Where to stay in Phuket: La Flora Resort and Spa in Khaolak

I fell in love with Thailand on my first visit, many years ago and that love affair grows every time I return. It’s very appropriately called the Land of Smiles – there’s always plenty of smiling going on – which is extremely catching. This was my third visit to Phuket (my first to Khaolak), which makes it my favourite Thai destination – so far anyway.

Today we’re heading an hour’s drive north of Phuket International Airport to La Flora Resort & Spa in Khaolak.

The hotel’s set in beautiful gardens with two pools, overlooking the golden beach of Bang Liang and those perfect Andaman Sea vistas.

Here’s what I loved about La Flora.

The beach

La Flora sits on a beautiful bay framed by palm trees. The beach is perfect for long post-breakfast meanders before settling down for the inevitable sunbed session. I was often the only person paddling through the beautifully warm water and watching the lone fisherman in action.

The sweeping beach is perfect for sunny meanders

The heavenly view from my subbed

Colourful boats alongside the beach

The drinks on the beach

There’s great beach-side service at La Flora. From frothy cappuccinos, fruity shakes and daily cocktail specials, all delivered to your sunbed for you to savour.

A mango shake makes beach life better

Cucumber gin and tonic overlooking the sea

The pool-side rooms

We upgraded from a regular to a pool-side room. And what a good idea that was.

Our spacious and comfy room offered all the facilities on my really-want list: a fridge, kettle with coffee and tea, a safe, good air conditioning, plenty of fluffy towels and great wifi. The bathroom had a huge shower and a magnificent spa bath complete with lights that changed colour as you submerged yourself in clouds of bubbles. Very indulgent.

The comfortable, huge bed in our stylish room

The room opened out onto a deck complete with two sunbeds (a lot of sunbed action going on at La Flora, you can see). One more step and you were in the sparkling blueness of the pool – private for those lucky enough to be living alongside it.

The pools

Step out of your room for an early morning dip, swim up to the central pool bar or expend some energy doing lengths in perfect peace. The sparkling water and fluttering palm trees made a fantastic scene to open the blinds to in the morning.

Living the pool life – steps from our room

And here’s the jacuzzi. Simply press the button and enjoy some relaxing bubbles on the top step.

Our own personal jacuzzi right outside our stunning room

You’re spoilt for swimming choice at La Flora as there’s also the main pool adjacent to the beach. You’ll have to be up fairly early if you want to  nab one of the overlooking sunbeds. It’s an active pool with swimmers, paddlers and those simply enjoying the view.

The main pool is right on the edge of the beach

The food

How I love the breakfast buffets in South East Asia. The colourful platters of tropical fruit make for a delightful start to any day. My three favourites – the combination of Ps – Passion fruit, Pomelo and Papaya. All made to taste even more delicious by eating them overlooking the beach. And that’s just the start.

The perfect way to start the day

Gotta love a multi-course breakfast. The Asian selection was quite intimidating – all that decision making first thing in the morning. A couple of times a week there was a huge dim sum offering which I dived into.

Lift the lid to reveal myriad dim sum

The restaurant had tables right on the edge of the beach which we always headed for whatever the meal. You couldn’t find a nicer eating environment. For lunch we often tucked into starters from the a la carte menu, all of which were delightful, like these chicken satays.

Eating chicken satays overlooking the sea

On the beach just to the side of the hotel was a street food cart. Or should that be a beach food cart? Corn piled high, large, luscious spring rolls, satays and my favourite Thai salad – green papaya made in front of you.

Beach food delights right next door

We ate dinner several times off the a la carte menu which offered a great choice. And twice a week the hotel set up an incredible buffet spread showcasing a wide range of Asian and Western dishes.

It’s also worth mentioning that there was a decent selection of good, well-priced wine on offer which is not always the case in Thailand. As wine drinkers it made our La Flora experience just that little bit more enjoyable.

The service

Thailand is known for its friendly service and La Flora didn’t disappoint. Waiters made an effort to get to know you and make you feel welcome and everywhere you went you were greeted with a cheery sawsdee ka. One night the manager even got an extra table set up for us overlooking the beach when they were already all reserved.

The entertainment

We enjoyed listening to the duo from the Philippines who sang on a few of the nights, took requests and could perform a mean version of Candle in the Wind. Plus one night we were treated to beautifully elegant traditional Thai dancing. Here are the lovely ladies.

