Friday, 5 July 2013

Rachamankha Chiang Mai hotel review - Mekong adventure in the old heart




A great hotel is one which fires the imagination. Transports you beyond the everyday into some fantasy world of your own choosing.

It’s something I feel when I step into, say, The Raffles in Singapore and the E & O in Penang.
And it’s something I experienced recently down a rather non-descript soi (street) in the heart of the old walled city of ChiangMai. At Rachamankha.

Its imposing walls open up to reveal a splendid oasis that immediately allows you to dream you are on the verge of some great Mekong adventure. Like Henri Mahout slashing his way through the jungles to unveil an overgrown Angkor Wat.

But rather than untamed jungle, here you find frangipani trees, groves of palms and even bonsais. The shrill chirps of cicadas. And bird song. And thick-pillared buildings dazzle white in the highland sun.

“It’s so authentic,” said my wife. 

Indeed, Rachamankha has a sense of establishment and stature way beyond its mere 10 years. Perhaps that’s got a lot to do with use of heavy dark local woods. Or the 19th century Burmese antique manuscript boxes which line the corridors. And the beautiful old furniture pieces which adorn each of the 26 rooms and suites. No IKEA-like chipboard stuff here.

Local materials are also used in things like leather-bound menu covers and locally crafted lampshades. And 2-inch thick doors which add to the oeuvre of its Chiang Mai Old Town location.

One ‘but’, however. For a luxury hotel offering, not all rooms offer a bath tub. A shower just doesn’t cut it for me in such sumptuous surroundings. A strong personal bias of mine. I don’t care too much about the room as long as there is a bathtub to luxuriate in. With a bonus point for an old claw-footed enamel one.

Guests will enjoy its airy library, which once again brings us to the likes of the Oriental Bangkok with its leveraged literary heritage. And for a truly regional gastronomic experience, the hotel’s gourmet restaurant dishes up exotic offerings from Thai, Myanmarese and Tai Yai (southern Chinese and Shan ) influences. A la carte breakfast served in the Chinese-themed courtyard sets the tone for a special day ahead.

At the end of a fascinating day around Chiang Mai, the hotel works its magic too. 

“It’s sooo romantic,” cooed my wife as we walked across the moodily spot-lit gardens to sit around the pool one night.

Little wonder then Rachamankha has garnered awards for architecture, culture and boutique accommodation from various respected sources including Conde Naste. For a wonderfully civilized adventure. Imagine that.





Thursday, 28 February 2013

Bangkok Thailand - What 10 things can YOU learn from it?


The Huffington Post got it so right and so wrong with its blog today, 10 Things that Americans can Learn from Bangkok.

The "Blade Runner" reference is accurate though tired, and we're only talking about a small part of the Sukhumvit and Silom areas. Unless of course you were referring to the other Blade Runner du jour, Oscar Pistorious!

But I must wholeheartedly nod my head in violent agreement that a lot of structures and practices would NOT pass cursory inspection the developed world. Everyday walking down the street I see a million different things that might prematurely terminate my life. And that's just my little soi. But this is actually what I enjoy most about living in an emerging country such as Thailand. It's not pre-ordained, and Buddha only knows what is around the next corner.

Point 7 is where the writer gets it horribly wrong: "International is a state of mind". I am sorry, but the one thing holding Thailand back the most is a TOTAL LACK of global mindset. They are constrained linguistically to absorbing mostly what their own culture and media throws up, circles within circles. And Korean soap operas. There is barely any interest in happenings in their own country outside Bangkok, let alone the rest of the region or world for most. Sadly the Thais are not hungry thinkers, and do not generally possess a curious mindset. That's the reality. But this probably won't concern someone just travelling here for some sun and fun.

Instagramming about Suvanabhumi airport does NOT equal 'international' mind set per se. That's like saying because I like ladies in tights I must therefore enjoy the ballet!

It just means that 22,000,000 inbound tourists are jamming their way through it.

