Oh Thip Samai, you don't need a review, but I'll give you one anyway. After scavenging the Internet before we took off for our trip for good food places I stumbled across many websites about Thip Samai. They are getting a lot of Internet play with some people saying that they serve up the BEST pad thai in Thailand. That's a pretty serious statement. When hundreds of people say they are the very best... you go check em' out! After a pretty long self-guided temple tour in what seemed like 1000 degree heat and 100% humidity we were ready to eat. Part of the plan was to find two places that I just had to go to, Thip Samai being one of them. So off we went to try to find our two destinations.
Along the way we happened to pick up a random traveler on the ferry. His name was Dave (we call him bohemian Dave - behind his back) and he was an American from Boston. We thought it was kind of strange that he asked to tail along on our foodie adventure, but we let him anyway since he seemed harmless. After talking to him for several blocks I came to realize that he was a new-age hippie. Wanting to travel and be free, probably living off of someone else's income. He wasn't in school and I could sense he didn't have a job, but he was traveling around the world. So either his parents are paying for his living, he is independently wealthy, or he has a sugar mamma. Either way, I didn't care. It was interesting to analyze a random stranger. He went with us to eat at Tian Song Paed Yang (the next review - sorry it's out of order!) and then wanted to keep temple touring, but I could NOT be deterred from my quest to find good food. So we parted ways and said goodbye to our strange new friend.
When we got to Thip Samai we saw a long, long line. So what did we do? We ran to the back of it and got ourselves ready for the BEST pad thai in Thailand. Don't be scared of the line it moves really fast. We may have waited 20 minutes or so. I'm glad that we waited because it was in fact really quite delicious. It's a mix of locals and tourists and it's hoppin' at night. We got the coconut juice because it looked like everyone was ordering it and the pad thai (obviously). We also ordered an orange juice. I know... why orange juice? Uhhh... why not? Hot damn! It was good. I would skip the coco juice and get a large orange juice. It was very refreshing with large chunks of fresh oranges in every drink. MMMmmm! That's my only regret...that I didn't buy a huge bottle.
I wouldn't say this was the BEST pad thai I have ever had, but it was definitely well above average. Make sure to stop in! Even it is a bit touristy, it's still great food!
Thip Samai Restaurant
Address: Samran Rat, Phra Nakhon Bangkok 10200, Thailand (if you are taking a cab, tell the driver “Pad Thai Pratu Phi”)
Probably one of my favorite restaurants/food stalls from Thailand is Tian Song Paed Yang. I saw a photo of this duck soup they had online in the states, screen shot it and made a pact with myself to find it and eat it. So, I did just that. On our walk to find Thip Samai we stopped off first at Tian Song Paed. Yang. There are a lot of duck food stalls by City Hall so make sure you go to the right one. It's across from City Hall. I read that online and thought, "oh I should be able to figure this out." Well City Hall is huge and we got lucky because it was right were we were, but I could have walked all the way around City Hall looking for it. To make it even more difficult, I didn't know the name of it and my Internet wasn't working on my phone. All I had was a photo of the soup.
So, I relied on my memory of what it looked like (that's a scary thing) and was pretty certain I found the right duck stall. If you are facing the front of City Hall, it will be on the left side. Walk down that street and look for the Tian Song Paed Yang sign. It will be in Thai so make sure you look at the photo above and save it to memory or screen shot it for your phone.
When you walk in you can tell this is definitely a local eating spot. We got a lot of strange, "what are you doing here?" looks. I thought it was awesome. I joke with my friend that the Thai people probably thought I was a food tour guide because they (Bohemian Dave and her) were the only white people in there. lol
I couldn't figure out what the soup was called so I took my phone out and said, "I want this!" No more than 10 minutes later our waitress came back with something she recommended the other two and my soup. Oh Gawwwwwd! It was good. It was extra delicious with a ton of chili flakes. The duck was crispy, the broth was flavorful, and I was in heaven. I would have eaten two bowls, but I knew pad thai was up next. So we paid our bill and kept going on our Hobbit-like journey to find Thip Samai.
I highly recommend stopping here. If you didn't already pick up on it from above... I LOVE the soup.
Tian Song Paed Yang
Address: Thanon Dinsong (left side of city hall, directly across the street)
Another place to try out is Som Tam. They have a list of different Som Tam Salads (papaya salads) and a smattering of other food items. This place was a bit touristy. Maybe it was because they were in the area with all the huge malls? I don't know, but if you are around the Siam Square area it's literally right next to Paragon on the left side down a small street.
