Monday, January 12, 2015

Suan Phueng, for Animal Huggers

One of the Main Attractions - Rabbits
I went again (was here in 2012), the playing fields for Thais some 2 hours west of Bangkok. A place for hugging sheep, rabbits and now they have alpacas, cats and even wallabies. Unfortunately, just for this particular weekend of December, Mr Sun decided to warm the winter wonderland up a notch. We associate coming to Suan Phueng with the cool winter weather but it was not to be, curses. I found that the good thing about Suan Phueng was that most of the attractions were located far apart, so there won’t be a concentration of cars causing jams like New Year in Chiangmai. And the owners seemed immersed in wealth beyond normal folks because the attractions and resorts always sprawl over several rais of land. That said, large areas meant no crowd and no kids head banged my crotch.

Interesting Dolls
I saw dolls, giant scary black dolls. One had equally huge black boobs and red nipples. We just had to stop there, who wouldn’t be curious about red nipples? It was one of the many stuffed toys factory outlets where it is said, they were there because of the numerous factories producing them in Ratchaburi. It was a huge outlet and interestingly, kids are attracted to toys but there were none there. Giant red nipples terrifies kids, pink ones attract men and red ones on black boobs, the curious. Crates of toys, from Doraemon to Spongebob, they were all there. Some looked rather odd and deformed, some I had no idea what they were. The tags attached to them had big names and they were going cheap. So we succumbed to temptation and loaded some into our trunk. And then we were on our way.

Morning Glory Resort
Our first destination was visiting Morning Glory Resort, that we stayed 2 years back. They had developed much. The enclosed pasture for rabbits had been redone and was finely constructed compared to back when it was more makeshift and not too pleasing. We had cakes and tea by the bakery house, and watched a husky running around the outside the enclosure, the owner comically chasing him down. I had heaps of rabbit feed with me, those left behind by my late pet who decided to go to heaven one fine day not too long ago. And so we fed the rabbits and gave the rest away to the resort. It was a pleasant morning, a tad of sadness as I recalled the years spent with my late bunny.

.... and more Rabbits...
Rabbit Bloom just by Vento, a new attraction we stopped next. Their rabbit farm was huge compare to most other attractions of the same nature. The critters were well taken care of, ample shades provided so that they won’t die of heat stroke in summer. Many places that leveraged on the cuteness of rabbits to make money often neglect and just exploit them. These are rabbits, not fishes where you release by mass into a pool and leave them to their own device. Vento had cages to keep the sick rabbits, I could tell they puts effort in really taking care of them cute bunnies. We pet them, we cuddled them, we took pictures with them. We watched them chased each other around their large playgrounds and we watched some humped, the parents tried to explain to their kids the birds and the bees.

And to Vento it was next, like many other themed attractions springing up all over Thailand, shops, huge compound, and lovely whitish blue structures. Yet another place for heaps of selfies. There were eateries within, a place to dine or a place to coffee. They featured a huge lake where you could paddle them water tricycles, and your wife into the water. Into the distance the huge tall hills, the setting of most Suan Phueng’s venues. And like most, we had to pay and entrance fee to get in.

Lunch was at Im Plern, no entrance fee, crowded and popular she was. The food was good, the price was reasonable, and they have an artificial lake full of fishes for one to feed and kick irritating noisy kids in. We drove past this restaurant several times, and it was always crowded even when darkness fell. Her popularity speaks for itself, the rows of cars and the swarming big bike gangs, they all came for a pleasant meal. One of the better eateries in Suan Phueng.

A Wave of Sheep
The Scenery Resort & Farm, a place I went, a place I re-visited. The usual buy a bunch of grass and tug of war with them sheep fun. The usual wondering on why the poo of sheep looks glossy round and dark like huge coffee beans. You have to come at about 5pm, they let the sheep out back into their barn. A sight to remember, the stampeding horde. Only during the evening near closure time the display will be on. The farm was booked for a wedding, the guest soon arrived dressed in their best. The compound was a heaven for them, the clicks of shutters and into memory lane the occasion was etched.

