sala ayutthaya – Amazing Food and Incredible View!

Sala Ayutthaya

I took my visiting family to Ayutthaya to explore the ancient ruins of this once historical capital city of Thailand.  After an entire day of site exploring, we capped off the experience with a wonderful meal and view at sala ayutthaya (the name is intentionally all lowercase ((official Facebook page)).  This oasis located in heart of Ayutthaya, sits along the banks of the Chao Phraya river, opposite of the famous Wat Phutthaisawan (built in 1353 AD by the first monarch of Ayutthaya Kingdom).

The food was amazing and the view incredible. It was the absolute perfect place to cap off the day of running about. I’m happy to share the experience with you. Let’s start with the meal!

The feast…

Sala Ayutthaya Cover

We ordered our Thai favorite dishes as well as a couple of local dishes that are popular. Ayutthaya is famous for their large river prawns so we were certain to include them in the dinner line-up.

Here’s a breakdown of what we ate…

Duck Laab

Sala Ayutthaya Laab Ped
Laab Ped (230 baht)

Laab is a Thai dish made with minced meat, herbs, lime juice, red onion slivers, chili, and toasted rice. It’s one of my favorite dishes and is usually on the menu with gai (chicken) or moo (pork) options. Every now and again, you may see it on the menu with ped (duck) as an option. If you do see it, get it!

This Laab Ped (230 baht) was rich from the fat of the tender minced poached duck breast, herbal from the mint, and mildly spicy from the chili. This was excellent over steamed rice!

Soft Shelled Crab with Yellow Curry

Sala Ayutthaya Poo Nim Phad Pong Karee
Poo Nim Phad Pong Karee (350 baht)

My family confesses to developing a bit of a soft shelled crab with yellow curry addiction during our recent experience at the Nong Seafood restaurant in Koh Chang. They can’t get enough of it!

This Poo Nim Phad Pong Karee (350 baht) had generous portions of breaded deep fried soft shelled crab in a rich creamy gravy made from yellow curry powder, eggs, and cream.  If you order this you will understand my family’s addiction to it. You will probably develop an addition of your own.

Ayutthaya’s river harvest…

Sala Ayutthaya Goong Mae Nam Sauce Makham
Goong Mae Nam Sauce Makham (890 baht)

The area of Ayutthaya is famous for their GIANT river prawns. If you visit the area it should be on your bucket list of things to try. The prawns in this Goong Mae Nam Sauce Makham (890 baht) are rather large, but not the monster sized prawns they are famous for. These “little” guys were served with a sweet and savory red onion and tamarind sauce.

Chicken with Green Curry

Sala Ayutthaya Gaeng Kiew Waan Gai
Gaeng Kiew Waan Gai (220 baht)

This Gaeng Kiew Waan Gai (220 baht) is made with tender sliced chicken thigh meat, green coconut curry, pea eggplant pods, along with kaffir lime and sweet basil leaves. It actually packs quite a punch–especially if you end up eating a sliver of sliced red chili pepper! A bit of steamed white rice tempers the heat pretty well, though.

A special local salad!

Sala Ayutthaya Yam Tua Phu Goong Mae Nam
Yam Tua Phu Goong Mae Nam (370 baht)

I’ve never had a salad like this before. It was the undisputed favorite dish on the table by all. I’d love to find a place in Bangkok that serves it as I am craving it now just looking at the picture! If you know of a place that serves it, please let me know.

This Yam Tua Phu Goong Mae Nam (370 baht) is a local salad of Ayutthaya made with sliced wing beans, poached chicken breast, peanuts, toasted coconut, a spicy/tangy sauce made with chili paste and coconut, and topped with a large grilled river prawn, with a hard boiled egg on the side.

I highly recommend this dish!

Some more salad and greens…

One of my resolutions for the new year was to make sure I ate more veggies and fruits. Veggies are my newest friend. I may have gone a little overboard when I ordered these three dishes, though. The Som Tum Poo Nim Tod (320 baht) is your normal spicy, sweet, papaya salad made a bit more decadent with a fried and battered soft shell crab on top.

The Phad Phak Boong Fi Deng (180 baht) is your everyday stir fried morning glory with oyster sauce and garlic, simple and uncomplicated. If I had to bench a dish to make room for the other dishes I’d have benched this one. Not that it’s bad, it’s perfectly fine. But you can see I ordered a lot of greens here, right?

