Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Eating in Lanta

Strange it was how mushy the crabs, it was like cream of crab dug from the fissures of the half body. Stanger it was the way the parrot fish meat just disintegrated with the pinch of my chopsticks. Only the consolation we had from the white prawns, the meat still sweat and tight. Where had all the fresh seafood gone? A sea town Sala Dan, the restaurant we dined named after – Sala Dan Restaurant. Ain’t a sea town by the sea supposed to have the freshest of catch, the fish meat sweet and white? Nay.

On this island getaway, all the freshest of catch, all had been snapped by the Chefs. At a premium they will pay, so why should the folks keep them for later part of the day. We envisage a sea town where the best of food will be kept for the local taste. But this is a misconception now in these days. To have good seafood, eat only in posh restaurants on the island. Only then your palate will truly be satisfied, that is if you are willing to pay. I’m not.

Dissatisfied we left the restaurant, and feel cheated we did for 300 grams of prawn charged when there were only 200 I had witnessed weighted. To be on Lanta, the best seafood will not be in the local eatery. How so saddening, commercialism had set in. The small engine putted in the dark roads back to Cha Da Resort. The roads were wet it had rained. Raining season in Thailand we knew starts from mid April to late October, but not so as told by the driver steering us back to our pool clad hideaway. In Lanta, the season starts in March, the tour operations were ceasing and they had only 2 boats out of many in service. Soon by end of April, the seas will be fiercely strong. The sky will no longer be forgiving, the winds will work with the storms. Lanta will then operate on low season, till November when tourism returns to norm.

Click here for full photo sets under Lazing in Lanta Mar 2009.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Koh Rok

The seas south of Thailand are like an ocean scattered randomly with gems. Koh Rok, one of the most distant islands south of Phuket and Koh Lanta is the furthest the operators will go without turning the trip into a sea sick torture adventure. The journey will take an hour and there are two island surrounded by emerald waters abundant with sea life for one to snorkel around in.

Being on a virgin trip to Koh Lanta, I booked the trip directly from the operator booth located next to the beach in Cha Da. Bad mistake. The opening price of $1400 was knocked to only $1300 and I took it. Only to realize later then when in the town of Sala Dan, I could get a similar trip for as good as $800.

A favorite haunt that I frequent for coffee or that ice cold lemonade is called Cat Fish Restaurant. They have plenty of cats there. As I spoke Thai to the friendly old lady, she told me of the $800 trip to Koh Rok, special price for people roo-jaik-gan (who know each other on the island). She could have gotten me that but I had already took on the one in Cha Da, bait line sinker and all.

The town of Sala Dan is dotted with a number of tour operators. In Cha Da where I curiously asked for car rental, I was offered $2000 per day for a pick-up and they had no other smaller vehicles. But in Sala Dan, the Suzuki was only going for $1000 ($1200 for Farangs the operator said discreetly).

And onto Koh Rok I went in the morning, to be the first passengers we were as the speed boat fetched the passengers from one beach to the other. The sea was rough and we ain’t going full speed as the pilot throttled up and down riding the swelling ridges and moving valleys created by the enchanting blue ocean.

The journey an hour long and could had been shorter on a better day. We reached anyway and were released into the inviting green waters on the west of the island pair. In the bay the sheltering effects was a good thing, preventing us from being swept away west and be collected in pieces on Indian shores.

Lunch was served simple, we had Thai food. Each lined up to scoop our servings and ventured off in our own directions to gorge under shades as the hermit crab scrambles into the crevices between roots of trees.

The wind caught up without warning and darkness gloomed at a distance sinisterly. In a time frame less then a third of an hour the boats sped away leaving us in wonder. Not long later the storm touched shores, the sun bright day had bleak down in rain, our mood turned a wee bit sour.

As the rain lightened with about thirty ticks of the minute, the shower gentle but still the waters churned in anger. My day shall not be ruin, I fear you not swirling waters. And so many ventured in, one by one with me joining the order. Surprisingly the water was pleasingly warm in contrast to the air so breezy, at a distance the roar of thunder. The waves broke shore with strength, my heavy ass the anchor. I win.

The day ended near 2 pm, we had snorkeled 3 bays in total. We galloped the high seas back to Lanta which took more then an hour. The body tired, the sun burn was impending. I soaked my self on the steps, I sipped my coffee with the room to my back. I enjoyed my day, the breeze was on, but darn, the squeaky screams of toddlers.

Click here for full photo sets under Lazing in Lanta Mar 2009.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Lazing in Lanta

And there I sat in the after light of the sunset contemplating. This will be my final holiday for now and shall be uncertainly long before I have the next. A package again I bought about a year ago during the Thai travel fair. Business was still rolling then and I had no troubles buying a break. Business is really bad this year and so at the fair just 2 weeks ago, I could only drool and dream. No more good relaxing holidays for me as there I sat concluding sadly.

Cha Da, located north east of Koh Lanta Yai is proclaimed to be one of the top 3 destinations on the island. This resort had two large pools visible form Google Earth. One of which I never dipped in lay further west near the beach, and the other made for rooms with pool access nested inland. There are a couple of different rooms offered but the highlight of this resort has to be the Gold Suite (having pool access). Having my own private waterfront meant a place to berth my whale of a body anytime I wanted when the heat got too extreme. Sitting on the steps half soaked enjoying a cold Heineken as the sun shone fiercely on the cool blue waters was exquisite. On one night the weather was hot, windless and humid. I stopped my copious flow of perspiration by sipping cold apple juice soaking in the same manner. Again, my thoughts if only everyday could be like that.

To get there, I got on the minivan service offered as part of the package. When the driver was asked on the travel time, he could only answer that it will take 1 hour to get to the pier. Beyond that, the timing was unpredictable. As no bridges links mainland to Koh Lanta Yai, we had to get on 2 vehicle ferry services across to Koh Lanata Noi and onto Koh Lanta Yai. If we had arrived during the peak season where both Thais and Farangs are a plenty during the New Year months, it could take as long as three hours just for queues. Since we will never know when chaos will set on the barges used for decades or we could never predict if there will be sudden mass human short term migration onto the island, he rather not speculate on the exact time it will take to get to Cha Da.

I had fish and chips on first arrival 3 in the afternoon after a 2 hours ride. It was large fishes swimming in sea of chips delivered. Definitely worth the 300 Baht it cost as the servings was made for that of the Farang. On some nights the restaurants offered buffet which was only satisfactory to the taste buds but very fair for the wallet. I would recommend for one to use the vouchers on the Ala Carte instead for the orders were generous in servings and the taste on a different level compared to mass cooked food. One advice I have on dining in Cha Da, bring your own mosquito repellent. On the first night, there was no breeze after a short rain. I had a hundred flying insects joining me for dinner sticking onto my sweaty arms and legs. On other nights, my legs were mosquito food in between sporadic occurrence of cool sea breezes. And the breakfasts were conveniently a buffet everyday and I had issues with their Dim Sums. The Siew Mai (Chinese meat dumplings) could be used as a ball replacement in a squash game and it could outlast the best squash ball ever made to last. The bacon was overdone tasting and having a texture like beef jerky. The rest of the spread were fine, I gave my thumbs 85% up on Cha Da food and 100% on the attentiveness and politeness of staffs.

Koh Lanta Yai is a very long island with about three large stretches of beach westwards for one to explore. This trip for me, no car rental. I am having a very bad economic crisis in my wallet and the GDP in my bank account is negative. So I spent my days only in the resort and the town called Sala Dan just a kilometer or two away. The sandy beaches front of Cha Da big and wide, the sand however not at all white. I was greeted by the color brown, to be stirred into a Milo shake as the sea broke the shore. The water ain’t clear on Lanata, it was definitely not Nai Harn of Phuket.

Though this ain’t no Phuket, the Farangs still flocked there in hordes, it was Swedish galore at Cha Da. I had no idea what’s with their country, but it seemed to me they are in a hurry to breed and over take the world. The Swedish occupation of Cha Da involved about 90% families with two to three screaming toddlers. The morning breakfast in the dining hall was more like a nursery gone wrong. Of the hundred or so occupancy, there were only three Thai clusters inclusive of me.

I turn my head to the east, I see screaming toddlers to my side,
I turn my head to the west, still the toddlers in sight,
So I turn my head to the north, want to purchase a pill called cyanide….

Just a joke about the cyanide thing… he he. Anyways, I asked the reception what’s with the Swedish spawning season. Was informed Cha Da had always been Swede occupied most of the time. There is a big agency in Sweden promoting the resort as a family destination with heaps of kiddy activities while the parents romance their time away. On everyday in the pool clad paradise, I saw different white rabbit or orange kola mascots entertaining the screaming sound machine toddlers so invasive to the chirps of birds and soothing sounds of breaking waves.

As I walked in the violet evening light in Sala Dan seeking out fresh seafood, Farangs, more Farangs and so many more Farangs. Strange it is how there exist hidden zoning factions in Thailand, like Bang Sean is mainly for Thais, but Pattaya will all be Farangs. Lanta? At least for the part I was in north west – Farang’s Zone.

To get around from Cha Da, there were “two rows” parked waiting front of the hotel. It cost 50 Baht per pax standard to get to the nearest town of Sala Dan. It cost only 40 Baht for Thais to get back.

And what breed of taxis were on Lanta? That of which was made of motorcycle with a passenger carrying rack woven together on a third wheel. Between clicks of gear change, the sun basked mid twenties driver told us about the upcoming Songkran, which will last only a day compared to Bangkok’s one week of wet t-shirts and wild fun. This is Muslim island he said, and Muslim not like wet and wild, Allah not like. The driver said he rents his service out for three hours at 300 Baht, one giant tank of water and maybe up to three Farangs. Around the towns he will go, as the Farang will play the Songkran.

And so I spent a 3 nights in Cha Da like any typical Asian, while the Farangs I knew from conversations heard had been there a whole 2 weeks and some even more. How you Farangs managed it I envy so much, as I believe yours will be a true holiday compared to the short Asian try-to-pack-everything-in-4-days style of travel. We Asians often end up more tired after a holiday then a working week. We don’t have the privilege of time-off-work on our hands like you do, we could only envy. However this trip round I lazed like you do (actually crisis in wallet) and I got to really rest my mind just waddling around the pool and doing nothing compared to how I would normally set off on exploration and cataloging the Island like the first man from the sea do. I had rested a plenty and am now back in Bangkok, my working holiday continues, the stress from bad business I am not immune.

These are the Emerald Suites, nothing much to them, no pool access.

Pool access rooms, otherwise known as Gold Suite.

I have heard of Crop Circles… but never heard of Crab Circles. The whole beach was just full of them.

A fat village cat in Sala Dan.

An island south of Koh Lanta I visited known as Koh Rok. Will blog about it soon.

Click here for full photo sets under Lazing in Lanta Mar 2009.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Tamboon Condo

And they came, not too early in the morning, a group of nine monks delivered in a van. We had tamboon in our condominium, organized by the office below. All residents were invited to attend, not all turned up. And we donated money in envelopes or bought food for the monk’s morning meal.

It seemed the first time our condominium had organized this, no one knew exactly what to do and some residents who had experience helped in. Not to worry as these monks although looked and dressed the same have an order in there. Somewhere in the nine, will be the F&B monk. He will tell you how to prepare the food and how it is to be offered. Event Organizer monk will appear among the nine to tell you what to do with the candles, holy water and such when all is lost and not know what proceeds in the middle of prayers. A Marketing monk will appear from thin air if you start to talk about future events. Welfare monk will tell you to turn the fan or air conditioning on when it gets hot. And how much money to offer, how it is to be presented? The Finance and Accounting monk will emerge and help you out. Band Leader monk (who sits first on the left) doubles as the Water Party monk to sprinkle all us with holy juice. The rest will be prayer monks. Lots of us were greenhorns in the blessing session. I had been to many but still hardly know how it works. But in all I had attended and when we were lost, the roles of certain monks will be revealed and came forth to aid.

If you are into community living in Thailand, Thais believe you should attend these in your residence if any or get one organized if none. It is good luck. It prevents bad things like… getting stuck in the lift for no apparent technical reasons for fourteen hours, toilet turning into a powerful geyser with your lovely neighbors’ contents when sitting on it, your car being attacked by cat scratches from about sixteen neighboring cats in the parking lot, pigeon running into your eye beak first when you open your car door, running into a hot iron on the ironing board in the morning naked and groin first… whatever.