I liked the papaya salad. We got the one with dried shrimp. It was spicy and good, but I think my favorites were the chicken wings and the smoothie. The chicken wings were an interesting flavor. When you think of chicken wings in the states, you think just fried chicken. Well, the good fried chicken in Thailand had a little extra somethin', somethin' that made them taste better than just fried chicken. Fried chicken + awesome seasonings and sauces = mind blown. Also, take a look at their mixed berry smoothie. ALL the smoothies in Thailand were made from fresh fruit AND even better they were CHEAP. In the states a smoothie can cost you 5-8 bucks. In Thailand a smoothie can cost you 1-2 dollars. They are amazing. Make sure to get as many smoothies as possible. I recommend passion fruit and mango if you're on the street. But this mixed berry smoothie was one of my favorites.
If you're in Bangkok (in July) you will see a lot of orange and pomegranate juices. If you're in Chiang Mai and Koh Samui you will see passion fruit. Get it. It's simply amazing.
Address:392/14 Soi Siam Square 5, Rama 1 Road, Bangkok
Address: +66 (0) 22 51 4880
When I arrived in Koh Samui, I was a little bit of a mess. I was coming off of a stressful school year (is there any other kind in the life of a teacher?), finishing a thesis, preparing for a three week trip in a country out of my comfort zone, jet lag of the most extreme variety, and about a three month lack of sleep. And then… I arrived at the Mantra Samui Resort in Koh Samui, Thailand. The second I arrived on site, I knew I had found the perfect antidote for about $90 USD per night. If you’re familiar with Thailand hotel prices, you might think this is pricy. But compared to what you’d get for $90 in the states, or even another resort on Koh Samui (tourist capital of Thailand), this place was a goldmine of the paradise variety. The amount of luxury we got for our buck exceeded my greatest expectations and soothed my tired soul the entire time I was there.
Let’s rewind a bit… I mentioned that the second I arrived ON SITE I recognized perfection. However, the 30 minutes prior to that moment were a little scary. Arriving in Koh Samui, the most picturesque airport I’ve ever set foot in, my friend and I looked for our complementary airport shuttle from Mantra. There was a handwritten sign in the hands of a driver that read “Mantra.” He said that he wasn’t our driver, and passed us off to another guy who didn’t show us an ID, or even our names on a list. We entered a big white van with no Mantra sign, and took off into the black night. Now yes, it might have been our paranoia, but we both got a little scared when he turned onto a very steep hill (felt like a mountain) with no lights, that seemed to twist and turn up, up, up into oblivion. We looked at each other nervously. “Are we being… stolen?” I whispered. And just like that, we arrived in Utoptia. Utopia looks like infinity pool melting into the ocean with a swim up bar and platters of food everywhere, buggies at your beck and that drive you up and down the hill from your perfect, enormous room to the reception, pool, restaurant or yoga studio, and a most beautiful view from my room’s large balcony made for lounging.
I still fantasize about what it felt like to relax into my vacation at Mantra, and I hope I make it back there someday. Here are some tips for you to enjoy your stay, and possibly a few recommendations to the Mantra folks!
1. You will be happy every morning because you’ll head straight to a most amazing brunch. Think unlimited lattes (the iced lattes were to die for!), platters of Thailand’s best fruit (which is pretty much all of Thailand’s fruit, since it was just plucked from the tree), croissants that rival and possibly surpass Paris served with fresh jams, made to order egg and pancake dishes, and an Asian chicken noodle soup bar. Oh, and a pretty amazing salad bar too. Since ‘chicken noodle soup’ doesn’t quite capture it, let me tell you why it’s a big deal. Walk up to the station and someone will meet you there. Choose a noodle from the three types and DO add every vegetable that’s offered. They cook to order with deliciously flavored broth and add fresh, tender chicken drums and/ or pork. And if you’re me, you liberally add red pepper flakes to spice it up. My advice? Go slightly later in the morning to stuff yourself as much as you can in order to skip lunch. If I could experience one aspect of Mantra at home, it would be this breakfast in my house.
