imagine that fried somtam can be made from an adapted traditional somtam recipe, but I’m no cooking expert. Instead, I would recommend trying this dish if you ever find yourself in Bangkok.
Luxury travel is not something the majority of us can indulge in too often, and when we do, it can deal a pretty big blow to our savings accounts. That being said, I’m always on the hunt for great travel destinations where you can get a lot of bang for your buck. Southeast Asia is a well-known destination for travelers hoping to stretch their budget, but Singapore never seems to make anyone’s travel list. Perhaps it’s its image as a stiff, strict society or the fact that it doesn’t advertise its tourism industry much abroad, but Singapore does not get its due as a holiday destination.
Having just returned from a 1-week trip to the Southeast Asian city-state, I found it to be well suited to what I call “budget-luxury” travel. What is a “budget-luxury” destination? Well, I just made it up, but what I’m essentially shooting for is a place where the average working couple can enjoy a few of the finer things in life without making a significant dent in their savings.
Our hotel room (courtesy of stayfareast.com)
What I loved about Singapore was that is was as clean and ultra-modern as a city could be, but was amazingly affordable. For instance, I booked a modern 4* hotel (with pool, gym, concierge, the works) connected to the city’s efficient subway system (MRT) for just over $100 USD/night on fairly short notice. Speaking of the MRT, one week of traversing Singapore’s subway network cost us a cool $20/person (approx. $15 USD/10 GPB). The prices for taxi rides were even more amazing with 30-40 minute rides across town coming out to just $17 Singapore dollars (approx. $13 USD/8 GBP).
Lao Pa Sat at night.
The great deals didn’t stop at transportation either. Though Singapore enjoys a futuristic infrastructure and all the amenities of a fully industrialized city, most of its restaurants offered great meals at the same prices you’d find on the streets of Bangkok. Newton Food Centre (MRT Newton) and Lao Pa Sat (MRT Raffles Place) are two indoor/outdoor food stall halls that feature every type of SE Asian cuisine imaginable. Most dishes were at or under $5 Singapore dollars (approx. $3.50 USD/2.50 GBP) and were of excellent quality.
I never could quite get Asian desserts, but this one was worth a try!
Understandably, outdoor dining under the Singapore sun is not for everyone. Luckily, Singapore, much like Bangkok, is teeming with mall containing vast food halls. A trip to the shopping mall at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino garnered us authentic Singaporean cuisine for two (and a coke!), for under $20 Singapore dollars. If SE Asian cuisine is not for you, then no problem. These malls are full of Japanese, Korean, Spanish, French and Italian restaurants.
Night out at Clarke Quay.
Lively Clarke Quay is located conveniently in central Singapore and proved to be a great place to dip our feet into the city’s nightlife. Splurging on a night out, we enjoyed Spanish tapas for two with drinks followed up by a German restaurant for more cocktails and a beer. While alcohol was admittedly a bit prices (due to import and/or vice tax, I’m assuming), our night out was still well under $100 Singapore dollars (approx. $80 USD/50 GBP).
Sipping a blue lagoon – one of many cocktails I sampled.
Taking a break from the city, we took a taxi to Sentosa Island, which is connected via a bridge to Singapore. Branded as “Asia’s Playground”, the island is home to luxury resorts, Universal Studios, two beaches and various other rides and attractions.
Our first stop on Sentosa was Silosa Beach. While it certainly wasn’t Waikiki, the water was warm and calm, and we were just a 10 minute drive from Singapore. The beach was a nice place to relax and kick back with a mango margarita. When we visited on a Tuesday afternoon, there weren’t too many beach-goers on hand, leaving me with an Olympic pool worth of beach to myself. I worked on the tan that I lost from living in England, while my boyfriend worked on a sunburn. After enough time by the water and a sufficient tequila buzz had been attained, we headed up to the top of the island via a scenic chairlift below luging down a purpose-built track.
Enjoying an empty Silosa Beach.
With 4* and 5* hotels within reach, transportation and fine dining for pennies on the dollar and easy access to an island filled with beaches and bars, I personally think Singapore is one of the best places in the world to indulge on a budget. As a real added bonus, English one of the official languages here, which makes it a lot more convenient than similarly-priced destinations in the area. Singapore’s proximity to the equator also ensures stable (albeit HOT) temperatures, making it pool and beach season all year round.
To view more images, check out my flickr set here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wanderbliss/sets/72157627838784131/
It just so happens that my 3-month trip to Thailand has overlapped with the worst floods in the country for 50 years. The northern provinces of Ayutthaya and Nakhon Sawan (the country’s rice-growing region) have already been devastated by water. Around October 20th, 2011, a swell of water began to knock on the door of Thailand’s capital Bangkok.
Nonthaburi is a city of several million that sits on the northern edge of Bangkok and was the first to receive the floodwaters. The neighborhoods of Bang Bua Thong and Bang Yai, located only kilometres from the Bangkok border were inundated with water.