Beautiful, graceful and colourful traditional Thai dancers

The nearby town

Okay, this isn’t actually about the hotel but the fact that it was set just back from a charming little town is definitely worth a mention. Five minutes walk up the street to myriad massage opportunities, rustic al fresco restaurants and bars and shops for all your necessities. Oh and a marvellous array of street food, too.

The street food is great in Khaolak

An array of tasty skewers to dazzle

La Flora Resort & Spa is the perfect get-away-from-it-all spot for a relaxed beachside holiday with beach walks and plenty of swimming, delicious food and warm service. They do offer a range of excursions if you’re inclined to explore the area more, but as ever I found it hard to drag myself off that perfect beach.

 

The taste of Thailand in Covent Garden

I love Thai food, there’s so much variety  and everything’s bursting with flavour. I visit Thailand whenever I get the chance and my favourite part of the trip is trying different dishes every day. I have established some firm favourites over the years.

So today I’m delighted to be combining some of my favourite food with my favourite part of London. Thai food in Covent Garden – gotta love the international flavours of London Town.

SUDA Thai is tucked away in a beautiful courtyard just steps away from the hustle and bustle of this popular area of the capital. It’s a real haven and you feel even happier with the warm welcome you’re given. Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles and I discovered that the Thais have thirteen terms describing different types of smiles – a bit like the eskimos do for snow. You’ve got to understand there’s plenty of smiling going on in Thailand, and there also certainly is in SUDA Thai.

The menu is impressive, and pretty huge, taking some paging through. We were directed to the section headed E-Sarn Classic – dishes from north-eastern Thailand – which include different versions of green papaya salad (som tum), which I eat large amounts of on Thai holidays. We went for the classic version which comes with cherry tomatoes, roasted peanuts, dried shrimp and chilli.

The green papaya is shredded, mixed with a zingy, spicy dressing and topped with the other ingredients. It’s a crunchy, chilli delight of a dish and even eating on a cool autumn London day, the flavours transported me to the beach – well, one of the many beaches I’ve enjoyed this dish on. Now I know where to get my fix in London

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Classic som tum – spicy green papaya salad

We found ourselves drawn to the Grilled and Stir-fried section for our next choices. Fish works so well with Thai ingredients, and the sea bass was amazing. It came in crispy batter, drizzled with sweet and sour chilli sauce and accompanied by a fresh salad.

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Sweet sea bass fillets in a delightful sauce

Our third choice was the black pepper beef. Beef tenderloin was served with a coating of black pepper sauce, crunchy onions and peppers and little stems of green peppercorns to bite into. Perfect served with a bowl of fluffy, tasty egg fried rice.

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Tender beef, crunchy veg and a peppery sauce

SUDA is the perfect place to pop in for a light lunch, as we did, though it was hard narrowing down the choices. Next time I’d like to go with a large group of friends so we can really do the menu justice and try loads of their delicious offerings. The selection of small bites looked particularly enticing, and then of course, there’s all the curries…

Today’s price point

SUDA is really good value. Our food today cost £36.25 and was a satisfying lunch for two.

Wine starts from £18 a bottle.

SUDA Thai is at St Martin’s Courtyard, off Upper St Martins Lane, London WC2. It’s a short walk from Leicester Square tube station.

Fabulous authentic Thai food at Erawan in Cape Town

I love Thai food…regular readers will know this. I’ve been to Thailand several times and cook Thai food frequently, too. So I was excited about visiting Erawan in Chelsea Village in the Southern Suburb of Wynberg in Cape Town for the first time.

Chef Noom graduated from the prestigious Dusit Thani Thai School of Cooking, so that’s a good start. And the name has an intriguing Thai connection. Erawan is the Elephant God and the name refers to the rain clouds and lightning that result in rain sent down by the god Indra as he rides the elephant god Erawan across the heavens. According to Aryan legends, Erawan is huge, white and has 33 heads. Each head bears seven tusks and for each tusk there are seven lotus ponds. Each pond has seven lotus pads, each pad has seven lotus blossoms and each blossom has seven petals. On each petal dance seven angels and each angel has seven ladies-in-waiting. So there’s a lot going on there then!

A bit like there is on the comprehensive menu. There’s a wide range of sushi, a dim sum section, a good salad selection, chef’s specials and stir fries. Luckily you’re promptly presented with the prettiest bowl of prawn crackers I’ve seen in a long time to munch on while you carefully make your decisions.

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Prawn crackers in pastel shades served with a selection of dipping sauces

We started off with a couple of dim sum delights. The Goong Tod – deep fried prawns with spring onion in a crispy wonton pastry came with a sweet chilly sauce. Jam packed with tasty minced prawns and beautifully crunchy.

