The best revenge on life's cruel jokes is an equally wicked sense of humour.
20 Dec 2011 2 Comments
26 Nov 2011 6 Comments
Sawasdee khrup… Greetings from Bangkok!
I was roaming the streets for things to shoot with EX-ZR100 when I met this guy…
His name is Derng or something like that.
I cannot imagine if I was in his
shoes slippers, would I have the courage to face the world?
Makes that few wrinkles, dark circles and blemishes on my face that much more trivial. Sometimes we lament and complain we have it bad…
And those who carry on living with disablement like him.
24 Feb 2011 6 Comments
18 Feb 2011. Our second day in Phuket coincided with a holy day in Thai Buddhism. Like Vesak Day, the major Buddhist festival that celebrates the birth and enlightenment of Buddha, no alcohol is sold and all vices stopped for a day in respectful homage. All the pubs, bars and nightclubs are closed and devout hookers stayed home. I was resigned to having a solemn and early night in the hotel too.
Then I received an invitation to a house BBQ party by a friend I’ve made in Phuket during my first visit. Thank God!! And the house was really a sight to behold. It was just round the corner from my hotel, up a hill, and a total rip-off by the cab to get there (300bht for a 10-minutes ride; that’s S$12 for a distance from Orchard Ion to Marina Square) but totally worth it.
Almost as soon as I stepped into the house, I had to bend down and pick up my jaw from the floor. The hillside villa was huge and the view was breathtaking.
This most impressive house I’ve ever been in has 3 levels – an upper hall that houses the kitchen, 2 dining areas and a generous patio that looks out into the horizon; a middle relaxation hub with a billard table, kick-ass home entertainment system, pool and BBQ pit; and a lower deck plateaued by a small garden carved from the hill.
Initially, I thought Trevor must have struck it rich with his travel agency to afford a dream house like this then he told me he was actually house-sitting. Damn! I was going to ask him to employ me as a live-in butler.
By the way, if you’re thinking about booking accomodation, transport or day trips in Phuket, you can look for Trevor. His company is Sby Leisure Travel and Tours. He can really get good rates. Got him to book Le Tong Hotel for me and got about 35% off the internet rates posted on the hotel’s website.
Also befriended Gary during the party, the owner of Amethyst Residence in Patong. Didn’t get a chance to check out the place or stay there to do a review, but I was told the 1 year-old hotel is pretty popular. It’s currently ranked no. 74 out of 186 hotels in Phuket. You could book Amethyst Residence through Trevor too and maybe get a rate better than the internet’s.
I got to meet quite a few people during that gathering, mostly Caucasian retirees with a huge sense of humour. Amidst laughing at the so many politically incorrect jokes, I found out that to retire in Phuket, you need to be above 60, have 800,000bht (approx. S$33,500) and prove that you have a source of regular monthly income in the form of pension or any other means.
I was told what some Singaporeans do is that they rent out their whole flats for a monthly income and retire this way. Hmm… Maybe I should think about it as an option when my time comes. And hopefully I can own a property like this or get to house-sit it.
Anyway, in the middle of all the chatter and laughter, mostly provided by Ian who should really be a comedian, I lost count of how much wine I drank. I didn’t feel tipsy or anything at all but the next morning, I woke up to this…
I had no recollection at all that I puked! Nope. Zero. No idea. I woke up grossed out at the idea of sleeping with my vomit. I think I’ve been punished for not observing the no-alcohol-on-holy-day rule. Or was I nauseous because I saw this…
23 Feb 2011 6 Comments
There are 2 kinds of R & R one can get at Phuket, Thailand – Rest and Relax on one of its many beaches, or get a load of the Risque and Restricted. More so if you’re a farang. The latter R & R comes hunting for you and sex on the beach ceases to be the name of an alcoholic shooter.
Being Chinese, I was mostly spared the hustling by the bar girls and street hookers but I still got my hands filled with boobies, by accident, on the last night of my recent vacation on the island. Had it not been for that tantalising encounter, this fourth trip to Phuket could very well be summarised with a yawn. Then the unexpected following happened…
… and this holiday will be remembered as the first time I’ve ever squeezed fake tits on an ex-man! I like to keep an open mind about life, especially during travels, and I’ve encountered quite a lot of shockers in my last 30-plus years so very few things actually jolt me, but I was so embarrassed by this ‘attack’ of the khatoeys (Thai for transsexuals / transvesttites / ladyboys).
I was just strolling along the flashy Thanon Bangla Road that starts from the Patong Beach police post and ends at the Jung Ceylon mall… taking photos and videos of the vibrant nightlife where older Caucasian gentlemen are treated like abalones by the flux of Thai women, trying to weave my path in the crowd, minding my own business, doing my own thang… and suddenly a khatoey (the one with the hairband) took my camera, passed it to someone and got that person to take our pictures. The one in glasses quickly joined in.
Respectfully, I placed my hands around their waists when posing for the photos but that’s not how they like it. My hands were guided onto their breasts before I know what’s happening and it was over before my face had the chance to turn red from the embarrassment.
It happened very fast, but I’ll not forget how those saline-filled implants felt. I think they were augmented with saline rather than silicone gel because they felt turgid as opposed to the softer and more natural feel of silicone fillings. Not that I’ve touched silicone ones to compare but this I can be sure… the difference between man-made boobs and natural breasts are like touching hard-boiled eggs and tofu puddings.