2. Breakfast is free, the other meals are NOT. And the good stuff on the menu is pretty expensive. If you want a coffee in the room, it’s around $2 USD. If you want a coke, it’s about the same. There are a few cheap and lackluster options, and the buffets which sound amazing and probably are, will run you about $25-30 a person without drinks. We figured out pretty quickly that when you visit town on one of their shuttle busses, you buy snacks and cheap beverages, and then when you have a hunger pang back at the ranch you don’t have to spend ten bucks minimum to satisfy it. And also: Bring instant coffee, preferably of the Starbucks variety. My other advice is to order what Thailand makes best- THAI FOOD. We were pretty sad about our cheap hotdog and chicken burger. However: We had a fantastic meal from the Thai room service menu (same price to order in room or eat in the restaurant). Spicy king prawns and a glass of red wine for me, tender and flavorful fall off the bone ribs for my friend. The Thai flavors are what made it, and they know their business with their regional cuisine.
3. Transport: Call the main office any time you want a buggy to bring you anywhere, and then be ready within 60 seconds. It’s the easy way to navigate the hill, which is easy enough to walk down but quite a steep climb. The other advice is to book their shuttle to and from Chaweng Beach and Bophut ahead of time. I read reviews about their service being late or unreliable, but we had no problems. Maybe it was because we were there in low tourist season, but the deal is- if you’re on the list and there on time, you’re good to go. Otherwise it will take you a minimum of $10 USD to go the shortest distance from the resort, and MUCH more to go to a beach such as Chaweng. Even better to book a cheap tour such as Tours Koh Samui ($65 a person) which includes transport and a great day out. Otherwise it’s hard to go anywhere from Mantra. But if you’re there for the same reason we were (RELAXATION!!!!) then you won’t mind too much. We were perfectly happy by the pool and in our gorgeous room watching their included movies. Which brings me to #4….
4. Pool: Go- it’s wonderful. It was pretty small, which I saw in other reviews. However, we never had a problem in July during the Thai coup. Maybe in high season it would be different, but they did have their fair share of guests and we always got a spot. We did go early though- it may fill up later in the day or on busy days. You can buy lunch by the pool, but one MUST do is to be there between 11:00 and 12:00 to drink their complimentary virgin fruit juices. Our favorite was the freshly scooped and blended passion fruit mixed with sparkling water. It began an obsession actually. This same drink cost $5 when we bought it ourselves, so the ‘free pool version’ was the way to go. I also remember a delicious strawberry drink. We floated around until we had prune fingers and sunburns.
If we had a little advice for Mantra, first I’d say keep it up! We were sublimely content and rested by the end of the week, which we celebrated at their free cocktail hour. (Saturday from 5:30-6:30pm). The drinks kept on coming and it felt like a goodbye celebration for us. A few other things though: They could definitely benefit from either a bigger pool or a second pool. It also would have been nice for them to have more shuttles to different locations so any trip out wouldn’t cost so much (other than their two provided locations). Third, don’t make it so hard to get affordable food other than free breakfast time. It made me feel like I had no choice but to order expensive food, and while the price of the room was right, I booked this hotel because I’m on a tight budget. Other than that, I can’t give it less than five stars. It was the perfect first week to my favorite vacation, and I wouldn’t have chosen any other place to spend my time.
Thank you, Mantra, for a wonderful week.
Night Markets in Thailand: Bangkok, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai
One of the must-do, charming, hot and sweaty, touristy (yet enjoyed by locals too!) activities on everyone’s Thailand list—Night markets! You can’t, and shouldn’t, avoid them. Here’s some things they have in common: DELICIOUS and CHEAP Thai, Chinese and fusion street food, authentic and junky souvenirs alike- at a variety of bargaining “price points” (Highest of all being the “selling to a white tourist” price!) and the feeling that you’re bathing in your own sweat (and the people’s sweat who you are rubbing against). Here are some things that set them apart.
Chatuchak (JJ) Market, Bangkok: Ahhh, the first and most overwhelming market, which I attended while failing to recover from jetlag and no sleep. Bad idea, but interesting market. Chatuchak is a tightly packed maze that actually has an organization system, but I wasn’t able to figure it out even with Nancy Chandler’s map (GET her Bangkok map if you’re going!! Basically ... get all of her maps they are great!) Thailand residents can furnish their homes and buy the latest fashion while tourists have a variety of souvenirs to peruse. But everyone can eat their way through the market. If I went again, I’d learn how to navigate so I could find the best food. As it was, the Kebap sandwich and iced latte hit the spot just fine. And yes. I was immediately covered in sweat while the locals looked gorgeous and dry.