The Fried Chayote (180 baht) was my personal favorite salad. I’ve never had it before and wanted to try something different. The greens are very tender and flavorful. The heaps of garlic (I am a fan!) will essentially leave you vampire proof.

Leave room for dessert!

We managed to save enough room to share these two desserts, a Double Chocolate Brownie (220 baht) and a Blueberry Cheesecake (250 baht).  The Valrhona double chocolate brownie is served with a vanilla bean ice cream and warm ganache sauce with a stick of macadamia nut brittle. I favored the blueberry cheesecake that came with a sweet blueberry compote sauce. As we feasted for dinner we enjoyed watching the sun go down. These desserts were the perfect way to usher in the evening and appreciate the view of the lighted ancient temples across the river.

The views, though!

The food at sala ayutthaya is delicious, but what really sets this place apart from its peers is the amazing view to enjoy with your meal or drinks. After a long day of scrabbling around ancient sites why not cap the day off with an ice cold malty beverage and a river view?

Honestly we couldn’t have come at better time. Our reservation was at 5 p.m. which afforded us the opportunity to watch the sky transform from day to twilight to evening. It was perfect.

We also enjoyed waving to all folks on the cargo boats that cruise up and down the Chao Phraya on their way to and from Bangkok!

A chat with the Sales Executive…

Sala Ayutthaya, Mantana
Khun Mantana, Sales Executive

I had the good fortune to be able to speak with Khun Mantana, sala ayutthaya’s Sales Executive. She was able to give me a little information about the hotel and restaurant. The sala ayutthaya is actually one of the boutique luxury hotels in the Sala Hospitality Group portfolio. Though it is only a few years old (built in 2014) it’s has been recognized for several awards for their architecture and their luxury in the M Collection River Hotel category.

The hotel sala ayutthaya was designed to provide a memorable experience for all five senses: sight (visually stunning architecture and scenic river views), smell (from the krading-nangfa  or “angel’s bell’” tree hanging flower blossoms), sound (the chirping birds, and soft bubbling water from the river and fountains), touch (the comfort of their rooms), and of course taste which I hope I’ve adequately covered.

Sala Ayutthaya CorridorJust getting through the hotel to the restaurant is a visually stunning experience. You pass through a small art collection room then open immense wooden doors to reveal a narrow corridor between tall ancient looking brick walls lined with pools of water softly trickling into large ceramic basins leading to the restaurant. My first impression was a flashback to my trip to Marrakech and exploring the souks. But then I realized that this must have been what it felt like to walk some of the temple hallways of ancient Ayutthaya. Incredible!

The force behind their culinary delights is Chef Nattapong Tassanapitikul. Before joining sala ayutthaya 3 years ago, he worked at Shangri-la Bangkok , Siam Kempinski Bangkok, and Issaya.  His preferred cooking ingredient is the fresh giant Ayutthaya river prawns which are delivered daily with the fish catch from local fisherman.

I’m hungry! Where is it?

Sala Ayutthaya

If you’re looking for a real treat to end your day of adventuring in Ayutthaya I highly recommend a visit to sala ayutthaya. For weekends and Thai holidays it would be wise to make a reservation in advance.

Should you be interested in taking your time to explore the historical sites and are looking for luxurious lodging, you can check sala ayutthaya’s rates and availability here. You will be surprised how affordable it is compared to similar luxury hotels in other countries!

For this trip we decided to rent a private van (9 seater) and driver for the whole day. It was convenient to have her pick us up, bring us to all the sites and restaurants (lunch and dinner), and bring us home. It was also a very fair price. If interested feel free to contact me. I’d be happy to share her details as she was dependable, fairly priced, knowledgeable of the sites, and safe.

If you visit, I’d love to hear about your experience!

 

Marum – Siem Reap Dining Supporting a Great Cause!

Marum Siem Reap

During my recent trip to Luang Prabang, Laos I had a most memorable Christmas dinner at the Khaiphaen Restaurant. I was so impressed with the meal and their great social mission, that when I found out they had a sister restaurant (through the Tree Alliance) in Siem Reap, Cambodia, I made certain to schedule a visit with them. Marum (official website), like Khaiphaen, has a social mission to train and educate at risk youth in the field of hospitality.

