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Bangkok Then and Now

Bangkok Then and Now

As we welcome the start of a New Year with enthusiasm and renewed hope, it’s good to look back and see how far we have come.

// Thailand //

Story: Samutcha Viraporn / Photo: Rithirong Chanthongsuk, Samutcha Viraporn

A lot has changed since the time of Venice of the East, for which Bangkok was lovingly known. Along came the railway system that ushered in an era of mass travel, followed by the building of many transport routes. As people’s lifestyles changed, shopping malls were mushrooming everywhere, and mass transit light rail systems were introduced. Now it’s a city of skyscrapers. See what it’s like then and now.

Built in the reign of King Rama V, the Stupa of the Golden Mount dominates the skyline above the junction of two canals, Ong-ang and Mahanak, main routes for travel by water since the early days.

Bangkok Railway Station, also known as Hua Lamphong, then and now.

Completed in 1942, the Victory Monument serves as Kilometer Zero on major routes linking Bangkok with other parts of the country. It was designed by famous architect M.L. Poum Malakoul.

The historic Mahakan Fort overlooks Ratchadamnoen Avenue with the Stupa of the Golden Mount in the backdrop.

A bustling street market opposite the Temple of Dawn is home to river view hotels, among them Sala Rattanakosin and Sala Arun.

The Giant Swing bespeaks the influence of Brahmanism on Thai society in olden days.  The swing is gone now; only the red tower remains in front of Wat Suthat Thepwararam.

Above, Silom Road in its early days. Below, the vibrant central business district is served by passenger rail transport — the elevated BTS and underground MRT. The Siboonrueng Building, a familiar sight on Silom, is scheduled for a teardown to make room for a new project.

Siam Center, then and now. The busy intersection in Pathumwan District has become a passenger rail transport hub conveniently linked to business and shopping destinations via the Skywalk.

Ratchaprasong Intersection, then and now. The area is home to the Erawan Shrine, a widely revered Brahman shrine erected in 1956.

Views from the top of the Baiyoke 2, tallest building in Bangkok from 1997 to 2016.

Back in the day, the Post and Telegraph Department doubled as the Central Post Office in Bangrak District. There’s a river pier at the rear of the building that once upon a time was a British consulate. Nowadays, it’s home to the TCDC, Thailand Creative and Design Center.



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Manual for Art Viewing 101: the Professional Approach to Art Exhibitions

Manual for Art Viewing 101: the Professional Approach to Art Exhibitions

In earlier times, an “art work,” for the most part, simply reflected the ways of life and daily routines of human beings at the time. Stone age cave paintings tell us of the progression of early civilization from tribal animal hunts to creation of tools & utensils by shaping and carving done with the human knowledge and experimentation of that time.

Nowadays, though, art has become a reflection of the progress of the human mind and of creativity itself, distilled and filtered through experience, imagination, and the fashions of the time, to express personal insight and inspiration through visual arts, sculpture, painting, and even architecture. In bringing art works together for exhibition, care must be taken that each work, full of historical value, is experienced according to specific requirements and protocols so that it will not be harmed or deteriorate before its time.

Bangkok Art Biennale 2018

Because these art works are so precious, we are offering Living ASEAN readers some guidelines for their proper viewing and study.

Refrain from taking pictures

Museums and art exhibition centers generally make it a priority to ask visitors not to take pictures. This is because some paintings and sculptures may have reactions to flash photography that cause premature deterioration of the pieces being photographed. Both cinnabar and yellow from lead chromate darken over long-term exposure to light. Realgar yellows may become fine powder incapable of restoration to their original condition. This is why many museums enforce standards for direction and intensity of light, and why museums are often darker than one might expect.

The use of photographic accessories such as tripods and selfie sticks can block people from easily walking around as well as diminish the aesthetics of other visitors’ viewing experience.

Refrain from touching materials on display

It is also important to avoid physical contact with exhibits. Many art works are labeled “Don’t touch,” or are protected by barriers, since some art works may react to human body temperature much as they do to light. Certain paintings may change color or retain fingerprints if touched, and direct touch can cause abrasion, scratching, or punctures from fingernails or palms, causing breaks, tears, disfigurement, or premature degrading. On the other side of things, though, some artists use art as a more direct means of communication, and give visitors the opportunity to interact freely with their works, so some art pieces actually may be touched! Just watch for a “Please touch” sign at the exhibit area.

