“‘Tis the season to be jolly.”

In compliance with this strict direction I have had a couple of memorable meals in the last week. The first was dinner on Christmas day itself. I went to an Italian restaurant in Bangkok. (Actually, the restaurant calls itself “Tuscan” – but none of the dishes featured tusks. In fact, there wasn’t even elephant on the menu at all.)

Anyway, vegetarian readers should stop reading here.

We shared starters. There was a sort of fishy tasting plate, with swordfish carpaccio, prawns wrapped in prosciutto, crab salad served in a scallop shell, the scallop itself, and a thin slice of a cheesy/fishy mousse wrapped in smoked salmon. And there was a mixture of mussels and clams cooked in a garlicky fresh tomato sauce.

And animal-rights activists should stop reading here.

My main course was a couple of lamb chop stuffed with foie gras* and a chunk of black truffle, bread crumbed with almond bread and then pan fried, served on an intense red wine reduction and accompanied by the finest green beans I’ve ever seen, tossed in garlicky olive oil and some fairly nondescript baby potatoes cooked I know not how. It was amazingly good.

And it would be sacrilege not to round off such a meal with a pudding. I settled for the profiteroles stuffed with custard cream and topped with an intense, bitter chocolate sauce.

It was pricey (about GBP 40 a head, including two glasses of wine), but worth every last penny.

My other memorable meal was my usual Christmas lunch, though I no longer make this on Christmas day since most of my friends are working. So, yesterday I had a busy morning cooking. To start with I made some canapés. Nothing fancy: a smear of pâté topped with thin slivers of gherkin; a similar smear of cream cheese topped with a thin roll of smoked salmon; and chopped cherry tomatoes with garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Of course, nothing less than fizzy white wine was needed to accompany these appetisers.

pate canapesmoked salmon canapetomato canape

(In Thailand it’s common practice to photograph each course of a special meal, then to post your photographs on a blog or bulletin board.  Unfortunately, in the frenzy of cooking I failed to take any more photos.)

The main course was roast shoulder of lamb. Lamb is a rarity in Thailand and, of my four Thai guests only one had tried it before. However, they all appreciated it; every plate was cleared. I served it with buttered carrots, mashed potatoes (a Thai favourite, which is served at KFC), mint sauce (using my home grown mint!) and gravy (also served at KFC).

The pudding was, if I may say so, a tour-de-force. A friend of mine, G., wanted to make molten chocolate cakes. We watched in trepidation as they cooked in the oven. To accompany them I had made some crystallised ginger which I served up as crystallised ginger ice-cream and meringues filled with whipped cream mixed with crystallised ginger. A few slices of fresh banana completed each plate.

My first batch of meringues, to be honest, wasn’t 100% a success. They tasted great, but the shapes weren’t as good as they should be, and because I used unbleached sugar they were brown. They quickly acquired the moniker of “poo cakes”. A second batch made late on Saturday was somewhat more attractive, and it was these that I served to my guests.

It was good to mark the time of year with two most memorable meals.

*Those who would take away our choice to eat foie gras are apparently ignorant of goose and duck anatomy. The birds don’t choke whilst being fed because their wind pipe’s entrance is under their tongues. And the feeding tube doesn’t hurt them because they have a very tough lining to their gullets. (After all, they naturally eat fish, sharp spines and fins intact.) And finally, the actual feeding process is a matter of seconds, rather than the prolonged torture that certain fanatics would have one believe.


The tourist business here is suffering badly. At what is peak season, when hotel rooms would normally be about 75% full, a mere 25% of rooms are occupied. The situation for 5* hotels is even worse, with some establishments having occupancy rates of as little as 6%. Curiously, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has just stopped publishing statistics for tourist arrivals in the country. Perhaps they don’t want people to know just how bad things are, and just what a failure their various promotional campaigns are.

Anyway, I thought it my duty to help boost the tourism industry and booked myself into a 5* hotel in Uthai Thani (2 ½ hours drive north of here) for the weekend.

Well, I thought it was a 5* hotel, and from the outside it looked suitably imposing:

Iyara Park Hotel

(At least, it would impress members of the Third Reich.)

The lobby was similarly grand. I almost wished they have a travellator from the front door to reception.

However, the place was almost deserted. The main restaurant was closed, there were no elephant rides, and the sports facilities looked as if they’d been abandoned some time ago.

I won’t go on about the failings of the place, apart to mention:

  • the beds had foam mattresses (not sprung)
  • there was only cold water at the bathroom sink
  • the shower never got above lukewarm
  • there were ancient cobwebs above the shower
  • the front door didn’t fit properly, letting in insects
  • no wardrobe or other hanging space for clothes
  • the TV picture was grainy, and the selection of channels very limited
  • there was only a small selection of soft drinks in the minibar; no alcoholic ones at all
  • no kettle or facilities for making tea or coffee.

Oh, and the service in the restaurants was pretty abysmal.

Anyway, this area is not on the regular tourist trail, so the usual guides such as Lonely Planet were of no help. I therefore decided to rely upon the TAT website for local information. Big mistake.

TAT describes a beautiful botanical garden, just 5 km from the city centre. None of the receptionists at the hotel had heard of it, and it certainly wasn’t on any maps.

TAT enthuses about the ancient city of Uthai Thani, comparing it to Phanom Rung. Now, Phanom Rung is an amazing Khmer temple which I visited last year.


The ruins of Uthai Thani are a little less impressive. To be honest, despite the signpost on the Asia Highway, I had trouble locating them. I asked a woman at a local market and she explained that they were in the rice fields I had passed, but were little more than bumps in the ground.

A short drive north, in Nakorn Sawan (City of Heaven) is the source of the Chao Phraya river – a river of almost mythical status in Thailand. Here two rivers (the Ping and the Nan) converge. One is muddy brown, the other a slate grey, as you may be able to see in the following ‘photo.

Chao Phraya River source

(I forgot my camera for this trip, so the ‘photos were taken with a mobile ‘phone – hence the poor quality.)

To be honest, I’d have thought that an heavenly city might have had a few more attractions.

My final misadventure was to drive for hours to the Cyber Falls. (Actually, that’s more like Sai Beu in Thai, but the cute name has rather stuck.) To get there one has to drive for a few kilometres along a rutted, single track mud path. (Four wheel drive recommended.) Then, when you arrive the guards want to extract 200 Baht from you if you have a pale face (but only 20 Baht if you’re Thai). I was able to negotiate that down to 100 Baht – only 5 times the Thai price, despite the fact that I live here and pay taxes. This sort of petty racism really spoils the experience of visiting Thailand’s national treasures for me.

Cyber Falls

Not that the waterfall was a national treasure. More a case of a stream meandering through some large boulders. Pleasant enough, but not worth the long drive there, and the even longer drive back to Ayutthaya.

Next time I get a sudden urge to support the Thai tourism industry I think I’ll just stay home.


They call this place “The Land of Smiles”. Look at what I saw up in the sky a few moments ago …

Venus, Jupiter and a crescent moon make a smiley face

That’s Jupiter, Venus and the Moon beaming over Thailand.

(And no, it’s not a Photoshop job.)