But taking photos with these khatoeys on Thanon Blanga is not free. They are like street performers except that they bask their novel sexual deviation and eye-popping costumes for a tip. There is no standard rate but I gave them 100bht (S$4.20) each. I saw 20 and 50bht in their stack too so I guess those amounts will suffice as well.
Transsexualism / transvestism is as well-known a cultural export of Thailand as tom yum, and I think this is where the nation exemplifies the virtue of tolerance and acceptance, ingredients that allow everybody to spice up their soup of life!
If I’m not wrong, Thailand has possibly the most male-to-female transgender people in the world and they’ve perfected the artistry of drag so don’t miss checking them out. In Phuket, apart from the Thanon Bangla ladyboys who pose for photos with you for money, there’s the famous Simon Cabaret where the khatoeys impersonate well-known stars in a broadway-like entertainment extravaganza (Ticket price : 600bht).
If you are on a budget, would like to decipher the art of lip-syncing by these female impersonators and adventurous, one alternative is to visit some of the local nightclubs that have these performances. There are some straight clubs that have the shows but your best bet would be the dance clubs at the Phuket gay district. Situated right smack in the middle of Patong town, just look for the prominent Paradise Hotel (it is one of the tallest buildings easily visible); the short street in front of it is where businesses tapping the pink dollar congregate. It’s free to watch these shows although you may be approached to purchase a drink. A beer costs between 80 – 100bht.
This encounter with the khatoeys of Phuket was my most unforgettable experience during this visit so I’m starting the chronicles of my encounters with this entry. There’ll be more posts coming up but I’ve also yet to complete my backlog of posts about my Cebu trip so I know it’ll be a little confusing, but posts about these 2 places will be interspersed.
Hope this entry introduces you to a common sight in Phuket that the tourism authority would rather not focus on and give you an idea of where to go, or avoid, if you want to a 4Rs with 4Ds (Rest & Relax with the Risque & Restricted access to Drag Dolls & Drama Divas) taste of this island resort!
09 Jan 2011 6 Comments
in Travel, Thailand Tags: Thailand, Legend of the Seas, Isles of Southeast Asia, Royal Caribbean, Phuket, Phang Nga Bay, Sea Cave Canoe, Ko Hong, Bat Sea Cave, Lawa Yai, Limestone Cave, Guilin on Sea, Sea Lagoon
‘Sabai’ is Thai for the state of being well / good / happy; and repeating the word intensifies the expression to describe a wellness beyond words, to mean “not a care in this world”… a state of super chill euphoria!
And that’s the degree of chill-out bliss I’ve come to associate with Phuket after my two previous trips there. But this time round, instead of chilling, I’ll be going on a sea cave canoe adventure. How exciting! The great thing about Phuket is that you can choose to just take it easy and relax, or kick off the sand for some serious aquatic adventures.
After the eye-opening tour of KL the day before, it’s time to ditch my city garb for breezy beachwear on the third day of our Legend of the Seas Isles of Southeast Asia cruise. The balmy shores of Phuket, Thailand, was our final and last port-of-call before heading back to Singapore. I don’t wanna go home!
I find it incredibly exciting to be at a radically different place each day. It’s like waking up to a huge present to be unwrapped daily. What’s more, getting to these places by cruise means there’s never a down moment throughout the journey!
There isn’t a deep port for Legend of the Seas to dock so the big ship was parked some distance away while passengers going for the various shore excursions were ferried to land by smaller boats. I think the ship-to-land transfer takes about 20 minutes and there’s no need for immigration clearance. This is also the best time to get a great shot of the entire Legend of the Seas ship.
Unlike our Port Klang arrival in the early morning at 7:00 am, we were docked off Phuket’s coastal waters at 1:00 pm, which gave us ample time to catch up on rest and have lunch before embarking on another full day of activities.
For Phuket, I’m signed up for the Sea Cave Canoe Adventure tour which costs US$139. It is a very popular shore excursion so do book early with the onboard shore excursion tour desk or you can book it online. The Sea Cave Canoe Adventure lasts from 1:30 pm to 8:30 pm (approx. 7 hours).
There are eight shore excursions offered onboard Legend of the Seas and there’s something to suit every preference be it a leisurely eat-shop-massage tours, cultural explorations of the temples in Phuket, or sea adventures to Phang Nga Bay and its surrounding islets.
As with the land tour in KL, we were issued with a group number and once on land, we just need to look for the respective guide holding our corresponding digits. It can be quite chaotic because there isn’t a proper holding area for administration so you basically have to look for your group number and stick close to the guide.
Again, I was almost left behind as I was taking pictures and slow to report to my group’s guide. Photography can be such a hazard! Thankfully I located them while they were making their way to the coach bus. It’ll be an hour’s drive to a small jetty where we’ll transfer to a boat and take another hour to reach our canoe site.
Basically, our area of exploration will be around a group of islets located off Phang Nga Bay. There are around 120 islets of various sizes littered in that region of the Andaman Sea. According to the guide, we’ll visit three islands (Ko Panak, Ko Hong, and Ko Lawa Yai) and two caves (Ko Hong cave and bat cave).
However, the islands and caves we’ll ultimately end up visiting is dependent on the tide conditions on site. At times, the tide would be too high and floods the passages leading through the caves or there’s not enough water for paddling. What if we are inside the caves and the tide comes in or resides huh?