Of course, the restaurant menu is different from Khaiphaen. The Marum menu has a variety of authentic Khmer dishes. Also different is the restaurant itself (it’s much larger and with ample garden seating). Of course there’s also a different group of people involved in achieving their social mission.

But let’s start with the food!

A great start!

Marum Wild Mushroom Balls
Wild Mushroom with Brie Rice Balls ($5.25)

This Wild Mushroom with Brie Rice Balls ($5.25) made with marum leaves and accompanied with a beetroot mayonnaise dipping sauce was amazing! I would highly recommend this as a starter. My Swedish mother-in-law absolutely loved this.

This is a great compliment because pretty much anything fried and round she compared to Swedish meatballs and would find it lacking. Despite my gal and I trying to explain that some things are not meant to be compared to meatballs (falafel being one example). But these little fried balls of flavor were a huge hit for all of us.

That being said, these balls are nothing like Swedish meatballs (nor should they be). They are very savory, creamy, and the sweet beetroot mayonnaise sauce is a delicious and colorful condiment to dip them in.

Not larb!

Marum Khmer Pork Salad
Khmer Pork Salad ($4.75)

The Khmer Pork Salad ($4.75) is very similar to the Thai minced pork salad called larb–but different. Unlike the spicy Thai version, the Cambodian version is much heavier on the mint and lemongrass. It’s also made with a lime and chili vinaigrette which is tangier and sweeter than Thai larb.

Don’t be fooled by the giant red birds-eye chili topping the dish. That’s just for decoration. Many dishes seemed to have a chili on top for decoration. It makes it more Instagram worthy–but I wouldn’t encourage eating a whole chili on its own like that.

Something from the sea…

Marum Prawn Mango Stir Fry
Prawn, Mango, and Cashew Stir Fry ($7.50)

This Prawn, Mango and Cashew Stir Fry ($7.50) dish is a safe bet for an enjoyable dish. It is made with big chunks of sweet mango stir fried with veggies, medium sized prawns, and cashews in a sweet/pepper sauce over yellow rice. It was delicious–but safe. Hindsight being what it is,  I do wish I’d ordered something a little more exciting.

I would recommend this dish if you want to enjoy a dish without being too experimental. If you like to live dangerously, why not try the BBQ Frog Legs on Sugar Cane Skewers with Pickled Morning Glory ($5.75) instead?

But one of the reasons I ordered this “safe” dish was because I wasn’t sure how this other dish would be received…

THIS is how we get ants!

Marum Red Tree Ants with Beef
Red Tree Ants w/ Beef ($6.50)

While we were spending the day exploring the different temple sites in Angkor Wat, my mother-in-law found herself to be a magnet for biting red tree ants. She didn’t like it. I assured her that she would be able to exact her revenge later–I didn’t explain that she’d actually get to bite back.

But this order of Red Tree Ants with Beef ($6.50) stir fried with kaffir lime leaves and chili afforded her just the opportunity to avenge herself against the biting ants from the day.  We waited to let her know about the exact ingredients of the dish after…kind of like that Lost Boys scene where Keifer Sutherland asks the guy if he likes eating maggots.

I don’t know about maggots (nor would I want to), but I can say that ants are delicious! It’s not that you can actually taste the ant itself. There’s not much there to taste. But after eating them your mouth kind of tingles. It works great with the spicy sauce and tender cuts of beef.

Save room for dessert!

Marum Red Sticky Rice and Mango
Red Sticky Rice w/ Mango ($4.00)

For dessert we shared this Khmer specialty, Red Sticky Rice with Mango ($4.00) topped with coconut slivers and served with pandan sauce. Unlike the sticky white rice usually served with mango in Thailand, the red sticky rice is nuttier and has an earthy taste.

A chat with the managers…

Marum
Saheouy (Manager) & Saren (Project Manager)

During the visit I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Saheouy, the Marum restaurant manager and Mr. Saren, the project manager for their social mission.

Saheouy has been working at Marum since they opened their doors to the public in August, 2012. He has a passion for sharing his knowledge of hospitality services with the students and ensuring that the teachers at Marum get all of the support they need.