Refrain from loud noises or running and playing within the building

Basic art show etiquette calls for limiting vocal communication. Museums and art exhibitions are common areas with large numbers of visitors, and loud noises or conversation can disturb others. Running or careless walking, as well, may cause collisions both with people and with exhibits. Many museums insist that children under 18 be under the close supervision of their parents or guardians at all times.

Refrain from bringing bags/gear into art exhibition areas

Many museums or art exhibitions forbid carrying personal bags into exhibition areas; this may include backpacks, suitcases, or large shopping bags, as they may annoy or block the path of other visitors, or cause damage to works on display. A suitcase on rollers can collide with a display, or a backpack strap can catch on one.

Refrain from smoking or eating at in exhibition areas

Smoking, eating, or drinking near exhibited art seriously risks damaging it, which is why many museums do not allow bringing food or liquids in, or even in outdoor exhibit areas. And simple good manners would obviously mandate not smoking in an exhibition area.

Keep an appropriate distance

Many art works need to be viewed in specific ways. Some large paintings need to be viewed from a certain distance to properly experience them. Besides giving consideration to not blocking the view of others, we need to be sure we get a full impression of the meaning the artist is communicating, which too much attention to a single point may make difficult.


Dress respectfully

Some museums have dress codes. If planning a visit to an art exhibition or museum, be sure to dress up to international standards: fully dressed, no open-toed shoes): this shows respect and is acceptable almost anywhere. This may depend on local traditions: for instance, museums in some countries require women to wear head coverings. In any case we should educate ourselves about such things before embarking on international travel to visit art exhibitions.


Always study the manual before attending an exhibition

Finally, before visiting an exhibition always read signs, announcements, or guides provided by the curator or institution: this will help you have a worry-free experience. Each location involves different customs and viewing rules, and studying and understanding these details aids us in developing a truly professional approach to the enjoyment of art.

The contemporary international art festival Bangkok Art Biennale 2018 had its formal opening last October 19th. This fair has reinvented our own Bangkok as a major art venue on a level with Venice, Berlin, Paris, and Singapore. Here, now, more than 75 famous domestic and foreign artists have showings at various important locations for us to enjoy what has been called “resplendent, energetic art,” as Bangkok itself becomes a prominent landmark in the contemporary art world.  From now until February 3rd, 2019.

Bangkok Art Biennale 2018
Bangkok Art Biennale 2018, (BAB) is an art fair which will transform Bangkok into a city for art lovers. Famous artists from many corners of the world have brought their works here to be shown at 20 landmark sites.  (Download here)

Thanks for information provided by:
– Bangkok Art and Culture Centre
– Museum Siam
– National Palace Museum

The Making of the “Super Ung-Lo,” Ratchaburi’s Fuel-Efficient Cook Stove

The Making of the “Super Ung-Lo,” Ratchaburi’s Fuel-Efficient Cook Stove

The old-fashioned cook stove known as “Ung-Lo” has long been a manifestation of traditional knowledge of the people of Thailand. It’s fair to say that the charcoal stove can make food taste and smell better than can gas-fired cooking ranges. Precisely, nothing can replicate the natural smoky flavor of char. Nowadays, although the ubiquitous influence of gas-fired cooking ranges is felt by everybody, there’s always a demand for the charcoal stove. That said, we believe there’s at least one “Ung-Lo” in practically every household to meet every cooking need, whether it be barbecuing low and slow or cooking with high heat.

Story: Trairat Songpao /// Photography: Kosol Paipoei

Ruam Sukhawattago is owner of “Gold Stoves,” an old manufacturing factory located in Ratchaburi Province. He kindly takes a break from work to show us around and share his experience. No doubt it’s an opportunity to observe traditional knowledge at work and see how the cloning process has evolved over time to fit modern circumstances. In the process, Ruam succeeds in crafting a fuel-efficient cook stove that he calls the “Super Ung-Lo.” The product is made from materials sourced directly from the community, such as clay and rice husk ash. In all, the handcrafted cook stove takes ten days from start to finish.