Aristo - Don't Ever Stay Here!
Our resort we picked, Aristo Chic Resort & Farm. After my stay, I would label it Aristo Cheap Resort & Farm going at Expensive Rates. My stay was not pleasant. A Jacuzzi tub that was not working and the view of construction right out the front of my room. Instead of scattered sheep, there was an excavator that moved left and right in my full view. Oh yeah, and it was complemented by a scatter of construction workers. The meadows… what meadows? There was only dust and sand dug up all over. Coupled with bad services, I say no no to anyone that is to come. Trip Advisor review under “Never trust the Picture, They had a good Photographer” I submitted, go read it and see how bad it was.

And the next day to Alpaca Hill we went, a massive petting zoo of sorts. Go early, late there did be a crowd and animals will run from you. I don’t know about the child labor laws in Thailand, but the place was run by many tiny Burmese kids ushering us left right and briefing us on how to handle the fauna. I found it funny when they said do not ride the giant tortoise, it made me really want to do so. Alpaca Hill had for sure Alpacas. Not to come to them from behind I was told, or my balls would be kicked so hard that they need to be surgically re-inflated. Not to pet them on the head, or they will spit a load of saliva into your face they said. There were rules of engagement everywhere, but they were for the good of the animals. There were cats, there were rats, the hamsters and the chinchillas. There were peacocks, there were definitely rabbits, and even a chicken coop where you could pick fresh eggs. A place a sure to visit if Suan Phueng a place you had not done.

Crates and Crates of Them

And we Bought Some

It will drive you Crazy

Heaps of Doreamon

Bakery in Morning Glory Resort

Vento's Lake

Hilly Backdrop

Im Plern where we had Lunch

ATV Activities
Campers in Suan Phueng
There were many Vineyards
Rats...  Rodents..  etc
Child Guides
Sheep in Alpaca View

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Wora Bura, I remember your Spa

By the Beach
On arrival early in the morning, we contacted the Spa for our pre-booked session knowing that we will not be able to check into our rooms until after 12. Spas, they all smell alike, the aroma of an entire lemon grass forest squeezed into a tiny space, it was pleasant. Rooms, rustic with a heavy touch from the colonial era. The polished handles of water taps that had rounded knobs, reminiscence of eras gone by. Two massage beds with holes for your face and always that mysterious bowl with orchids directly below. The next room featured a large Jacuzzi tub and a shower. And where the hissing was coming from, the steam bath in yet another adjacent room. Our package started with a 15 minutes steam bath to get our pores working. I would have preferred a proper bath before my spa, but it was not part of the course. So my perspiration and stickiness plus the steam were not at all too comfortable for me.

The Spa Underwear
Oh, there it was again, the peculiar black genderless underwear. We put that on before what followed next, being scrubbed from top to bottom in grounded coffee beans for 15 minutes. What was the therapeutic nature of the coffee I had no idea, but it felt good when my back was rubbed. Masseur however, did not rub between my butt cracks, and sides of scrotum. Those were no-touch zones. As the intense scrubbing continued, I was flipped over for more till I nearly dozed off to the constant sound of how you rub salt on a fish. I was being marinated and what almost always followed next is into a baking oven. Since cremation was not part of the spa treatment, we were told to bath ourselves. That’s where I used the residual coffee all over my body for the butt crack and sides of scrotum.

45 minutes of aromatic massage. Marinated again, in the lavender oil I had chosen previously. I told my masseur to focus on my palms and aching lower back from countless hours of desk bound computer work. I soon succumbed to slumber as the masseur worked on my back. And when I was awoken gently to flip, I was drooling down that face hole. That was when I knew the purpose the bowl filled with flowers below every massage bed.

The Zoo
Our rooms were ready at 2 after our lunch. Well matching the price paid for and instilled with wooden styled furniture of mainly dark wood. A large bathtub looked into our bedroom separated by wooden window sills we could close. A change into swimwear and to the pool I went, who wouldn’t want a lazy afternoon under the salt laden Hua Hin sun. Everyone did and literally everyone. The pool was a zoo, of screaming children and Thais immersed fully clothed. As with all other resorts here during the weekend, it has always been a zoo. The pool was big and perpendicular to the sea. There was a poolside bar, it was deserted. At the end of the pool facing the sea, it overlooked a bar with a variety of alcohol laid out tasteful in a row, ready for mixing into concoctions of sinful cocktail. After some pool time, the earlier than normal dusk arrived, the so called “Thai winter” season had set in.

