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Thailand Trip – Favorite Moments, Part 1

Michael Babcock, Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Here are just a few of my favorite moments last year from Kasma Loha-unchit’s 19-day trip of Bangkok, central and northern Thailand. Kasma’s trips get you off-the-beaten track to places she has discovered over more than 25 years of leading trips. The hard part in writing this blog was picking only a few moments! Kasma’s 28-day Trip A visits most of these places as well.

Buying Mangoes

Kasma buys mangoes

This 19-day “Trip B” was one three small group trips to Thailand that Kasma offers every year. It starts in Bangkok, goes through the historical heartland of Thailand (Ayuthaya and Suhkothai) up to the North, to Mae Sa, Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son. Like all of her trips, there’s an emphasis on getting you “off-the-beaten-track,” on great Thai food and on seeing real Thai culture. I was lucky enough to go on the entire trip last year (I’m not always so lucky); although it was my 4th or 5th time there are so many varied and exciting things to do that it felt like the first time. Here are a some highlights. (Each of these deserves a blog of its own.)

(Click images to see larger version.)

Making Bronzeware

Making bronzeware

Canals of Bangkok & Thonburi: On the second day of this trip, we took a ride around the canals of Bangkok and Thonburi. After a stop at the Royal Barge Museum, we headed onto the canals and within minutes it was hard to believe that Bangkok was just a short distance away. We saw life along the water and stopped at some temples along the way. One of the highlights was a visit to a bronze factory where they make bronze ware in the traditional manner: beautiful, hand-crafted bowls, plates and drinking cups.

The picture to the right can’t do justice to the feeling you get at the factory. It shows one of the workers holding a piece of bronze ware directly in the fire. It’s quite dark, except for the light from the fire, which casts off a daunting heat: you wonder how the workers can stand to be so close to the fire all day. Then there’s the sound: once the piece is pulled off the fire, the workers shape it with a hammer and there’s the dull klunk, klunk, klunk as the hammers from two workers hit the bronze over and over before it’s thrust back into the fire.

Canal Ride

A canal near the market

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market: Despite the fact that it is heavily touristed, I still absolutely love going to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Although the pictures of floating vendors are a well-worn cliché, it’s exciting to see the lively, colorful boats laden with produce or carrying a kanom (Thai snack) vendor.

Here’s the caveat: don’t go with a scheduled tour. You must get there early, before the tour buses arrive. On Kasma’s trips we always leave Bangkok around 5:30 a.m. so that we see the sunrise on the eastern coast and arrive at Damnoen Saduak just as it is still getting light. We get to travel on the klong (canals) virtually by ourselves.

Boat Vendor

Vendor selling fried bananas

One of the best part of the floating market, as, indeed, with any market in Thailand, is the food. As we set out and return, Kasma invariably purchases snacks such as kanom krok, the delightful coconut pancakes, kanom paeng jee, a grilled coconut cake, and fried bananas (kluay tod, from the vendor you see to the right). We follow up our boat ride with a delicious bowl (or two!) of kway teow reua – “Boat Noodles.” (See my blog: Boat Noodles at Damnoen Saduak Market.)

Here are two more pictures of the market:

Sukhothai Reflection

Suhkothai vignette

Historical Sites of Sukhothai: Once out of Bangkok, we pass through the historical heartland of the country, through Ayuthaya and Sukhothai. My favorite time here is the morning walk through the historical ruins of Sukhothai.

We always get there right after breakfast when the light is just magical and wander around the ruins, which are all in one close area. There is a grace and beauty to the ruins there, reflected in the many ponds, often with water lilies adding a splash of color to the view. After the view from afar, we walk amongst the ruins where there are lovely details to be found on the walls: elephants, lions and graceful, walking Buddhas. You get a sense of what how beautiful Suhkothai must have been when it was flourishing in the late 13th and early 14th centuries.

Sukthothai Ruins

Sukhothai Ruins

Walking Buddhas

Walking Buddhas

To the left we see one of the ruins in the early morning light. The walking Buddhas, to the right, are found on one of the temple walls. I can never resist photographing them; they are so utterly graceful.