I’m currently staying in Nonthaburi and commute 6 days a week into Bangkok. I stay mostly around the regions of Bang Sue and Chattuchak and have taken photos of flooding in these areas as well as Nonthaburi over the past few days. Currently, the flooding ebbs and flows with the tide which peaks at around 4:20pm each day. Local news reports indiciate that the flooding will continue until Oct. 30th and I will add pictures to this post until then.
31-OCT-2011: I spent the weekend travelling around Bangkok and I ran into flooding in Bang Po and around the Rama V Bridge. The bridge closed to normal traffic a few days ago and military trucks now take residents back and forth for free. I went under the bridge to investigate what was going on and I saw a steady stream of water, lumber, sandbags and provisions headed across the bridge to Bang Yai and Bang Bua Thong. It was an encouraging sign. Elsewhere, Don Muang, Rangsit and parts of Ramintra are underwater. It looks as though metropolitan Bangkok will be spared from flooding. 28-OCT-2011: Added images and a video from the commute home last night. The northern edge of Bangkok and Muang Nonthaburi were flooded and traffic, despite being much lighter than usual, was very slow. Motorcycles, which are probably the most common form of transportation in the city, are have a difficult time trudging through the water.
27-OCT-2011: Added images from my condo complex this morning as well as some pictures of flood preparation in Bang Sue (Northern district in Bangkok). The news reports about high tide peaking between 27-31 OCT must be true as I woke up to find no trace of dry gound below me. The entire complex has been flooded and is spilling out into the streets. I suspect if this keeps up for another 2-3 days Muang Nonthaburi (downtown/main Nonthaburi) will be underwater, which includes the areas around the Rama V bridge (the “Rama” bridges all cross the Chao Praya River). Don Muang Airport was closed yesterday because of flooding and the area of Rangsit in Bangkok remains underwater.
26-OCT-2011: Added images of Thai newspaper headlines. Many riverside businesses and restaurants have been forced to closed to due persistent (but not heavy) flooding. Water from the Chao Praya does not seem to ebb as much during low tide and is staying on roads longer. Greatly effected areas include Bang Bua Thong (in Nonthaburi – just north of Bangkok), Rangsit and Don Muang (where Don Muang Airport is located).
30-OCT-2011: A child plays in a flooded street.
30-OCT-2011: Residents finally reach dry land after a ride across flood waters.
30-OCT-2011: Stray dog looks back from flooding street.
30-OCT-2011: Motorcycle plows its way through water.
A sandbag wall nearly 2 meters hold water that is pumped from the adjacent street. The sound you hear is that of the water pump, which burned out later on in the night.
Driving through the streets of Northern Bangkok on the night of 27-OCT-2011. (Apologies for the appalling videography)
27-OCT-2011: Water fills the streets of Northern Bangkok.
27-OCT-2011: Volunteers in Northern Bangkok ride on a truck through some of the worst effected areas.
27-OCT-2011: Workers desperately try to move water towards a pump in order to divert it back into the Chao Praya River.
27-OCT-2011: Thailand’s iconic tuk tuks are used to deliver sandbags throughout local communities
27-OCT-2011: Many shopowners take no chances and build sealed concrete walls to protect themselves from the water
27-OCT-2011: Chao Praya river levels have clearly gone up overnight, indicating that the worst may be to come
Communities along the Chao Praya are struggling to keep the water at bay. Sandbags are becoming no match for the wall of water that is encroaching
Roads are becoming hard to spot under the water.
Thai newspaper from 25-OCT-11 states: “Disaster of this Scale Unexpected” (rough translation).
Thai newspaper from 25-OCT-11 states: “Frightened women and children rush to board a Thai Military Truck in the suburb of Bang Bua Thong” (rough translation).
Thai newspaper from 24-OCT-11 states: “Bangkok due to be Bombarded by Water” (rough translation).
25-10-11: A popular riverside restaurant is forced to close due to flooding.
25-10-11: With a pool 1.5 metres high, sandbag barriers begin to leak heavily.
Taken a few days before major flooding began: Water begins to creep into a riverside home.
First signs of flooding begin in Bangkok: Motorists navigate their way through wet streets.
The Chao Praya’s muddy water continues to converge on the streets.
Northern Bangkok: The streets of Northern Bangkok flood near a popular University area. The road ahead is closed and the government is providing sandbags to local residents.
Northern Bangkok: Two boys sit on rails to avoid getting wet on a popular shopping street in Bang Sue. This is the first time they have seen flooding here in their lives
Nonthaburi: This roadblock is a pre-emptive measure to keep streets in danger of flooding from getting too crowded. Only residents are allowed beyond this point.
Bangkok Mega Mart Big C is inundated with customers.
Store shelves empty quickly.
Nonthaburi: Rama V bridge is full of parked cars seeking refuge from flood waters.
Nonthaburi: Reinforced sandbag walls struggle to contain water from the neighboring Chao Praya River in a condo development.
High Tide: The Chao Praya River levels creep over the land.
Nonthaburi: A picnik table is nearly consumed by flood waters.