Marum – It’s about the students…

Many of the students are from Siem Reap, however Marum also has a cadre of social workers who identify and inform at risk youth around the small surrounding villages of this training opportunity.  Currently Marum has 45 students and 26 teachers which are broken up into two shifts (night/day). According to the project manager, Saren, the largest class they had was 80 students and currently there is a waiting list for students to receive training.

On weekends the students focus on recipe training and on the weekdays they spend a lot of time “role-playing“. The training program they offer now is 12-18 months (depending on if the student is able to work full or part time). In case-by-case instances they have graduated students and placed them in employment as early as 10 months.

For Saheouy, he measures Marum’s success rate by the success of the students. To date only 3 students have dropped from the program and all students who have graduated have been successfully placed in employment. He’s delighted when students come to visit and share their success stories.

I’m hungry and I want to support this! Where is it?

Marum is open everyday from 11 am to 11 pm. Though they have ample seating in the garden area as well as tables downstairs and upstairs, it would be wise to make reservations during the tourist season. You can make a booking direct from their website here.

The best way to get there is via tuk tuk. A fair rate is $5 from the pub street area (where we stayed). Our tuk tuk driver was even kind enough to wait the couple of hours while we dined–so I paid $10 for the return ride. If you want to walk it, Google Maps is your friend!

If you visit Siem Reap, this is an excellent restaurant to enjoy authentic Khmer dishes while supporting a really good cause. Please leave some feedback if you do or if you already have visited Marum–I’d love to hear about your experience!

Nong Bua Seafood – A Delicious Koh Chang Experience!

Nong Bua Seafood Koh Chang

One of the things I love about living in Bangkok is that it’s super simple for me to get away to the beach whenever I want. Though many like to go to Koh Samui  or Phuket, my favorite getaway is to the island of Koh Chang. After a 5 hour drive from Bangkok and 40 minute ferry ride I am surrounded by jungle and pristine beaches. So when my visiting family wanted to spend New Year’s on the beach, you can guess where I’d take them. As they also love seafood, it made sense to take them to my favorite restaurant on Koh Chang, Nong Bua Seafood (official Facebook page).

Every time I visit Koh Chang I always visit Nong Bua Seafood and I’ve never been disappointed with the experience. Their seafood is simply amazing. Additionally, their prices are very reasonable for the quantity and quality of their dishes, and their service is unfailingly great. For me this review was a real treat as I was able to share the experience with family, as well as have an opportunity to speak with the manager about Nong Bua Seafood’s story.

But let’s get straight to the food, shall we?

Nong Bua Seafood has a great selection from the sea!

Of course Nong Bua Seafood has a great selection of seafood. It’s in the name. Directly in front of the restaurant are rows and rows of the day’s catch on ice with price placards. My family and I made sure to load up on their fresh offerings from the sea during our visit–nearly all of our dishes had seafood in it!

Stir Fried Seafood with Chili Paste

Nong Bua Seafood Stir Fried Seafood
Stir Fried Seafood w/ Chili Paste (150 baht)

I admit this Stir Fried Seafood with Chili Paste (150 baht) looks spicy, and from the name it sounds spicy. But don’t be fooled. It’s not spicy at all. In fact, it’s a little sweet!

This dish has a nice mix of squid, shrimp, and vegetables with a tangy/sweet chili sauce. Everything is cooked perfectly, with the shrimp having a nice crunch and the squid remaining tender. In fact, this was the first time that my sister-in-law had calamari that she liked. It really made an impression on her.

Tom Yum Seafood Soup

Nong Bua Seafood Tom Yum Seafood Soup
Tom Yum Seafood Soup (180/280 baht)

I highly recommend this Tom Yum Seafood Soup (180 small/280 large baht) dish. The broth is not overly creamy and it’s loaded with flavor from the seafood, vegetables, and herbs. This is a dish that is easily shared, and will be emptied.

Soft-Shell Crab with Curry Powder

Nong Bua Seafood Soft Shell Crab Curry Powder
Soft Shell Crab w/ Curry Powder (250 baht)

The Soft Shell Crab with Curry Powder (250 baht) is one of my favorite dishes, and I highly recommend it if you visit Nong Bua Seafood. I don’t know how they do it, but their crab has a smoky flavor and the curry sauce is both rich and creamy. This is one of those dishes where you will find yourself shamelessly scraping the plate. It’s okay. I will not judge you.