Super Ung-Lo Super Ung-Lo Super Ung-Lo

How It’s Made

First of all, clay goes through a curing process to become liquefied overnight. Then the soft clay is mixed with soil and rice husk ash. The ratio of soil to ash is 2:1. Work the moistened clay mix into paste with the hands until it’s thick and malleable enough to be molded to its final shape.

Let it cure for 12 hours before attaching three cooking pot supports to the inside wall of the fire chamber. The support points should be raised slightly higher than the mouth of a stove. Rub off the rough edges on the clay surface to give it a nice finish. Cut an opening in the lower part of the wall to make an air inlet. Then, let stand for five days before putting it in a kiln, where the clay stove becomes hardened by heat.

Next is the making of a perforated clay brick or grill that separates the fire box from the ash chamber below. The lower room doubles as air inlet and ash removal port. The round grill prevents the fire from falling into the space underneath. Traditionally, a total of 61 holes are made while the brick is soft and easy to cut. The grill is fired at the same time as is the stove body.

From the kiln, the hardened earthenware is placed inside a metal casing for protection. The void space is filled with rice husk ash for heat insulation. Finally, it’s time to seal the top circumference with cement mix and install the perforated brick to complete the process.

Super Ung-Lo Super Ung-Lo

The “Super Ung-Lo” cook stove is designed to save fuel in line with the policy of the Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency. It differs from traditional cook stoves in that:

  1. Shape: It’s perfectly shaped to store thermal energy in material by raising its temperatures.
  2. Stove top circumference: The stove mouth is capable of supporting 9 sizes of cooking pots (sizes 16-32)
  3. Support points: The three support points are raised above the top circumference only slightly to minimize heat loss.
  4. Fire chamber: Relatively speaking, its fire chamber is smaller than that of a traditional cook stove, which translates into less fuel being used.
  5. Grill: The perforated clay brick is made thicker for durability. Its efficiency comes from a forceful current of air that is pulled through many smaller holes using convection.

Super Ung-Lo Super Ung-Lo

Touring the factory, we come across so many cook stoves to the extent it gets us thinking about the future of the age-old industry. Will this occupation continue to have pride of place in modern circumstances? Interestingly enough, Ruam replies:

“At one time, the US Embassy invited me to join my counterparts from Laos and Vietnam for a meeting on Ung-Lo making in Vientiane. I represented Thailand in that event. At the time, many versions of cook stoves were discussed and compared in a bid to identify a design that produced the highest heat, had the least impact on the environment, and the most energy efficient. The Thai Ung-Lo proved to be the case. It started a fire in the least amount of time. By comparison, it produced the highest heat with water reaching the boiling point very quickly. In fact, the kettle boiled twice while the Vietnamese stove had only just started a fire.

“It turned out that theirs was a biofuel stove, which produced a lot of smoke. Experiments showed the Thai stove was made to a high quality standard. I couldn’t help wondering why the Americans were so interested in the Ung-Lo. Their answer was that 20 years from now, humans would have turned around to using traditional cook stoves due to natural gas being used up. Oils derived from petroleum would have been depleted less than 50 years from now, unlike wood which is a renewable product. So, now I understand.”

Super Ung-Lo

We came away feeling good knowing we have formed friendships and understanding with each other. It made us happy to go by the saying, “Whatever you do in life, do it for love.” Ruam Sukhawatago no doubt was of the same opinion.

For a chance to visit the “Gold Stoves” factory, or get yourself something good like a “Super Ung-Lo,” call 08-7977-8677 for information.

Source :


Different Names Same Good Food / Anyone for a Yong Tau Fu?

Different Names Same Good Food / Anyone for a Yong Tau Fu?

In Malaysia and Singapore, the popular noodle soup is known as “Yong Tau Fu”. In Thailand, it goes by the name “Yen Ta Fo”. Different names for the same good food!

A mix of crispy fries is readied for a Malaysian-style Yong Tau Fu.

