Sunday, 29 July 2012

Tiffany's Show

It's high-stepping, toe-tapping and drop dead gorgeous - guest blogger John Borthwick meets the stars of Pattaya's renowned cabaret, Tiffany's Show.

“When my parents came to see the show, they couldn’t recognise me on stage,” says curvaceous Lada, a star dancer at the celebrated Tiffany’s Show in Pattaya. It’s not surprising that they didn’t recognise her. When she left home a few years before, Lada had been a male. 

Now transformed in every sense, she is sporting a billowing gown and towering, blond pompadour and cuts a formidable figure ahead of a chorus line of similarly flamboyant dancers. 

Tiffany’s Show, the world’s largest transvestite cabaret originated as a one-man performance on New Year’s Eve 1974. Today, Tiffany’s 1,000-seat theatre rings out five times a day to a musical soundtrack that ranges from Thailand to Broadway, Bollywood to Seoul, via Tina Turner. A cast of 90 katheoy (transvestite/transgender) and 20 male dancers perform an extravaganza of high-stepping, drop-dead gorgeous, lip-synched routines. 

I catch up with Lada and her sister dancer, Fang, a willowy 28-year old who seems stitched into a black gown that displays an impossibly slender waist. At 169 cm tall, plus her 14 cm heels, this is a woman to literally look up to. Wasp waists, silicone curves and dazzling routines are all part of the showgirls’ lives. Above all, they live to dance, to blaze before a rapt audience. “I love to dance, and to make people happy,” says Fang. “It’s the very best part of my job.” 

In the dressing room before curtain there are no hissy-fits. Just a low murmur of chat above the swish of make-up brushes. Each performer at this point is a plain chrysalis in a dressing gown — still a long way from the butterfly who, radiant in silk, spangles and adrenaline, will strut her brief hour upon the Tiffany stage.

It’s showtime. On with the follies. The next hour is an extravaganza of all that glitters, mimes, twirls, kicks, swoons and sparkles, with even a Tina Turner lookalike. There’s no nudity — the fun is more vamp than camp — and the high-tech sets are as sumptuous as the leggy performers and their flash dancing. 

With a grand razzle-dazzle finale, Fang, Lada and the other principal showgirls descend majestically from the stage. With waists like fleeting hourglasses, plus spinnaker décolletages, they sweep through the foyer, heading to the Tiffany forecourt for the show after the show. Here, tourists jostle to be photographed with the girls — who tower above them. All for a good tip, of course. 

Saturday, 21 July 2012

A Sip of Siam: Thai Cocktails - Part 2

I don't know about you, but I'm hanging out for cocktail hour on a Thai beach, sand between my toes and a cool, fruity drink in hand. Guest blogger, food writer Cynthia Barnes, offers up a sip of Siam, for you to recreate those special Thai moments until your next visit to the Land of Smiles...

As a follow-up to last week’s delicious beverages, here are a few more along with a recipe for a dead-easy cocktail snack that’s popular in bars across the Land of Smiles. If you don’t feel like fussing with shakers and such, try subbing tropical fruit-flavoured canned sodas (like passionfruit or lychee) for your regular lemon-lime in simpler mixed drinks.

Grapefruit & Lemongrass Chiller
  • 300ml (½ pint) vodka
  • 120ml (4fl oz) orange liqueur
  • 120ml (4fl oz) sugar syrup
  • 200ml (1.3 pint) grapefruit juice
  • 8 stems of lemongrass, crushed
Crush 8 stems of lemongrass, keeping each stem in one piece, and place in the bottom of a large pitcher. Add  vodka, orange liqueur, sugar syrup and grapefruit juice. Stir and chill until ready to serve. Fill with ice then serve in martini glasses, garnish with a lemongrass straw. (For bonus points, try infusing your own lemongrass vodka.)
Khao Jai Ginger Julep
  • 45ml bourbon (sang som if you’re adventurous!)
  • 15ml palm sugar
  • 10 ml fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
  • soda water
  • lime twist
Muddle the ginger and brown sugar the sugar is moistened and nearly dissolved. Add a bit of soda to melt the sugar, stir in the whiskey. Fill a highball glass with ice, pour in soda to taste and garnish with a twist of lime.

Thai Bar Peanuts
This concoction couldn’t be easier, but warning: It WILL make you thirsty. Simply take a quantity of shelled peanuts (raw preferred, but roasted will do) and stir-fry them quickly in a small amount of oil with a bit of fresh chopped bird chili. Drain and salt to taste. Moreish!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Freewheelin' Bangkok

Forget tuk-tuks. Three wheels are one too many. Guest blogger John Borthwick explores Bangkok on two wheels — a bicycle at night, then a Segway, with its wheels side-by-side.