Suhkothai Market

Sausage vendor

Sukhothai Market: Ahhh. The market walks. Whenever possible, we visit the lively Thai morning markets. The Sukhothai Market is one of my favorites, in large part because of the friendliness of the vendors. Like most Thai markets, it’s colorful and lively with plenty of appetizing prepared food.

This market is also where Kasma purchases large quantities (several kilograms) of beautiful, dried red chillies to bring back for use in her Thai cooking classes. One of our Wednesday photos showed these Dried Red Chillies in Sukhothai.

Welcoming Ceremony

In a Hmong home

Hmong Village, Ceremony and Walk: What is the best part of Thailand? Without a doubt, the people. The only contact with the hill tribe in many other tours is often a village set up just for tourists. Kasma has been friends with people in one of the Hmong villages in the Mae Sa area (just north of Chiang Mai) since her first trip to Thailand in 1986. We visit a real village with a living culture, where most of the people are still farmers.

We are invited into Kasma’s friend’s home and given a welcoming ceremony by the village shaman. Protective strings are tied on each trip member’s wrist to be followed with a shot of Hmong moonshine to seal the deal. We then eat delicious chicken soup, made from gai bahn, which literally, “house chicken.” These are the very chickens we see running around the village: you want free range? These are free range.

Tying the String

Tying a protective string

Hmong Mother & Child

Hmong mother & child

To the left we see the Hmong shaman tying a string on a trip member’s wrist. To the right is one of the Hmong mothers with child that we saw on our visit. The people really are the best part about visiting Thailand.

Trip Members

Walking the village

Village View

View of the Hmong Village

After our ceremony and the chicken soup, we take a walk through the village. Within a short while we’re a bit out of town and see views of the village, such as this one to the right, and of the fields. The two young Hmong women in the leftmost picture are the daughters of the family where the welcoming ceremony was held; Kasma has known them since they were infants.

This blog continues in Thailand Trip – Favorite Moments, Part 2.

Follow these links for more about the 19-day Trip B:

Written by Michael Babcock, June 2012

Two Thai Hospitals

Michael Babcock, Thursday, March 15th, 2012

During my recent trip to Thailand I had occasion to visit hospitals in Chiang Mai, Bangkok and Trang. Here are my impressions and a comparison to previous visits. (See my previous blog Two Emergency Rooms from 2010.)

This year I visited the hospitals simply to get a Vitamin B-12 shot. I am deficient not for dietary reasons but because a problem my body has in processing B-12 and making it usable. The solution is a monthly B-12 shot. I had brought two vials to Thailand, intending to give myself the shot; unfortunately, this turned out not to be possible so instead I went to the hospital to have it done.

In Chiang Mai I went to Chiangmai Ram Hospital. Things went very smoothly. First I registered, which involved filling out a form, showing my passport and getting photographed. The next step was a doctor visit to confirm that I needed the shot. Then the nurse gave me the shot and I paid the cashier. The entire process took about 45 minutes. The cost was 212 baht, about $7.00 U.S. at the current exchange rate of 30 baht to a dollar. This included:

  • Medication: 84 baht
  • Medical Supplies: 28 baht
  • Nursing OPD Service Charge: 50 baht
  • Service OPD CHANGE: 50 baht

In Bangkok I went to what is now called Bangkok International Hospital, although on my card from previous visits it was called Bangkok General Hospital and it’s called Bangkok Hospital on its website.

When I went in, noting how much the hospital seems to have grown, I showed my registration card and they took a photograph. They then sent me off to the International Registration Desk on the second floor; a bit of a trek to find. Then the same procedure as at Chiang Mai: a doctor visit to verify the need, a nurse gives the shot and payment is made. The whole thing took about an hour and 15 minutes. The cost? 810 baht (about $27.00 at the current exchange rate of 30 baht to a dollar). This included:

  • Medication: 260 bahtOPD Nursing Charge: 150 baht
  • Physician Evaluation: 400 baht

As a comparison, when I get the shot from my physician (at her office) in the U.S. I have a $10.00 (about 300 baht) co-pay.

I also visited two hospitals in Trang. I don’t have the names. None of the staff at these registration counters spoke much English at all. I was unable to get treated at either hospital because they did not have the medication available.