Originally a part of traditional Hakka cuisine, the scrumptious noodle soup is enjoyed by many people across peninsular Southeast Asia. Particularly in Malaysia, it has pride of place among top 100 dishes with a national heritage status.

Yong Tau Fu has been among many big hits on the menu for hundreds of years. Its various recipes were brought in by the Hakka people, one of major groups who migrated into the Region from southeastern China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

Malaysian-style Yong Tau Fu with a side dish of crispy fried condiments. They can be added to soups or eaten with dipping sauces.

As its name implies, the recipe is made of tofu stuffed with ground pork and then deep-fried to give it a distinctive crispy flavor. It is the perfect match for a bowl of soup, good with dipping sauces, and makes a delicious accompaniment for noodle. Nowadays near-original versions of Yong Tau Fu can still be found everywhere in Malaysia.

Meantime, the Thais like their Yen Ta Fo slightly different from the original. They treat it as a noodle dish that comes either with or without deep-fried tofu. Instead, the Thai recipe features fish balls, pleasantly crisp calamari, pig’s blood cakes, and tender shoots and leaves of water spinach. Some Yen Ta Fo joints offer pork-stuffed tofu, while others may do without it entirely.

Known as Yen Ta Fo, the Thai noodle meal with its signature pink soup is served with pig’s blood cakes and tender shoots and leaves of water spinach.
Hakka noodle, as the Thais call it, is a variation of the Yen Ta Fo recipe.

The Thai version is distinguished by the signature pink soup that gets its color from fermented red bean curd. The Thais also like their Yen Ta Fo with a variety of condiments, including taro fries, shrimp balls, jellyfish, and wood ear, aka black fungus. Some like their Yen Ta Fo the Thai way in spicy chili soups. A lot of people confuse Yen Ta Fo with a similar recipe without the pink soup. Although made with the same ingredients, the latter is known as “Kuaytaew Khae”, literally Hakka noodle.

Ingredient of Malaysian-style Yong Tau Fu
Be spoilt for choice! There’s nothing like a full-course Yong Tau Fu served Malaysian-style.

Traditionally, a Malaysian-style Yong Tau Fu begins with first-course meals consisting of a mix of crispy fries, such as tofu, purple eggplant, stuffed meals, and sweet pepper, aka bell pepper. It’s hard to beat a good dipping sauce to start with. Then it’s time to eat them with a soup and add noodle to complement a great meal. Yong Tau Fu is ranked among Malaysia’s top 100 dishes with a national heritage status, along with other big hits such as Nasi Lemak (a rice dish cooked in coconut milk with anchovies and hot sauces), Nasi Ayam (chicken rice), and Ketupat (rice dumpling in palm leaf pouch).

Queueing for a Yong Tau Fu in Singapore. If you’re patient, it will get to your turn.
(Left) A Singapore-style Yong Tau Fu comes in a noodle soup. (Right) Crispy fried anchovies, locally known as “Ikan Bilis”, add flavor to a Yong Tau Fu meal.

In Singapore, where Yong Tau Fu is a culinary success story, rice vermicelli is served on a plate along with a bowl of spicy soup called Laksa. It is recommended to try this with Chee Cheong Fun, a rice noodle roll that comes in either dry or wet versions. There are plenty of Yong Tau Fu joints to be found. The price is reasonable, but keep in mind the line is rather long. If you are patient, it will get to your turn. Enjoy your meal!


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Souvenirs of a Myanmar Visit

Souvenirs of a Myanmar Visit

Nothing impresses visitors to Myanmar more than tea, nuts, and Balachaung. And there is more to the Land of Pagodas than “Thanaka,” the popular anti-UV facial powder. Living ASEAN introduces the three favorites that foreign tourists like to take home as souvenirs of a Myanmar visit.

/// MYANMAR ///
Story: Samutcha Viraporn /// Photography: Sitthisak Namkham, Samutcha Viraporn


– Tea –

Tea drinking has long been a popular culture in Myanmar. Small tea shops with plastic furniture in vivid shades are ubiquitous across the city. Like old school cafes, they are favorite hang-outs for people to socialize or just chill out sipping tea. The modest shops in peaceful settings offer the country’s all time favorite, black tea with sweetened condensed milk. Legend has it that tea growing was initiated by King Alaung Sithu (1113-1167 AD), in the northern part of what is now Shan State. Later when the country came under British rule, Myanmar grew tea on commercial scales for exports to Britain in much the same way as India did throughout the Colonial period.

