Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Etiquette Tips for Dining in Thailand

  • Fork and spoon (not knife) dining is the norm in Thailand.
  • When dining with Thais, remember not to touch any of the food before the host announces ‘gin khao’ (eat rice).
  • To most Thais, pushing a fork into one’s mouth is almost as uncouth as putting a knife in the mouth in Western countries.
  • For Thais, ta-kiap (chopsticks) are reserved for eating Chinese food only.
  • Sticky rice should be rolled into balls and eaten with the right hand, along with any accompanying food in Thailand.
  • It’s impolite to take a spoonful of steaming hot Thai food, it implies that you’re so ravenous or uncivilised that you can’t wait!
  • Thai diners typically wait until all ordered dishes are present before digging in.
  • When serving yourself from a common Thai platter, put no more than one or two spoonfuls onto your plate at a time.
  • Don’t pick up a serving plate to serve yourself. Proper Thai etiquette means leaving the plate on the tabletop and reaching over.
  • Don’t be surprised if another diner is your party, usually a woman, spoons food directly onto your plate. this is a normal gesture showing compassion.
  • Never ask for a Thai person to pass food your way, but rather wait for someone to offer you more.
  • Thais want you to enjoy your food, and at some point in the meal will smile and ask ‘aroy mai’ (is it delicious?).
  • Always leave some food on the serving platters and your place. Otherwise you will indicate that the host didn’t feed you enough!
  • Cigarettes often appear before and after a meal, but it is considered impolite to smoke during a meal.

Spice Up Your Life (and Noodle)!

Much as chicken soup is viewed as something of a home cold remedy in the West, rice noodle soups in Thailand are often earn to ward off colds, hangovers or general malaise. When you face a bowl of noodle and the array of condiments available to season them, you may be prepared to become your own pharmacist, mixing the ingredients to create the right flavour balance and, by implication, to set body and soul right.
If your table has a steel rack containing four lidded glass bowls or jars, the restaurant you’re in served kuaytiaw (rice noodles). Typically these containers offer four choices:
  • Naam som phrik – sliced green chillies, usually phrik chii faa (sky pointing chilli) or sometimes phrik yuak (banaa-stalk chilli), in white vinegar.
  • Phrik naam plaa – phrik khii nuu (mouse-dropping chilli) in fish sauce
  • Phrik pon – dried red chilli (usually phrik chii faa), flaked or ground to a near powder.
  • Naamtaan – plain white sugar.
In typically Thai fashion, these condiments offer three ways to make the soup hotter – hot and sour, hot and salty and just plain hot – and one to make it sweet. Some kuaytiaw vendors, particularly in Central Thailand, substitute thua pon (ground peanuts) for phrik naam plaa, which is provided in a separate bowl or saucer instead.
The typical Thai noodle-eater will add a teaspoonful of each one of these condiments to the noodle soup, except for the sugar, which usually rates a full tablespoon. Until you’re used to these strong seasonings, we recommend adding them a small bit at a time, tasting the soup along the way to make sure you don’t go overboard. Adding sugar to soup may appear strange to some foreign palates but it does considerably enhance the flavour of kuaytiaw naam. In addition to the condiments rack, a conscientious kuaytiaw vendor will place a bottle of naam plaa (fish sauce), for those who want to make the soup saltier without adding the spice.
In North-Eastern Thailand, kuaytiaw shops have a more elaborate set-up. Some follow the Lao and Vietnamese custom of serving a platter of fresh greens such as phak kaat hawm (lettuce), phak kaat naam (watercress), phak phai (Vietnamese mint), bai hohraphaa (Sweet basil), saranae (mint) or phak chii (coriander) with an order of noodle soup. These are meant to be eaten raw along with the noodle soup, or they can be added directly to the bowl. Halved limes, a small bowl of ka-pi (shrimp paste) and a saucer of fresh whole phrik khii nuu completes the Isaan (North-Easter) kuaytiaw condiment array. In Isaan dialect, kuaytiaw is often referred to as for (from the Vietnamese, pho).

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Facing a 12-hour flight in economy class? Don’t fret – these simple steps can make you journey more endurable.

Exit-row and bulkhead seats are the most prized, but many airlines won’t let you book them until the day of the flight. To snag these seats, check in online on the day you’re travelling or show up early at the counter. Cathy Pacific and Singapore Airlines let you reserve extra-legroom seats for a fee. If you can’t get one of these, book your seat ahead of the flight either through your travel agent or the airline. Log onto seatguru.com or seatexpert.com for a better idea of choice seats, and make sure to avoid the seats with their backs against the lavatories and in the far back because they don’t recline fully.

