My Peregrinations

Winging my way through life

Month: October 2016

Tom yum goong Banglamphu

Bangkok eats: Authentic tom yum goong

Every Thai eatery in Thailand and abroad likes to claim that they make authentic tom yum goong. Not being Thai, I have no idea which version of the soup is the real thing. So when a Thai friend offered to take us to eat what’s known as the most authentic tom yum goong in Bangok, I said yes, of course. She took us to Tom Yum Goong Banglamphu (ร้านต้มยำกุ้งบางลำพู), a streetside stall located near the Khao San Road backpacker district.

I had always been a little wary of eating street food in developing countries. But I changed my mind after a terrible bout of food poisoning on a trip to Vietnam last year. A meal at an upscale restaurant in the hillside town of Sa Pa made me so ill that I spent an entire day in the local hospital on a drip, writhing in pain. The locals later informed me that I should always eat street food, never restaurant food. The reason is, there’s no telling how they store and prepare the food in restaurants, whereas street food is always boiled or fried. I’ve since become less cautious and haven’t fallen ill so far.

Tom Yum Goong Banglamphu is located right outside the main Banglamphu multi-storey carpark. It’s not difficult to spot – look out for the elderly man who is in charge of making the tom yum goong, as he works with his back to the road:

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Our friend placed an order in rapid-fire Thai. It didn’t take very long for our food to be served, as the stall is run by an efficient team who churn out dishes and turn over tables in double-quick time to keep up with the crowd. Everything was fresh and very well made, but the highlight was the tom yum goong, naturally.

Tom Yum Goong Banglamphu

In Singapore, you get two kinds of tom yum goong – red and clear. Both versions are a thin soup with the predominant taste being that of spices. Tom Yum Goong Banglamphu’s version is a broth so enriched with shrimp fat that it’s creamy. It comes with a generous helping of fresh shrimp, too. Unlike Singaporean versions of tum yum goong, this version won’t have you sweating because it’s too hot. But it will leave you wanting to go back for more.

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While you’re there, try the stir-fried baby clams (hoy lai pad nam prik pao), puffy egg omelette (khai jeow) and stir-fried kai lan (pad pak kana) as well. These plus the tom yum goong and rice will put you in a food coma for sure. Walk it off by browsing the stalls in the market , and cool your burning palate with a drink from this juice shop just opposite:

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Find your way to Tom Yum Goong Banglamphu with Google Maps.

London in five days: Alternative London Street Art Tour

If you want to go off the beaten track and see a different side of East London, sign up for the Alternative London Street Art Tour. It’s a 3-hour walking tour that explores the East End from the perspective of its colourful street art.  I took a tour led by artist Ben Slow, who has lived in the area for years and is very passionate about ensuring that the area’s heritage is not lost as a result of London’s warp-speed redevelopment.

The tour started near the Old Spitalfields Market, about five minutes from Liverpool Street Station. It was pouring when we started, which was a bit of a bummer, but then the skies cleared. Ben gave an introduction to the heritage of the area and how it came to be a hive for street artists as a result of the Banksy effect. He cautioned that because street art is ephemeral and few pieces stay for long, there was no telling what we would see but that it was unlikely that we’d come across a Banksy.

Within minutes of the start of the tour, we realised that we really had to keep our eyes peeled to spot some of the pieces that dot the area. At one point, Ben told us to look up and see if we could spot something. It took us a while to realise that he wanted us to see this piece by an artist in his fifties who goes by the name of Jonesy:

A bronze sculpture by an elusive artist named Jonesy, perched atop an utility pole.

A bronze sculpture perched atop an utility pole.

The wings on this piece by Jonesy were moulded from the wings of a dead pigeon.

Another piece by Jonesy. The wings were moulded from the wings of a dead pigeon.

There were also large pieces painted on the sides of buildings. Ben told us that artists in London don’t have many opportunities to do big murals in the city, so they travel to other countries such as Argentina to work on much bigger canvases. Four stories or so is about the tallest they get to work on in London.

The stork by Roa

The stork by Roa.

Street art has been predominantly the domain of male artists, simply because it’s illegal and also physically risky. However, more female artists are coming on to the scene and making their mark, such as the one below. It’s covered in glitter and sparkles at night!