Tamboon by the Hotel Beach
Food wise, dinner was not too impressive for my palate. I have had better hotel food. It was a company dinner and so the reason I was dining there. In Hua Hin, you just gotta have seafood cheap and good around town. In the morning, breakfast was impressive. Wide varied and appetizing. It was also when I discovered the official time for Thais to have breakfast nationwide was between 8.45 and 9. Even King Nareasuan did not have a place to sit. I saw the actor who played King Naresuan, I did not know his real name. So, be early for breakfast on weekends before the crowd sets in. A pleasant stay in all, avoid weekends if can.

Rough Seas
Swing under the Vines
Spa Room

Friday, December 26, 2014

Hua Hin I-Am-On-Vacation Syndrome

Chilling Out at Hua Hin

Hua Hin does beat all places in surrounding Bangkok to top herself as the number one dress pretty and walk around to be seen destination. Bangkokians who travelled there looked like they came out from Esprit’s summer fashion posters. They dressed pretty to be seen eating as gingerly as possible on English cakes or cookies. They also feature that raised pinky when sipping from English teacups both men, women and the undefined.

Bangkokians can also been seen in their fancy I-Am-On-Vacation outfits near any inanimate object that had a hint of I-Am-On-Vacation in them such as the road signs, that old bicycle and always the bright red letter box. For some reasons, they are always attracted to letter boxes. It is believed that Bangkokians on vacation ritually wear the same I-Am-On-Vacation outfit into bed so that the next morning, the first thing they do is a selfie and a post to Facebook and Instagram.

Middle East ain;t It?
Anyway, it had been near to a year since my last Hua Hin trip. We left early, very early at just before 7 and reached in 2 hours. It was wise to do so. Saturdays are when Bangkokians make their mass pilgrimage to the seaside town. Any later and it would have taken 4 or even 5 hours to reach our destination. Stayed at Wora Bura, it was a good hotel, but pricey. Colonial styled she was and that added uniqueness of sorts to our stay. Hua Hin had changed much. On this trip we discovered that Camel Republic had sprang up. The Middle Eastern influence had arrived in this seaside town. Great magnet for seflies in I-Am-On-Vacation outfits. We had to pay get in, so we did not.

For good cheap live seafood picked from buckets and have their lives BBQed painfully outta them for our enjoyment, it would normally had been the shores of Cha Am. But we found a new place this time round. And it was the area around Khao Takiap where a small peak of a granite hill with a temple on top extended out to sea. Laid on the outcrop facing the sea, a restaurant. I think the whole town was there for lunch. So we went elsewhere. The fishing boats were all moored along the dock alongside the road leading in. The fresh catches were laid out for purchase in concentration denser than those in Cha Am. Opposite the road that divided, the row of many simple restaurants that produced a wide array of gastronomy from the fishermen’s catch.

Wilaiwan Interior
And to Wilaiwan for lunch. Nice cottage styled restaurant, yet another picturesque venue for I-Am-On-Vacation pinkie raised tea sipping. I was skeptical if the food was as good as the place looked. I took my skepticism back when I had a mouthful of the spaghetti that had dried tomatoes, bacon and grinded basil which made the dish green. Spectacular, if it can be a word for taste. That was what I would call that awesome creation. The Wagyu burger was not at all too bad, but I did not know how much of a Wagyu cow was actually in that patty. Many Thai restaurants had gotten to know of the new Wagyu word and are profusely acquainting their dishes with it. It was just like when everyone was going nano this and nano that. There was nothing nano about those products, other than naturally occurring nano bacteria. Anyway, the burger was cooked right, had that trait of juiciness within and the searing on the surface I liked. The French Fries that accompanied was aromatic in flavor, not your average fries done in normal cooking oil. Till this day I wondered, what did Wilaiwan fried them in. There was this red mysterious BBQ powder of some sort sprinkled over them which made the taste even more dazzling. Wilaiwan tasted as good as she looked. Not every themed restaurant in this country I know can achieve that.