The hour-long boat ride was comfortable enough although I would think that those suffering from seasickness may want to medicate before boarding. Biscuits, fruits (tangerines, bananas and longans) and an assortment of drinks (mineral water, fizzy drinks and fresh coconut juice) were provided.
All food onboard is included on the tour package so there’s no need to pay anything extra except for tips if you like the services of the staff. Personally, I found the service to be really good and the staff friendly. Then again, it’s Thailand we’re talking about. They’re not called the land of smiles for nothing. So time to just sit back, sip a cold drink and feel the constant wind while the distant islands grow from hazy specks in the horizon to towering cliffs.
Along the way, there’s lots of time to just let your mind unwind. It is one of those occasions where you don’t need to consciously tell your mind to quiet but it just does. Even with the hum of the boat’s engine and hoo-ing wind, you sort of stop hearing them as you project your vision far into the horizon, thoughts half-forming and released quickly to the scene before you.
I was half dreaming about what’s it like inside the secret lagoons I’m about to visit.
Our first stop is Ko Hong, which is shaped like a donut with a crust of limestone hills circling to form a recluse pool within. This unique feature of the island is also what got it its name. ‘Hong’ means ‘room’ in Thai. So Ko Hong literally means ‘room island’ to reflect the reclusive chamber it hides within.
Apparently, there’s another much bigger, developed and inhabited island called Koh Hong nearer to the shores of Phuket. It’s easy to get these two islands confused. This Ko Hong is much smaller and uninhabited.
Limestone islets are made of dense layers of calcium bicarbonate compacted together and rose out of the sea due to colliding tectonic plates movements. And depending on the other types of minerals trapped with them, these sea hills may be streaked or coloured a rusty red, grey or black.
Our sea canoes were really just inflatable kayaks that looked like three bananas stapled together at the ends. I liked the fact that they’re open-faced so there’s no restriction in movements but sitting on them require skill.
Because there’s no backing like the traditional fibreglass-hulled canoe, I had to constantly straighten my back and hold my core muscles to keep balance and sit upright. A great workout for the abs! But at times, I just gave up holding that stance and just lie all the way down and just admire the passing scenery.
Initially I thought we had to paddle our own canoes but thankfully not. Each canoe comes with a ‘boatman’ and can sit two. I was fortunate to have the canoe all to myself since I was on the tour alone. This allowed me to move around to take videos and photos of the whole experience. And it’s good that they came with a paddling guide too because the wooden paddles were really heavy!
We spent about 10 minutes at Ko Hong’s inner lagoon to enjoy the otherwordly silence and take photos of rock formations that resembled a sitting buddha and the head of a dog. Waterproof bags were issued onboard the boat for us to bring our cameras onto the canoes.
I was tempted to jump into the jade green lagoon waters a couple of times to have a feel of what’s it like but decided not to for fear that my Nikon D90, Canon Ixus 980IS and LG Optimus One decide to join me too. Always try to trap some air in the waterproof bag before sealing it so that if it drops into the water, it’ll float.
As we were leaving Ko Hong, my attention was pointed to this huge boulder that really resembled the head of a piranha or some fierce, prehistoric fish. This gallery of nature is astonishingly stocked with prolific promontories, beautiful cascading cliffs and artful stones. What an eyeful! I felt so small and in constant awe coming sooooo close to the power of Gaia.
And that was only our first stop. Next up, we’re going to explore the bat cave and its internal lagoon. I wonder if it’ll be just as breathtaking… To get to it, we had to board our boat again and take a 30 minutes ride there. We’d actually passed by the bat cave earlier before reaching Ko Hong so we were back-tracing.
On hindsight, tunneling through the bat cave was breathtaking alright. It made me breathless because it stank. I thought the smell was only characteristic of bat dwellings on land where their droppings are trapped on cave grounds but since the sea bats have a natural flushing pool below them, the cave shouldn’t smell. But the air was pretty foul.
Not only that, it was pitch dark inside and for a moment I felt panicky not knowing when the darkness was going to end. We were given torches but the black was so dense, I could only see the small halo projected onto the cave’s ceiling in trying to spot the bats.
As for the bats, well, they kinda blended with the wall so I didn’t find looking at them to be of particular interest and it’s somewhat eerie when your torch catches their eyes and they glowed. It’s as if there’s something sinister above staring at you. Oh, and always keep your mouth closed when looking up unless you want your kisses to smell like the cave.
The best part about this tour was seeing light again. Although the total darkness took some mental adjustments, it was a pretty short paddle through the grotto to reach the internal estuary. It must’ve been low tide during our visit because the water was murky and muddy.
Scenery-wise, the place had a sea-jungle feel with mangroves spearing out of the water amongst a surrounding wall of greens. Eons ago, these islets together with Phuket and Krabi were supposedly traversable by foot but the land was eventually drowned out, creating these sea hills and mountains instead. Their connected past must explain why this species of monkey was found on this island that seem to spring out of nowhere in the middle of the ocean.
Following the canoe around the bat cave, we came back onboard and lunch was waiting for us. Well, they call it lunch but having it at around 4:00 pm, it’s more like a very early dinner. Food is served late so have a full meal before coming on this tour. So, what’s for our lunchner?
While we were having lunch, the boat drove us to the nearby Ko Lawa Yai. The boat was anchored some distance to shore so that we could leap right off the deck and swim or paddle the floating bananas to shore. This time we do our own paddling.
