Monday, January 25, 2016

It’s time to dress like the Artic - Bangkok Cold 2016

As of now...
We all know that Thais like to overdress when the mercury dips. Well here is their chance again. Strange weather phenomenon, temperature in Bangkok plunged since late afternoon yesterday and by the night, I was having awesome Jim Jum by the road side being kept warm by the charcoal fire. And then this morning, the temperature was an impressive lovely 15 degrees. According to forecast, this will go on for 3 days.

In my decade long lifetime in Bangkok, it had never gotten so cold before in winter months. The past month was supposed to be cool, but it was not. Climate was much more predictable 10 years ago where the cool spell was more or less guaranteed in the month of December. Let it snow, let it snow, will it ever I wonder. And if it does, it’s time we find another planet to live in.

Dinner yesterday, Jim Jum

Monday, October 05, 2015

Khao Kho in September, Thailand

This sums up my recent trip to Khao Kho. Although the rain is over, the fog not as abundance, but still bliss as usual. Khao Kho, in the middle of Thailand, where clouds are born.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Stupidity in Thailand’s Post Office

Collection Counter
Thailand Post, other than a place to pay fines conveniently, it’s a place to send and collect parcels of course. When someone sends a registered letter to your address, or a parcel, if you are not home, there will be this mysterious piece of paper all printed in Thai appearing in your mailbox. The only clue one will have that it’s time to visit the post office is the Thailand Post logo. So, let’s head for the friendly neighborhood post office that’s only really linguistically friendly to Thais.

On arrival, the only words in English you see will most probably be “One Stop Service”, “Toilet”, “No Smoking” and “Push” “Pull” on the doors if you are lucky. You will have no clue where the collection counter is until you start asking the people there, that is if you can speak some Thai.
Queue Number

Eventually. I found the collection counter behind the building, obscured, and there was a long queue on a Saturday. Stood like a fool stupidly for a good 15 minutes till I realized there were yellow queue numbers held in the hands of the crowd. Then, only to realized I had wasted my time and so I went to eventually locate the printed stack of paper located next to the collection counter a label in Thai words indicating God knows what. So… remember, must take queue number when collecting things from post office, look for secret box with stacks of printed paper and take one. Then listen hard and wait for number to be called. I missed my turn because they had no PA system, so next time must hang really close to the counter.

How about sending parcels? I only recognized the word “One Stop Service” written on counters 1 to 4. I was aware they had a new automated ticket machine (in placed of laminated cards previously). Instinctively, I approached the machine and molest the screen until it produced a ticket with a number on it. And then I got curious why counter 4 in particular had a queue long like dragon going all round inside the post office. Soon my number was called, I sent my single parcel after some struggle, the counter staff packed everything for me and instructed me to fill forms here and there, as usual.

Counter 4 Going Around like a Snake
And so I asked, what’s the long queue at Counter 4 for. She said it was an express queue for sending no more than 3 items. And then I asked, what about the rest of the counters including the one I was at speaking to her, which I took a queue number from the ticket machine in order to be served and sending only one single item. She said they were for sending items too as well, just that we can send any number of items. So I asked, why are the rest queuing up at Counter 4 which was so long? Express was not really express when we could be well served fast if we took a queue number for Counters 1 to 3. She shrugged, smiled, and we agreed telepathically the rest were stupid idiots.

Fact is, I was the stupid one not knowing what to do, but somehow, all wrong things lead to the best outcome.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bangkok Erawan Bomb, The Days After

Life Goes On
Life goes on, back to the norm in a very short time. They washed up, they cleaned up. The shrine is up and running, it was as if it never happened. People are back to their own business, working, stuck in jams, eating out. Just like the so many other cases, the burning of Central World, the blast that killed many here and there, the shootings in school rivalry fights that left some poor teenagers dead, the road accidents caused by the rich, recent bomb on Samui and etc. To Thais, yesterday is the past and the past is fast forgotten. The saying locally is, Thais forget easy. Chill chill happy Thailand, sabai sabai.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Khao Kho, Pino Latte Resort & Café, Heavenly

Took my breath away, it did the first time and every time I returned to this venue. Long before she opened her doors, I stumbled onto the half completed structure of this café and resort. The onslaught of wind threatened to knock my tripod over. I fought to take some spectacular shots of the morning sunrise among what seemed like futuristic space docks. The childhood in me was so hoping for USS Enterprise to materialize from warp in the horizon so I could shake hands with Spok. Anyways, from that moment on in the past, I committed to myself, must come when she opens. And I did, and so very glad I had.

Where Clouds are Born
In my decade long travel of Thailand, this place had attained instant status of having the best of all things in one spot. Firstly her cabins labeled with larger than life numbers like those seen on Gundam told an approach of boldness. That was strongly enforced by the design of these units themselves. Like the main structure of the café higher up the mountain behind, they looked like stations where starships could dock. 5 units were built and their balcony opened out to the nature reserve front and beyond into the east. On the hour before sunrise when the entire region was tinted in a blue hue, a spectacular vista of low clouds beneath with the stark silhouettes of mountain ranges breaking out from the misty white. The giant Buddha right of the horizon shrouded in fog revealed Himself, a mystical canvas evolved. It was like looking at one of those spiritual paintings we seen so often in Chatuchuk, except better. My pupils dilated wider than what my cat was capable of to take it all in. It was live, it was in 3D, it was a moving canvas and it was better than 4D Max. It was all real.