And I am really sorry, Huffington Post, English has NOT "all been adopted as a common language". I have travelled to 55 countries and struggle to think of a country (except perhaps outer Mongolia) where I struggled to communicate on a daily basis as much as here. And I studied Thai -- although I am reliably informed that I speak it like a 16 year-old Cambodian boy. Unless the writer ensconced themselves deeply and solely within the tourist belt of Khao San Road (oh, sorry, I see you went to Chatuchak Market as well, which is an awesome weekend market but frankly just as touristed as Khao San Road).

Even in the heart of Sukhumvit Road, another tourist and expat enclave, I can barely get two words out of most 7-11 clerks, bank tellers, waitresses (in any language, let alone English) so I don't see where English comes into play.

AEC 2015 is just 2 years away now and Thailand will get its arse kicked by lack of competitiveness purely on a language basis. Note: I'm not taking an imperialistic/ colonial standpoint here -- I would equally advocate they study Chinese as much as English. But get with the program, Thailand ...

It's a global village and no-one else speaks your language!

Where the Huff gets Bangkok spot on is all about the street food, and the passion of Thais for food culture. See the earnestness with which an Isan lady pounds the many ingredients for a somtam to get the consistency and spice kick just right.

They also make accurate observations about the Chao Phraya River ... a real working river and always a pleasurable way to while away some hours watching barges ply upriver, or see long-tail boats blasting their way across. And the canals add a distinctive air (literally, sometimes!) to the urban landscape.

Spot on, too, about Bangkok's hip street fashion. But go beyond Platinum Fashion Mall and get into the labyrinthine Siam Square area, teeming with students and hipsters and the next wave of big name Bangkok designers.

Haha, I just read the Coconuts Bangkok blog on this, which referred to Huffington Post's effort as "a new apogee of strained credibility". That it sure is, when -- although the political protests rarely affect tourists directly -- I almost got caught up in the Great Red-Shirt Shoot-out of 2010, and I am not sure how tanks, burning buildings, squads of soldiers and scores of deaths qualify as a "peaceful" model of democracy in action.

Epic fail, Huff Post! Mai dee loei.


Monday, 18 February 2013

Thailand Hotels -- How good is Bangkok Room Service?

Shelley Berman: on Thai room service 
The following sketch 'Ruin Sorbees' was the subject of much viral circulation by that new-fangled thing called the Internet back in 1997, and was also a popular article when it appeared in the (now sadly demised) Far Eastern Economic Review in Nury Vittachi's column. There has been much conjecture over whether it was an actual taped conversation between a guest and room service, or just a fictional skit, and whether it was one of the Bangkok hotels or one of the gazillion hotels in China.

At the time I was compiling the Hardship Posting series of books about Asia, I asked Nury and he clearly disowned authorship of it.

The truth is something like this ... it was written by Shelley Berman, and appeared in his book A Hotel is a Funny Place, a long, long time before the internet came around. I suspect it is based on Chinese rather than Thai hotel service, just because of the wording but either way it's a great giggle.

Read it out loud -- preferably to some friends after a few drinks -- for full enjoyment of this.

“Morny. Ruin sorbees”
“Sorry, I thought I dialed Room Service”
“Rye, Ruin sorbees. Morny! Jewish to odor sunteen?”
“Uh, yes, I’d like some bacon and eggs”
“Ow July den?”
“What??”
“Ow July den — fry, boy, pooch?”
“Oh the eggs! How do I like them? Sorry, scrambled, please.”
“Ow july dee baychem-crease?”
“Crisp will be fine.”
“Hokay, An San Toes?”
“What?”
“San toes. July San toes?”
“What?”
“San toes. July San toes?”
“I don’t think so”
” No? Judo one toes?”
“I feel really bad about this, but I don’t know what judo one toes means?”
“Toes! Toes! Why je Don Juan toes? Ow bow singlish mopping we bother?”
“English Muffin! I’ve got it! You were saying “Toast”. Fine. Yes, an English muffin will be fine.”
“We bother?”
“No, just put the bother on the side?”
“Wad?”
“I mean butter- just put it on the side”
“Copy?”
“Sorry?”
“Copy…tea…mill?”
“Yes. Coffee please, and that’s all.”
“One minnie. Ass ruin torino fee, strangle ache, crease baychem, tossy singlish moppingwe bother honey sigh and copy…rye?”
“Whatever you say”
“Tendjewberryjud”
“You’re welcome.”