Friday Walking Street, Bophut (Fisherman’s Village) in Koh Samui: LOVED the vibe at this market! I arrived at 4:00pm as the Internet suggested, but realized that the party isn’t in full swing until around 6:00pm. NBD- Whenever you have time to kill in Thailand, what do you do? Get an $8 massage! I found a great place at the end (or beginning?) of Friday Walking Street, but to be honest I’m not sure which end. I can say that it was an open room, painted light green with lovely flowers all around and even more lovely people. It was a great way to begin another chaotic and steamy evening. Though it’s just along a street (with shops along a few cross streets also) vendors really pack it in. Well, let me tell you- this is the moment I fell in love with street food. Crab and shrimp balls, the best Kebap sandwich (yes, that again- it’s an obsession), coconut ice cream, spinach ravioli, meat skewers and grilled corn on the cob. And oh so much more. The shopping is just fine, but if you’re headed to Chiang Mai after, don’t buy too much in Koh Samui! It’s a much better value in Chiang Mai. But if you see something you fall in love with and they have only one, BARGAIN. Trust me when I say that you will get things for 50, 60 or 70% off if you play hardball. But bargain with a smile. Just be ready to walk away, and shop around so you know what the going rate is. It rained and poured that evening, but I had the best $2 Mojito so I didn’t mind a bit.
Sunday Walking Street, Chiang Mai: This is one of the greats! I’ll just be honest. Being there was a bit overwhelming. As the night progresses, more and more people come until you’re practically carried through the crowd by the moving bodies around you. And this was in low season (July!) I can’t imagine high season. However, it’s busy for a reason. I saw much higher quality and variety of goods here and even better street food. They still have the mass produced tourist items like the pants (get some! I don’t even care, they’re comfy and great in the climate!) and trinkets. But Chiang Mai is also a town of wood, silver and jewelry trade, and most importantly, great food. We highly enjoyed the spicy fried chicken, omelette Pad Thai (a bit bland but still tasty), the fruit shakes, ground pork balls in spicy broth, and wished we had more room for the other delicacies there. You know everything is fresh because every booth is packed, and the food is moving. Fresh fruit shakes for a buck. Go for passion fruit, or a passion fruit/ mango mix. Yum! This is where my “smoothie a day” fix began.
If you are still having trouble getting the whole picture just how packed this place is, think of the Ann Arbor Art Fair and then times that by ten. You move with the people. It's like little China up in there.
Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai: While this market is along a busy street and lacks the charm of the Friday, Saturday and Sunday walking streets, it was a great place to buy souvenirs. They start a little lower here- I found the same pants for $4 here that they tried to charge me $15 for in Bangkok. Bargain, and look for some nice massage balm (Tiger balm is the best!) A fun area of the night bazaar is in the less crowded Anusan market area. They have well reviewed restaurants and bars (I missed out on the fresh seafood one which was pricey but looked GREAT! You pick out your live seafood and they cook it for you… if you can get over the sadness of being personally responsible for the death of a crustacean.) Another regret is that I didn’t get to visit the Boys Blues Bar, which was closed for a holiday. But if you go, look it up because I hear it’s a highlight!
Saturday Walking Street, Chiang Mai: I heard that Saturday Walking Street was more authentic and less busy then Sunday Walking Street. Nope. It’s like… the same thing. Same busy crowds, same people entertaining on the street for money, same vendors selling the same things, and the same (if not slightly better) street food. Check out the street food located in the intersection directly at the beginning of walking street- they had some delicious and fresh choices. It was just as enjoyable, hot, crowded and overwhelming as Sunday Walking Street, and worth visiting if you want another dose (but OK to skip if you maxed out on the other markets). A note about the street “entertainers:” They will break your heart. We saw a 7-year old boy with Down’s Syndrome hula hooping for cash (with his guardians watching from a distance), blind people and people without legs with Karaoke machines and instruments, and lots of children helping pull money in for their families. Lots of sad stories at both Saturday and Sunday walking streets, which is a bit disquieting, but part of the economy for these folks. We had enough by the time rain started pouring, the only benefit being that the street cleared out enough for us to navigate through to a Song-thaew (red truck) for the return trip.
If you type “Chiang Mai adventures” into Google or look for them on Trip Advisor, you’ll certainly see Flight of the Gibbons zip lining at the top of the list. It’s popular for a reason- because it’s a genuinely great day! Reviews also state that it’s expensive but worth it- and that’s also true, though not expensive compared to zip lining in the United States (only compared to other activities in Chiang Mai). However, my friend and I booked the “sunrise adventure,” which I found on their Facebook page for a discounted price, which includes lunch and a waterfall hike- a total of 6 hours or so. SCORE! Yes, they pick you up at 6:30am and it feels eeeeaaaaaarly for non-morning people such as myself… but it was actually a great time to see the jungle and for the value it couldn’t be beat. So check their Facebook page for a while before you make the trip, and you could get lucky too. They also had a deal on Groupon.