If you’re flexible about time, choose flights in the middle of the week and during mid-day when planes are likely to be less full. Times to avoid: Thursday afternoon and evening, all day Friday and Monday morning.

Travelling light has a couple of advantages. First, you can save yourself previous legroom by keeping the space in front of you free. And second, you can take your time boarding – others can fight for space in the overhead bins. Trust me, you can still cram in a small backpack or tote into a packed bin.

A horseshow-shaped pillow and eye-mask can make all the difference when it comes to sleeping on board. An extra pair of socks lets you kick off your shoes and a lightweight jumper or shawl will keep you toast warm. (Blankets are too bulky.) Before you leave, don’t forget to update your MP3 players, which will save you from the in-flight entertainment system.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but plenty of people board planes in ridiculously elaborate and uncomfortable clothing that are no designed for long-haul flights. Dont’ become a slob, but stretchy and breathable are the way to go.

Let’s face it: a homemade sandwich beats an in-flight meal any day. If you don’t have time at home, grab something from a cafe before you board. Bring a granola bar or apple for snacking – just make sure to eat what you bring before you land (especially fruit), lest you get nabbed at customs. Otherwise think about pre-ordering a special meal, these come at no additional cost and just need to be booked at least 24 hours in advance. Choose from religious (Hindu, Muslim, kosher, etc), medical/dietary (bland, diabetic, gluten-free, low calorie, non-lactose, vegetarian, vegan, peanut-free, etc) and other (child, baby, seafood, meat, raw, etc). The best part about having one of these meals is that they are always served ahead of everybody else on board, so you don’t have to agonisingly wait for the little trolley to reach you; only to discover they are out of the fish! And, more importantly, these meals are often of a much higher and tastier quality then their run-of-the-mill brethren.

Three hundred American dollars might seem a lot to pay for Bose Quiet Comfort noise-cancelling headphones. But if you’re a frequent flier, it’s an investment you won’t regret, Goodbye roaring engines, across-the aisle conversations, and yes, even that screaming baby!

Being polite to flight attendants usually means better service, especially in Asia (with the glaring exception of mainland China). That beleaguered flight attendant won’t forget your attitude when you make a special request like changing seat.


Baggage charges may seem to be the new reality both in Asia and beyond, but there are still a few ways to give them the slip.
Maximise Your Miles: Achieving elite status on one airline helps you avoid fees on that carrier and increases your baggage allowance, but also gives you privileges with other alliance members.
Think Ahead: You’ll save if you prepay for a checked bag while booking with airlines like AirAsia and Jetstar.
Know Your Friends: If you’re travelling in Asia, you’ll get ample allowance from major carriers but pay up for low-cost carriers; in the U.S. the opposite applies. A JetBlue ticket includes one free checked bag; Southwest Airlines passengers can check two bags free.
Team Up: If you’re travelling with someone, pack in tandem so that one person carries on the other checks. Fill the checked bag with toiletries, shoes, bulkier items or anything that won’t make it through a security checkpoint.
Shop Till You Drop: Hitting Siam Square or Chatuchuk Market to refresh your wardrobe? Minimise what you bring (you’ll want to wear your new clothes, anyway) and pack a foldable bag into a carry-on suitcase. Pay to check it on the return leg only.
Not All Bags Are Created Equal: carry-on bags that meet dimension requirements on certain flights won’t always fly with others; if you haven’t used the bag with a certain carrier before, call ahead to ensure it’ll fit.
Do Your Duty, Free: Bags packed to the limit but no gift for the in-laws? Buy duty-free, which won’t go against your weight limit.


It happens to the best of us: you arrive in Bangkok, but your bags in Bali. Here, our tips on how to prepare for the eventuality – and avoid losing your luggage in the first place.
Before You Leave
·         Book a direct or nonstop flight, which will minimise the change of losing a bag.
·         Choose an airline that has a good baggage record. Compare online at airconsumer.dot.gov.
·         Pack your carry-on wisely so that you can live out of it for a few days – toiletries, medications, change of clothes – in the event that you have to.
·         Remove old luggage tags to avoid confusion.
At The Airport
·         Don’t check in late, or your bags might not make it onto the plane in time for takeoff
·         Make sure the desk agent places a destination tag on your suitcase.
·         Hold on to your luggage-claim ticket. It’s often attached to your boarding pass and easy to forget on the plane.
After Landing
·         Be at the carousel when bags are off-loaded.
·         If your bag is lost or delayed, file a report immediately at the airport and get a copy.
·         Ask at the lost-luggage counter for the airline’s contract of carriage, which spells out your rights.
·         Consider following up with a certified letter to the airline’s customer service department restating the details of the incident.