Hua Hin Hill Vineyard
And then there was Hua Hin Hill Vineyard. Food was not impressive at all. I had the spicy bacon spaghetti. Home delivered spaghetti from The Pizza Company actually tasted better. This vineyard was located deep within the mountain range westwards and she was pretty isolated. She produces what is known as new latitude wines (aka, wines produced in the wrong climate). There was a crowd at the wine tasting station, girls accessorized like a Christmas tree in their long flow white dresses, again the I-Am-On-Vacation syndrome where iPhones and Samsungs were heavily involved. The vineyard offered elephant rides among the grape vines and I bet the huge chunks of elephant dung are use to fertilize them grapes. I did not know how good these wines were, but the last encounter with such wines by a seasoned drinker was - “please put this wine away”. Still, maybe things had changed just like how Hua Hin had evolved, and Thais had figured out the art of wine making.

Lone Monk on the Beach
Hua Hin is now filled with so many attractions. With 2 artificial floating markets now and many more artificially inseminated cultural sites such as Santorini, I wonder how long more will it be before the Pyramids of Egypt are plagiarized there. A relative of mine from Singapore who visited said “only the blue and white colors looked like Santorini she visited”. She was not too impressed with her stay in this seaside town. However, to many, Hua Hun is a place still to get excited for. For me, she is a pleasant stone’s throw away from city life. To be in a pool surrounded by clear skies not obstructed by tall buildings, the sound of the reverberating sea to accompany.

The pool in Wora Bura

Fresh Catch at Khao Takiap
The street of Khao Takiap
Where our food Comes From
Along Khao Takiap
Boats at Khao Takiap
Wora Bora

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Floating about in Khao Sok

Panvaree Resort
It was off the grid. It was off everything in fact. No GSM signal, we were out of touch with the world. Not a bad thing really the 3 days I was there at Panvaree Resort, floating lodges on a vast artificial lake behind a dam. They had two generators, one diesel and the other petrol driven. And to drive the air conditioner in up to 2 units while on partial occupancy, they burnt 20 over liters of petrol from 5pm to 9am the next morning. When all her 12 units were occupied, Panvaree ran the diesel brother, and it burnt 80 liters. No wonder the resorts in Khao Sok were expensive, everything from food to petrol, needed to be couriered by boats. There came a narrow wooden boat enough for one just after sunrise, he was selling pork dumplings and fried Chinese dough.

In the day time it got hot. Windless at times and humidity naturally high, about the only thing to do other then bath ourselves a hundred times over was to jump into the lake. Below beyond where my legs threaded water, an abyss of deep blue green. It was 60 meters to the lake floor I was told. Not my idea of relaxation although I love the water. Because, when one does not see bottom and with a bit of uncontrolled imagination, ancient giant monsters, grey swirling tentacles. Fear, shrank the size of my testicles. I did not like it too, where accidentally should into the water my iPhone fell, I could not see and retrieve it neither. Our guide, in the midst of this laughter, his walkie-talkie took the plunge. It was followed immediately by a much larger panic plunge of himself diving after. It was too late. If only they had made walkie-talkies that floats.

Our Room
It did get bored at times, all cooped up on a small resort isolated. Canoed, jumped in the lake, those were all there was to do. Kinda felt like Singapore in a way, limited landmass, living out in confined space. Walked to the restaurant for free tea, walked back to our unit. Climbed the ladder to the sleeping quarters beneath the ceiling but could not nap because it was an oven. Every unit has the capacity to sleep four. 2 on the big bed below, and 2 above where the oven I mentioned was. The marauding crowd that came the next day, Saturday, however could not care less about that. Some units slept more than four to max out whatever they had paid for. I was waiting for their unit to overturn like an iceberg and capsize.

While we were there on Friday, we had the whole resort to ourselves. The staffs were friendly, our dinner was truly enjoyable. Meal was followed later on by drinking and chit chats with the staffs. We learnt some were natives of Khao Sok whose villages went underwater when the dam was built. Others came from far away provinces to work in the hospitality segment waiting tables and as a tour guide. The water deep dark and still, the occasional pleasant breeze blew into the tungsten tinted restaurant. In the pauses between chats, the songs of insects, an occasional firefly blinked green in the darkness of night.