A few observations:

  • It was certainly much cheaper at Chiang Mai – about 1/4 the cost compared to Bangkok.
  • The discrepancy in medication cost is interesting: 84 baht in Chiang Mai, 260 baht in Bangkok – over 3 times as expensive. I find it hard to believe that the medication costs that much more in Bangkok. I chalk it up to Bangkok Hospital adding more mark-up on their pharmaceuticals so they can make more money.
  • Another possibility is that Bangkok Hospital has two price scales now, one for international patients and one for Thais, though I have no way of verifying that. Several times in the past the fee for a doctor at this hospital was 200 baht and 300 baht for a specialist. This visit was the first time that a distinction was made between Thai patients and foreign patients and I was sent to an international registration desk: before, all patients went through the same procedure. I guess that international patients pay more: based on the previous standard fee of 200 baht for a physician visit and the higher medication cost compared to the Chiang Mai hospital.
  • Over the years, Bangkok Hospital has become much more impersonal. The first time I came, there was a doorman to open the car door and a nicely dressed young woman to escort you to the registration desk. In the past, the people at the desk were friendlier – this time they seemed distracted and harried at both the downstairs desk and the international desk on the second floor. They used to have someone escort you from downstairs registration to your next stop: now you’re left to fend for yourself.
  • Medical costs appear to be on the rise, at least at Bangkok Hospital.
  • Bangkok Hospital has gotten less friendly, even compared to my Emergency Room visit in February 2010. The experience this time was more akin to a U.S. hospital, where it’s clear that making money is at least as important as treating the patient. I would be curious to know if the Thai side of the hospital still retains more of the previous friendliness.
  • I had a better experience at Chiang Mai Ram hospital: I found the staff friendly and welcoming.
  • One big difference between the U.S. & Thai hospitals as that no mention of payment is made before treatment: it is only after that you are sent to the cashier to make payment – there seems to be no need to make proof of payment before treatment.
  • Bangkok Hospital must treat a large number of Arab patients. All of the signs are available in Thai, English and Arabic (and some in Japanese). A notice in the international waiting area tells where to go to change several Arabic currencies into baht.

Compared to the U.S., there’s still lots to like. I could never have gone to a hospital to get a B12 shot in the U.S. without an appointment and been in and out in 45 to 75 minutes. Simply wouldn’t happen. The overall costs still are much lower. The standard of care seems very good.

In future years, though, I’ll make sure to bring the medication and either administer the shot myself or go to a clinic to have it done. I may look for an alternative to Bangkok Hospital next time.

Written by Michael Babcock, March 2012

Toh-Plue Restaurant in Bangkok

Michael Babcock, Sunday, January 15th, 2012

Toh-Plue restaurant, found at Chatuchak Market in Bangkok, serves delicious, flavorful Thai food. Whenever Kasma takes one of her small group tours to Chatuchak, we always take them to eat at Toh-Plue. This blog gives my impressions and explores some of our favorite dishes there.

Toh-Plue Sign

Sign for Toh-Plue Restaurant

Chatuchak Market (in Thai จตุจักร), also called “JJ market” is a weekend market that is spread out over 27 acres, has over 8,000 stalls and is said to attract over 200,000 visitors each day. It’s a “must-see” destination in Bangkok, if you’re there or a weekend. It sells virtually any and everything, including Thai handicrafts, clothes, ceramics, plants, pets, and on and on. Its published hours are 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sundays; the plants section is open on Wednesday and Friday the market is open for wholesalers. (See the Info-Asia site for a good summary of the market; the official market site is Chatuchak Weekend Market.)

Click on photos to see a larger image.

Toh-Plue restaurant is found in section 27 of Chatuchak Market and the sign can be seen from the center courtyard. It is open from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays.

As much as I love going to Chatuchak – I visit every year on my annual trip to Thailand – it can be an exhausting experience. One reason is the heat: it can get very warm indeed. The second is the number of people crowding the narrow aisles. After a couple hours of shopping I’m ready for a sit-down. One distinct advantage to Toh-Plue is that it is air-conditioned so you can relax in luxurious coolness. They do get quite a few tables in a small space and there are times when every table is filled.

Restaurant Interior

Inside Toh-Plue

Restaurant Interior 2

Another view insde Toh-Plue

One nice thing about Toh-Plue is an extensive menu that includes pictures of many dishes. They clientele is a combination of Thai and fahrang (the Thai word for Caucasian).