Everyone in the van was a little nervous… and we were all adults too J But, we figured that since the “important tips” video shown in the van included smiling children, if they could do it, so could we! Once we were fitted with all of our gear (helmets, safety straps) we were good to enter the jungle. You take a short and slightly steep (but doable) hike through the jungle, so wear appropriate shoes- my Keene’s were perfect, waterproof in case it rained and adequate for hiking. We lucked out as the rain finished early as it often does in monsoon season- the sun was out, even early in the morning- and the heat of the day was still yet to come.
Our hearts and stomach knots recovered after a couple of tame rounds- the guides gave great guidance and were highly trained and fun. These guys work hard and zip line every day- be sure to tip them! They are willing to take great photos of you with your own camera, so don’t feel pressured to buy their photo package at the end, though the cameras set up along the way capture some cool shots. The jungle backdrop is gorgeous and green with winding rivers, and Gibbon sightings are common! We saw two swinging from the trees and one in a cage (I wondered why he was kept in that cage- doesn’t it seem kind of sad to be trapped in a cage in the middle of the jungle, while the natural habitat is all around?) But the nature lover in me was satisfied. From there on out, each jump felt free and exhilarating! IMPORTANT TIP: Listen to every bit of advice they give you about where to place hands and lifting your feet until they catch you. My friend accidentally dropped her foot and bashed it on the platform and it bruised a large area.
After the obstacle zip lining and a picturesque hike up to the top of a beautiful waterfall (Yes, it’s steep! And you’ll be tired by now!) we had a perfectly charming lunch in a rural, open restaurant with our new partners in adventure, and live Thai music, complete with instruments and singing. We enjoyed ourselves very much.
Why am I rating it a four rather than a five? For one reason only: Once was enough for us. If we went back to Chiang Mai I’d book more authentic local experiences; our favorite activities were more laid back with time to soak in the culture, cuisine and meet new people. However, I wouldn’t hesitate to book if you’d like to zip line –the setting can’t be beat, it’s well organized and safe, and you’ll have a guaranteed great day.
Angthong National Park is a series of little islands and awe-inspiring rock formations surrounded by clear water- you can’t help but think the word “paradise.” As a budget traveler, the only tours I could afford were group tours, though private sounded more enticing. However, even though there were twenty people on the same speed charter boat, it was really a well-run day. Tours Koh Samui has the itinerary down- from pick-up (on time), to check-in (coffee and motion sickness pills provided!) to great guides (props to our wonderful guide Mai!)
After check-in, the day begins with a quite long boat ride (1 ½ hours) to the first snorkeling spot. If you’re adventurous and don’t mind getting sprayed, sit in the front with the other partiers. I ended up in the back by default because the boat was full, but it was a nice spot- the only downfalls being lack of back support, a little splash here and there, and the beating sun (my friend got an awful sunburn from not anticipating this). However, the pictures I got from where I was seated were perfect.
First stop: Snorkeling. So I was a little nervous at first, they just go to a reef area in the middle of the water and say, “jump out!” Uhh… OK. But truly, it was a great spot (another traveler said it was the best tour he’d been on around Koh Samui, because other areas didn’t have as many colorful fish and coral reefs to look at.) We enjoyed the spot very much- you put your head in and ocean life is all around you. But that “ocean life” comes with a price- we wish they would have warned us a bit more strongly about the coral reefs and how far to swim. We stayed pretty close to the boat, but my friend cut her foot on coral reef anyway. Which are not fun- coral’s jagged edges do not make for a clean cut. But our guide was prepared and immediately brought out the first aid supplies.
Next, we viewed many limestone rock formations, cliffs and small islands on the way to our next stop, a short hike up to the top of a scenic viewpoint allows you to take amazing pictures of islands and Emerald Lake which inspired the movie “The Beach.” All along, our guide Mai showed his great sense of humor and genuine love for people as he chatted with the group.
At the next stop, we got an authentic and tasty lunch with various curries, cabbage soup, and fruit. Lots of family style dishes and the local fruit in season, Rambutan- a fun fruit unlike any in the states that makes great pictures and juicy bites.
Finally, we stopped at a relaxing beach where you can hang out in the clear, warm water, lounge on the beach or go kayaking. I recommend all three! We felt like we really packed it in, but there was plenty of time to relax at the same time. The salty water and hot sun made for a sweaty, dirty day, but the price was right, the guide was perfect and we got great photos. All in all an enjoyable day.