So many People
The day before, we had arrived just after noon. And because it had rained the night earlier, the region was still enveloped in fog to the delight of many who came. By many, I meant a throng of people resembling that of a pilgrimage without discount. Cars were parked messed and everywhere on the narrow ascending road. The owners had built quite a sizable parking lot, unfortunately it was no match for the pilgrims arriving in their vehicles. Some parked inconsiderately along the narrow road which was meant for two way traffic, it caused congestion as vehicles then tried to tightly maneuver among each other in opposite directions. I was eagerly waiting for some to roll off the high terrain, my iPhone video was on standby. Staffs in the café were overwhelmed by the crowd, seating was next to impossible. Fortunately for us, we had ourselves checked into the villa, and that itself, was something to elaborate about.

The traveling style of Thais are, once we check into the hotel, we will leave the very next moment to venture out exploring the region. The villa we checked into however, was one that once in, we never wanted to leave. Most resorts in the mountainous region of Phetchabun were erected just for the sake of being in the tourism game without thoughts for making one have a pleasant stay. They were of inferior built material, void of quality control, simply a cramped cubicle built in a rush with a hard bed and simple furniture thrown in. Pino Latte had took the direct opposite approach and invested heavily turning every bit of the designer’s plans into reality. We succumbed to a heavy sense of being pampered the moment we stepped in from her side door. A living room tastefully furbished with a sofa a large LED TV, a separated bed room with a stylish wooden cabinet and a marbled tiled elegant gleaming bathroom that one finds in 5 star hotels. Out the front, glass doors allowed full light into the futuristic cabin, a large deck extended out into the open heavenly landscape. I had the best unit of the 5, and I am gonna keep that a secret which number it was. Two large bean bags on the porch out front which we engulfed ourselves into and just sat there the whole afternoon without leaving the resort. Nescafe Dolce Gusto made me an espresso, sipped the acquired taste of bitterness with a front row seat to the land where clouds are born. The scene changed from minute to minute all the while accompanied by the sometimes very strong gust of coolness. My slippers were blown off the deck and I had to lazily plucked myself out of the bean bag to go retrieve it from the lawn below. At times we were infused with the omnipresence of white mist, others we watched the wispy clouds raised from the shadows of the valleys like emerging white horns that extended upwards, soon to move in on us again to embrace us in her dreamlike beauty. Blissfulness.

Cafe before Guest Arrives
I so wished the café above had served dinner, but their restaurant was not ready and still in the plans. Dinner served on the front porch accompanied by the fall of dusk would have been excellent. Someday I will do that when Pino Latte’s menu is ready. They do made an exception for breakfast however, food was served only for us resort guest up in the café. Incredibly, the pilgrims arrived even before the place was opened. Pleasantly, they had reserved us best seat in the house which overlooked the morning landscape unobstructed. It took however 2 hours for my hot meals to be served, I could tell they had tried their best. I was so enchanted by the sea of morning fog that the thought of complaint or hurrying the staffs did not even crossed my mine. Espresso chilled fast in the gusty 20 degrees air. No quad copter which flew the day before dared take on the skies. The panorama ever changing, the different scenes of heaven, the rising sun failed in her attempt to break through the mystical fog.

Night at Pino
Now writing this blog was really stressful. A million words wanted to spill out faster than how fast I could type, a million other thoughts buffered up behind the queue so wanting to described how spectacular my stay was at Pino Latte. On occasions, my nervous system hung, and my thoughts had jammed. I needed a reboot much like how you encounter the blue screen of death on any Windows systems. Back to the statement why I gave “best of all things in one spot”. Unlike the many other alternatives in the region where the view were normally interrupted by shoddy rooftops of countless other resorts, Pino Latte had herself a private view of the magnificent landscape beyond. It was like having a high circle seat without having to look at the heads of the other patrons below while watching the scenic parts from Lord of the Rings. Being at the fringe of a nature reserve, the vista is immune to future developments that could pollute the beauty of it all. Having only 5 units, privacy was at its best without the loud chatter of sometimes unavoidable ill mannered visitors. My travels to this region, normally I can’t wait to get out from the room the moment I checked in. There will usually be no creature comforts in anyways that made me want to just stay in and indulged in the immediate surroundings. Pino Latte, each villa so lavishly and boldly decked out. They were spacious and there will be no claustrophobic sensation I guarantee. I was so contented just staying put without venturing anywhere. Complemented by the trendy café up above with an equally amazing view of the dreamscape, this establishment had in a very short time become one of those places where, if you have never been to Pino Latte, you have never been to Khao Kho.

