For the next 3 posts a real treasure trove of tips, advice and information for those who are interested in visiting, putting down roots for a longer period of time or even considering living indefinitely in the royal beach resort of Hua Hin, Thailand. Not only does guest Mark Stephens offer advice and give fantastic tips on Hua Hin, but also on Thailand in general.
For 8 years now Mark Stephens has lived in Hua Hin, Thailand, finally making this his home after extensive world-wide travel. It must seem a long time ago now having also spent the best part of 10 years living in Australia, but Mark was originally from Ipswich, Suffolk in England.
This is the second time that I have been able to twist Mark’s arm to come on and give us these valuable insights in to living in Thailand and Thai life in general. I will give links to the last interview he gave us a year ago at the bottom of the first part of this interview. In my experience there are those expats that you run a mile from and there are those you sit up, listen and take notice of, Mark is of the latter group.
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Mark’s wife Kwang is the owner of the amazingly popular MK internet cafe, which has been a life saver to me on many of my previous visits to Hua Hin .
Whether keeping in touch with loved ones back home whilst away, keeping up with the business or you just have some research work to do online, then the MK INTERNET Cafe is the place to go. Well equipped, very private, clean and tidy, considerate and courteous staff and at only 30 baht an hour it is a must visit…. highly recommended. The MK internet cafe is based opposite the Tanawit condos in the centre of town. Quite simply the best in town and that’s me saying that and not Mark’s wife Kwang.
MK Internet Cafe, Hua Hin
The Interview With Mark Stephens Part One
On Thai Food
- Trevor: Having lived in Thailand for quite a few years now, you have obviously grown accustomed to Thai food. What are your three favourite Thai dishes?
Mark: Pretty tough opening question, Trevor.
I think I was born to eat Thai food. Even during my later years of living in Australia (until 2003) much of my diet was Asian food based … a lot of it Thai.
Since living here I’ve been introduced to the delights of Southern Thai food, which is now my favourite. My wife cooks excellent southern Thai food. I’d have to say:
- Geng Graduk Moo ( แกงกระดูกหมู )– A peppery and salty “dry” southern curry with pork spare ribs. It’s usually too hot for anyone who finds a vindaloo hot. Eaten with raw veggies (tua pluu) (ถั่ว พลู) and boiled rice, it would certainly be one of the dishes I would include at my “Last Supper”!
- Geng Kua Neuea (แงงดั่วเนื้อ)– Another peppery and salty dry southern curry made with beef! Again it’s firey and not to be under-estimated!
- Pla Pat Kunchai ( ปลาผัดคลี่นช้าย ) – this is a fish dish (Chinese based rather than Southern Thai) using fish fillet stir fried with Chinese celery, with a strong ginger taste to it.
The top two have stayed the same for a while. The third one could be substituted at various times with Larb Moo (ลาบหมู) (spicy north-eastern pork mince salad eaten with sticky rice) or pad kraprow gai ( ผัดกระเพาไก่ )(chicken stir-fried with basil) which is a Thai staple and great for lunch!
Trevor: This is good stuff, because they are not the usual Thai dishes a Westerner will list as his or her favourites, in fact many would probably not be aware of them. I have to admit to having a preference for the southern based dishes myself.
- Trevor: If you were hosting a Thai dinner party for friends what dishes would you conjure up if you were putting it together in a Western format of appetizers, main courses and desserts.
Mark: I’ll try to answer, though I’m a main course guy to be honest. I don’t go much for appetizers or desserts. I keep it fairly simple! My favourite western food is roast lamb with roast potatoes and veg! By the way if you use any of my ideas in your catering business, which I doubt, I’ll be billing you for commission .
Tod Man Goong (ทอดมันกุ้ง)(Delicious Thai prawn cakes served with a sweet plum sauce)
Geng Neua ( แกงเนื้อ ) – Southern coconut-milk based beef curry that has a strong basil flavour to it. Not too spicy.
Pork and Pumpkin Curry- Geng Moo Fak tong ( แกงหมูฝักทอง )– Delicious thick-sauce curry that has a slightly sweeter taste to it than other curries mentioned before. Not too hot and palatable for most foreigners.
Pad Pak Ruam ( ผัดผักรวม )– Mixed stir-fried vegetables
Khou Niao Ma-Muang ( ข้าวเหนียวมะม่วง)(Sticky Rice with Fresh Mango and coconut cream)
Sticky Rice And Mango Slices
Trevor: Very good Mark I have made a note of the dishes and will be turning out a new menu for the catering business shortly and the cheque is in the post. You hit on one of my favourites,I love the pumpkin curry. I do find however I have to be careful when naming it in Thai to westerners, it’s the fak bit in geng fak tong. We actually use this one already in one of our menus in the UK , in the beginning the Brits are not too sure about pumpkin as curry, but when they taste it they’re pleasantly surprised and re-order next time.
- Trevor: Could you give us three of your very favourite eating places in Hua Hin?
Mark: I’m going to give you 5!
My kitchen (my wife’s cooking) – I know this doesn’t help you much, but home-made cannot be beaten!
Baan Itsara – a must for every visitor. A Hua Hin institution that has a superb signature dish of mussels cooked in Thai pesto. Seafood lovers will be in heaven.
I-Rice – a little Hua Hin secret tucked away. It’s home-style cooking served up by a very talented cook who is also very accommodating to guests.
Cool Relax – they do a great blend of Thai and western food, the owners are friendly and I like to sit outside on the terrace and watch life go by. Shame it’s very busy in high season now – sometimes you can’t get a table. I go there a lot in low season.