My friend and I were debriefing about our amazing trip to Thailand, and the top highlight for both of us was the same: It was our relaxing, delicious and interesting day at Thai Farm Cooking School.
Initially, it was a hard choice to make- there are MANY cooking classes in Chiang Mai, and they all have similar menus. I admit that Trip Advisor reviews steered me in the direction of TFCS, and the concept of their on-site organic farm clinched the deal. Thai Farm Cooking School was everything I hoped it would be and more. I left knowing that I could recreate the dishes at home with a few modifications (I don’t THINK I’ll be squeezing milk from fresh coconut, but you never know!)
Our cooking instructors for the day were Benny and Puipui. They provided a great balance of humor, great info about herbs, veggies and techniques, and guidance. Not to mention the seemless organization and coordination of the kitchen staff and instructors to set up cooking areas and ingredients between courses. And folks, there are so many courses that none of us could eat the last one, which was bagged up in the hopes we could muster up an appetite for dinner. The course ran from 8:30am until around 4:00pm.
First, we stopped at a very authentic Thai fresh food market, looking at different curries and learning how to create red, yellow and green curry pastes. We had time to walk around, grab a beer for lunch later and check out the delicacies- such as the delectable roasted locusts and larva! MMMM!!!!! Next, we headed to the farm to learn all about herbs and ingredients for the dishes. We tasted several herbs (safe! They’re organic!) and picked some veggies and hot peppers that would later be used in our curries. We were told that 70% of the ingredients we would used were picked on their farm, and 30% of the ingredients were brought in from local markets. Personally, I enjoyed making the green curry because it’s the only one that’s made from fresh peppers and fresh mini eggplant plucked from the garden instead of dry curry powder. But honestly, my friend’s yellow curry was just as addictive. Add extra green peppers from the garden for an extra dose of spice!
Finally it was time to geeeeet cookin’. Benny and Puipui had the instruction finely tuned. Directions were very clear even though many of us were making different dishes. First up was the best Tom Yum soup I have ever tasted, with shrimp. Spicy, sweet, sour in all the right proportions. Definitely add the chili jam when given the choice! Next up: Curry time. They showed us how to grind and beat our paste into submission (peppers, onions, shallots, etc) and how to add veggies, meat, paste and coconut milk to quickly whip up one tasty meal. Make a different one than your travel buddy to try as many different options as possible! Third, we made a stir-fry, where they showed us how to chop and organize ingredients: First aromatics (shallot/ garlic), next veggies, sauces and herbs. My friend made sweet and sour chicken while I made the basil chicken stir-fry. We both liked hers better, but they both brought their own flavor. What really struck me at this point is how quick it actually is to cook Thai food.
To end the meal, I made mango sticky rice which was delish and began a slight obsession. But we still weren’t finished- at the end, I made pad see-ew while my friend made spring rolls. That’s called a complete dinner for later, folks!!!
I left with a very full belly, satisfied foodie soul, and some new friends from around the globe. By the end of the day we had all bonded through a mutual love of food, and felt more than happy with the quality of our dishes. With so many busy days of touring through humid temples and action-packed days, Thai Farm Cooking School was a much-needed calm and relaxing day of cooking with knowledgeable and enjoyable people. My kinda day.
Thanks, Thai Farm Cooking School, for being the best of one of my favorite cities in the world. And for a bonus, it was GLUTEN-FREE!
When venturing around Koh Samui (or at least the areas you can actually get to) there is an abundance of restaurants to choose from. Since Koh Samui is extremely touristy, you will find a lot of subpar restaurants with ok to average food for a very inflated price. The tourist price is what I like to call it. I noticed that even Mcdonalds had higher prices on their meals. It seems like this is an island that tries to get all they can from their tourists. With that said, it was a breath of fresh air to find a place that has quality food, awesome service, and great atmosphere.
We made a reservation at Barracuda after reading reviews online in the states before going. This was my 30th birthday meal and I wanted a spectacular meal to end the day. This place definitely did just that. It was amazing. When I think back on some of the best meals I had in Thailand, Barracuda instantly pops into my mind. I will tell you it's a bit pricier than average restaurants in Thailand, but we knew this going in AND it was my 30th birthday. The sky was the limit... or at least no more than a 100 bucks USD.