Plump and crispy prawn dumplings

Plump and crispy prawn dumplings

Steamed spicy beef dumplings were stuffed with mushrooms, coriander, ginger and garlic and served with soya and chilli sauce.

More plump dumplings, this time filled with spicy beef

More plump dumplings, this time filled with spicy beef

All mains can be ordered mild, medium, hot or Thai style (beware!). As it was my first visit I cautiously went for mild just in case of disaster, next time I’ll confidently ramp it up to medium

There’s a lovely chef’s special choice from which we had the prawns cashew. Six sweet and juicy queen prawns were stir fried out of their shells in a light curry sauce with garlic, coriander, roasted cashew nuts and fresh vegetables.

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A vibrant plate of prawns and veg in a delicious sauce

The stir fry section has a list of sauces to which you can add your choice of fish or meat. I went for the stir fried fresh basil sauce – fresh vegetables stir fried with garlic and infused with fragrant basil and added pan-fried crispy pork. This is one of the nicest Thai dishes I’ve had, genius idea to offer crispy pork, so good I may well have to order it again on my next visit, oh yes, there will definitely be a next visit.

I'm going to be dreaming about crispy pork until my next visit

The crispy pork adds another dimension to this traditional dish

We ordered egg fried rice to complete our feast – it was perfectly done, glossy, light and flavoursome.

Light and tasty egg fried rice to savour

Light and tasty egg fried rice to savour

There’s also a main course stir fried rice and noodle dish section that we didn’t venture into this time.

Portions are substantial (you could easily share a main between two) and it’s really good value with starters mostly under R50 and my delicious pork dish R125 (around £2.15 and £5.40 in English money for any fellow UK dwellers lucky enough to be in Cape Town at the moment).

It’s a popular place with a steady stream of customers refilling tables as they’re vacated. All run with a gentle efficiency – you don’t feel rushed – and smooth service with a smile. Just what you’d expect from anything that’s a part of Thailand. Gotta love a new Thai eatery to add to the list.

Erawan is at 15 Wolfe Street, Wynberg, Cape Town.

 

 

Where to eat in Chaweng Beach, Koh Samui

So today I’m eating amazing food on the beautiful island of Koh Samui in Thailand. Just a short hop from Bangkok (love those 45 minute flights) and you land at what must be one of the best airports in the world. It’s a selection of little buildings spread through a lovely garden-like setting – it’s hard to see quite where the terminal is when you land and a little train-like bus takes you in. It takes minutes to get through what can be a painful process…if only more airports were as much of an enjoyable experience.

From there we headed for Chaweng Beach, a very short drive away. We soon discovered that October/November is rainy season in Koh Samui and boy can it rain! Don’t go anywhere without your umbrella – which all hotels supply you with in your room. Clearly for a reason.

For those really rainy-day lunches when we didn’t want to venture too far in the downpour, we discovered a lovely little restaurant called Hugo’s just across the road from our hotel. One of my favourite Thai dishes is green papaya salad, it’s crunchy and spicy and topped with freshly cooked prawns makes for a wonderfully flavoursome and healthy lunch. And it looks so beautiful, too.

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When in Thailand you have to get plenty of green papaya salad in!

Running parallel to Chaweng Beach is the main road. It’s a long, bustling street with plenty happening from massages and other beauty treatments, shops and stalls selling everything you could desire and plenty of bars and restaurants. It’s hard to choose where to go, but I soon discovered there’s no need to stress about it too much – you can pretty much eat anywhere and not be disappointed in this amazing foodie town.

A lot of the restaurants have a tempting array of seafood on display in front of their establishments and an enthusiastic group from the restaurant trying to convince you that theirs is the best place for dinner. We liked the look of  Terminal D with its contemporary design and substantial book of a menu. A lot of the menus in Koh Samui took some serious perusal, with so many offerings to choose from. The red snapper was a great choice in its amazing sweet and spicy tamarind sauce.

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The freshest of red snapper with zingy tamarind sauce

And then we discovered Samui Seafood. I spotted the bar first which was set up in a corner in what looked like a garden just steps off the main road, totally irresistible. And then you realise it’s part of a large outdoor oasis of a restaurant serving an impressive collection of seafood at really reasonable prices. It’s is sold by weight and you can choose your own quantities, which I love, match your dish to fit your hunger perfectly. Thai rock lobster is delicately delicious with amazing texture and served here with a light red curry sauce was a delight.