I wanted to see Ko Lawa Yai so I borrowed one of the canoes. Man, these things are heavy! And the paddle carved from a single wooden block might as well have acted as a dumbell in the gym. I’ve never felt more strenuous paddling that short distance to shore and I’m an ex-dragonboater! The lactic build-up in my shoulders were so extreme using that paddle, I had to rest mid-way and I would like to emphasize again that the boat to shore distance was very short. At most only about 150m.
On shore, there’s really nothing much to see. I don’t think the island gets many visitors. The beach was nothing to shout about as the surrounding water was brackish without any signs of marine life. The only indication that it is clean was by comparison to the black drift twig flakes floating the length of the shoreline. It’s that kind where once you take a dip, they’ll cling on to your body like loose tea leaves in a cup.
So I shelved the idea of swimming in it and decided to paddle around a bit more. It was a very different feeling paddling here as compared to Singapore because back home, everywhere we paddle, we’re not far from civilisation.
Here, there were no breakwaters, no skyscrapers, no giant ferries wheel, no expressways… just me, my canoe and the stretch of ocean and islands before me. I felt powerless yet very much in control.
By the time we were heading back to Phuket, the sun I was stalking was beginning to assemble his bodyguard of stars with their moon commander preparing a roll call. Our boat was headed in the direction of the sunset and so I chased it some more down its golden path with some parting shots…
With this account of my amazing experience to explore the oceanic of nature, I’ve come to the end of my blog series on my 5D4N adventure onboard Legend of the Seas, Isles of Southeast Asia cruise. I hope you’ve enjoyed the many chapters that showed you what’s it like and what you can expect from a luxury cruise holiday.
Although I’ve not been on other cruises to compare, I would say that nobody could have done it better than Royal Caribbean. The service is just superb and the ship is simply beautiful.
I would like to specially thank Nicole, Phyllis and Stanley from Royal Caribbean International for picking me to be one of the lucky 10 to experience this cruise; Alvin, Weiding and Jack from Omy.sg for capturing our highs during the trip; and all my new blogger friends who added the spice onboard – Calvin Timothy Leong, Catherine Ling, Cherie Lee, Christine Ng, Estelle Kiora, Eunice Khong, Fong Yee Leong, Philip Lim (Keropokman), and Phan Mui Yee.
THANK YOU ALL for making this such an unforgettable and enduring adventure for me! For more photos from the trip, please click here.
21 Dec 2010 2 Comments
It has been 11 days since I’m back from the cruise and I haven’t posted a single blog entry about the trip yet. The reason? I don’t know where to begin. Normally, it doesn’t take me so long to create a post but with this trip, I’m just too overwhelmed by the onslaught of new experiences that my fingers got short-circuited.
But after spending much time looking through my photos and videos, I’ve finally managed to organise my thoughts and I’m finally ready to share in detail all my adventures and tales onboard the Legend of the Seas’ Isles of Southeast Asia 5D4N cruise. There was LOTS I did, LOTS I-SEA (see)!
So in the following one month, I will unfold for you a sea-faring legend of epic proportions. It is going to be epic not just because the cruiseliner was big, but because of the larger-than-life encounters I had. I came face-to-face with some of nature’s most majestic handicrafts, discovered that a cruise holiday is anything but boring, and experienced a level of service so personal, it seemed surreal.
Onboard LOTS, the permutations for fun are endless and the anecdotes of amusements many. Since what you can do on the decks are not so much limited by time but energy, my posts will not be a day-by-day account of what happened during the trip but presented as chapters about the things you can expect from Royal Caribbean’s multiple award-winning standard in creating unforgettable cruise memories.
Our journey took us from Singapore to Port Kelang (Kuala Lumpur) in Malaysia and to Thailand’s defacto destination for a beach holiday, Phuket. This historic route was once an arterial passage where early Chinese junks and sail ships plied for trade.
It took the olden seafarers weeks to reach the distant ports with much perils (archaelogical finds in the coastal waters of the route uncovered nurmerous ships who met their watery graves), but with our modern-day LOTS, we could shuttle between this ancient route in a matter of days with time to spare for shore explorations at the ports of call.
I’ve been to KL countless times and vacationed at Phuket in 2006 and 2007. I thought I know these destinations well enough but the shore trips offered by LOTS showed me there’s so much more to see and appreciate. In the ensuing chapters, I will not only bring you into the heart of the ship, but will share with you the interesting facts I learnt during the docked explorations as well. Are you ready to set sail with me?
As you probably know from my previous entry, I’m not travelling alone but with nine pedigree bloggers picked from an earlier preview excursion onboard LOTS. Having spent the few days with them, I have a feeling readers would be in for a real treat with plenty of eye candies, sharp wit, spot-on observations and no-holds-barred reviews!
You can visit our combined blog about the cruise experience at http://blog.omy.sg/royal-caribbean. Do vote for your favourite blogger and stand to win S$3,700 in prizes!
From the above photo (left to right), with me on this trip are Fong Yee Leong (Yiliang), Calvin Timothy Leong, Phan Mui Yee, Eunice Khong, Estelle Kiora Cheng, Cherie Lee, Christine Ng, Catherine Ling, yours truly, and Philip Lim (aka Keropokman).
You can click on their names to view their personal blog but let me warn you, they are very addictive! Their blogs are not just entertaining with great percepts, but are very informative over a wide range of topics from food, travel, lifestyle and modelling. Anytime you need a pick-me-up during the day, pop by their blogs and have fun!