Menu Cover

Front of Toh-Plue menu

Toh-Plue Menu

One menu page

They serve good, solid Thai food. I’ve always gotten the authentic, Thai variety – but that may be because I’m usually there with Kasma doing the ordering and making sure they know we want it Thai-style.

One picture is said to be worth a thousand words. I’m going to just show some pictures of some of the dishes we often order.

Be sure to click on each picture to see a larger version.

Pork Neck Salad

Pork Neck Salad

Fish with Mango

Fried Fish with Mango

When Kasma and I came to the restaurant on our own in January of 2011, the two dishes pictured above are what we ordered. On the left is a spicy Larb (pronounced lahb) salad made from succulent pork neck with a very spicy dressing that includes (lots of!) chillies and ground rice. This is one dish I always order here. The menu lists the dish on the right as “Deep Fried Fish and Spicy Mango Salad” (Pla Samlee yum Mamuang). One (of many) things that the Thais do extremely well is fry things; fried food very seldom has a greasy feel or taste – it is simply flavorful. Here, a cottonfish is split open, boned, coated with tapioca flour and fried crispy: so you get the crispy, tasty outer side enclosing succulent, tender fish meat. The fried fish is topped with a spicy mango salad for serving and eating.

Steamed Fish

Fish Steamed with Lime

Haw Mok

Fish Curry in Young Coconut

Here are a couple more fish dishes. On the left is a fish steamed with chilli-lime sauce (Pla Kapong Neung Manao); this dish is typically very spicy. To the right is a fancy presentation of Haw Mok, this version served in a young coconut and hence called Haw Mok Maprao Awn; this dish can be thought of as a (red) curried mousse and is typically served in banana leaves. (Here’s a picture of the more usual presentation of haw mok.)

Crab Dish

Crab dish

Fish Cakes

Fish or shrimp cakes

Here are two more seafood dishes. To the left is a Stir-fried Crab with Basil – the green herb in the picture is basil that has been deep fried. To the right is (in Thai) Tod Mun (pronounced Tawd Mun), a deep-fried fish (or shrimp) cake; it is served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. They do both dishes very well here.

Crab & Bean Thread Noodles

Crab with Bean Thread Noodles

Vegetable Dish

Stir-fried Chinese Broccoli

I’ll finish with these two dishes. To the left is Boo Ohb Woon Sen – Crab served with Bean Thread Noodles. It’s a tasty, savory dish. To the right is Kana Nam Mon Hoi – Chinese Broccoli Stir-fried with Oyster Sauce. This is the Toh-Plue version of what I’ve blogged on as Universal Vegetable Recipe

All in all, Toh-Plue is a reasonably delicious restaurant. I wouldn’t say it is worth making a special trip to Chatuchak Market, just to eat there; but Chatuchak Market is worth a special trip, so check out Toh-Plue for lunch when you go.

If you’re looking for places to eat in Bangkok, check out our blogs:

Written by Michael Babcock, January 2012.

Watch Repair, A Thai Option

Michael Babcock, Thursday, December 15th, 2011

On Sukhumvit Road, just before Soi 55 (Thong Lo, pronounced Tawng Law) there is a very Thai option for getting your watch repaired – a street vendor. This is one of the nice things about Thailand: you can find entrepreneurs of all types on the street, including tailors who set up with a sewing machine right on the street, and shoe repair. Last year I had the soles of $180 pair of shoes repaired for about $10.00 – a real bargain.

Watch Repairman

Thong Lo watch repairman

"Shop" Front

Front of watch repair stall

(Click images to see larger version.)

I don’t know the name of this watch repairman. He has been in the same location since I’ve been coming to Thailand beginning in the fall of 1992. If you’re not looking for him, you might miss him, nestled as he is in a little niche among the storefronts and street vendors. I’m including a number of different photos of the street to give you an idea of where to find him. The picture below (to the left) is perhaps the most useful: look for him right by the sign for the Grand Tower Inn. He’s actually situated right by a little alleyway (in between Sukhumvit Sois 53 & 55) that leads to the Grand Tower.

Street Scene

View from watch repair stall

Street View 2

Can you see the vendor?