While it was still Quiet
Saturday was noisy compared to the Friday I had arrived. If it is peace you want, weekdays will be the time to go. Serenity, tranquility, steam floated from my hot tea in the early morning of sunrise before breakfast was served. Notebook opened, faced the mountain range, fantastic concentration punching keys making my presentation for the work week to come. That was only till later at 10 when the full crowd arrived. As usual, it began with exploring the tiny property, then the selfie shots, the feeding of fishes and then the looking for some corner to relax and literally melt in the heat and humidity. Inherent to Thai culture is alcohol. Heavy bellied businessmen took on a table and left their wives and kids to auto roam. They started drinking just after arrival and all the way over lunch and dinner into the after dark. What else was there to do for them I guessed.

The Greenery
In our package, there included a trip to coral cave. Into the long tail boat we hopped and our favorite boatman took us into the lake. Still recovering from his hangover drinking with us the night before, he made our journey very entertaining as he joked and chatted along the whole way. He stopped when he observed me focusing hard on subjects to shoot, he was pleasant, a good photographer’s friend. If Eddie Murphy had a half brother from a Thai mother, it would be our boatman. They way he spoke, the way he spewed out the stand up jokes, they way our boatman naturally was. That smile with a twitch of impending mischief.

Getting off the Raft
We had to trek a long distance into an enclosed lake. That body of water was connected to the main lake by underground waterways. I had mutated into a life form accustomed to only machine driven lifts that brings me from floor to floor. Stairs and climbing is alien to me. That trekking to our destination, my legs became jelly. We had to ascend steep into the forest made worst by the muddy walkways wet from rain. There was loud cracking in the tress above from time to time. We saw them monkeys, they were mocking my perspiration drenched body. I made it alive to the lake within eventually after 3 quarters of an hour.

Arrival at the Cave
Those engines they used on shoulder type grass cutting machines, they modified it to have a propeller attached. Tied it to about 30 odd large bamboo poles bound tightly together and what they got was a raft. That was our exciting transport across the lake to the opposite side where the cave was. If there were waves, passengers seated on the bare bamboo would have toppled over easy. Camera, phone, whatever that sinks will be gone into the abyss. Over the next hour when we waited our turn, none capsized making the journey thru and fro. That was when I deemed it safe to board. And so the coral cave we arrived.

Light Sabers in Action
A small cave, totally unlit. Our guide held modified florescent tubes driven by batteries and ushered us into the cavern of stalactites and stalagmites. Within, there were a number of groups, each lead by the light saber the different guides held. I think they got the idea from watching pirated versions of Star Wars. There were fossilized corals within the caves. This area was once under sea level. Many eons ago before the rise of the continents, it was an undersea cave.

And so after the short tour, the return ride on the raft which was followed by more mocking from monkeys in the forest, we returned to our resort in the evening. Tired and sticky from preparation, jumping into the lake was extremely pleasant. Except for the noise from all the other nine units now fully occupied and with most guests then trashing about all over in the water. Saturday, full occupancy. There was no more peace and quiet like the evening before, unless if I pushed the running generator into the lake to stun all of them. But that would kill all the fishes too. The dinner followed, sumptuous and fish from the lake again. It was a full board package, all meals inclusive.

The Morning
Panvaree, located in the shadows of surrounding high limestone caves. The water we bath in came naturally from the lake drawn to high tanks on the landmass next. The water we flushed went into septic tanks below our lodges next to pontoons. The treated fluids, yes they flow back into the water we floated in. So, try not to think too much. On the journey back, Eddie Murphy again. It included a detour to some corners of the national park where the limestone structures shot straight up from the water. That was why Khao Sok was nicknamed Guilin of Thailand. Wondered why Thailand is always naming attractions after the other wonders, why has it not been the other way round when you visit Guilin where Chinese will say Guilin is Khao Sok of China instead.

In the Lake
Where we left for the Resort
What Lies Beneath
Fishes at Panvaree
Sunset with the Peaks Painted Yellow
Dumpling Seller
While there was still Peace on Friday
Feeding the Fishes
Bamboo Raft
Kinda Exciting
Saturday when the Crowd Came
Still Peaceful Friday
Touring the Lake
Gulin of Thailand