If you would like to know more about them, you can visit Catherine’s very succinct and accurate descriptions here. She didn’t talk about herself in the post so I shall say that Catherine is one of those rare breed of wordsmiths whose words exudes warmth and great creativity. She’s also ever humble and an award-winning food blogger.
Different as the 10 of us are, each with unique abilities and views, we have a common quest… a mission to find our bliss (or lack of) onboard Legend of the Seas.
No doubt that this trip was born out of the generosity of the good people at Royal Caribbean, but we weren’t given any special treatments or privileges that any fare-paying passenger cannot enjoy. All the things we had or participated in are available to every guest.
Like I mentioned earlier, I will be sharing with you the different aspects of the cruise and land tours in later posts so for now, I shall leave you with a glimpse of what to expect in upcoming chapters. I will be talking more about the cruiseliner and its stability, a showcase of the culinary delights, a sneak preview of the amazing ‘live’ shows, the activities, the crew, the services, the land tours in KL and Phuket… Are you catching your breath yet? I am! There’re just so many things to talk about.
We may be couped up in a ship all day, but yet, there’s no greater freedom one could ask for to enjoy an amazing vacation. Food, shopping, entertainment, sports, casino, clubbing… everything is in one place, within easy reach. It’s a floating oasis! Needlessly to say, I was on cloud nine those few days. I had a great cruise experience.
I survived paradise.
02 Sep 2010 2 Comments
Of the more than 200 country pavilions and themed pavilions, I visited only 30 of them. That’s less than a quarter of this phenomenal event, but it was still plenty to experience, record and learn from. So since I started talking about the country pavilions with Singapore’s participation, I thought I’d follow up with a review of the pavilions by the other 9 members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) – Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar.
As with the thoughts about the Singapore Pavilion and all subsequent posts about pavilions, I have to qualify that the opinions expressed are merely based on my personal experiences as a visitor. Just as we all have a different vision of what a perfect world should be, so will opinions vary on what makes a pavilion worthy of visit.
While some pavilions left a lasting impression on me, others failed to pique my interest. And having seen 30 of them, my basis of comparison while limited, draws on after-thoughts about what was interesting and what was as interesting as watching paint dry.
But one thing I do keep a look out for is the feel of a pavilion’s character and personality. That X-factor. Its gusto. Its voice. Does it read me a fascinating and unforgettable tale of the country it represents, or is it a textbook narration of its history, sociology, economy, anthropology, political ideology… zzzZZZzzz… zzzzzz…
In other words, is the pavilion a Nerd? A Stud? A Plain Jane, or a Beauty Queen? Well, here are 9 Asian pavilions I shall attempt to characterize and they are arranged in the order from Z to X…
My very first step on the pavilion arena on the very first morning was at Zone B’s Asian Square. The Singapore Pavilion was directly across and I was next to the Brunei Pavilion. While I was standing there, stopped in my tracks by encountering the larger-than-life pavilions for the first time, trying to comprehend the awesomeness of size and space all around, forgetting to breathe… and my reverie got interrupted by a female voice hawking a pavilion.
Sounded almost like a lelong at a pasar malam. In all my 3.5 days visiting the Expo, I didn’t hear any other pavilion being touted this way. I didn’t succumb to the tempting invitation of ‘no queue’ and visited Singapore first. When I returned to visit Brunei after lunch, there was still no queue. And the female staff was still advertising.
I walked right in to Brunei Pavilion and I liked it. It was a burning 38°C outside and I liked that the spaciousness and lack of crowd kept the air-conditioning cold. Yup, that’s about it. The pavilion was good only for enjoying some air-con.
After I went one round of its exhibits, I understood why there was no queue. There wasn’t anything much to see. The pavilion was bright and neat with the deployment of standard exhibition panels, shelves and plasma TVs to loop touristy videos. The one eye-catching thing was the blue-lighted floor designs that I assume represented water since the pavilion’s theme was something to do with nature.
Brunei is a pretty rich country so it’s kinda surprising that the pavilion looked like it didn’t require much financial effort. Moreover, the choice of exhibition topics such as the plain listing of the 8 national strategies of development was too academic.
Character : Nerd married to Plain Jane
Laos shared a pavilion with Myanmar in Zone B’s Asia Joint Pavilion III. I was there around 9:00 pm and it was closed by then. I hadn’t planned to visit the 2 pavilions but wandered into their shared space unwittingly.
Though I didn’t get to see what’s inside, the attempt to dress-up and represent its culture at the entrance even though it’s just a very small exhibition area seemed to hold a promise of not too shabby contents inside.
Character : Jock (potentially)
I popped by Myanmar’s section on the way out of AJPIII and it was really plain. It felt more like an exhibition booth rather than to be classified as a pavilion. I always have a soft spot for Myanmar because of the controversy surrounding Aung San Suu Kyi’s 14 years of house arrest imposed by the Burmese military junta. I hope to visit the home country of this moder-day freedom fighter one day.
One of the 4 Southeast Asian nations with the unsavoury association to the Golden Triangle (an illegal opium-producing area that spans Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar), the country’s culture is greatly influenced by its surrounding neighbours, especially in religion.
