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

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Koh Chang, Somewhere in the Middle of it All

Ice Cold Beer with Sunset on Koh Chang
It sizzled, the perspiration that fell onto stone floor of Mercure Koh Chang Hideaway as I dragged my luggage towards the reception. The blazing noon sun scorched the island south east near the Cambodian border. One of the last few islands I had yet to adventure, one of the islands that never crossed my mind. My perception of Koh Chang had always been not a good one. The water not as crystalline as that in western Adaman, it was tinted green and my experiences with Ao Thai often ended up with scores of itching spots on my body after a swim. Ao Thai is like a ginormous bay where the Chao Phraya and her sister rivers drain into. Carrying silt from the northern farms, the “treated” waste water from the numerous industries, and the sewers from the many uncharted black water klongs of Bangkok metropolitan area. No major ocean current passes into and out of this bay, only the sun and moon working in tandem pulling the seas in and out. What’s in the bay stays in the bay. That said, waters of Ao Thai had never been my favorite.

Twist and Turns
Like how Burma is separated by mountain ranges from Thailand, there is actually Western and Eastern Koh Chang separated by high terrain. Unlike Koh Samui where the road went one big round along the fringes of the island, on Koh Chang, the road forked away starting from the north where we arrived, and did not join up on the southern trip. That said, wrong turn meant ending up somewhere far far away and having to turn back. That was why GPS was invented, and we were blessed with in car GPS. The western side of the island was more popular in every way, an abundance of secluded resorts from cheap to the luxurious, stretches of shores and breaking waves, plenty of restaurants, loads of both hip and rustic pubs, and homespun coffee shops. Driving was fun and frustrating at times. The fun bit was negotiating the twisty up and downhill roads. The frustrating bit was when we encountered drivers who drove what seemed like cars powered by squirrel in their exercise wheel.

Sunset at Sea View Resort and Spa
Food, well if you are a farang, all Thai food will taste nice to you on Koh Chang. As a seasoned foreigner here, food was not strikingly good. Plenty to choose from, Thai food from the common shops, exquisite cuisines in the hotels, or that tried to be western food so hard by the beach cafe. First day, we had lunch at Jea Yu Seafood (Sister Yu), trusting the reviews on the ever so popular Pantip Website in Thai. It was bang for buck. It was the better than average Thai food going at mainland prices. And one day we had a salad dinner high on top of this hotel called Sea View Resort and Spa, and that’s where I discovered that Thai avocado was very bitter. Best sunset view however, and they even had a tram that goes down to the beach below where another beach bar and restaurant was located. For one of our lunches, we hopped into Nong Bua Seafood at Klong Prao Beach. It felt like eating in a seafood restaurant in Bangkok, the prices the same too. But I have to say, this restaurant has standards, it was the best meal I had (because I am from Bangkok??).

Fishermen Village
Venturing all the way to the southern parts of Koh Chang was interesting, a placed called Bang Bao Fishermen village. There, a jetty extended out into the sea and along side of it, a settlement of eateries, shops and residential homes built on stilt had evolved. Or maybe it was the other way round, a jetty was impaled into the settlement, I don’t know. It was an alley way the jetty had become, and as we strolled thankfully in the fully covered walkway, scores of restaurants offering fresh seafood to choose from. They were Bangkokly priced however. We turned into an inviting café for a good coffee and some fruit smoothies. Yes I mentioned some, it was so hot I had to cool from inside out. This café featured a free roaming Holland Lop rabbit. We could see the critter hopping around creating long moving shadows on the wooden well glazed floor. The good side of being there on an extremely hot mid afternoon was, there were no crowds. Thais are distant relatives of ancient vampires, they do not venture out when the sun is high up. The farangs however, not too many, were there and some bare bodied to beat the heat and collaterally emitting armpit odors.

Beach Bar After Dark
There was a drinking joint slightly to the north of Lonely Beach. You need to try turn every corner to discover places like theses. They had a bar serving cocktails and booze, they had a wooden deck spread out across the shore front. Most Thai clubs and pubs have really bad taste of western music. About the only songs they played were pluses of electronic drums at 200000000 decibels to go along with euphoric minds on yaba (drugs). In cafes and chill out joints wannabe, they played mainstream over the radio songs we hear over and over again in our cars while stuck in notorious Bangkok jams. But at the place we went, KYGO was reverberating pleasantly over the air. Chill out vibes, the occasional breeze. The sound of gentle breaking waves, darkness and stars. It was unison and it drew a smile across me face. This place knows real music.

My smile was wiped into oblivion when I was served my barbequed steak. It was real bad. Like I mentioned before, many eateries tried hard to be western, but never will be. Can’t blame them. Cambodians on the grill. I had problems ordering initially as well, our common language was Thai, he spoke bad Thai, me spoke bad Thai, it was a miracle we somehow telepathically understood each other. And then came an unruly crowd of Indians, likely tourist. Fat cow sat on my table without even asking if seat was taken, me wife went to the ladies. I tried to explain to that woman seat was taken and she refused to budge. So wanted to sacrifice her in a religious ceremony then. Her husband who fortunately spoke English came to herd her away to graze on another table.

Township on Island
Never did have time to venture over to the eastern side of the island. Was told there was not much to do, but plenty of original localities one could find I guess. The shores we visited plenty. For me, best was Whites Sand Beach towards the north. Large gentle sloping shores, whitest sand on the island. The rest were mediocre, and the beach in front of our hotel, only if you like to swim with rocks and mud. Koh Chang, a change from the over infested Samed Island, a more rustic setting then Phuket and Samui. No nasty mafia ran Jet Ski touts like those on many other popular destinations and umbrellas do not grow on shores like in Pattaya. Was not overly infected by chic cafes like those all over Hua Hin and amenities were more accessible compared to stuck in one resort on Koh Kood. To get far away from Bangkok onto an island in the middle of the tourism scales, that what it was.

Ferry to Koh Chang
Ferry to Koh Chang
Ferry to Koh Chang
There a Hog there... . .
Fishermen Village
Fishermen Village
Fishermen Village
Fishermen Village
Fishermen Village
Fishermen Village
Sunset on Koh Chang
Mercure Koh Chang Hideaway
White Sands Beach
White Sands Beach
Alley in Fishermen Village
Interesting Bike for Rent