Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Unplanned stopover in KL (Kuala Lumpur)

Have to blame a certain airline (CE) for cancelling our flight to Shanghai and not notifying us at all. Found out the hard way when we got to KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) that morning after we had flown in from my hometown. Flight was moved 12 hours ahead of schedule and we were not notified. What the heck? No CE employees in sight at the airport. Phone lines were not answered. In the end, we had to secure a friend in Shanghai to help us rebook the next flight out which was 16 hours later (2am the following day).
                                                                 KL's Twin Tower
After a mediocre lunch at KLIA, we decided to venture out to KL city center and booked a half day city tour at the airport's tour counter. Bad idea. To start, the driver was an hour late. We agreed on KL Tower, KLCC, the Royal Palace, the old railway station and the Bijan Malay Restaurant then back to KLIA for 350myr (about US$120). We paid but told him we didn't want to visit any chocolate boutiques or handicraft places. All we wanted was to take pictures of the architectures. Not the first time in KL as I had lived in the suburbs around the city for a year more than 20 years ago.
First stop was the Royal Palace which was small and looked more like a mini mansion instead of a grandiose palace. Photography was not allowed. Took a quick tour and we were whiffed off to the chocolate boutique which we had said we were not interested.  Knowing that our driver gets paid a commission from these sales, we bought a large shopping bag of chocolates but he was nowhere to be found when we exited the chocolate boutique. Sent my son to look for him but to no avail. Thirty minutes went by before he finally showed up. The excuse was he had to use the bathroom. Very lame, indeed.
By this time, we've lost interest in the rest of the tours. Told him to drive past KLCC and the old railway station just so we could take pictures. During the drive, he kept convincing us to go to the handicraft place and we adamantly refused. The last straw was when he couldn't find the Bijan Restaurant. He said he knew where it was when we first got into his van. But, when the time came to go to the restaurant, he seemed lost. Not knowing the address of the restaurant, we suggested for him to ask directions from the other taxi drivers but he refused. After circling for an hour between Bukit Bintang and Jalan Ampang area, my husband and I looked at each other and we knew we had to get out of his van no matter what. When he finally decided to stop for directions, we grabbed all our stuff and jumped out of the van. He came running after us. No, we were not getting back in the van and we'd find our own way back to KLIA.
Finally, we got rid of the driver. Popped into a nearby hotel and the concierge was nice enough to print out an address for the restaurant and hailed a taxi for us. We arrived at the restaurant in lesss than 10 minutes. To think of all the time we've wasted with the tour driver. The restaurant was packed with locals breaking fast for Ramadan and it was booked for an event as well. We begged the manager for a table as we're half a globe away from home. She agreed to let us have a table if we can be out of there in less than an hour. Of course, we said. Had a lovely buffet spread of Malay dishes- masak lemak, rendang, curries, salads, rice, satays, acar, pulut, desserts, fruits, etc. Enjoyed the dinner very much. Unfortunately, I was too tired and sick with a cold that day. Did not take any pictures worthy for posting on this post. After dinner, the manager called a taxi take us back to KLIA. A much nicer aand honest taxi driver this time. What a day!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Phuket- once is good enough!

Phuket- the one place to see one live show that I'd probably not see anywhere else in the world. Initially, we were looking for soft, white sandy beaches but didn't find any except for the stretch in front of our hotel. Most beaches were littered with unsightly trash. Stayed in a beachfront villa at Imperial Adamas Spa and Resort. Great place to relax. We had rented a car but traffic in Phuket is almost as chaotic as Bangkok. It's the scooters, the road constructions and traffic jams that made driving in Phuket such a hassle. We prefer to stay in at the villa most of the time.
Villa's patio and private pool area overlooking the beach. Not overly luxurious but wonderfully comfortable for our family.
Our home for 5 days nestled amongst the coconut trees- miles of beach to walk on during low tide. Almost  paradise. We had to wade through a creek to go to the restaurants on the beach (about 15 minutes walk away) for dinner a couple of times during our stay. It was low tide when we went, but on the way back one night, the water in the creek had risen to 3 feet high. Not wanting to get my capris wet, I had to get rid of it before crossing the creek to get back to the villa. My husband lost one of his sandals while crossing, too. I think the resort should build a small bridge over the creek for the convenience of their guests.
Dinner on the beach at one of the restaurants close to the resort. Very good green curry and stir fried morning glory. Went well with the fragrant jasmine rice.
                                                                 Lovely tiger prawns.
                                          Steamed blood cockles- nice chili sauce.
                                    Family of hermit crabs looking for their dinner at night.
Sawasdee Village- came here for their cooking class. Beautiful place with nice Thai decor throughout the resort.
                                              Liked the ambiance of  the garden and pool area.
Getting ready for their cooking class- ingredients laid out for papaya salad, tom yum goong and massaman curry. A short class (about 1 1/2 hours) that included a trip to a small local market, cooking and eating the dishes at the restaurant.
Wished the chef had shown us the prep work instead of preparing the ingredients ahead of time for us. All we had to do was cut up a Thai chili and throw in the rest of the ingredients into the mortar to be pounded and stirred occasionally.
Papaya salad- shredded green papaya, raw long beans, tomatoes, shrimps, shallots, garlic, crushed peanuts and fish sauce. Sweet, sour, spicy, nutty and refreshing.
Tom yum goong- secret ingredient was a tablespoonful of condensed milk. I had no idea. Tried making this at home with the ingredients as stated by the chef but failed- too sweet and not sour enough.
Delightful tom yum goong from cooking class- spicy and sour with sweet shrimps.
Massaman curry with pork. Used both coconut milk and coconut cream. Bring all the ingredients except the pork to a boil in a pot then add the pork and simmer for 10 minutes. I was hoping the chef would show us how to make the curry paste but no such luck.
Quite good but taste wise, its on the lighter side. I personally prefer my curries to be slightly stronger in taste and thicker in texture. The chef was trying to have us do paper thin slices of kaffir lime leaves as condiments for the curry. But, after seeing our terrible knife skills, he ended up slicing the leaves himself. Ha ha!