One of the most interesting things to see at the pavilion was the intricate wood carvings of celestial beings and Taoist deities such as Nuwa (女媧), who’s believed to have made mankind from clay. However, their display couldn’t have been more inappropriate. They were really beautiful works of art crowded unceremoniously together on shelves and on the floor.
But the most atonishing exhibit of all would be the brutal honesty in presenting the nation’s health program. I can’t hear what was being said but the uncomfortable images depicting surgery and various stages of eye diseases really stood out at the World Expo where only beauty has a place in the sun.
Character : Plain Jane
When contemplating the Malaysia Pavilion, this saying kept flashing in my mind… “Good from far, far from good.” In a distance, its arches bit an impressive crescent against the skyline. But the closer I got, the more it loses its magic. And once inside, I kept having the urge to look for a shopping basket or trolley. Felt like I entered Carrefour.
Being a bridge away from Singapore, Malaysia is my most visited country. And I like going there for its eclectic conglomeration of urban built-ups dipping their feet in the rooted heritage of colonial structures, old shophouses and five-foot ways. Of course Singapore has this kind of scene too, but in Malaysia, it just feels more authentic. Besides, our neighbour has lots of natural, untamed reserves to explore.
I can see that the pavilion tried to capture Malaysia’s multi-faceted charm. Unfortunately, it turned out to be nasi lemak without the coconut milk; it had the look, but not the flavor. There’re too many prints and not enough real artefacts. Even the ‘forest’ was made up of plastic trees and plants which made it look more of a handicrafts store, less of a tropical rainforest paradise.
When visiting the pavilion, one of the interior plan that made me scratch my head was a staircase linking the first floor to the second. It’s one staircase for going up and down so it got pretty crowded and I was stuck in the human traffic for a while half-way up the steps. Such a smart design. Or maybe the creators didn’t anticipate such a huge crowd.
The 2nd level was somewhat of a cocoa showroom with some half-baked exhibit to explain the cocoa-making process and a cocoa drink sampling counter. Sales was brisk. Moving from the supermarket section of the pavilion, we come to the home and décor section with a stylishly designed modern-Malaysian living room, bedroom and bathroom.
There was another small exhibition of art and craft that seem like an afterthought, and more retail and souvenir counters around. The pavilion’s theme was 1 Malaysia. Well, it sure was the 1 place to shop.
Character : Nerd
Here’s a diamond in the rough. The pavilion’s exterior was nothing to shout about but the interior was lavish with the cream of what put Cambodia on the tourist map. Perhaps that’s the strategy of the pavilion, to trick visitors into having low expectations and then wow them.
Although more could have been done to hide the exposed ceiling to create a more engrossing feeling of being Lara Croft, but the thrill of seeing partial replicas of the famous architectural relics in Siem Reap made up for it.
There was the Cambodian Naga, the smiling face from the Bayon, the gigantic roots of a strangler fig at Ta Prohm, and a model of Angkor Wat. It momentarily brought back memories of Siem Reap through the excitement of recognizing what was being replicated. If you would like to know about my Siem Reap adventures, please click here.
While the Cambodia Pavilion wasn’t very big, it really gave visitors a glimpse of what’s it like to visit its many UNESCO World Heritage sites of towering temples and ancient carvings.
Even the small space within the pavilion worked to its advantage because that’s how it felt within the walls of the ancient structures. The pavilion was a time capsule.
Character : Jock in drag as Plain Jane
When I first glanced around the Asian Square, I thought the Philippines Pavilion was actually an administrative centre for deaf and mute visitors because of the hands printed on the walls. I mistook them for sign language.
Then I realised it was Philippines’ pavilion to the theme of Performing Cities. The pavilion design looked rather bland during the day. Even when it was lighted up at night, it didn’t have any jaw-dropping effect.
There wasn’t a queue so I got in pretty quickly and it immediately felt like I entered a club or live band lounge of some kind. Serve up some alcoholic concoctions and the whole experience would be perfect!
There was a main stage where dance and musical performances took place and other performing platforms for the showcasing of the Filipinos’ innate talent in singing. Apart from watching liveshows, the pavilion offered a collection of Filipino art laid out in a casual and accessible manner. If only there was an open bar in there…
Character : Jock
Sitting next to the AJPIII (which housed Laos and Myanmar’s pavilions) in zone B, Vietnam’s pavilion was easily the most impressive in terms of building material. The quaint little pavilion made up of bamboo and rattan incites a sort of calm without the use of minimalism, a visual style that often personifies Zen.
I hadn’t planned on visiting Vietnam Pavilion but it turned out to be a very pleasant and delightful encounter. I simply love the way it looked on the outside and inside (although the interior did remind me of a prayer hall).
There was practically nothing to read in the pavilion about Vietnam except for the interpretative messages about its culture from the many huge vases and art sculptures.
Somehow, I can’t help but feel that the Vietnamese preferred not to pen down a definition of what is life, but to let it be an open exploration with each visitor forming his/her own meaning through the country’s pieces of art. But one thing’s for sure, religion plays a big part.
Character : Beauty Queen
My first impression was that the Indonesian pavilion looked kinda bare with a whole lot of empty space. The open concept defied my early preconceived image of what a pavilion should look like… that it should have 4 walls enclosing all exhibits and design elements. But the pavilion was hollowed out for outsiders to look into its various levels and layout.
With so much ‘empty space’, I imagined that the pavilion won’t have much to showcase, but the pavilion was one of the more interesting ones to visit in terms of the richness of content and variety of exhibitory techniques. There was a surprise at every turn!