BBQ King River Prawns

Nong Bua Seafood BBQ River Prawn
BBQ River Prawn (Market Price/kilo)

This is my gal’s favorite dish, and no visit to Nong Bua Seafood would be complete without ordering the BBQ River Prawns (Market Price/Kilo). It’s prepared simple–no chunks of garlic or globs of fake butter that other restaurants tend to subject their prawns to. This is just split river prawns on the barbecue until cooked accompanied with a fiery seafood sauce to dip the meat into. It’s delicious!

Fresh from tank, to kitchen, to table!

For our main dish we had the fresh Fried Grouper with Sweet Chili Sauce (Market Price/Kilo). This fish was obviously not thrilled to be leaving the tank to what would be its final destination–our table (with a stop in the kitchen, of course).

Nong Bua Seafood Grouper
Fried Grouper w/ Sweet Chili Sauce (Market Price/Kilo)

The skin of the Fried Grouper with Chili Sauce was nice and crispy while the meat underneath was flaky and tender. My gal has a gift for getting the meat off the bones whilst I have a gift for being able to make a mess of the whole thing. It’s not long until I am no longer allowed to try and serve myself.

Rice dishes to accompany…

We were a bit “noodled” out from all of the noodle dishes we’d had earlier so we decided to get a couple of rice dishes to accompany the meal.

Nong Bua Seafood Pineapple Fried Rice
Pineapple Fried Rice (150 baht)

We received their popular Pineapple Fried Rice (150 baht) dish which is an entire pineapple hollowed out and filled with fried rice, raisins, pineapple chunks, and cashew nuts. This is an excellent dish accompanied with the BBQ river prawns!

Nong Bua Seafood Tom Yum Fried Rice
Tom Yum Fried Rice w/ Chicken (80 baht)

The other rice side dish we got was the Tom Yum Fried Rice with Chicken (80 baht). It was tasty but it didn’t quite fit with the other dishes that we got. It’s very flavorful, but it needs something like grilled meat to accompany it. It didn’t quite work with the selection of seafood dishes that we had with it. But I would order it again if the meal had had more grilled meats and vegetables.

A chat with the manager…

Nong Bua Seafood
Pao and Art (Manager and Owner)

I was fortunate enough to be able to coordinate my visit with Khun Pao, the Nong Bua Seafood Restaurant manager for their White Sands Beach location on Koh Chang. She was kind enough to give me a little insight into their restaurant as well as introduce the owner, Khun Art.

“Nong Bua” actually means “Lotus Swamp“. It takes the name of the village from Trat province which is where the family who owns and operates the restaurant is originally from.

The first Nong Bua restaurant began in 1980 in Trad. It’s still around today (official website), but don’t expect to find seafood there. Rather this original restaurant specializes in noodles and local dishes.

Based on the success of their restaurant, and after having over 20 years of experience operating it, they decided to branch out to Koh Chang. In 2001, Nong Bua Seafood opened its doors to the public and was focused on delivering fresh, delicious seafood dishes.

Nong Bua Seafood receives their fresh seafood daily and direct from the fishermen who catch them around the Salak Khok Bay on the eastern side of Koh Chang island. Nothing is frozen and it’s guaranteed fresh. The freshness of their seafood combined with the 37 years of experience guarantees you won’t be disappointed with the meal or their service!

Great service!

If you spend enough time on Koh Chang you’re going to start to get annoyed when another waiter forgets to bring your order or saves that starter for last. Or the staff simply disappear when you want to get a menu, bill, or fresh beer. I’m not suggesting all places are like this–but this kind of experience isn’t unusual. It’s not you. One of the things that sets Nong Bua Seafood apart from many of its peers is its excellent customer service.

If you want guaranteed great service go to this restaurant. They operate like a well oiled machine. The whole process is efficient, accurate, and timely. You will appreciate their service especially if you’ve been hurt before at other places!

I’m hungry! Where is it?

Nong Bua Seafood

We visited the Nong Bua Seafood restaurant located at White Sands Beach. Their operating hours are from 7am-10pm Monday through Sunday, their prices are NET, and they can accommodate 100 guests.