Nowadays the aromatic beverage made the traditional Myanmar way has become increasingly popular among foreign visitors. Many tourists take it home as a souvenir of their visits. For instant tea lovers, Myanmar tea comes in 3-in-1 pouches ready to be reconstituted into a cup of tea. For a premium tea experience, try tea leaves that come in sealed bags. There are many varieties to choose, from English Breakfast to Earl Grey to Jasmine to Green Tea. Two popular brands are Royal and Nagar Pyan.



– Nuts –

Laphet is Burmese for fermented or pickled tea leaves. Popular among the citizens of Myanmar, it’s a cold dish made of various mixtures of nuts and tea leaves. It started out as a condiment to a cup of tea, but eventually grew to become a salad recipe on its own. Various nuts are cooked in oil, mixed with fermented tea leaves, and seasoned with chilies and garlic. The export version of Laphet comes in boxes for tourists to take home as souvenirs. Whilst there, don’t forget to try peanut energy bars, and the Myanmar Peanut Crisp Candy. The latter is similar to Toobtub peanut snacks of Thailand. The name refers to the sound of ingredients being pummeled in the making of the tasty snack.


– Balachaung –

An accompaniment to hot steamy rice, the Myanmar Balachaung is made with fried shallots, garlic, ginger, shrimp and red chilies. Its tantalizing aroma comes from the fact that all the ingredients are fried crisp. It is set aside to cool down completely before being stored in airtight containers. Properly stored Balachaung keeps well for a fairly long period. It is easily transported and goes together well with Thai-style omelet that is cooked in a frying pan until firm. Versions of the crispy mouthwatering condiment are also made by many households around Mae Sot town on the Thailand-Myanmar border.

The above have been three favorites that we have discovered on this Myanmar trip. We trust that our friends across the ASEAN find the information useful, and that your next itinerary will include Laphet, tea products, and the delicious Myanmar Balachaung.


50 Years of Proof of the 100 Houses Project // When Traditional Khmer is Mixed with Modernism by Vann Molyvann

50 Years of Proof of the 100 Houses Project // When Traditional Khmer is Mixed with Modernism by Vann Molyvann

Bringing the design concepts of  Le Corbusier to Cambodia, the legendary architect Vann Molyvann completed his 100 Houses Project in 1967. 50 years on, what do we see there now?

/// Cambodia ///

Story: Samutcha Viraporn /// Photography: Sitthisak Namkham


The original structures of some abandoned 100 Houses homes remain: raised floors, kitchen chimneys, etc.
Time and neglect leave their marks. Left: living room; right: bedroom
Original stairway and metal railing

Before the Khmer Rouge period, Vann Molyvann was Cambodian architecture’s biggest star. After receiving a 1946 scholarship and studying in France he returned as Cambodia’s National Architect, combining modernist with traditional Cambodian design to produce such grand works as the Chaktomuk Conference Hall, Olympic National Sports Complex, Institute of Foreign Languages, and the “100 Houses Project,” designed as employee housing for The National Bank of Cambodia at Phnom Penh. “100 Houses” was started in 1965 and completed in 1967.

Typically a Project house is a concrete structure holding a large living room and bedroom, raised above the ground with a 7.2 meter span between support posts. Floor, door and window frames, and roof frame are of wood. The roof has a Cambodian-style slant, and for good ventilation, windows reach almost to the ceiling. Kitchen and bathroom are built separate from the main house.

Cambodian family house where Martin Aerne lives
Stairway and entrance gate

After the Khmer Rouge takeover and the massive changes it brought, Vann Molyvann moved to Switzerland. Many of his creations such as this project were abandoned and overgrown, or randomly preempted by new occupants. Living ASEAN recently visited Tuk Thla district to find out how the village looked after all this time, and met Martin Aerne, Swiss architect and teacher, who now lives in one of the “100 Houses.”