Over the years, we’ve had a number of repairs done by him including several watchbands replaced, new batteries and stopped watches repaired. For simple things, he’ll do the repair right on the spot as you wait. For repairing the workings of the watch, you leave the watch and return in a few hours.

One of the main advantages of street-side repair of any kind is the cost. I don’t remember specific baht prices of our watch repairs, but I can recall being pleased with how inexpensive they were. Batteries, for instance, cost a fraction of what I’d pay for them back in Oakland, California. Without the overhead of the storefront he can keep costs down; I suspect that he does pay some kind of a rental fee to someone, probably the store he is directly in front of.

Sign & Vendor

Now you see him

Watch Repair Stall

Here's the watch repair stall

This is another reason I love Thailand: although much of Thailand is sophisticated and modern, you can still find these sorts of vendors eeking out a living on the street. It makes for a lively, exciting place to be.

Written by Michael Babcock, December, 2011

Shanghai Dumplings in Bangkok

Michael Babcock, Monday, May 2nd, 2011

This blog is about a Chinese restaurant in Thailand that serves delicious Shanghai dumplings — xiao long pao. I seem to be on a roll lately blogging about non-Thai food in Thailand. Recent blogs have been on a chocolate store in Bangkok (Great chocolate; in Thailand!) and a stretch of street in Ao Nang Bay with more non-Thai restaurants than Thai restaurants (Are We in Thailand?)

Note: This blog dates from May 2, 2011. When we visited this restaurant in December 2012 the name had been changed to Shanghai Xiao Long Pao and the dumplings were not very good. We checked it out again in December 2013 and the dumplings were quite good (not quite great,however) and the rest of the food was very good. I’ll post an update blog soon. (December 2013)

Restaurant Logo

The restaurant’s logo

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

There are a fair number of ethnic Chinese people in Thailand; information from a couple of different places on the Internet suggests 5 to 6 million people claiming to be Chinese ethnicity, so about 12 to 14 percent of the population. (See, for instance, Wikipedia’s “Thai Chinese”.) It is only natural that there would be excellent Chinese restaurants and we’ve eaten at quite a few of those.

Outside of Restaurant 1

Shanghai Xiao Long Pao Restaurant

Outside of Restaurant 2

Outside sign

Inside the Restaurant

Inside the restaurant

Kasma and I like to go out for dim sum every once in awhile, both in the U.S. and Thailand. For some time we’ve been in search of really good Xiao Long Pao– Shanghai dumplings. One friend sent us to a restaurant in San Francisco that was very disappointing. Another friend and frequent trip member recommended some at the Taipei airport and these were good dumplings, if not great. When she’s in Thailand Kasma likes to take her mom out to malls for sightseeing and meals and it was on one of these excursions recently that she came across the restaurant “Shangkai Xioa Long Pao” at MBK Center (Mahboonkrong), which bills itself as “the most visited mall in Bangkok.”

Place Setting

A place setting

Malls usually have lots of chain restaurants, with the ubiquitous western chains on the first floor and many Thai-owned chains as well scattered throughout. For less formal eating there are also the Food Centers – basically street food brought indoors. Generally Kasma and I don’t eat at a lot of chain restaurants – we prefer individually-owned, Thai-run restaurants, though when we have eaten at Thai chains, the quality of the food has often been fairly decent, if not superb. The Shanghai Xiao Long Pao at MBK is one of 12 branches. Given our desire to find a great Shanghai dumpling, we had to try this place out.

Interestingly, the English words on the front of the menu are “Shanghai Chicken Rice.”

I ate there twice with Kasma and her mom. Each time we had a very good meal.

Shanghai Dumplings

Shanghai Dumplings (Xiao Long Pao)

The Shanghai dumplings were verygood indeed. The best we’ve come across. The dough on the outside was thin so it did not overwhelm the filling and, most important, resilient enough so that it did not break; this means that when you bite into the dumpling, you get a spurt of delicious “soup”. The filling is made from fatty pork and is savory and delicious. Add all this to the dipping sauce with chopped ginger and it is very satisfying. You can order these in baskets of 3 or 6: I recommend getting 6!

Dim Sum

Pan Fried Ham and Onion Cake

Both times we ordered the Pan Fried Ham and Onion Cake. It is crisply fried (probably in lard, the best fat for frying things like this) with a delicious filling. Highly recommended as well.