Phang Nga Bay- fisherman in his boat. It was cloudy and foggy that morning. Because of the weather, we didn't get to see the crystal clear water and the scenery was less than expected. We took a private tour in a long tail boat to visit James Bond Island,  Koh Panyee and the Wat Suwan Kuha (temple) . Paid 9500 baht for the four of us and we felt the tour was just average.

James Bond island- overrated. Stalls selling various merchandise lined the small beach in front of the island plus the beach was littered with trash- it's an unpleasant experience.

Kayaking through the caves at Phang Nga Bay- touristy. We were dropped off by our tour guide on a kayaking platform where we paid 300 baht pp to get on 2 kayaks with 2 local paddlers. Before getting to the caves, the paddlers kayaked us to a boat vendor selling drinks in the middle of the bay. They then requested that we buy drinks for them and ourselves at 80 baht each. We were not thirsty but what to do? They had the paddles and we were in the middle of the bay. We obliged. The kayaking tour was over in 20 minutes. I'm sure this area is rich with geographical and historical information but we did not get any. Right before kayaking us back to the platform, the paddlers asked us for tips. Of course, we obliged again. Like I said, they had the paddles and by this time, we were fed up with the experience. It's not much money, just left a bad overall impression of the area. 
Next up is the Koh Panyee, Malay village on water. Very touristy too. You can tell by looking at the rows of large restaurants on the docks catering to tourists and again, souvenir stalls everywhere. True, it's a real life working village with locals going about their daily lives and I'm sure most of them depended on tourism for their incomes. This village tour might work better for first timers wanting to take a glimpse of a Malay village. We walked around the village for 15 minutes and were done with the tour. We've been to Malay villages before, this one just didn't sit well with us.
One of the few traditional houses with side wall made from coconut leaves. After lunch, we went to the Suwan Kuha Temple in Phang Nga province. Small temple with nice stone formations inside but not worth making a special trip for. It is also home to hundreds of wild monkeys who liked being fed by the tourists.

Old Town Phuket- very chinatown-like and quiet on  a Sunday morning. Most stores were closed except for a few textile shops and cafes.

                                                          Old Town Phuket

Bangla Street in Patong Beach.
Went to Patong Beach twice and that was enough. One time to para-sail during the day and another to see a live show at night. Parasailing was quite an experience- all hooked up and towed into the air by a speed boat with a guide behind me to maneuver the direction of the para-sail. I was nervous floating in the air. But, it was all over in 2 minutes for 1200 baht. The next guy paid 800 baht for the same ride because he bargained at the lower price and we didn't. Original price was 1500 baht. We needed to work on our bargaining skills, I guess.
Same thing with the live show at the Wake Up Club. Original price was 2500 baht and we paid 1800 baht at the entrance while a couple of tour booths on the streets were selling the same tickets for 1500 baht. Located inside a plaza opposite of Bangla Boxing Stadium- entrance looked like a night market. Walked through the market, and there were 40 or more tour buses parked in the parking lot- all there to see the live adult show inside the club. Fun and gross at the same time. Once is enough.

Rental beach chairs for 100 baht each at Patong Beach. Not ideal for relaxation as we get pestered by vendors (adults and children) selling trinkets, sunglasses, toys, food, etc the entire time.

Rubber plantations around the northern side of Phuket island- designated by the government as to keep the development of hotels and resorts under wrap in the area.

