Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Muay Thai Live - The Legend is Alive and Loud at Asiatique

Regular contributor John Borthwick gets sensory overload at the newest, loudest and most violent spectacular in Bangkok.

Fists of Fury meets Romeo and Juliet? Ong Bak VI meets Rambo IX? The King and I goes cage-fighting? Chose your analogy, the stunt action show Muay Thai Live – The Legend Lives, showing nightly at Bangkok’s Asiatique the Riverfront, is the biggest, loudest, bone-crunching-est spectacle in town.

Muay Thai Live sketches the development of Thai martial arts from the mists of Siamese time, through endless battles in the Ayutthaya period (against tactfully unnamed enemies, aka Burma), to street-fightin’ man stuff and finally to muay thai, the code.

It is loud, hugely energetic, skilfully choreographed and relentlessly violent. A cast of 18 stuntmen/fighters and one endangered damsel fly around the boxing-ring stage, shredding each others’ limbs and six-packed torsos, and smashing skulls like pumpkins. Mere instants after being pulverised, goodies and baddies alike bounce back to enjoy miracle reincarnations and rejoin the ding-dong/ting-tong fray or at least the next scene.

What is fascinating is that all this apparently spontaneous fury and sound is synched with split-second accuracy. When Villain A has his leg broken in three places and cork-screwed off by Good Guy B, the wince-making, crepitus grind that we almost viscerally experience is not (of course) the actual sound. It is stunt actors impeccably timing their smashes and kicks to the booming pre-recorded sound track. Not lip-sync but fist-sync, knee-sync. Seventy minutes of it — and not a beat is missed, not one maiming shot is mis-cued.

Machismo, Thaichismo, captions in four languages, homicidal pratfalls, a muay thai ladyboy, hoodie mafia, tear-jerking sentimentality and blokes with epic kung-fu names like Tiger King in Disguise and Warrior of Broken Swords ... it’s all there, in a spectacular that much resembles a computer game come to life. Or 1980s World Championship Wrestling gone tom yam gung, gone digital, gone crazy.

State-of-the-art light and sound technology are lavishly deployed here to truly pack a punch. Teenage boys will love it all (though, dudes, don’t attempt these stunts at home). Girlfriends and parents will indulge them. Muay Thai Live – The Legend Lives is a tale vividly told by director Ekachai Uekrongtham, full of sound and fury, and signifying ... well, as the Thais say: up to you.

Exit via the gift-shop, of course. No photography is allowed inside the theatre but later you can pose with the cast for a pic, your own Muay Thai and Me — The Selfie Lives moment.

Details: Reach Asiatique the Riverfront by free, 15-minute shuttle boat from Sathorn pier (adjacent to Saphan Taksin Skytrain station), or taxi along Charoenkrung Road.

Muay Thai Live is performed at 8 p.m each night at The Stage, Asiatique the Riverfront. Standard seats, 1,200 baht; premium seats, 1,500 baht. 
Book at

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bangkok's Street Food

When your guide's regular gig is as the leader of a tour called 'Thailand's Real Food Adventure', you know you'll be eating well on the road. Even on our first night in Bangkok, our group of journalists hosted by Intrepid Travel quickly realised we'd, literally, bitten off more than we could chew thanks to our always ravenous and annoyingly slim guide, Soon!

Our first meal in the buzzing Thai capital was at one of my favourite restaurants, Krua Apsorn. I have been to the Dusit branch of this legendary eatery before - this time we were visiting its other restaurant in Dinsor, near City Hall (and a short walk from Khao San Road). A favourite of the Thai Royal Family - and also renowned chef David Thompson's favourite restaurant - this place was packed with local diners; and although we'd been told the kitchen closes at 8pm, we were lucky to get a table for our group of eight.

Service was speedy, however (if somewhat haphazard) ... and we feasted on the Krua Apsorn specialties, stir-fried crab with yellow chilli, omelet with crab and a prawn curry with lotus shoots. Our vegetarian friends were equally satisfied, devouring their stir-fried mushrooms and fried chayote with garlic with gusto.