Martin Aerne’s living room becomes an architectural office
Bathroom and kitchen section separate from main house
Corner of living room, leading into bedroom
Green space. Tall windows. Houses arranged to catch the breeze and not block each other’s views.

Martin Aerne tells us about coming to Cambodia, meeting Vann Molyvann, and discussing how to preserve works from the age of New Khmer Architecture. This prompted him to rent a space and open an architecture office on the upper floor of a Cambodian family home.

Martin notes that for privacy, homes in the Project are designed with alternating levels. Bedroom windows of one house aren’t open to view from the  next. The porch of one house looks out on the garden of another. And even with no common garden, there’s green everywhere.

Martin Aerne, architect and architecture instructor in Phnom Penh
Martin Aerne’s residence

Not many of the old-style houses remain: new owners have demolished them, rebuilt, or added on willy-nilly with no thought to historical value. Two or three abandoned houses from the original project are fortunately still here, since even in their ramshackle state they’re a great aid for studying Vann Molyvann’s amazing work from the 50s  and 60s, of which on a 1967 visit Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said, “I hope, one day, my city will look like this.

Most homes in the 100 Houses Project have been demolished, added onto, or rebuilt
Blueprint of original house:


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Most Inexpensive Michelin-starred Restaurant Opens Thailand Branch

Most Inexpensive Michelin-starred Restaurant Opens Thailand Branch

In a new challenge for the celebrated “hero of street food,” today Singapore’s Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, the cheapest restaurant in the world to achieve a starred Michelin rating, is opening a Thailand branch in the Asoke area of Bangkok.

/// Thailand / Singapore ///
Story: Samutcha Viraporn /// Photography: Sitthisak Namkham


Liao Fan Hon Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle in Chinatown Food Complex

From the outside, Singapore’s Chinatown Food Complex doesn’t look like anything special; but in 2016 its own “Hawker Chan,” a food stall specializing in Singapore-style chicken rice, brought a lot of buzz to the gourmet world by receiving a Michelin star, immediately becoming the cheapest  Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. Already popular, the shop experienced such an increase in customer volume that chef/owner Chan Hon Meng decided to expand into a second branch. This is now tucked away on Smith Street, an alley across from the food center, under the name “Liao Fan Hon Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle.” Branch number three quickly followed in the form of an air-conditioned restaurant on Teng Street, just outside the Chinatown Food Complex. Meals there are a bit more expensive: instead of 2 Singapore dollars per plate, chicken rice is priced at 3.8 dollars.

Liao Fan Hon Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle on Smith street
Liao Fan Hon Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle on Smith street

  After a lifetime of hard and conscientious work, chef/owner Chan Hong Meng himself is now known as “the hero of street food” in Singapore. His shop’s popularity has grown so much that customers have to wait in a long line that snakes all around the food center.

Hawker Chan in Bangkok / Photo: Samutcha Viraporn
Hawker Chan in Bangkok / Photo: Samutcha Viraporn

The added branches helped to accommodate customer volume, but it wasn’t long at all before the Hawker Chan name went international. Now the Terminal 21 trade center in Thailand hosts the latest branch, an eatery with the slogan “World’s First Michelin-starred Street Food Stall” still featuring the same basic menu as the Singapore shops: chicken with rice or egg noodles, chicken with char siu, crispy pork, and pork ribs.


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How 3 ASEAN Capitals Deal with Urban Flooding

How 3 ASEAN Capitals Deal with Urban Flooding

It’s hot in the summer, and the rainy season brings lots of thunderstorms. When rainfall overwhelms the ability of drainage systems, flood control is the only resort many cities have developed in a bid to prevent more flooding in the future. Living ASEAN looks into how three regional capitals — Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, and Bangkok — deal with urban flooding.

///ASEAN ///

Kuala Lumpur is one of rainiest cities in Southeast Asia with average annual rainfall as high as 2,393.6 mm. Situated at the confluence of two rivers, the city came into being as an important center of mining and trade in bygone times. Over time it attracted native Malays, Chinese workers, and immigrants from the Indian subcontinent. As the city grows, many planning updates have taken place especially along the waterfront. The initiatives include the “River of Life” project, which is aimed at reviving and restoring health and vitality to the Gombak and the Klang rivers.