If you find yourself staying further down the island not close to White Sands Beach, don’t despair! In 2014 they opened a larger Nong Bua Seafood restaurant in Klong Prao Beach with seating for 300 guests (including outside garden seating). They have the same menu and the same prices! Since it’s also run by the same family, I assume they also have great customer service, too.

Should you find yourself spending some time on the island of Koh Chang, and you’re a lover of fresh seafood, I hope you’ll visit Nong Bua Seafood. I’d also love to hear your feedback if you do!

Khaiphaen – Excellent Luang Prabang Food with Heart!

Khaiphaen Luang Prabang

In May ’17 we went on a trip to the UNESCO world heritage site, Luang Prabang, Laos. It was my first trip after recovering from a broken ankle and I was nervous. But I had no need to be nervous as the town is so laid back, its people are so friendly and helpful, and the food is absolutely amazing. During that trip, one of the places that really impressed me with both their food and service was a restaurant called Khaiphaen (official Facebook page). I felt it worth investigating.

Khaiphaen is a restaurant in “training”…

I learned that Khaiphaen is actually a restaurant with a food and hospitality program to train students from the surrounding villages of Luang Prabang. Since the food is so delicious and reasonably priced, and there is such attention paid to presentation and service, and then learning a fantastic story is behind the enterprise–I just knew this would be something worth writing about and sharing! I was right, too.

I coordinated with the restaurant in advance of our visit and scheduled a Christmas dinner with family and friends to enjoy a Laotian feast. Let’s get straight to the food, shall we?

What is “Khaiphaen”?

Khaiphaen Luang Prabang Riverweed
Khaiphaen (River Weed) with tomato and Hmong mushroom dips (34,000 kip)

“Khaiphaen” in the Laos language is the name for the river weed that grows wild in the Mekong River. This has become a staple dish and is usually fried with sesame seeds, slivers of garlic, and tomato. It’s often served with a variety of dips (my favorite being spicy chili and buffalo skin).

We started our meal off with a dish of fried Khaiphaen with sesame seeds, rice cakes, and dips of tomato and Hmong mushrooms (34,0000 kip). The perfect bite is to roll up a bit of the crispy river weed with a dollop of both dips! One bite of this tasty green and you’ll be ordering it at every meal.

Fantastic sausages…

Khaiphaen Luang Prebang Sausages
Lao Pork Sausages (40,000 kip)

No meal in Luang Prabang would be complete without a sampling of Lao Pork Sausages (40,000 kip). These sausages are very similar to the Thai Isaan sausages that have a bit of spice and lemongrass. The dish also came with a banana pepper and spring onion chutney. The grilled peppers had a nice charred flavor and was perfect for smearing on the slices of sausage.

Laap is not Larb!

Kaiphaen Luang Prabang Chicken Laap
Chicken Laap (36,000 kip)

One of my favorite dishes in Thailand is larb, a dish of minced meat, spices, herbs, and toasted rice. This looks like larb, but Thai “larb” and Lao “laap” are very different. This Laotian dish is not very spicy, lacks the salty fish sauce, and is very flavorful with veggies and herbs. This Chicken Laap (36,000 kip) is made with roasted squash, spring onions, chili, and lime and is perfect when mixed with sticky rice. It’s delicious and fresh!

Fantastic dumplings!

Khaiphaen Luang Prebang River Fish Dumplings
River Fish with Monkey Mushroom Dumplings (52,000 kip)

These dumplings are amazing! This dish of River Fish with Monkey Mushroom Dumplings (52,000 kip) was complimented with a delicious roasted peanut sauce. It’s very flavorful and was a big hit with my dinner guests. My only regret was that there weren’t more to go around! If you like dumplings you will love this dish.

Luang Prabang Stew…my personal favorite!

Khaiphaen Luang Prabang Or Lam
Or Lam (Luang Prabang Stew) (40,000 kip)

During this trip I tried to eat Or Lam (Luang Prabang Stew) at just about every restaurant we went to. I would say if Laos had a gumbo this would be it (and I’m a fan of gumbo!). This Or Lam (40,000 kip) is made with pork, eggplant, pepper wood, and wild forest greens.  Instead of okra you find in normal gumbo, the eggplant in this stew gives it the same rich consistency.

The real standout for this dish is the pepper wood. This is an actual chunk of wood–don’t eat it unless your doctor says you are in desperate need of fiber. The wood gives it a distinctive peppery/spice flavor. It’s kind of like black pepper, but oaky, too.