At 4-storeys, the pavilion was the tallest at the Asian Square and was really effective in communicating its environmental leanings. An interesting feature was the combination of various natural building materials such as bamboo, palm leaves, and wood chips for the pavilion’s walls, flooring and some fixtures.
Of all the pavilions, I thought Indonesia was the most successful in synthesizing nature with technology to create a seamless journey in discovering Indonesia’s native natural-scapes as well as digital edge.
Character : Jock best friends with Nerd
The Thai pavilion was my favourite amongst the ASEAN gathering in terms of entertainment value, ability to wow, and leaving a lasting impression. A guided visit with 3 shows in 3 different theatrical format, the pavilion was definitely worth the 2-hours queue time.
Once visitors entered the pavilion, they were greeted by an animation of the pavilion’s mascot, Tai, while waiting for the first theatre doors to open. It endeared itself to the visitors through a very lively but brief introduction about Thailand and the pavilion. Tai appeared again later in another show segment about Thai history and diplomatic ties with China.
When I stepped into the first theatre, I could hear grasps. Before us was a large water curtain cascading into a pool below. The sound of water splashing filled the room. The show was projected onto 4 screens shaped like jigsaw pieces (although I felt the odd shape wasn’t necessary) in the middle and onto the pool.
After the show, we were directed to a second theatre that featured projection on 3 sides and a huge, animatronic puppet Indrajit, the mythological warrior that stands guard at the entrances of many Thai temples.
The interesting part about this second show was the interaction between the puppet with the projected animation of Tai and what looked like Guan Gong, the Chinese god of war. The 3 characters talked to each other and created a multi-textured presentation.
The last theatre played a 4D show. We’re all familiar with 3D by now and the fourth D is the addition of real physical experiences that complimented a show’s content. In Thailand’s case, I felt wind blowing in my face when the show talked about beaches, sprinkles of water when the scene showed rain, and the smell of fragrant jasmines when a basket of the flower was tossed into the air. Amazing experience! Love the pavilion as much as I love visiting Thailand.
Character : Jock married to Beauty Queen
15 Nov 2009 20 Comments
Bangkok has always defined Thailand for me with a little Phuket, Pattaya and Hat Yai thrown in. But from my trip to Chiang Mai last month, I’ve discovered a new love for the Land of Smiles. Things are cheaper there, the people friendlier, pace of life less hectic, and great natural landscapes for outdoor adventures.
Didn’t get to do everything during the last trip, but here’re some sights and highlights that may help if you’re going there for the first time. I’ll definitely be going back again, probably in November 2010 for the Loy Krathong Festival. Meanwhile, here’re memories of a Thai destination that could just be my new Bangkok…
Travel Budget :
Air Ticket (Return) : S$286.00 (Silkair)
Accommodation (4 nights) : S$105.00 (Centara Muangtawan Hotel, Loy Kroh Road)
Travel Insurance : S$28.00
Exchange Rate : S1.00 = 23.70 baht
Expenditure : S$400.00
Any trip to Buddhist Thailand would not be complete without a visit to its many temples. The temples in Chiang Mai share many similar features with Thai wats across the nation with the exception of having many small bells hang off the temple roofs. The decorative style and colours of temples here are also pretty varied and makes for an interesting visit.
I went to Wat Chediluang, Wat Phantao, Wat Pra Singh, 3 other temples along Thapae Road and the famous mountain temple of Doi Suthep.
Something happened while I was at one of the temples taking photos. I don’t know if it should be called a spiritual ‘warfare’? At one of the few unnamed temples that I was taking photos at, a monk called to me. He asked me in to his prayer room so that he can pray for me. I declined the offer, but he insisted.
So I went in, knelt down and he tied a white string around my pressed palms. I’m Christian by the way and praying to idols is against the second commandment. But I didn’t want to let the monk down nor dampen his good intentions. So while he chanted prayers, I kept saying sorry to Jesus. He sprinkled water on me as blessings, and I rationalized that I was not praying but receiving blessing from another fellow being.
That was my first time being blessed in Buddhist goodwill. Then the monk tied a fragranced braid around my wrist and told me not to take it off. After that, he removed the lid from the silver container next to him and asked if I would like to donate. I donated 100 bht.
The biggest and most prominent temple in Chiang Mai is Wat Prathat, located atop Doi Suthep. It is commonly referred to as just Doi Suthep, although that is the mountain’s name and not the temple’s.
According to legend, the temple is built on the spot where a white elephant carrying a sacred relic, believed to be Buddha’s shoulder bone, had trumpeted three times and died. To get to the temple, you have a climb 309 steps to reach it. There’s a sign that calls for visitors to pay an entrance fee but I just walked right in.
You have to dress appropriately to visit the temple and shoes must be taken off before going into the central temple ground. Doi Suthep has lots of children in colourful tribal costumes performing cultural dances and music for a donation. Being high up, you can also get a bird’s eye view of Chiang Mai city on a clear day. When I was there, the main stupa was undergoing refurbishment works so any hope for a nice photo was marred by iron poles.
Getting there is rather interesting. Eugene and I took a red tuk tuk from the city. These tuk tuks usually charge 20 bht per person to go anywhere and I thought that’s the price to Doi Suthep too. But no. At the foot of the mountain, the driver came out and asked if we wanted him to take us up and down for 400 bht. We said no so he dropped us at a stop where a roadside operator charges 140 bht person to take us up to Bhuping Palace, Doi Suthep and back down.