Of the other dim sum we tried, the Shanghai Style Steamed Pork Bun was excellent. The dough on the outside was the right amount with a good texture and taste. The filling was savory and good – not the sweet filling that I usually associate with Chinese Steamed Pork Buns. Highly recommended.

Pork Belly

Braised Pork with Napa Cabbage

Each visit we ordered another 3 or 4 dishes from the menu. I particularly enjoyed both the Braised Pork with Bamboo and the Braised Pork with Napa Cabbage with Gravy Sauce + Steamed Buns (see picture). We ordered them because of the picture (the menu has pictures of all the dishes), where we could see succulent-looking pork belly in a sauce. Both dishes were perfectly cooked – fatty and delicious. Recently pork belly has become sort of trendy dish at some of the restaurants in the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area in the United States: the Chinese have appreciated pork belly for a long time

Chicken Rice Set

Shanghai Chicken Rice Set

Also recommended is the Shanghai Chicken Rice, the dish listed on the front of the menu. This is pretty much the same as the Thai Kao Mon Gkai. At this restaurant it comes a set that would make a great one-dish meal if you’re eating alone. (Well, along with a small basket of Xiao Long Pao.) It comes with a plate of succulent, juicey steamed chicken, a broth with melon, some spicy cabbage (very reminiscent of kim chee), a spicy dipping sauce, a pickled vegetable and a bowl of chicken-fat rice. I would recommend getting this dish just for the rice. Chicken-fat rice, in Thai kao mon gkai.This rice is first sautéd in chicken fat and then cooked much like a risotto in chicken broth. It is a rich, delicious treat. We ordered this dish and then ate it family-style with everything else.

Fish Dish

Steamed Fish with Vegetables

We ordered a fish dish each time. The Deep Fried Fish with Oyster Sauce was quite good. The Steamed Fish with Vegetables (pictured) was ok, though I don’t think I’d get it again – there are just too many other delicious dishes that I like better along with several pictured in the menu that I’d like to try. Of the two dishes, the fried fish dish had a lot more flavor.

The Chicken in Chinese Shaoxing Wine was quite good. I would definitely order that again, though I’d give the Shanghai Chicken Rice an edge (as a chicken dish) because of the delicious, rich rice.

Dipping Sauce

Dried red pepper sauce

One accoutrement that bears mentioning is the dried red pepper paste (sauce). This was fiery hot and added a delightful component to many of the dishes: I found myself using it quite a bit.

The one dish that I found disappointing was the Stir-fried Prawns with Hot and Spicy Sauce: there was just too much unexciting, overwhelming sauce, not spicy at all. Luckily, we had the dried red pepper, which I added in quantity.

Sweet Dumplings

Dumplings with black sesame paste

We finished our second meal up with a dessert that was on the dessert menu on the table. It’s only in Thai in a script I can’t decipher so if you want to try it, remember our picture and point. It was a dumpling with a sweet filling of black sesame beans with the dumpling dipped in chopped cashew nuts. The filling is the same is used in a more commonly available dessert – Sticky Rice Balls Stuffed with Black Sesame Paste in Warm Sweet Ginger Broth (Bua Loy Nahm King). The filling works very well in the dumpling, with the chopped cashew nuts adding a effective contrasting taste as well as a different texture to interest the palate.

All of this blog pertains to the Shanghai Xiao Long Pao restaurant at MBK center at 444 Phayathai Rd., Patumwan, Bangkok; the restaurant is found on the third floor in the Tokyu zone. It’s pretty easy to get to since it’s within walking distance of the National Stadium skytrain station.

Written by Michael Babcock, April 2011

Great Chocolate; in Thailand!

Michael Babcock, Monday, March 14th, 2011

Great chocolate is not something most people associate with Thailand, but I recently found some at a store called Melt Me.

Chocolate Store Sign

Chocolate store sign

Over the years, there’s been an increase in the availability of many Western foods, including baked goods and western fast food chains. Coffee stands are now found almost everywhere – at gas stations, in markets and in coffeehouses; you find coffee in western chains, Thai chains and small street stalls.