This is one of my favorite dishes. If you get the chance, try it!

Grilled buffalo, the other, other red meat!

Khaiphaen Luang Prabang Buffalo Sandwich
Grilled Buffalo Sandwich (64,000 kip)

I wanted everyone to have a chance to try buffalo, and this Grilled Buffalo Steak Sandwich (64,000 kip) seemed like a great way for everyone to get a taste. I also wanted to make sure that in case everything was a bit spicy there’d be something on the table for those folks spice averse to enjoy. This grilled buffalo sandwich is served on a thick baguette loaf with daikon radish, mayo, and local herbs. It’s a very filling sandwich so if you just want to sample it, make sure you have enough people for it to go around!

Save room for dessert!

All of the desserts at Khaiphaen are reasonably priced at 34,000 kip and are very unique and delicious. We ended up getting 3 varieties and sharing. I enjoyed the Sandan’s Cashew Crusted Banana Fritters which was served with candied kaffir lime slivers and coconut ice cream. My gal was in rapture with the Pumpkin Tart with thick slivers of candied coconut meat and ginger and 5 spice ice cream. My mother-in-law loved the Coconut and Pandan Panna Cotta with mango, crispy rice, and chili syrup. So much so that she had a difficult time sharing it.

A very relaxed restaurant…

Khaiphaen is a very relaxed restaurant with ample seating outside, inside on the ground floor, and upstairs on the second floor. There is information cards on their “sister” restaurants as well as arts and crafts that can be purchased which help support their program. Getting a lunch table isn’t usually a problem as most tourists are out and about taking tours. However it is wise especially around the busy tourist season to make a reservation in advance. You can book directly through this link .

A chat with the Manager…

As I was able to coordinate in advance with the restaurant, I was afforded an opportunity to speak with the manager and learn a little bit about Kaiphaen and the special work that they do. The manager, Anousin (Noy) has been working at Kaiphaen since it opened in May ’15.

Kaiphaen is a sister restaurant to several other restaurants throughout Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and a new restaurant in Myanmar. All of these restaurants fall under the TREE Alliance Organization (TREE is an abbreviation for Training Restaurants for Employment and Entrepreneurship). These restaurants are basically training grounds to build futures for former street youth, as well as marginalized young people and adults.

Noy explained to me that in and around Luang Prabang there are social workers which visit the villages where the youth may not have schools or opportunities. These social workers explain what the program is about to those interested. Candidates interested in the opportunity receive a health assessment at the local hospital. Those who pass their assessment are provided housing and food and “enrolled” in Kaiphaen’s 12 month program. The majority of the students are Hmong who are unable to read or speak the Lao language.

The “students”…

The students start from ground zero. The program begins with food safety and hygiene with the first 9 months being spent in the kitchen. During this time they learn to speak and read Lao, and cook and present the dishes on the menu. After 9 months of kitchen time, they transition to the front area as servers and cashiers.

In the final 3 months they learn to perform cash transactions and serve customers from all around the world. During my time in Luang Prabang this was the best customer service experience I received as they are so focused on providing a good experience!

The students receive their education from the permanent staff or “teachers”. These teachers are skilled chefs, and even the manager. The students receive free room and board but are unpaid. Their spending money comes from the tip jar which is divided amongst the students based on the number of days they worked during the month. But for these students they are in it for the end game–training for a permanent job.

Kaiphaen provides a skilled labor!

Kaiphaen has networked with the local hotels and restaurants to be able to provide them with a skilled labor force that has worked in both the front and back end of a restaurant. Additionally this work force is skilled and comfortable with serving customers from all around the world and customer service focused. These are very desirable skills for these industries and the higher end hotel and restaurants are chomping at the bit to hire them on.

At the end of 12 months the students are not placed into jobs. Because of their experience and training they receive several competitive employment opportunities and are able to go to each one to decide which place they would prefer to work.

Seeing these “graduation” moments is Noy’s proudest milestones managing Khaiphaen.

I want to support this. Where is it?

Khaiphaen is located near the Mekong River side and is walking distance from most locations of the Luang Prabang town. Please note that they are closed on Sundays. For excellent Luang Prabang cuisine, service, prices, and to support a great program I highly recommend you visit Khaiphaen!