Ramadan bazaar selling mostly food for Muslims to break their fast after sunset. We took away some food from several stalls and bought a bottle of red wine from a local supermarket. Had a nice dinner back at our villa. Wanted to bring home some of the spices and curry pastes but can't.
Vegetarian popiah or spring rolls with radish filling- tasted ok. 

Sunset on Naiyang Beach- not the most spectacular but the best that we can do as it was cloudy all the days that we were in Phuket.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Damnoen Saduak floating market and Maeklong railway market.

Damnoen Saduak floating market is about an hour drive from Bangkok. We wanted to see one floating market while in Bangkok. We chose this one as it's the only one that fitted into our schedule plus it's close to the railway market which I wanted to see.

This is Damnoen Saduak floating market's boat tours dock before the market's main entrance. Was taken here by our driver- recommended by a friend. We were charged 4500 baht for a tour in one of these longtail boats. Included in the 2 hours tour were a visit to a small temple, a coconut sugar factory (selling various merchandises unrelated to the coconut sugar) and a local boat racing show. We were not interested in seeing any of these sights as we only came for the market. We've asked our driver to take us to the market entrance where we can get on the wooden boats to be paddled around the market for much less (1000 baht) but he refused. Since we had a friend with us, we didn't want to argue, but paid and went ahead with the tour.
 As we didn't have breakfast yet, we bought food off the boat vendors- of course, more expensive and tastewise were not better than any of the street vendors out there. Plenty of vendors selling food, snacks, drinks, fruits, vegetables, spices, clothing, souvenirs, gasoline, bags, arts, handicrafts and a couple of guys touting pictures with live snakes. 
A local doing dishes on the steps of her house as longboats zipped by.
Part of the main market
Food vendors in their respective boats.

                          Pan fried rice noodles- quite greasy, sweet chili sauce was alright.
Crispy roasted pork with rice- sauce poured over the rice was too sweet. It seemed the Thai foods that I had on this trip were on the sweeter side.

Pork rice noodle soup- pretty good.

 Mango sticky rice- sweet mangoes with very sweet coconut cream and rice. Nobody else wanted this sweetness, so I had the carb overload. I'll stay away from mango sticky rice for a very long time.
More sweetness- bananas, rambutans, papaya, pineapples, pomeloes, honeydews, rose apples.

Looking at the water in this picture reminded me of how clean the water was at the floating market. After breakfast, we passed by a water lily area that smelt and looked like a sewage disposable area near the coconut sugar factory. I almost threw up my breakfast right then and there. To make matter worse, I was splashed with these water on the way back to the boat dock by another speeding longboat. Being in the front seat, I was drenched. Made me felt disgusted, knowing what kind of water I was soaking in.
A local selling fresh coconut juice alongside bottles of gasoline. 
Bored kid among merchandises.
The one-man coconut sugar factory. Hard work though- having to cook and stir the sugar syrup over the hot stove for hours before cooling it down enough to start the filtering process. Lots of wasps hanging around and of course, plenty ended up in the hot syrup as well.

On the way back from the floating market, we stopped by the Maeklong railway market. Should've checked the train schedule before going there. We were there at 10:30am and found out the train won't be passing through the market until 1:30pm. What to do but off to lunch at a local restaurant next to the market.
 I felt embarrassed ordering drinks from this elderly gentleman at the restaurant. He's either the owner or a longtime worker there. Very friendly and chatty.  He seemed so happy to see us even though we've never met him before. We couldn't understand one word of what he was saying. Couldn't tell whether he was speaking Mandarin, Thai or a Chinese dialect. We just kept smiling and he walked ever so slowly to the fridge to get soft drinks for us. He gave us the wrong drinks, but we kept quiet and drank up.

Spicy winged beans- quite tough, should have been sliced into smaller pieces.

 Chicken and squid with basil leaves- very good but tongue burning spicy. Couldn't finish the dish.
  Another tongue burning dish- seafood with glass noodles salad- sweet, sour, spicy in a plate.
After lunch, we drove for 15 minutes to Amphawa floating market which was closed during the day. So, back to the Maeklong market. Most of these items for sale were on wheels and next to the tracks. It's quite interesting to see the vendors rolling back their merchandises and pulling back their shades for the train to pass through.  As soon as the train left, they rolled out their merchandises back to the original spots and stretched out their shades again. All in a very efficient manner.

Vendors getting ready to pull back the shades in anticipation of the train approaching.
Tourists getting ready to catch snap shots of the slow moving train passing through the market. I was originally standing on the pavement where these people were but a vendor pulled me all the way back into her stall next door. She was right! The train took up most of the pavement's space as it moved along. I was thankful to her for her gesture. All in all, a very cool thing to watch even though it lasted maybe 2 minutes.