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Rock lobster with red curry sauce

Rock lobster was available cooked a wide variety of ways, with Thai and European options, here it is in a creamy sherry sauce.

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Lobster in the creamiest of sauce

And here’s the ultimate dish for me – a green papaya salad (told you I love them) topped with deep fried soft shell crab. What can I say, just awesome.

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Crispy, juicy crab tops a spicy crunchy salad

Wandering through some of the many market stalls scattered along the main road we spotted Green Bird. A small establishment always packed with locals that had delightful aromas emanating from it. A substantial menu at really great prices I mean, a substantial, tasty lunch for two for well under a tenner, gotta be happy with that.

The Vietnamese omelette came stuffed with a delicious stir fry of pork, shrimps, bean sprouts and other vegetables and served with a zingy sauce.

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The light omelette opens up to reveal its tasty filling

The menu had pictures for a lot of the dishes (as a lot do it Thailand) and this dish, which was called Hong Pan, looked interesting – there was no description of the ingredients and the picture wasn’t this clear but based on the experience that all food here was going to satisfy we ordered it, not quite sure what we were going to get.

Lettuce leaves stuffed with vegetables, topped with slices of omelette, pork and finally a prawn, all tied together with a chive. And served with a dipping sauce. I’m certainly going to be making my own version of these soon – well, lots of different versions I think. They look so pretty, taste amazing and are fun to eat.

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Tasty little hong pan parcels

Indian restaurants are usually really good in Thailand and we do like an Indian feast. So when we were invited into the Curry Hut (more people on the street talked us in), we couldn’t resist. Lovely chicken madras and the creamiest of delicious tarka dhal. Plus perfect freshly made garlic naan – I do love to sample one in every Indian restaurant I visit and Curry Hut’s was spot on.

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Spicy chicken madras and wonderfully creamy dhal

The prize for best starter of the holiday goes to these wonderfully crispy prawns served with a sweet chilli dipping sauce at a busy little establishment on the main road called Tumzaab. They were large and succulent and just perfectly cooked. Yummy! Their curries were also exceptionally tasty.

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A delightfully succulent prawn starter

On the nights we didn’t venture into the busy centre of activity we headed down to the beach for dinner. Our hotel sat on a little bay with a collection of eateries with tables set on the sand. When the tide was high we sat with the warm sea gently lapping at our feet. How I love dinner like this, no shoes, warm sea and one night even a beautiful full moon.

Lazy Wave was the first one in the line of restaurants which were all beautifully lit up at night with twinkling lanterns and spotlights focused on the sea. These crunchy little starters are nicknamed money bags – and you can see why – light pastry stuffed with spicy pork mince and served with two dipping sauces.

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Crispy parcels stuffed with spicy pork mince

I loved this delicious plate of food, a traditional Thai chicken dish with a lovely chilli bite and plenty of sweet Thai chilli. Love that they shaped it like a pineapple!

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Chicken with chilli and plenty of Thai sweet basil

The Massaman curry was beautifully creamy, hot and sweet.

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The luxury of a Massaman curry

The red duck curry was packed with fruity delights, plenty of tomatoes, pineapple and even grapes plus those crunchy baby aubergines that you only find in Thai dishes.

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A tasty bowl of sweetness and spiciness

A little further on was Sobaroso – another great beach discovery. With tables on the sand under little voile shelters and loungers on offer in front, it became a regular destination for us. Soaking up the sun and drinking their amazing shakes before taking the few steps to a table and ordering lunch. A simple Thai pork mince dish with a good hit of chilli was served with plenty of crunchy fresh vegetables.

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Spicy, limey Thai pork mince

How’s that for a delicious array of dishes? The food in Koh Samui is simply fantastic. How I miss those flavours.

Delicious dishes from Kata Beach, Thailand

One of the greatest pleasures about a holiday in Thailand is the food. Kata Beach in Phuket offers a versatile array of menus in a wide range of different settings. And it’s all such great value.

We went to Malila twice for dinner. It’s the first restaurant you come to in a street full of them…so many choices.

I’ve long wanted to try a larb salad in Thailand but have been scared off by concerned waiters shaking their heads and saying “Very chilli”. Well, tonight I threw caution to the wind and we ordered one to share as a starter.

There’s no denying this is a hot baby! Cleverly, it’s served with raw vegetables, as you can see, and mixing in the cucumber, cabbage, green beans and lettuce helps to cool it down. I loved it and managed my fair share – my chilli-ometer is definitely on the rise. As well as having a serious chilli bite, it’s also beautifully herby, with delightful minty flavours.