Bangkok by dark by night
I saddle up with other riders at Grasshopper Adventures, near Khao San Road. Our Thai guide, Anna gives a few instructions and we head off into the whirling tuk-tuk derby of Bangkok traffic. Next to me a young Asian banker is riding one-handed and tweeting with the other. The Polish couple behind us concentrate on riding two-hands. 
We stop from time to time while Anna gives a potted history of the temple or fortress we’ve come to. Piling onto a ferry, we cross the Chao Phraya River then take back roads to Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn. At night its glittering stupas are spectacularly lit and the grounds are free of the throngs who flock here by day. We wander among its spires and Bodhisattva statues, all bathed in golden light. Other than the spells cast by long shadows, there’s not another soul present.
Back in the saddle, we glide along a riverside footway where you might worship in either a Chinese temple, a Christian church or Buddhist wat. Re-crossing the river we come to Pak Klong Dalat night flower market and its crush of perfumes, colours, buyers and sellers. 
Wat Pho, home of the burial stupas of the first kings of the Chakri dynasty, is ours for the wandering. Cats and chatting monks have replaced daytime’s tide of visitors. I could loaf all night amid these golden spires but it’s time again to roll on. We pass the sleeping Grand Palace and too soon finish back in Khao San Road. Three hours have passed in a tweet.

BKK the Segway
“Think I’ll reinvent the wheel.” Did the Segway’s inventor say this to himself? A Segway personal transporter looks like a cross between a lawn mower and an upright vacuum cleaner that you stand on. I’m going to ride one of these mutant scooters around Bangkok’s Rattanakosin area.
“In 30 minutes anyone can be a Segway professional,” jokes my guide. I don a helmet and soon get the hang of this contraption: just lean forward and it takes off. Same for reverse. No brake, no accelerator.
Our electric pogo sticks are governed to 10 kmph — down from 20 — so we’re not laying down any rubber. Cutting through the grounds of a Buddhist temple, we do a circuit of Sanam Luang’s broad lawns. From a passing coach Thai tourists take pictures of us.
The large wheels absorb most bumps as we glide past the elaborate the Ministry of Defence and the 92 cannon in its grounds. Nearby, the dreaming spires of the Grand Palace rise over a high wall. “That looks cool,” calls a passing motorist as we stop for a break in Saran Rom park, previously a “royals only” domain. 
As we cruise back to base, after 10 kilometres I conclude that, no, “Mr Segway” didn’t reinvent the wheel, but he did invent how to see Bangkok without breaking into a sweat. 
                                                  (pics: John Borthwick)

Thursday, 5 July 2012

A Sip of Siam: Thai Cocktails

Travel writer, foodie and beverage queen Cynthia Barnes shares her favourite Thai cocktails, the ideal way to unwind after a day on the beach or hanging in the city.

Relaxing with an adult beverage is a Thai tradition honoured by both visitors and locals. In 2009, the Tourism Authority of Thailand Thai created a national cocktail, hoping to lure visitors with 'Thailand in a Glass'. Although it hasn’t caught on like Manhattans or Singapore Slings, the 'Siam Sunray' is still a Land of Smiles-worthy sip.

Try it (and the drinks below) for a refreshing reminder of happy hours in lush and lovely Thailand.

Siam Sunray
45 ml vodka
30 ml coconut liqueur 
15 ml simple syrup (make it with palm sugar for extra flavour)
½ fresh Thai chili
3 thin slices of fresh ginger
1 kaffir lime leaf
3 slices lemongrass 
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
Club soda

In a shaker, muddle the chili, ginger, lime leaf and lemongrass. Add vodka, simple syrup, coconut liqueur and lime juice. Shake well. Strain into a tall glass filled with ice and top with Club soda. Garnish with a lime slice and Thai chili.

Basil Lime Punch
2 bottles of vodka, chilled
4 1/2 cups freshly squeezed lime juice
1 cup basil leaves
1/2 cup palm sugar
1 cup soda water
lime wedges (for garnish)

Muddle basil and palm sugar in a large pitcher. Add the vodka, lime juice and soda 
and stir well. Serve over ice.

1/2 cup rambutan flesh (canned or fresh)
45 mls ginger-flavoured vodka or ginger liqueur
15 mls Cointreau
30 mls Club soda

Muddle rambutans in a cocktail shaker. Fill shaker halfway with ice, then add remaining ingredients. Shake vigorously, then strain into a martini glass. Garnish with orange slice and lemongrass stalk.