Bed Room
Living Room
Midnight Sun
Temple in the Clouds
View was Awesome
At the Cafe
Seat to Heaven
The Landscape
The Cabins
Window to the World

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Koh Chang, Mercure Koh Chang Hideaway

Big Pool
To me, Mercure chain of hotels had always been associated with business. The stay had always been in a corporately decked out room with my laptop placed on the table punching out reports after work, my reflection in the mirror looking right back at me with the TV tuned to MTV channel or CNN. On Koh Chang, it was a different vibe altogether. The room had walls splashed gleaming white from the skylight in perfect tune with a vacation ambience and a large canopy bed that I had no trouble dozing off without a thought of work on my mind. Loved that in villa plunge pool so welcoming on a scorching afternoon, I just so had to jump in every time I opened the large glass doors which separated the bedroom. My coffee shot, accompanied by the sound of splashes made by high water streaming into the blue tiled pool, relaxation. A push of a button and the corner had jets that massaged me back. Beyond the opposite corner, a Jacuzzi tub awaited me with hot water, my personal onzen. No more stark corridors of rooms facing each other on the way back to my unit, it was a stroll through lush green avenues of flora among the villas. Never had I experienced Mercure on such a non corporate level.

Oh Yeaaahhh...
Front of the restaurant, a large expense of a swimming pool that had no trouble accommodating the scatter of guest that still allowed for ample privacy and chit chats. And dotted around the span of water on the wooden deck, Jacuzzis were embedded into the flooring which offered cool relief from the noon sun as we soaked and looked out into the sea beyond. Tall coconut trees decorated the landscape and short shady trees shielded us from the direct sun in them Jacuzzis. If accelerated skin aging from too much sun is not your idea of a relaxing afternoon, head for the spa. We did, it was very reasonably priced for a hotel on such grand scale. The only confusing bit was, the connected Spa was a separated entity and not owned by the hotel so reservations by the reception did not work.

Though the shore laid out front of the resort offered no crystal clear water and white sand Maldivian pleasure, the sunset was spectacular. The western skies were painted a kaleidoscope of radiant orange and blue, that strange structure of what resembled crop circles casted an interesting contrasting silhouette. Many were out to greet the sun touching down, parents and children, the couples on their romantic holiday took loads of selfies. Sunrise, and the place awoke lazily under the shadow of the high hills that formed the backdrop. Resonance of metal cutlery on white ceramic, the gentle chatter of well mannered guests accompanied by the occasional churn of the coffee brewer. And of course, the wide spread of scrumptious gastronomy a fulfilling tasty breakfast. Off to somewhere venturing on Koh Chang, in between itineraries, we just retreated back into our villas and melted away. Seclusion the resort offered, the mind well rested. Lived up to her name, a hideaway indeed.

Pool Villa

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Koh Chang, The Journey

Koh Chang Ferry Service
A long weekend for Bangkokians means, must spend money. It was a holiday on Monday meaning it was a short 3 days breather. I expected fewer crowds, good traffic, but so wrong I was. Pleasantly, the trip to Koh Chang was 4 hours at an easy pace on route 344 towards the pier operated by Koh Chang Ferry Service (probably because I left home at 5am). Then on, it was a 45 minutes wait before driving up the ram into the belly of an old rusty ferry. The crossing was an additional 30 minutes. The conditions of the vessel, you can expect anytime the flaky rust will give way and into the murky abyss your car and you. We made it through. The journey back to Bangkok was grueling however. My fresh contented vibes after 2 relaxing days on the island was trashed by 10 hours of teeth grinding balls tearing transit accompanied by profuse swearing in Thai that I never knew I could be capable of. The queue of cars started more than 1km away from the pier where Koh Chang Ferry Services operated. In fact, it started where the end White Sand Beach was located. The throng of cars kept coming and the queue only grew longer. It was only 9am. If only they had amphibian cars, I would have brought that instead of my SUV.

Centerpoint Ferry Services
And so, I skipped on to the next ferry terminal. It was further away, it was called Centerpoint Ferry or something. I was delighted that it was actually cheaper there, but the crossing will take an hour instead of 30 minutes. But at least the queue was not as crazy as the earlier ferry service. I arrived into the parking lot where we were ushered to park in designated lots and queued in batches up the ferry. The only problem, there were already many batches waiting. 4 hours, 4 mind-numbing hours in total before we hit mainland! The journey to Bangkok was a straight beeline. However, the cops were acting stupid with their traffic lights and made every junction on route 344 red in the direction of Bangkok for 10 times longer than for the perpendicular traffic. Entire long sections of roads were clogged to a standstill. 2 lanes turned into 3 by those who made side gravel their personal lane. They were all Bangkok registration plates, they beat the traffic lights too. The saying is country people drive slow and stupid, city people drive smart, aggressive and don’t give a damn about traffic rules. Well trained in Bangkok jams, city folks had devised their own set of rules, methods and maneuvers to out beat slow traffic. I could really see how it worked then observing the driving behavior of cars with different locale registration. And naturally, I was also stirring up gravel at speeds, beating the lights, cursing and swearing all the way. And it still took me 6 friggin hours.

Getting up the Ferry
All in the Ferry
Queued up in Batches
Long long long long Queue