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Spicy, herby minced pork served with crunchy veg

The Phad Bai Graprao is an exquisite minced beef dish with sweet and spicy flavours, the most amazing texture and silken sauce all topped with deliciously crispy deep fried basil leaf. The dish of the holiday – my next challenge is to make it myself to that same standard. Wish me luck.

Our first dinner at Malila happened to be a day with 30% off the bill – so we ended up paying less than £20 for two courses each (really good ones, too) and a bottle of wine! No wonder we went back. Keep an eye out for special offers in restaurants. It was late in October and the main holiday season hadn’t quite started, so there were lots of deals around.

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An absolutely amazing beef dish topped with sweet Thai basil

Further down the road is Tom Yam Koong. Another comprehensive range of Thai and European dishes to choose from. These wonderful king prawns were quickly deep fried, giving them a wonderfully crunchy texture and served with a delicate red curry sauce drizzled over them.

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A different take on king prawn red curry

This simple and deceptively delicious rock lobster salad was served with a curry mayonnaise. My light dinner on the first night in Kata – the perfect welcome to Thailand.

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Sweet rock lobster, crunchy salad and a delectable curry mayo

There are several fine dining options in Kata and The Boathouse is widely recommended as being one of the best in the area. Plus you get to sit right on the edge of the beach which is always a good thing!

The menu offers French and Thai cuisine and you can opt for a tasting menu or go a la carte, which is what we did. We shared a starter which was a platter of Siam tapas. Grilled chicken satay with peanut sauce, deep fried crab claw, spiced scallop salad served in the shell and deep fried duck spring roll served with sweet chilli sauce. All fabulous, especially the deliciously sweet and delicate scallops and the spicy crab claws. This is a substantial starter – plenty for two to share and a great mix of flavours.

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A starter platter of lovely flavours and textures

Being chilli-acclimatised by this stage I ordered the roasted duck in red curry with pineapple, grapes and tomatoes. It was pretty spicy but the combo of the fruit (who knew grapes could taste so nice in a curry), the chilli bite and the tender duck were just perfect.

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Tender roast duck, sweet fruit and sauce with a serious bite

There’s a section on the menu entitled Boathouse Legends, and one of them is their rock lobster ravioli served with shellfish morel. Rock lobster’s big in this part of Thailand and this wonderfully fishy, creamy and rich dish is a classic.

A more gourmet eating experience, The Boathouse is obviously a bit more expensive than your average Kata restaurant, but still great value. And it has a good wine list.

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Seafood ravioli in a silken sauce

Almost directly opposite the Kata Beach Resort, where we stayed, sits the Horn Grill Steakhouse. Through a narrow passageway and you emerge into a magical garden area with twinkling lights and live jazz playing. As is obvious from the name, they specialise in steaks here, though there is a comprehensive selection of Thai dishes, too.

Choose your cut of steak and select your sides and sauce. I had a tasty sirloin with roast vegetables and fried mushrooms and requested a Thai sauce from a different part of the menu, which they were happy to do. A beautifully tranquil place for a steak dinner.

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The oasis that is the Horn Grill Steakhouse’s garden

One night that desire for Indian food overtook us – luckily we’d already spotted Curry Delight. This delightful little restaurant serves an impressive array of authentic Indian food. We started with a large plate of spicy tandoori prawns, then tucked into chicken and mutton curries with rice and freshly made garlic naan. The menu offers small or large portions of the curries, such a good idea, I wish more restaurants did this. If you need an curry fix when you’re in Kata, this is undoubtedly the place to go.

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Beautifully fresh garlic naan straight from the tandoor

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My tasty smaller portion of Bhuna Gosht

And then there’s the lunches! At the one end of beautiful Kata Beach is a cluster of restaurants, where we wandered when the hunger pangs began, barefoot along the beach. A table with a sea view (well, all of them had sea views!), a bottle of Singha and we were settled. I’d recommend any of these restaurants, which are open for lunch and dinner.

Our favourite was Kata B-B-Q where we ate several times. We loved the spicy salads and sampled plenty of seafood and satays. Here are some of the mouth-watering lunches we enjoyed.

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A firm favourite – green papaya salad

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Pretty in pink – a luscious prawn cocktail

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Tender chicken satays and crispy chips

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Spicy seafood salad and the beach

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The satays of the week – beautifully tender and flavoursome pork

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More green papaya salad with seafood, wine and sea

Thank you Kata for all the glorious food.