To be honest, these were standard prices you will find in any good American-new restaurant in the states. The steak was 800 baht which is roughly 25 dollars USD. For a filet... that's not a surprise. My friend got the sea bass with mango sauce (15 USD), which was a pretty hefty chunk of meat. We ordered two appetizers, the lettuce wrap crab rolls with mango salsa (omg!) and the lobster - salmon tortellini. We also got bruschetta which comes standard before your meal and we ordered a bottle of cabernet sauvignon (Chile) to wash it all down with.
The owner chatted with us for awhile and also gave us suggestions for some of the best appetizers and entrees or at least the most popular ones. He was very attentive and also let us seat before our reservation time. In fact, he was very kind to us. We had spent the whole day on the Anthong national park tour, which was a boat tour to a bunch of islands (snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, sightseeing, eating, etc.) Needless to say we were exhausted and salty... literally. Ferdinand (the owner) let us use the bathroom and freshen up even when they were not open for customers. I can't even imagine what we looked like...
I have to take a moment and boast about the filet. Hot damn it was good. I mean, filet is always good, but they had locally grown mushrooms and a sauce that I couldn't figure out just what it was. No doubt juices from filet itself with mushrooms and a little extra something. The mashed potatoes were smooth, garlic flavored and salted to perfection. They also came with asparagus. The steak was cooked perrrrrfectly. The sea bass was also quite tasty, but we would have really loved the mango salsa on or around the sea bass. It needed a little bit more. However, it was still really good, but this was a personal preference. Maybe it was because we had those fantastic crab lettuce rolls with the excellently flavored salsa. All I can think of when I reflect on this meal is ...MMMMmmmm....I wish I could go back right now.
Instantly when you walk in you can tell from their menu, wine list, and overall ambiance that this restaurant definitely had a European feel. However, when you look at the menu you can see the fusion of the American (European) - new and Thai flavors. It was very interesting and extremely good. They were attentive, greeting all of their guests, serving their guests and making sure they were comfortable and they were very nice and gave recommendations and overall helped create a splendid experience. I really do not have one negative thing to say about Barracuda. It was a rather expensive meal (100 bucks or so), but it was so worth it. Not too bad of a price considering we got two high end entrees, a bottle of wine and two appetizers. If I make it back to Koh Samui they will definitely be seeing me again. Make sure to make a reservation and splurge a little bit. You're on vacation after all and this place will not disappoint you.
*They are moving to Bophut. Find them there! And you can also soak in the Friday Fisherman's Walking Market
Perfectly adequate burger, decent fried prawn appetizer… IF these items cost $5-$7 USD each. However. At the $20 price tag for a burger and $12 charge for a few shrimp, I’m going to have to downgrade “adequate” to “big disappointment.” Maybe I just ordered the wrong thing, as the reviews on trip advisor seem to point to steak as the thing to order. However, I just couldn’t pay that much for a steak, even on Koh Samui, the tourist capital of Thailand. ESPECIALLY when I had the most perfect steak at Barracuda (see Barracuda review) that was so much cheaper. I recommend going there for your steak because it was Deeee-freaking-licious. OK, I admit it- I’m a burger snob. In the states, I can get a mind-blowing burger for no more than $10, and I always thought that price was a bit steep. But the positive reviews of this place blows my mind a bit- they were the reason I bought a cab ride ($10) to buy a substandard meal ($50 to split shrimp, a burger, fries, coleslaw, corn on the cob, coca-cola and bottled water with a friend). Before you think I’m speaking as a cheap consumer, I should mention that I am happy to pay a good amount for incredible food (See review for Barracuda for the perfect example of a meal that’s well worth it’s price tag in Koh Samui). Don't be fooled by the food descriptions outside. That's what lured us in. It's all talk and no delivery. The owner (or I assumed because he's the guy on the computer in the back and only caucasian) was busy surfing the Internet, but did come serve our food to us eventually. It's just a very different experience than Barracuda where the owner greeted you, served you, and was with his customers. To me that's called good business and really, that connection along with good food is what brings people back.
That’s all folks- it just wasn’t worth it, and there’s better food at a better price to be had. As this is one of my only negative reviews, I hope you listen and book Barracuda instead. Word on the street (or a personal convo with the owner): They’re moving to Fisherman’s Village so I’m happy to report that when you are in Bophut, you’ll have at least one sterling dining option. So skip this one! :)
Let me start off by saying… I don’t regret booking Woody’s Elephant Farm. We ended up having great memories of elephant friends, fun photos, new human friends and a very enjoyable white water rafting trip. I think there’s a lot of potential here, and I really want them to do well. That being said, here’s an honest review of a place I want to love. Disclaimer: I’m not even completely sure I’m reviewing the right place. The pictures of the place we went look different from Trip Advisor pictures, and it’s possible that some elephant camps use the names of other camps as I know they use the same area and maybe even the same elephants... I could be wrong, but the elephants don’t look the same and they only had four, who we assured had been together a while either as family or introduced as new family members. I could sound very ignorant, but the elephants on Trip Advisor look very much different than the elephants I saw and I thought the guide said that they have been in the camp awhile because they were rescued. I would assume that the other ones may have passed away, but elephants have long lives...