Photo: Sitthhisak Namkham
Photo: Sitthhisak Namkham

In redeveloping the landscape, the authorities cleaned up the polluted rivers and got rid of unsightly concrete walkways along the riverfront. They opened up areas at the water’s edge by putting in shops, restaurants, and recreational spaces. Easily accessible to the public, the redesigned river corridor has drawn many people to the water.

One of Kuala Lumpur’s most ambitious projects is the Stormwater Management and Road Tunnel, or SMART. The mega project doubles as a storm drainage and road tunnel that helps reduce peak hour traffic. It’s also the longest storm drain tunnel in Southeast Asia. On dry days it functions as a normal motorway carrying traffic in and out of the city’s CBD. On days of heavy rains when rivers rise, the tunnel is closed to through traffic and functions as a storm drain system. The 9.7-kilometer-long tunnel works like a subterranean conduit carrying water to outlying natural r systems, thereby saving built environments in the CBD and around Jamek Mosque from being inundated. Nonetheless, flashfloods do occur occasionally. Oftentimes garbage-choked storm sewers are to blame.


Big floods in Jakarta, Indonesia. Project: JEDI. / Photo: Farhana Asnap / World Bank

Jakarta comes second with average 1,821-mm annual rainfall. It too faces the threat of flash floods as storm drains and waterways are choked with waste. Over time, shallow riverbeds, plastic garbage, and rampant encroachments combined to restrict the flow of stormwater out of urban areas. The authorities responded with a campaign to clean up all 13 waterways making them safe for riverside residents to swim. And the labor force to achieve that objective was readily available. Residents on the waterfront were hired to collect waterborne waste, thereby creating plenty of employment opportunities and increasing environmental awareness. The initiative cost 3.1 million Rupiah per month and provided jobs for more than 4,000 people daily. And it is showing good results. Take for example the Krukut River, which recently was blackened by pollution and solid waste, from old mattresses to discarded furniture. Nowadays more people are seen returning to swim in it like old times.


A few hours after the rain at a car showroom on Ratchadapisek Road, Bangkok / Photo: Sukwan Attajarusit
Photo: Sukwan Attajarusit

With average 1,466-mm annual rainfall, Bangkok is on the brink of floods with every rain despite it having plenty of canals and drainage systems. It doesn’t take long after rain for urban roadways to be inundated with floodwaters. The government sector has implemented a massive drainage tunnel project, but that is of little avail in the practical affairs of life in the city. Geographically Bangkok sits on a flat plain that rises only slightly above the mean sea level. That said, flood control is the only resort the city has in preventing or reducing the detrimental effects of flash floods. Its drainage systems work by channeling stormwater into canals, which in turn empty into natural water bodies via the flood gates. As the city grows, more rains continue to overwhelm the capacity of drainage systems that are severely choked with debris. With every rain, it’s not unusual to find workers pick up waterborne waste in areas near the water gates. During dry season, time is spent cleaning up storm drains and deepening of canals at intervals to prepare for more rain.

Big Floods in Thailand, 2011 / Photo: Aphirux Suksa
Big Floods in Thailand, 2011 / Photo: Aphirux Suksai


On the big picture, the three ASEAN capitals are facing a similar problem. They sit on flood plains, and flooding usually occurs as an overflow of water from natural water bodies, such as rivers. Interestingly, the people of each country have made the best of circumstances. This is evident in the way residential architecture has evolved over time. Houses on stilts with steeply sloped roofing and extended overhangs are emblematic of the region rich in local wisdom. The homes raised on piles protect against flooding, while steep roofing drains rain water fast. Meantime, long overhangs protect the interior from the elements.

As the city grows, each capital has its own way of fighting urban flooding. The multipurpose, subterranean conduit seems to work well for KL, as does the clean-up campaign in Jakarta. The drainage system is an essential part of living in the city, and both the government and private sectors must cooperate in a bit to prevent or reduce flooding in the future.