Crab Omelet at Krua Apsorn

With full bellies, we headed back to our hotel ... or at least, that's where I thought we were going! Soon had other ideas, involving food of course! First, she made a detour via a crowded eatery that sells toast. Yes, white toast - apparently a Thai favourite, smothered in sweet coverings such as strawberry jam, nutella or durian. For me, it was a pass - toast for dessert? No thanks!

The street stalls near Khao San Road were a little more enticing, however - and even I couldn't resist Khanon Bueang, rice-flour pancakes, folded like little tacos and filled with a marshmallowy coconut cream and yellow egg threads. Melt-in-the-mouth delicious, and a steal at 20 baht for five! Without Soon's advice, I would have bypassed these treats, dismissing them as savoury instead of sweet. When it comes to the maze of street-food, it really does help to have local knowledge on hand.

Making Khanon Bueang

If in doubt, however, just stand around for a while and observe what other people are doing and buying. Try to find someone who speaks English, and asks questions. And don't be afraid of being adventurous!

Another pancake store

With Soon determined to educate our taste buds about Thai street food, we spend the next few days grazing our way around market stalls, enjoying sweet sticky rice with taro or banana, fried chive pancakes served with chill sauce, steamed red bean buns, banana rotis smothered in condensed milk and delicate coconut hotcakes called Khanon Krok. A veritable moveable feast, and all for just a dollar or less!

Khanon Krok

The writer was a guest of Intrepid Travel.

For information on their Real Food Adventure tour, visit

Monday, August 11, 2014

Mosha: An Elephant Tale

Mosha stretches out her trunk, 40,000 muscles in play as the long, dexterous appendage blows out warm, moist air before softly stroking my cheek. I smile and stare into her golden eye, its clarity and depth speaking volumes. Gentle and sweet, I'm surprised how trusting this lovely girl is, given her history with humankind. But Mosha is obviously one forgiving elephant, with an amazing story that is both sad and inspirational.

Aged eight, Mosha (which means 'star' in the Karin language) is the recipient of the world's first elephant prosthetic leg. Attached to her front right foot, the large rubber, cushioned foam and metal device gives Mosha mobility, allowing her to walk around her enclosure with the agility of an able-bodied, four-legged elephant. It's a truly amazing sight as she moves her three tonne frame nimbly around obstacles, even clambering over rubber gym mats on the floor, with no sign of discomfort or pain.

Mosha in her enclosure
Mosha wearing her artificial limb

Mosha was just seven months old, following behind her mother at a logging camp on the Thai/Burmese border, when her leg was blown off by a landmine. Brought to the Friends of the Asian Elephant hospital in Lampang, it seemed she might not survive the ordeal; as well as her horrific injury, she was severely depressed, shunning food and the company of other elephants as she recovered from amputation.

I broach the sensitive issue of euthanasia with head vet at FAE, Dr Preecha Phuangkam - how bad does an injury have to be before an animal is put down? "She's a happy soul," Dr Preecha explains. "She wanted to live, she has a strong spirit. So we decided to help her as best we could."

Dr Preecha and co-founder of FAE, Soraida Salwala, sought advice from the Prostheses Foundation, a company that makes artificial legs for humans, asking if it was possible to adapt the technology for animals. Mosha's first artificial leg was fitted in 2007; it took about six months for her to overcome her fear and learn to walk again. She is now onto her sixth prosthetic, with the 10 kilogram device having to be replaced every year as she grows.

Mosha now wears the prosthetic seven hours a day, with the device removed for sleep.

Close up of her artificial limb

An elephant prosthesis can weigh up to 18 kilos

Despite having deformed hips and legs from uneven weight distribution, Mosha's future as a permanent resident at FAE is assured, helping her to live as normal a life as possible. She now takes daily walks to visit other elephants at the hospital, including Motala, a 52-year-old lady suffering a similar injury who has also been fitted with a false leg.