The day started off confusing, honestly. On the brochure we were handed, Woody’s had a one, two or three day option, and my friend and I chose the one-day option. When we arrived with one couple from China who also thought they booked the one day option, but the folks at Woody’s seemed surprised because they thought it was a half day tour. There wasn’t even a half-day option in the pamphlet. However, they quickly added white water rafting to the afternoon to make it a whole day excursion. We highly enjoyed white water rafting, though it wasn’t what we paid for- the higher price tag we paid was for a day at an elephant farm, which come with heftier prices than the mixed packages usually do. We thought we were with the elephants all day and that's what normally makes the prices higher. We are pretty good with ‘rolling with it,’ so we shrugged and moved on. TBH, I don't think I could have spent a whole day with the elephants just hanging out...just thought I'd toss that out there.
We changed into ‘mahout’ clothes, and we’re GLAD we did! What a muddy and wet day we were in for. If you have the option, use their rain boots! My shoes, though made for wetness, were covered in mud and probably a good dose of elephant poo. No biggie- I should have known how sloppy it would be. Though our guide went barefoot which works too. She was very proficient in English, knowledgeable about elephants though she’d only been working with them for a year, and friendly. We were a bit scared of the big elephants- but that’s probably our shortcoming. They gave us a chance to walk our buddies (my very large elephant scoffed at me a bit- he didn’t need or want me, but he did it anyway). Then it was time to climb on up. WHAT, we grab their EARS to pull ourselves up?! With a shove from the staff and a helpful foot from my elephant, I achieved what seemed impossible with no damage to any ears. We rode bareback for a bit, which didn’t seem enjoyable for the elephants, but also didn’t hurt them in any way. Though they were very dirty, it was quite the experience- I never thought I’d be that up close and personal! We then walked down the muddy path to the lake where the bathing, scrubbing, and yes- spraying with those big trunks- began. Another review mentioned bathing suits, probably more appropriate. But it was fun anyway. After playing in the water and even getting a sloppy smooch, we headed back for some more photos and lunch.
Lunch was an experience… and even a little cooking class! I got to make my own Som Tam salad (spicy papaya salad). So here’s the thing: This was the scariest meal I’d had in Thailand (not a bad thing!) The fish sauce was homemade, and looked like brown goo with fish skin. The crabs were raw and whole, and you just kinda tear them up and throw them in (I got a lesson in chewing open the shell in your mouth, removing the meat and spitting the shell out afterwards). Again, I rolled with it and the salad was delicious, as was the other food (vegetable and chicken curry, rice, omelette).
In the afternoon, we went on their hastily thrown in white water rafting tour which was a lot of fun. We enjoyed the company of Pui, one of the CEO’s and self-proclaimed sister of Woody (which we aren't really sure is her brother). She hadn’t been white water rafting before and I thought that interesting since her camp includes white water rafting, but that made it all the more fun as we shrieked together through the rapids and helped her enjoy the day. At the end of the day, my friend and I enjoyed the people we met, the elephant experience, a home cooked meal and splashing in the water. We just felt that the day could have been enhanced by better organization, more communication about the schedule and itinerary, and the assurance that we were in the right elephant camp. However, the elephants seemed happy enough and well treated, and they seem to have a pretty good life. So even if this place isn’t what we thought it would be, if they make some changes, they have a good shot at becoming something pretty great.
I would recommend the following for this camp and hopefully they will attract more people and thrive as a business:
I think these are small suggestions and definitely very doable. There is a lot of competition with camps in the area so the extra attention to detail will be what draws new clients. Again, at the end of the day we had a good experience. One we will remember.
The last day in Bangkok we thought we did it all. We jam packed our trip with tours and food galore. There was no way we could possibly squeeze in more goodness... and then we entered Kalpapruek (the original location Pramuan and Silom - 27, Pramuan Rd., Suriyawong, Bang Rak, Bangkok 10500 Thailand). To our surprise it was only an 8 minute walk down the street. Why were we eating at the western burger place right next to our hotel all this time when this gem was in walking distance?!?! Rookie mistake.