Inside RedQ / AirAsia’s New Home

Inside RedQ / AirAsia’s New Home

Having a good personality is vital. That’s what AirAsia is made of. Its new headquarters building sheds light on its fun and vibrant personality – attractive, full of life and enthusiasm.

/// Malaysia ///

Story: LivingASEAN /// Photography: AirAsia



AirAsia’s new head office is located next to KLIA2, an acronym for the low-cost carrier terminal at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The airport itself is in Sepang District, some 45 km south of Kuala Lumpur city. The brand new HQ building provides over 18,000 square meters of office and utility spaces. While the six-story building was under construction, AirAsia’s employees were invited to participate in a naming contest. And the winning name was “RedQ,” which stood for Red Quarters. The choice was obviously inspired by the airline’s vibrant corporate color.

RedQ now serves as global headquarters for both AirAsia and AirAsia X. The first three floors are reserved for car parks and storage facilities. The rest are offices manned by an energetic staff of more than 1,400.






The office space boasts an exuberant industrial look designed to evoke images of vibrant tech companies in the Silicon Valley. There is a common area with green patches and beanbag chairs for the staff to use during breaks. Each office level is assigned a different theme color to highlight a fun and energetic personality, while the meeting rooms feature distinct design. Some of them are designed to appear as if they were hovering in midair, resembling the air traffic control.

After photographs of the RedQ interior had gone viral on the Internet, compliments and good wishes came flooding in on social media. Many were sent in by those aspiring to be a part of the AirAsia workforce. That is understandable. Who doesn’t want to work with one of the hippest airlines in the ASEAN?


Which is the real Pad Thai?

Which is the real Pad Thai?

Pad Thai is one of Thailand’s best-known dishes. What’s not so well known is that some noodles sold to tourists under that name isn’t Pad Thai at all, and this is especially true with what you’re liable to find sold from cart vendors around Khao San Road. Let’s take a look at what Pad Thai is really all about.

/// Thailand ///

Story: Samutcha Viraporn /// English Version: Peter Montalbano /// Photography: Rithirong Chanthongsuk, Supawan Sa-ard

Pad Thai at a famous restaurant it the Pratu Phi district. Here, it’s said, the prime minister who invented the dish came to eat and gave the taste a big “thumbs up.”

In fact 99% of the restaurants in Thailand sell authentic Pad Thai with only slightly varying recipes, and all with the same ingredients. The basic recipe calls for kuai tiao rice noodles stir-fried with tofu, chopped garlic chive, chopped sweet radish, dried shrimp, bean sprout, flavored with mandarin juice, sugar, and roasted peanuts, and eaten with fresh vegetables like garlic chive, raw bean sprout, and banana blossom. Another very popular variation includes the addition of big shrimp into the stir-fry mix. Pad Thai sold from Khao San tourist area carts, though, has quite a different taste. If you gave some of that to a Thai, that person might say, “this is actually pad si iw (soya-flavored stir-fry) with skinny noodles, more like.”

Cart selling Pad Thai along Khao San Road. Look, the cook is a foreigner!
Some cart vendors offer a variety of noodle types to chose from.

Of course, if you aren’t yourself too familiar with Pad Thai you probably won’t suffer much, because whatever noodle dish it is probably won’t taste too horrible, but if you’re looking for the real thing, this is not Pad Thai. Starting off with the flavor, they use dark soy sauce instead of the delicate tamarind juice with its hidden sour and sweet flavor. They follow up by putting cabbage, khana (Chinese kale), and carrots instead of those pungently fragrant garlic chive leaves. Done that way, Pad Thai becomes a completely different kind of stir-fried noodles.


Fresh shrimp Pad Thai adds large shrimp, and the tamarind sauce/shrimp oil combination gives the noodles a more reddish tint.
False Pad Thai. This has a very salty and oily taste, and also uses the wrong vegetables.

So, then, what is that real Pad Thai all about? In the early days of the Thai republic, around World War II, Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram was Prime Minister, and he wanted to create a Thai dish which would express Thai national identity. The following video clip, produced by the Thai Tourism Authority, does a good job explaining the origin and composition of Pad Thai: