Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Protest and Not a Police in Sight

Out with the Shins
Since the weather has been so great this season, I decided to join the crowds at Asoke intersection the Sunday passed. This, just to see for myself the ongoing protest that had been going on for some time. Got there by MRT, it was so crowded. MRT reported record breaking Sunday commute, normally a day when travelers are few. Pack like sardines my journey to Sukhumvit station, passengers had whistles hung off their necks. They were all going to the various protest sites scattered in the heart of Bangkok. Finally reaching, the ascend to road level was more than peak hour traffic, the sound of whistles from above ground could be heard through the passage.
Just out of the MRT
As I emerged, the atmosphere was a concert, not a protest. All smiles, and of course all the constant whistling in a relentless effort to blow the Shins out of the country. Bumped into some friends who were there since the early noon, they sat on the road, enveloped in the cool winter air beneath the clear skies. The babbling from the speakers echoed off the surrounding buildings, the sight of news helicopter reflected off the glass facade. Was there danger, no. There could be snipers I don't know. No one threw ping pong bombs, the nearest ping pong are the ejected ping pongs from ping pong shows at Soi Cowboy or Soi Na Na. No tear gas fired, strangely, not a police in sight, they didn't care or came they did not dare.
They came on Bikes
Cars and motorcycles parked everywhere on the roads that lead to Asoke, caretakers were there to watch over them. On bicycles some came, they had Thai flags and more tied to show their support in the fair. The cafes were filled, the tourist sat there. Watched the activities and with Thai flag stickers on their faces some had. It was an awesome sight. The spirits were high, the music played. There was singing as a thousand people and more their Thai flags waved in the air. Free drinks and food were distributed, all an act of voluntary effort. There was a first aid section set up, a drinks station setup, and I could see public cleaners at their corner waiting for their turn to sweep the grounds. It was well organized.

We can all Pee Now
A mobile toilet, which was just toilet in a bus, came to the relief of the many participants who were already overloading the public toilet of the many shopping arcades surrounding. This Sunday, central Bangkok could also had experienced record breaking toilet flushes and sewage flow.  More than 3 million the turnout throughout, just tens of thousands the news reported came out. Peaceful it was, chaos said some media source. There were some teens seen on noisy modified scooters riding about, whistle blowing, potential trouble causing, but part of the crowd they were not. These were the "third-hand" of the activities that should be caught. But where were the police? What to believe and what not, social media, public media, information of all sorts. You just have to join one, and then after that the answers you will have got.

All over and Above
Sitting on the Roads
Koreans? Japs?
Free Drinks from the Sikh
Flags and more Flags
Drinks Station
First Aid
Terminal 21 Overan
Good Business
For the Hair
Cleaners on Standby

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Cold Spell 2013 in Thailand

Enjoying my Morning Tea
This year end, Thailand is now experiencing one of her best hidden weather system mother nature has to offer. It has been a long time since we experienced prolonged cool winter months for several years now. For the past many years, we could only mark out a few calendar days where in December and January, it was cool. But not this year of 2013. Ever since the end of Nov, the cooling phenomenon had stayed till now. Fantastic outdoor dining experiences, gulping drinks in chilly beer gardens through the night. Warm out in the morning having my hot tea as I blogged away had been truly enjoyable. Gardening in the afternoon when the breeze brought the wind chill was like working in an air conditioned room with thermostat set comfortably right. Especially if it rained the day before, the skies would be a saturated blue contrasting the lighter buildings in the foreground sight. With occasional clouds above so white, the scene is of canvas colors, it resembles the opening prelude of The Simpsons I so like. In the night, the motorcycle taxi drivers congregates around small fires fueled by wood and dry withered leaves. An orange glow wraps the shed, the seasoned faces and their scooters. The shadows casted ever so wobbling behind, this scene unseen for the many years that had passed.
Enjoyng Working Outdoors
Great for strolling abouts where normally one would not, it's time for Chatuchuk shopping where usually hot and sweaty one gets I have not forgot. The anti government protesters are having a great time not needing to break much sweat. Cool weather is great for everything, it makes everyone's mood just that tad lighter and brings about smiles just that bit brighter. Great for outdoor BBQ, great for coffee alfresco. Great for sports such as golf, jogging, badminton, but okay not too good for nipple hardening swim. Great for dragging lazy dogs out for walks, even accidentally stepping on dog shit in the weather is great. I had been sleeping without air conditioner and just my windows opened, it was great. My house late few days had temperatures never exceeding 26 degrees C in the afternoon and the seasonal winds brings it to a good 17 low in the night, I so love it very much. Neighbor's Persian cats kept warm by their fluffy fur coat, my rabbit hops happily mad in the garden in his fancy dress coat. News just this morning, this climatic system will be here to stay till mid January of 2014. Lets see, lets hope it does.

Giant Ladybug in Cool Garden

Friday, December 20, 2013

Crazy about Evason Hua Hin

Hua Hin in Rainy October

See the Discreet Stream? It is There
Call me crazy, but I was back in Evason Hua Hin twice in the last 2 months. The first time was in October, a month filled with rain. The sun broke between lengths of bleak cloud covers but the upside was the cooling and constant breeze that enveloped this seaside resort. As always, Evason's theme of eco friendliness knocked my stress level down many notches the moment I was whizzed into the compound on their golf buggies. Just strolling within the resort is itself therapeutic to the senses, but beware the free acupuncture sessions from mozzies. Night walks after dinner was lovely among her walkways through the greens, a serene sense of calm. Lined along most paths are hidden streams where the fauna sprouts, but these could be booby traps for one not to careful. So, take your time, stroll and enjoy the fresh air, walk slow in case if you were to end up submerged in the dark, at least you get submerged slowly. I saw they have bicycles for leisurely rides among the compound, which could mean you can end up submerged very fast in either the lotus pond or the many streams if you ain't careful in the dark.

More Night Water Traps.....
This weekend, surprisingly the pool was not a zoo compared to the last time I was there. And so I had the chance to waddle in her large open waters gazing out the rough seas breaking shores. It was also the first time I had tried the dinner within her restaurants. Though every dish in her buffet was sumptuous, the variety was very limited probably due to the small number of diners. When in Hua Hin, holiday makers usually eat out where the local delicacies are plentiful more. Breakfast, I sort of got a feeling they had it well plan out in advance for the weekend mostly Asian crowd. No longer do we need to fight for that sacred bacon as it was constantly refilled, plus they had an additional buffet line setup just for satisfying the cravings of a hundred bacon fetish patrons. Many many more pigs must have been sacrificed just for the weekends, and they must have been doing it in the kitchen for being able to make steady supply.

Organic Gardens in Evason
Well, as for floating in my private pool villa, staring up at blue skies in relaxation, no, it did not happen. For some reasons, our bookings went haywire and we were "downgraded" to a studio room. It all began when we got strange calls from the hotel discouraging us to go on the weekend we booked, they said there was rain. We told them we did not want to postpone our company trip just because of that. If they had told us that NASA had calculated the projectile of some mysterious near Earth asteroids that will hit Evason, we would have gladly postponed. Not going into details on how the mistake was made, I will only highlight on how professional it was handled eventually. Evason strived in every aspects of customer satisfaction, you will not be let down. We definitely were well taken care of with the sales admitting her blunder. I will be back again for that much needed break in her pool villa. I was so pleased with Evason that I decided to take an extra night the next round I am there.

Hua Hin Winter December

And so I was back for the third time in December following that previous booking hiccup which turned my trip a bit sour. This round, I stayed in villa 237. I found out that some of the villas actually are much larger in area and spots an additional Jacuzzi. Not only that, villa 237 has a large garden within, the lotus pond divides in between. To get into these villas, one will have to know they exist first, thus my review here to tell. You need to request for them, they go for the same price as any of the other villas too. The first thing I did was jumped into the pool. The next thing I immediately did was quickly get out of the pool after my nipples turned into stone. Anyone would associate Thailand with warm tropical climate but this year 2013 in the month of December, Hua Hin was enveloped in sub 30 degrees C temperatures in the day which cooled down to a low 18 in the night. As a result, water cold, many bodily extremities shrunk.

So it took a couple of wine and running around in circles before I decided to engulf myself in the square tub Jacuzzi located next to the sala. I found it pleasantly warmer then the pool, could be the wine, could be it was just that warmer because it is just that a smaller body of water. Downside was, why was the water murky? I didn't want to imagine what the previous occupants were doing in there. Ok maybe they just took a soapy bath. So, just I laid back, relaxed and hope I didn't see any floating tiny curls left behind.

Great Steak
I went for the half board 2000 Baht package, never regretted, highly recommended. It included free bicycle rentals, an archery session to shoot at boards, not birds. Also included was a spa treatment, the first ever which I tried in Evason and it was fantastic. I became a pile of melted cheese glued to the bed and never wanted to leave. There was a dinner in the package, picked a starter, a main course and that sweet desert to close the feast. I contemplated much about having the steak, but glad I was I eventually did have it. No one makes good steak in Thailand, most chefs and menu highlights of western food are all in a way fake. From my experience, there was once I had asked for medium and felt like I was eating a live cow instead. So through another episode I asked for medium well and I ended up eating what I felt was a rubber ball. I developed so much jaw muscle on that dining experience that my facial shape began to resemble our exiled prime minister. But here at Evason, the steak was fantastically great. The tenderloin was cooked to the right degree, the texture of the meat was easy on me jaws. The searing was done correct, the fragrance of beef fats, the juices flowing, you just gotta try it. Three days and two nights passed so fast, till we meet again Evason a relaxing stay always.

Outdoor Bath

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Malay Wedding in Bangkok

A Happy Occasions
Just looking at this picture, anyone would have thought I had arrived in Malaysia. I will start to get phone calls from friends for "let's go party" or "let's go eat what you like" and maybe even, "please come to our office, we really need your help". No.... I am not in Malaysia. This was actually in Bangkok, at a mosque, for a wedding I was to celebrate a friend's happy occasion. It was a rather weird experience for me. I am used to hearing Malay conversations where there are congregations of Malays but here, Thai was spoken out aloud clear and muffled all through the crowd. They said Singapore is multi-cultured with the four races (now it has gone more than just four with the flood of foreign talents), but here, Thailand is a land that is of the same too. In fact, the infusion here is even better, all races speak the same language - Thai.

The Open Air Dinner
Mosque in Bangkok
Hey Look, a mini Arabian
And of course, the Happy Couple

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The 50 Baht Heritage Tour

Where we boarded the Boat
Back to the Klong Lad Ma Yom Floating Market. There along the klong, a somewhat middle aged man was speaking through a loudhailer. I decided to move closer and have a look. What's this I asked. 50 Baht tour by boat, one hour plus, visit home stay. Whatever that really meant I had no clear idea, but jumped at it I did. It was only 50 Baht and I had time on my hands.

We sat shoulder to shoulder, two to a row in the long tail boat propelled by a splattering diesel. Well most of us sat that way except for a lone big farang. Farangs are very useful in theses very low riding long tail boats, he was asked by the boat man to shift left, right and then some till the boat balanced out. Didn't know large farangs can be used this way, organic counterbalance indeed. The engine revved up, with a puff of diesel fumes emitted from behind the boat, our journey started.

The Thailandpost Postman
Riding low and gently slow along the narrow waterways, we saw how life was like by the klongs. Alongside were footpath erected above the water, that's the only way the folks there could get home. The inhabitants could be seen walking the windy and sometimes precarious pathways, on occasions a motorcycle steering about in a carful balancing act whizzes pass. Electrical cables on poles sprouted out of the murky waters and ran the length of the waterways. Plastic blue pipes delivering fresh water into the vicinity held by ropes hangs off the walls. There was one fisherman we saw clearing his net as our boat drew close to him, his catch was not fish but an accidental water snake. We were taken back a few decades on this journey, I saw how post was delivered by the postman on boat. This is real life, not a mock up of past traditional ways.

Homes by the River
About half an hour later, we arrived at someone's house. The boat berthed alongside his residence and we gingerly stood up and stepped onto dry land trying not to rock the boat about too much. He welcomed us in, the whole crowd, and explained things. Life by the klongs are fast disappearing, many of such areas had been overtaken by large developers offering large sums of money. These developers fills the land in, and erected large scale housing estates we see so common now across rural areas surrounding the metro. His community will resist the offer, and keep life the way it used to be. This so just to retain the heritage, for us and all future urban folks to see. The house was of very traditional built, weathered timber infused with cement, red tiled floors and wooden decks. He welcomed us to visit all rooms, except maybe one that is lock with his daughter changing within. Decorated with items of antiquity, the visitors posed, the cameras clicked. We chatted in cool winter weather, he told tales of the river lives, the people, the past, the now and the future. This is the way life was and is for him. His ambition, to submit the area into the UNESCO list.

Home Stay.. . . . Eerie..
We were guided to walk the pathways to where our boat was waiting. Go through the home stay over somewhere there and then ask for directions to the temple where our boatman awaits. Somewhere there? Where? He said follow the path then left left right left or something. It turned out to be an interesting treasure hunt as we separated from the main group on our own. Navigating the walkways not marked on the GPS I so desperately tried to use, we somehow arrived at a doorway where a woman greeted us. She ushered us in and told us she had turned her compound into a home stay for visitors. Among the greens and algae ridden stone walkways, there one rustic bungalow that look from the set of Tim Burton's movies stood. Interesting indeed to find such lodging within a place like this, it is well known not, but through words of mouth and social media her hope is for the reach.

The search for the Temple
Going further thru the lost world of the rural, we eventually found the temple and we found our boatman. We stepped in the long tail boat floating low on the water, the farang shifted according to instructions to balance the boat. The engine revved up. Puttering spluttering, our journey ends with the sight and sound of the floating market that came into view.

Riding low on the Klong
Riding low on the Klong
A Traditional House by the Klong
The Compound from Above
Rustic Furniture
Open Roof Toilet
Dining Table
A Small Classroom
Free Drinks for Guest
The Alley
A Traditional House
Riding low on the Klong

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Off the Beaten Track to Hua Hin

A trip to Hua Hin and anyone will tell you to take Rama II road, onto Phet Kasem and through Phetchaburi. Eventually one arrives in Chan Am where one takes the straight road south, skirting pass Hua Hin airport and finally arriving into her town. Getting there on weekends means raised blood pressure in stupid traffic because everyone in Bangkok wants to go there at the same time.

Off the Beaten Track
Now, there is a more interesting and relaxing way to get there for the traveler, a shorter way, but on narrower roads. This means slower drive but at least, one is moving in car instead of swearing and extending curses to all the ancestors of the drivers in surrounding vehicles. This is a less well known route through the coastal planes inundated by salt farms. To get on to this alternative, head left just immediately off a PTT petro station on Route 35. Not sure what the name of this road is but to the station is mark 13°21'25.53"N, 99°56'17.36"E on the GPS. The turn off is also also spots a small sign that states Shortcut to Cha Am.

The Alternative
Immediately, you will be greeted by a vast expanse of flat lands on the rural roads that you travel. On both sides will be waterlogged pastures of which some are for aquaculture but mostly for harvesting salts. You could easily tell which areas are meant for what by simply winding down your windows. Stench of a thousand rotten fish means fish farming, no stench means where the salt is. If the season is correct, which unfortunately for me was not, there will be salt flats gleaming white and visible, stretching for miles beyond and into distance.

To satisfy your hunger, the area is dotted with countless small restaurants offering very fresh seafood from the region. We found what was called Boat Restaurant (13°15'53.26"N, 99°56'35.98"E) and never regretted our decision to try it out. As the name says it, it is a restaurant on a boat. There was a not so common exotic vegetable dish that we ordered and it seemed to be the kind of stuffs that you scrap off the bottom of fishing boats. But hey it was tasty nevertheless and we found out eventually that it was harvested from the many mangroves surrounding. We had baked crab and we hit jackpot. It was fully pregnant with roe and ohhhh roe so good.. but so bad for the cholesterol. The Fried River Prawns with Garlic was fantastic too with the white meat deep fried in good hot oil. The shell was a crisp and the meat retaining moisture with the taste of garlic well coated and permeated. All in all, the meal was reasonably priced at a mere 700 Baht.

Took us 4 hours to get to our destination but it was a great drive and the Boat Restaurant was an added discovery. Get off the beaten track and onto something new. Thailand is so big and so full of places to fascinate one that seeks. Always something amazing and unseen at every turn of the common roads.

PTT @ 13°21'25.53"N, 99°56'17.36"E
The Scenic Route is full of View Points
Roe, so much Roe
Signs stating you are on the Scenic Route
In the Restaurant
The Strange Weedy Dish
Boat Restaurant