The Indian Restaurant on Soi 102 – great value Indian (which I can’t remember the name of) – just started going to. Great vindaloo and masala there!
Trevor: I recently did a post called The best Thai food is cooked in the home after reading that statement as a comment back along from the Australian, but Thailand trained Thai chef expert David Thompson and from my own experiences of visiting Thai restaurants in the UK. To be honest and with regards to Thailand it is fairly rare that I have come across many bad meals. I have visited most of the places you list with the exception of the Indian restaurant (although I do like Indian) and have found them all excellent. I also love the market food in Hua Hin, just sit down and receive an array of delicious dishes, but without the massive Western bill. Superb.
- Trevor: I know your home is the royal beach resort of Hua Hin, but what are your three favourite places to visit in Thailand outside of Hua Hin?
Mark: Krabi – stunning scenery in southern Thailand
Khao Yai – a national park a few hours north of Bangkok
Kanchanaburi – in western Thailand
- Trevor: For visitors to Hua Hin, what would you consider were the three must visit spots in and around the area?
Mark: I guess everyone needs to go Khao Takiab to see the monkeys and for spectacular views over the bay of Hua Hin.
I would advise everyone to do a short elephant trek of half and hour or one hour up at the elephant village just out-of-town. If you don’t know it yet – elephants are fascinating creatures!
The beach is the other place to visit. Though I live here and don’t get down there as much as I should, considering it’s a 10 minute walk away (possibly because my favourite bar is between my house and the beach!) it is a great place to spend a day or two – you can sunbathe in the guaranteed great weather, relax with a book in the shade, ride a donkey if you must, have a quiet beer in the afternoon sunshine or catch a spot of lunch right on the beach. It’s a very long beach so even in high season a short walk away from the Hilton, Marriott and Sofitel areas will get you a more private spot.
Trevor: It’s a hard life mate not being able to get to the beach 10 minutes away from home, because your favourite bar is in between. That part where you mention it’s a great place to spend a day or two is that the beach or the bar. The most envious part is the guaranteed great weather.
The Beach of pranbury near Hua Hin
On Living In Thailand – Living In Hua Hin
- Trevor: Can you offer any money-saving tips with regards to living in Thailand that perhaps you use,that may have held you in good stead over the years?
Mark: Well, someone once said to me don’t bring any money into Thailand that you’re not prepared to lose…and looking around sometimes I feel that’s good advice! I’ve lost count of the number of people who seem to have lost their fortunes over here and often it’s through their own naivety (if I’m being kind) or stupidity (if I’m not). But that may be a theme for another day…not sure it really applies to your question.
Money saving techniques? Well I live modestly as it is, to be honest. I eat mainly Thai food – and while that’s certainly gone up it’s still incredible value.
Take today for instance. My expenditure was :
Breakfast – Bananas and Green Tea – cost is negligible…pennies
Lunch – I ate Kanaa moo sot raad khao pii – set (a large portion of fried pork with Chinese kale on rice) – 50B (about 1 GBP)
Afternoon Snack – Double helping of pineapple from the street vendor – 20B (40p)
Dinner – I ate gai pat pet ma-muang (large portion of chicken fried with cashew nuts with rice) – 70B
So that’s about 140B on food (less than 3 GBP). Healthy and filling too. Not all days are like this of course, but breakfast and lunch are always cheap.
Sometimes I’ll eat western food for dinner – that’s maybe 200-250 Bt.
To be honest my idea of “splashing out” these days is to order a double helping of pineapple from the street vendor, so I may not be the best person to speak to!
Double Helping Of Pineapple Please (Delicious)
After paying the bills (electricity is the big one – we use a lot of air conditioning – and it’s expensive) beer is the biggest cost nowadays…I like my nights out and if I go to the western style bar a small beer is 90B (almost 2 GBP). I’m a glutton for watching the football, playing the odd game of pool or sitting back sipping ice cool beers listening to some great music in Billy’s bar so that does get expensive, but I figure I don’t really spend money on much else for myself, and that little luxury keeps me sane, so while it can get a bit expensive, it’s a good investment!
Certainly for most people looking to live out here I’d advise keeping nights out to a minimum or choosing Thai places rather than western places, if they want to keep expenditure down.
When you live here you just scale things back generally, which I’m very happy to do. There really is nothing from the world of the “consumer” that I pine after. When I go to a shopping center in Bangkok, on a rare visit, I’m left wondering what all these people are actually buying…if I have to buy supplies for my wife’s Internet café I’m straight in and straight out!
http://www.frangipani.com/huahin/billy1.htm (Link to Billy’s Bar, a great bar in Hua Hin. Ice cold beer and football)
Trevor: Great advice Mark and a very healthy daily eating plan. I like you am also a massive fan of consuming lashings of Green tea. I one hundred percent agree with the consumerisation bug, I can never really understand what people buy either. I have taken years to polish up my ” living a life of daily diminishing” and ”getting rid of your surplus”. It used to work in the way that my wife brought and bought stuff in to the house and I waited a while and then threw it out, when she wasn’t looking of course. It is a dangerous game and you have to be in complete denial that you have even seen the missing object(s) if asked. Only 200 hand bags to go now. However she now seems to be coming around to my mind set or she is in the middle of a very cunning plan…. Time will tell.
In Part Two
Mark gives more tips and advice on living in Hua Hin/Living in Thailand, the cost of living, cross cultural relationships and not to mention his views on Thai soaps…. not to be missed.
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