A rare piece by a female artist

A rare piece by a female artist

Famous artists do come to the area to work as well, among them French artist Clet Abraham, who’s renowned for his quirky hacks of street signs, such as the one below, which has turned a no entry sign into a dining table:

Street sign by Clet Abraham

Street sign by Clet Abraham

The artists find all sorts of ways to get around the laws against graffiti. They hide in plain sight by donning reflective jackets to look like workmen, which somehow makes them invisible to passersby. They also create pieces that aren’t technically vandalising surfaces, such as the installation below, which is quite similar to what you’d find in play areas in IKEA. It’s actually pretty amazing that they can get away with what they do considering the number of cameras trained on the streets to deter crime.

My tour mates turning the pieces to create differently dressed people.

My tour mates turning the pieces to create differently dressed people. Our guide Ben is second from the right in this picture.

Of course, street art isn’t the only thing that’s fascinating about the East End. There were quite a few shops and eateries that I would have loved to have been able to check out, such as the row of curry shops along Brick Lane, the Cereal Killer Cafe, and vintage shops such as Rokit 101. Unfortunately, the Alternative London Street Art Tour is pretty intensive and there’s no time to wander freely, so it’s best to come early to explore the shops before the tour starts, so you can maximise your time there. I’ll definitely be back on my next trip to London.

The Alternative London Street Art Tour runs on a pay-what-you-like fee model, so you pay as much as you think the tour is worth. I think at least £15 is fair for the amount of heart put into making the tour a memorable and educational experience.

I couldn’t end this post without sharing a piece by Ben himself, which is a tribute to a man called Charlie Burns, who was a fixture in the neighbourhood until his death a few years ago. This is a portrait of Burns done on the facade of a shop owned by the family, who commissioned the piece.

Portrait of Charlie Burns, by Ben Slow

Portrait of Charlie Burns, by Ben Slow

Bookings for the Alternative London Street Art Tour fill up pretty quickly, especially in the summer. Dates open up three weeks in advance, so it’s best to keep an eye out for your preferred dates on the website.

Bangkok hotels: The Mustang Nero

Forget big chain hotels  in Bangkok with countless rooms, impersonal service, and clinically modern decor. The Mustang Nero is a gem of a boutique hotel located just a few minutes’ walk from Phra Khanong BTS on the Sukhumwit Line. With painfully hip decor combining taxidermied animals, industrial fittings and vintage paraphernalia, the Mustang Nero looks like what Charles Darwin’s home might have looked like way back when. We asked where all the taxidermied specimens had come hand (there was a hippotamus head and a rhinoceros head parked in one corner of a room), and were told that the owner’s had a friend who “travelled a lot”.

Just past the entrance, viewed from the second floor. Every corner of the hotel is Instagram-worthy. The ground floor has long tables at which breakfast is served each morning. Stuffed animals everywhere, but beware, two of them are actually alive.

The hotel’s rooms can only be booked through AirBNB, and each has its own theme. Here are some of them:

Room 1: The Magic Dragon
Room 2: The Blackbird
Room 3: The Wolf
Room 4: The Horse

My friend and I stayed in Room 6: The Lion Sleeps Tonight. Our room was extremely spacious, with a separate lounge area, a balcony, and an oversized double bed. The large bathroom was equipped with toiletries from Thai brand Charcoalogy, whose products we liked so much, that we bought some to take home with us. No pictures of the room, though, because we made it messy.

A generous breakfast with free flow of toast, coffee and tea.

A generous breakfast with free flow of toast, coffee and tea.

Breakfast is served every morning from 8.30am. On both days of our stay, we were served eggs and a generous helping of baked chicken or fish with salad and fruit. There was also free flow of toast, coffee, and tea. I found breakfast satisfying enough to take me through lunch, although my foodie friend would have none of that so I definitely ate more than I needed to.

An anteroom of taxidermied animals

An anteroom of taxidermied animals

While waiting for your breakfast to be served, or after you’ve had your fill, an anteroom next to the main hall is filled with all sorts of stuffed animals for you to gawk at. There’s even a nice contrasty armchair for you to pose in as you survey your animal kingdom. Just be mindful not to let the hotel cats get into this room – we made the mistake of leaving the door ajar and the staff had a difficult time prying the kitties out from among their stiff brethren.

All in all, it was a very pleasant stay. If this hotel were right next to a BTS, a little closer to the thick of things, it would be perfect. I’m not sure I’d stay again, since I generally choose hotels more for practicality than decor, but the Mustang Nero should definitely be on  your list if you must sleep in Instagram-worthy surroundings when you travel.

The Mustang Nero Hotel
1112/91-93 Soi Daimaru Department
Khwaeng Phra Khanong, Khet Khlong Toei
Bangkok 10110, Thailand
Tel: +66 86 101 4401

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