For these roadside operators, they’ll move only if they can fill a tuk tuk which can sit 8 people comfortably. If there’s less than that number, you’ll have to wait for an unspecified period of time for the passenger seats to fill up. So on hindsight, maybe 400 bht is a better deal to have our own tuk tuk driver for the trip. But that’s to Doi Suthep only. I wonder how much it’ll cost to charter a private tuk tuk to include Bhuping Palace as well.
Thais are known for their friendliness and mild manners, but in Chiang Mai, I discovered they have a great sense of humour too. Especially memorable was the check-in receptionist at Centara Hotel. She’s the most humourous hotel staff I’ve ever met. She cracked a lot of jokes and was very vivacious. She even got us the elephant camp day trip at a discounted rate (we checked with the other tourists during our tour and our price was slightly cheaper).
When I requested to take a photo of her and show my mother, she immediately said my mum would think Chiang Mai ladies are fat and ugly like her. Well, I don’t think so. She’s a spark of life just like the many people I encountered during this trip.
I really love taking the red tuk tuks. There’re like travelling communication pods where you sit so close facing a stranger that you can’t help but smile and say hello. We met this retired American teacher and his lady companion on our way back to hotel and ended following them to a flower exhibition at a shopping mall we otherwise would not have went.
Nature tourism, if it doesn’t involve being parked at the beach with a cold beer in hand, doesn’t appeal to me. But that was until I came to Chiang Mai. After coming back from the trip, I realised there’s so much that I’ve yet to do and see. For the next trip, I’ll definitely go on the hill tribe tour to visit the long-neck women (Karen Tribe), try the Flight of Gibbons, visit Doi Inthanon National Park and maybe even try exploring Chiang Mai on a motorbike.
During this trip, much of my encounters with nature were at Bhuping Palace. Further up-mountain from Doi Suthep temple, this tourist attraction wasn’t originally on my itinerary but did it so that everyone didn’t have to wait any longer at the tuk tuk stop (see Doi Suthep portion above). We took the ride with two young girls from Bangkok (one of them is named Bung) and three mainland Chinese. It was great meeting them and I’m surprised that in China, it is common for travelers to post their itinerary on travel websites to look for travel buddies. Two of the Chinese travelers were siblings and they met the third just a day before and went on tours in Chiang Mai just like that. And I thought they were long time friends. Pretty amazing.
I don’t know much about Bhuping Palace except that it is rather chilly and foggy (when I was there), and the road up is suicide for people with car sickness. An entrance fee of 100 bht (I think) applies and appropriate dressing is a MUST. Guys in bermudas are not allowed. Eugene had to rent long pants at the entrance which costs 50 bht.
There weren’t many things to see at Bhuping Palace except for the beautiful roses, flora and fauna. But Chiang Mai as a whole offers lots of opportunities to get close to nature with the various land tour packages and proximity of these places.
Golden padi fields stretching towards mountain valleys under blue skies decorated with massive clouds. Yeah, the hills are more than alive. Julie Andrews would be so envious! But a minute under the hot sun to admire the raw state of what goes into my rice cooker was enough. Being able to see far into the horizon was really awesome. It was a beautiful scene and I watched this while riding on the back of an elephant.
The rural trail was part of the elephant camp tour package which also included performances by the leathery beasts, ox cart ride, lunch, a ride on the water rafts, and a visit to an orchid farm. We paid 900 bht per person for the day trip which costs 1,000 bht. Although the elephant camp segment was boring for me (taking photos with the elephants, see them bathe, play ball, perform tricks and paint), the day trip as a whole wasn’t too bad to have a glimpse of rural life. Be prepared to tip the mahouts though and like many touristy places, commerce is never far.
The zoo has a dual price system… foreigners pay double the price of locals. The entrance fee costs 50 bht for Thais and 100 bht for foreigners unless you have a student pass or working permit. Still, it is still much cheaper than the S$18.00 that the Singapore Zoo charges, but of course premium pricing brings with it experiences of a different quality.
The key attraction at Chiang Mai zoo would be the pair of pandas on loan from China (Singapore had recently been given a loan too and the pandas will come here in 2011). They had given birth to a baby panda in May this year so the hype is attracting lots of visitors. An extra charge of 100 bht is payable at the entrance to the panda exhibit. When I bought the tickets, I was sold the local ticket of 50 bht each. But at the door, the ticket collector spoke something to me in Thai that I cannot understand. She promptly sent me back to top-up my ticket to match my tourist status.
It’s air-conditioned in the panda enclosure and do go early (about 9am) as they’re active only during the morning feeding time. In fact, most of the animals are active in the morning due to the feeding schedule and cooler air. There’s also a newly completed aquarium at the zoo and the admission charge is an additional 450 bht. I didn’t go for it.
To get around the zoo, you can walk (which I did), get tickets to ride the tram, or paid to ride the monorail. Go for the tram option as there’re more stops and it moves faster than the monorail which has only 4 stops. On the whole, the zoo is not too bad a visit to remind myself that our Earth belongs to these magnificent creatures too. My favourite was this white ostrich with blue eyes that seem to know its photo was being taken and actually poses for it!
For more photos from the trip, please visit my album Peace of Mai.
16 Apr 2008 Leave a Comment