When I started traveling to Thailand (in fall 1992) there was virtually no chocolate available. Occasionally I’d come across a Lindt bar in a store somewhere; the bar invariably turned out to be somewhat chalky, old and flavorless.

(Click on an image to see a larger version.)

Paradise Park Mall

Aisles at Paradise Park Mall

When we are in Bangkok, we often go to malls to shop or to eat. One of the advantages malls is that they are air-conditioned: in perennially hot and humid Bangkok this is no small thing! Thai malls are significantly more lively than malls in the United States. Of course they usually have a large department store or two, many chain restaurants and stores, as well as Thai businesses selling anything you can imagine. Unlike U.S. malls, with their wide, empty, sterile, aisles, though, most malls also have less formal stands, reminiscent of market stalls, in many of the aisles: it’s a bit like a street market inside the mall. In addition to store-front restaurants, they include a food center, which is much like street food brought indoors.

Chocolate Stall

Tastings are popular!

For many years we’ve been going to Seri Center, which is now renamed Paradise Park, in Eastern Bangkok. Here’s the address: Srinakarin Rd., Nong Bon, Prawet, Bangkok 10250 Thailand. They have always had an excellent food center and interesting stalls; this is where Kasma goes to get her moringa oil. (See her blog Moringa (“Marum”).)

On our recent trip to Thailand we made an excursion to Paradise Park to buy some moringa oil and have lunch. We were heading to one of our favorite stalls, which sells passion fruit juice. As we were walking down the aisle I spied an interesting sign: Melt Me. We walked over and were offered tastings of three different chocolate products: a chocolate called Hokkaido dark, chocolate covered macadamia nuts and a green-tea/chocolate confection called Hokkaido Matcha). Update Note, March 2013: Unfortunately, Melt Me no longer has an outlet in Paradise Park. Please see our new blog on Melt Me Chocolate, Revisited. The rest of this blog is still accurate.

Hokkaido Dark Chocolate

Hokkaido Dark chocolate

Tasting the Hokkaido dark chocolate, it was obvious where the name “Melt Me” comes from. The dark chocolate is rich, creamy and bittersweet, almost like a truffle in its consistency; it does, literally, melt in your mouth. It’s a luxurious confection: rich and tasty. It reminds me of a house truffle that a (now gone) store called Cocolat in Berkeley used to make: I could never get enough of those truffles. We immediately bought a box of 15. It wasn’t cheap: 270 baht (about $9.00 at the time), so 18 baht (60 cents) a piece.

One nice thing about this dark chocolate is that it is very satisfying in small quantities: after one or two pieces, I was satisfied for the time. They are very rich.

Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts

Chocolate covered macadamia nuts

The chocolate-covered macadamia nuts were another treat. They use lightly roasted macadamia nuts and have wisely used partial nuts rather than whole nuts: the balance between chocolate and nut is great – neither one overwhelms the other. A box cost 350 baht, about $12.00 at 30 baht to the dollar.

I found the Hokkaido Matcha, chocolate and green tea, not very interesting.

One reason their chocolates are so good is because they are kept at a low temperature. Instructions say to keep them at 1 to 4 degrees centigrade, so they need to be refrigerated. When you purchase them, they are put in an elegant carry bag complete with a package of dry ice, to keep them cool until you get home.

The name “Hokkaido chocolate” refers to a Japanese-type of chocolate: the company is Thai-owned and operated.

Chocolate To Go

Melt Me

I highly recommend their Hokkaido dark chocolate and the chocolate covered macadamia nuts. If you can get to Paradise Park, plan on having lunch there: the food center has lots of delicious options.

It might be easier to go to the Melt Me shop on Thong Lo Soi 10. They also have gelato there, which would certainly be worth a try. Here’s the address: 1st floor, @ Arena 10 Thong Lor 10, 225/11 Soi Thong Lor 10, Sukhumvit Rd., Khlong Tan Nuea, Watthana, Bangkok 10110 Thailand. It’s not a very long walk from the Thong Lo skytrain stop.

According to the Bangkok Post, they have outlets at Siam Center and Central World.

Here’s a blog from Hungry in Bangkok on the restaurant: Melt Me. And here’s one from A Girl in Asia: Melt Me, Bangkok.

See also:

Written by Michael Babcock, February 2011