Tamarind Wards Off Flying Ghosts (And Other Things I Learned In Thailand)

Thailand has long been on my bucket list. My college roommate would backpack through there on the regular and would gush on about it as we'd share Pad Thai at our collegetown Thai restaurant. Growing up in Los Angeles, where we have a large Thai town and big Thai community, meant I was pretty familiar with all things Thai (especially the food), but there’s nothing like seeing it first hand.

This first trip to Thailand was part of the #84PerspectiveOfThailand press trip and it was a total whirlwind—going from Bangkok to Isaan and south to Phuket in just ten days. And in those ten days I learned just as many things about the culture. Here were are few things that stood out to me:

@saltandwind | Lessons From Thailand - coffee | Photo by Kristen Kellogg @borderfreetravels

Serious Love For Coffee

I can’t function without a morning cup of coffee so I always do a lot of coffee research before I travel to a new place. From Bangkok's streets to the aiports to the side of the road in the countryside, we found quality coffee everywhere. The best Flat White I had was at the Australian-based chain, The Coffee Club, and the best Thai-style Iced Mocha (read: with cardamom and coconut milk) was at Somjai Coffee on Bangkok's Soi Charoen Krung street. But there are also a ton of other specialty coffee shops I hope to get to on my next visit.

Purses Cannot Go On the Ground

Okay, this is one thing I learned really quickly. Purses and pretty much all bags are not supposed to go on the ground because it’s considered dirty. It’s a great idea in theory but didn’t always work out so well; like, say, when I was trying to shoot photos and didn’t have a safe or secure place to rest my camera bag.

@saltandwind | Lessons From Thailand - butterfly pea tea | Photo by Kristen Kellogg @borderfreetravels

Bird’s Nests (And Butterfly Peas) Are For Drinking

It was the height of monsoon season when I was in Thailand so it was seriously hot and seriously humid everyday. But everywhere we went we were constantly offered a cool nonalcoholic drink. A few of the cold drinks we saw a lot of were mulberry juice, chrysanthemum tea, butterfly pea tea (pictured above), and even a coconut water drink mixed with bird’s nests (which sounded really interesting but was my least favorite of all).

There’s So Much Color Even The Rice Is Purple

Thailand must be tied with India for most colorful country—everything from the temples to the tuk tuks to the food is fully saturated. One thing I didn’t expect was for the rice and the teas in Isaan to be a bright magenta. It turns out the butterfly pea pod (the same one used for that tea above) is used in all sorts of foods in the Isaan region and it makes for the most gorgeous colored food that has a slightly woody (in a good way) taste.

Ice Cream Is Fried

I had heard about “fried ice cream” before but had never had it until we hit up the night market in Udon Thani. To make it, melted ice cream is put on a cold griddle and spread and scraped until it forms Fruit Roll-Up like rolls.There were all kinds of combinations but I liked the Thai Iced Tea ice cream that was topped with crispy corn flakes and whipped cream.

@saltandwind | Lessons From Thailand - snacks | Photo by Kristen Kellogg @borderfreetravels

Speaking Of, Corn Flakes Are All Over

From the fried ice cream stand to our Khao Mao dessert at Sri Panwa’s Soul Food and even in the street food snack I bought in Nong Khai, corn flake cereal seemed to show up way more than I expected. No one could really give me an explanation for this so if you know what the deal is, please fill me in. 

Snack Situation Is No Joke

Look, I’m not going to throw out any superlatives here because there are a lot of countries and cultures who have all sorts of interesting snacks. What I will say is that the snack game was on point in Thailand. Some of my personal favorites were: fried plantain crisps, larb-flavored pretzels, green curry-flavored crackers, dried coconut, salted tamarind, and a cornflake and puffed rice snack that tasted like the precursor to the Rice Krispies Treat.

Pom Poms (May Have) Started Here

No, seriously, I think the Thai might have invented the pom pom. A big focus of this trip to Thailand was on meeting local craftsman and understanding how they are preserving Thai traditions. The Karen tribe (from the north of Thailand) has a long tradition in weaving and textiles and almost everything they showed us had some sort of pompom on it.

@saltandwind | Lessons From Thailand - papaya salad

They Get Seriously Funky

I’ve never been one to shy away from the funk that is fish sauce but in Thailand (especially when I was in the Isaan region) they do not hold back. It’s most evident in the Isaan-style papaya salad (claimed by some to be the original papaya salad, btw) where they go three-fold on the funk with fish sauce and dried crab and dried shrimp and/or anchovies.

And, Of Course, Tamarind Wards Off Flying Ghosts

When I was learning about how Pad Thai is like an edible history of Thailand (reference Thailand video), I learned that tamarind fights off ghosts. I didn’t quite catch the how or why and not sure if merely eating it suffices or if you have to do some sort of tamarind voodoo. 


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Coffee/Breakfast photo, Butterfly Tea photo, and Mixed snacks photo by Kristen Kellogg of Border Free Travels; All other photos by Aida Mollenkamp

My trip to Thailand and this post was sponsored by Tourism ThailandAll content, ideas, and words are my own. Thanks for supporting these sponsors who allow us to keep Salt & Wind up and running.

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