Motala, who also lost a leg to a landmine accident

The FAE hospital is supported by Intrepid Travel, who visit the facility as part of their Explore Northern Thailand tours.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Living the Dream #5: Dave Catudal

Kristie Kellahan continues her series looking into the enviable lives of ex-pats living in Thailand.

Who: Dave Catudal, 32

Where: Phuket

Dave and Simone

Why: Dave and his wife Simone Bargetze lived in Los Angeles from 2000-2011, and have been traveling the world for the past three years looking for a tropical paradise to call home. They lived in Bali, Brazil, Spain, Costa Rica, and the South of France, and finally found their dream location in Phuket.

What are they doing in Phuket: Dave is the Health Director at Phuket Cleanse, a fitness and detox retreat. "I perform seminars on organic nutrition, specialising in Raw Foods, and consult guests on the appropriate detox protocol to help them achieve their goals," he says. "Phuket Cleanse is the most exciting and professional wellness education centre I’ve ever experienced; what our guests experience with us is life-changing and it’s the most rewarding job I could ever imagine. Simone is also working with Phuket Cleanse, as the video producer for our marketing and advertising department. It’s a dream to be working in paradise together."

Life before Thailand: "While living in LA, we both had such high-intensity jobs," Dave says. "I was a celebrity fitness trainer and nutrition consultant, and Simone was a stuntwoman, working on films such as Avatar, Transformers 3, and Iron Man 2. In late 2010, Simone donated a part of her liver to her mother in a cancer organ transplant surgery, but there were complications after the procedure and her mother didn’t survive. At that point, we decided to give away everything that we owned in LA, bought backpacks, and flew to Bali with no plan in mind except to explore the world. After three years of adventures, searching for our own little paradise, I was brought to Thailand for a 4-day fishing tournament in Phuket, and we fell in love with the island and decided to make a life here."

How could you not fall in love with this place?

Biggest culture shock: "We’re fairly experienced with culture shock from our travels, but I have to say that Thailand was a shock to us almost immediately," Dave says. "We were driving on my rental motorbike, looking for a store to buy batteries, and as we turned a corner uphill, out of nowhere appeared an elephant, dragging a log behind him like a runaway dog dragging a leash."

Biggest challenge: Not speaking the Thai language. "I love languages; I’m fluent in English, French, Portuguese and Spanish, and Simone speaks German and Italian, but we haven’t been able to connect with the Thai language," Dave says. "Luckily, many locals here understand enough, and hopefully with time, we can learn and become more engaged with the locals."

Best thing about living in Phuket: "We absolutely love it here," Dave says. "It’s the perfect mix of wild but clean, busy but not overcrowded, and natural yet accessible. There’s international hospitals, very good international schools, and it’s an extremely safe place to live."

Top 3 Phuket restaurants: The Two Sisters for local food that is "perfectly seasoned, fresh and always consistent". When the mood for international food strikes, the first place on Dave's list is Trattoria Buenogustaio. "We go there for sunset, order an authentic Italian pizza, a glass (or bottle) of red wine, and have tiramisu for dessert," he says. "Watching the sunset from the cliff on the restaurant patio is just such a treat." An Indian restaurant close by their house is a new favourite for Dave and Simone. "It’s called Tandoori Nights, and I can honestly say that it’s the best Indian food we’ve ever had," he says. "It’s probably the best Indian food in Thailand."

Favourite downtime activity: "Walking the coastline along the rocks, somewhere near Prom Them cape, and looking for a piece of secluded beach," Dave says. "Other that that, we hike around Kata, through the ridge trails that give us an amazing cliff view of the bays and beaches below." When Dave and Simone have more time, they fly to Bangkok for a weekend of fun times in the big city.

Favourite Thai expression: "I don’t know many Thai expressions, but my wife always makes me laugh because every time a Thai local says "Khrap-pom", Simone thinks they’re saying "car bomb", and can’t control herself from repeating that word, and laughing hysterically."

For more information on Phuket Cleanse,