The hottest month of the year wouldn’t be complete without Kimpton Maa-Lai’s sophomore Chilli Fest. Instead of cooling down, the event steers into the heat with a lineup of Bangkok’s leading eateries, alcoholic bevs, chili-inspired tats, and a heated neck-and-neck chili-eating competition. 
Doors opened at 2pm to the hot front yard of the hotel, with trees providing some solace from the boiling April sun. 
BK checked out some locally produced chili goodies, including That Daeng Sauce, owned by couple Nichapa and Eric Nelson; their products are naturally fermented sans chemicals and their hot sauce was also used in the chili-eating competition.
“Besides the heat, it’s really nice. It’s better than last year.” says Nichapa, returning for a second year, noting the increase in the number of shops and variety of food, and management. “I think a lot of customers are foreigners who live here…but we also get a mix of people who are staying at the hotel plus the people from outside.” 
BK hit up Kimpton Maa-Lai’s very own Bar Yard for Tacos de Cerdo al Pastor which featured marinated pork shoulder combined with Mexican dried smoked chili. Their lobster tacos are also a spicy bite of mozzarella cheese and salsa wrapped in a soft corn tortilla.
One of the visitor favorites was Korean rooftop bar Anju’s fried chicken. Its generous portion and finger-licking-good but mild hot sauce made for a great sharing experience in a group of varying chili tolerances.
“We used to go to the chili festivals in Australia. So when we saw there’s one here, we were very excited to come. We love the spiciness and we wanna see how far we can go,” says Leina, Norwegian and Australian, joining with her family. She has lived in Thailand for 8 years. 
After grabbing the grub and refreshments, guests lounged around the garden with their orders in hand while local modern blues band Kingsley Drive kept the energy level up.
“It’s a lovely event and the crowd is amazing,” said Billy Akin, music producer and executive producer at fourtwo89 entertainment and member of the band. “It’s like you walk into a park on a Saturday afternoon but it could be colder.”
In the evening, Top Table’s Aromkwan gave spectators a taste of their theatrics, laying out some smoked pork knuckle biryani, barbeque fish, Asian slaw, and signature sambal on top of some piping hot rice.
“Aromkwan is all about fun. We have a party kind of vibe so we want to bring the same concept here,” Chef Vishnu “Bank” Prempuk told with BK.
Then for the highlight everyone was waiting for: the chili eating competition, a painful contest bordering on bloodsport. This year eight contestants joined for 11 rounds of chili and hot sauce, steadily climbing up the Scoville scale.
Each person received one chili or, in the case of smaller chilis, measured in grams, and various hot sauces were given in shots. Unlike last year, contestants were not given water or milk to help with the pain—and it really cleared out the competition. 
The competition started off slow and simple with jalapenos. All of the contestants are given 30 seconds to pop the pepper in and chew it up. Some struggled to get it down in time but all moved onto the next round. But the chilis got hotter and the field thinned. Servings like the Thai prik kaleang peppers with 50k Scoville units got some contestants watery-eyed, sweating, and gagging.
Midway through, Adisak, donning a Hawaiian shirt and a smile, seemed unfazed and barely breaking a sweat compared to his struggling peers—an early frontrunner. When it came to the final Carolina reaper round (2.2 million Scoville units), five brave contestants were still holding their ground. So it was time for a tie-breaker. 
Photo: From left to right, Adisak, Vorachai, Panphan.
The Bhut Jolokia, nicknamed ghost pepper, goes from 855,000 to more than a million Scoville units. One by one, the remaining competitors noshed down the tiny devils as, and winners were determined by who could eat the most in 30 seconds. 
Adisak finished first, setting the bar high at a whopping 11 chilis. The round knocked out two other competitors, leaving competitors Vorachai and Panphan to topple Adisak’s lead. 
Vorachai gave off a quiet determination, even though his face showed more pain than Adisak. He popped the chilis like gumdrops, slowing toward the end. He ate so quickly, in fact, that the crowd had to wait for the MC, Shane Jameson, to tally the peppers, and for a moment, it looked like Vorachai was about to hurl the fiery peppers on the floor. But he didn’t. 
Vorachai won by three chilis, scoffing more than 30 chilis that evening, including the final 14 that toppled Adisak from the leaderboard. There was just one man left to beat, Panphan, who, after a few seconds of the countdown, realized he had hit the wall. 
Vorachai was the last man standing and took home the grand prize of B10,000. Runner up Adisak received a B7,000 dining voucher and third place Panpahn also pocketed a dining voucher of B4,000.
After the competition, the MCs passed out chilis to the crowd to see if they could handle their heat—to varying levels of success. 
As the chili-eaters retired for what BK can only imagine would be an entire day on the toilet, the sun finally went down on Chilli Fest 2024. But, the fun didn’t end, and the area stayed packed well after sundown for Madame Rouge dances and more entertainment and live music. 
With such a successful event, readers can rest assured that Chilli Fest will return for a 2025 iteration. So, start training your stomach. 
Photo: K Vorachai