So there I sat through the session, immersed in the monotonous gothic like chorus of chants. The drone of hymn reverberated through every cell of my body and every particle of the walls. It was good to be there.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Jobs in Thailand

It is an indication that the job market is bad when one advertisement in JobsDB lands you overwhelming heaps of resumes. It is an indication that business is bad when friends in MNCs tell you they have a retrenchment exercise and a head count freeze. It is also an indication when the farang you know got retrenched and get stressed about how to go on in this Kingdom. The market is bad, everyone is cutting back. However, the only companies that are charging forth through are the energy and oil businesses. Five and a half month bonus, some of my friends got. Back to the topic of bad economy, a lady friend had a Korean boyfriend turned ex. He got retrenched and just disappears, with the one million Baht car signed under an installment plan in her name. She will go to court soon. Who said girls in Thailand with an expat relation are lucky? Wrong assumption, some expats can be bastards.

And still, Thailand remains an attractive environment to work in for her various charms. And still, would be expats are sending out hundreds of resume only to be left hanging in the dark without a reply. As I have been here a couple of years now, I have learned the best way to land a job would be through re-assignment/location from your home country’s company into this City of Angels. That’s when the lucky expats get big fat pay living like high-so kids from well off families. Ever wondered why our resumes never get read, ever wondered why we are always left hanging? Why does a great big European, American, Australian or what not MNC not hire your white, yellow or whatever skin of an expat?

The HR in such companies are Thai and Thai will know Thai pay. Maybe to impress their relocated expat boss they want by telling the big savings getting an equally qualified but bad English speaking Thai. Maybe it involves jealousy when looking at what expats expected to be paid and most likely will by their expat boss. And most likely, the entire HR team is so short sighted they don’t see the investment value in us. They think in a small box, narrow minded and uncreative. They are why we don’t get hired. Wrong, all wrong these stupid ways, for I had witnessed a daring Thai company invest in an expat and the sudden influx of foreign related business the company beneficially enjoyed. An expat also brings professionalism to one’s company and could also influence and change the “sabai-sabai” working attitude of Thais for the better. Expats are efficient, creative and energetic engines (just don’t hire a drunk). Expats can bring a whole new world and clouds of original ideas into an operation. HR, please think out of the box for the benefit of your companies, tune to an investment mind for Buddha’s sake. Expats wannabe, I understand you.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Luk Kruengs Lucky?

It’s a question difficult to answer, it always depends on the equation. A story of that I will tell, of that which happened in the condo I live. Bart (lets call him Bart for he was more of a brat as the residence knew him) is a “luk-krueng” (mixed blood), father a Japanese mother is a Thai. It is in the Thai’s eye that “luk-kruengs” are the luckiest people alive, with one money loaded parent of overseas origin, they are presumed to mature into someone smart, rich or a beautiful/handsome movie star. Well not all share the same fate as this tale I will tell.

Bart hung with the security guards 24 by 7. He hardly went home. He slept in the gym, in the ping pong room and ate with the security guards or staffs of the office. At an early teenage transition he was, rude and harassment associated remarks he would pass on the girls in our condo. Lately, he had disappeared. No longer do we see the dark bespectacled boy lingering all day around our condo. As inquisitive as I have always been, I asked the Thais.

Bart was a problem child, his mother had huge issues with him. Unable to control him, she let him be and so he decided to choose his own way, drop out of school and move out of the apartment. Where his father was no one knew. And so without his parents support and with no money for meals, residents started to help him out. Some would ask of him to go buy food and deliver to their rooms, giving him a large tip in return for his daily necessities. Why this treatment his mother did, no one knew either and could only speculate.

A life desperate, a life would lapse into the unethical route, as always the easiest avenue in Thailand. Near his last few days around, he kept the money advanced by the residents and disappeared for periods using the doe for his own affairs. The residents started to complain and it was decided to bar him from the condo altogether. His mother was notified and in fear that Bart would return, she simply sold the apartment and moved out as fast as she could. That’s it, simple, just run, run away from it all. Thailand is so big and one could hide so well. Bart never returned to the condo, or maybe he did but to find his only parent had gone. There, he faded into just another statistical part of the population.

The stereotyping that all “luk-kreungs” are lucky, get good education and grow up to be someone great and live a comfortable life is not so correct an assumption anymore. I had even seen “luk-kruengs” boys or girls selling garlands at traffic junctions. It all depends on the equation.