Amazingly, Shelley Berman is in his 7th decade of show business now with a bunch of awards such as Grammys and Emmies to his name. And even has a facebook fan page.

Till next time, tenjewberryjud, and share with us YOUR best and worst room service experiences ...

Thursday, 14 February 2013

books about Thailand: Hardship Posting - true tales of expat misadventure in Asia ...

Let me start with full disclosure. The author and editor of the Hardship Posting series is someone I know really well. Have done for years. In fact, all of my life. We grew up together, went to school together, and are practically inseparable as adults.

Well, it's um ... me. Jing jing!

I am blogging about this series of books now because they are just being released for the first time ever in an e-book format on Amazon. Click here to see inside the book online [insert subliminal ad message here -- Buy it! Buy it! buy it!]

Some have said it's the best Thailand travel guide because it deals with Bangkok bars, notorious Thai nightlife, airport and immigration stories and so on. But it's not really a travel guide to Thailand like the Lonely Planet. Nor is it a novel set in Thailand. Instead, it is a collection of 400 amazing and amusing stories collected from expats in Asia, covering the full spectrum of life. It just happens that most of the craziest episodes seem to happen in the Kingdom, for whatever reason (such as the British gent who posed as the High Commissioner to impress Bangkok bar girls).

There are bent police, slimy con-men, corrupt officials, and shady taxi drivers -- in other words just another day in Bangkok or Pattaya! There are also philandering expat husbands, language boo-boos, moving company dramas, etc.

I could go on and on raving about it ... it makes me feel a little awkward to do so. Honestly. Rather, listen to what various readers and reviewers have got to say about the best-selling series of 3 volumes which has already topped 70,000 sales.

"Sleazy, disgusting, politically incorrect and shockingly insensitive; I loved it" - Nury Vittachi of the HK Standard raved.

"Good fun. Everybody gets the shaft. Indeed the 280 page book isn't long enough. This reviewer often chuckled out loud." - Bernard Trink, The Bangkok Post

And, finally, one more from The Expat Magazine Singapore, who said:

"A mighty collection of tales. The bawdy humour comes thick and fast throughout. A rib-tickling read for the not-so-faint hearted."

Those last two words are important. Don't even open the cover if you are the least bit thin-skinned. You WILL be offended. No wonder it's banned in China, and unwelcome in polite society just about everywhere else.

So luckily you can buy it and download it from the privacy of your own computer now.


[The cartoons in Hardship Posting Vol 1 above, are by Larry Feign, the whizz behind the long-running World of Lily Wong strip.]

If you like the 'Washing your balls' cartoon, I have plenty of Thailand golf course stories and reviews on this blog. Such as this one from Phuket.

.


Monday, 11 February 2013

One of the best places to honeymoon? Kuoni says Thailand.

Banyan Tree Koh Samui - a perfect honeymoon hideaway
 The word honeymoon itself is enough to bring sighs and gushes to the lips of young maidens, and fleeting clouds of twinkling stars to their eyes. The stuff of fairy tales since they were little princesses ...

So no pressure then when it comes to choosing the best honeymoon destination.

Especially if it's only a once-in-a-lifetime experience (which we all sincerely hope it is when going into it.)

Let's narrow it down for you. The good folks at Kuoni have just released their 2013 Travel Trends report and Amazing Thailand ranks number 3 in terms of the most desirable and best places to go for a honeymoon this year.

A couple I know were both working in a resort in the Maldives when they got married. So, if you already live and work in the Maldives -- another shitty day in Paradise! -- where do you go for your honeymoon?
In their case, Bangkok. Jing Jing!

Andrew wanted to play golf with his mates, and Liz was happy to trawl the shopping emporiums of the City of Angels.

Personally I might look further afield to some of the smaller islands. Ko Samui comes immediately to mind. (For your info, the word koh in Thai means island, so need need to repeat Koh Samui island.) I have blogged about Samui a fair bit, so have a little search around my blog archive.

Beautiful sunsets and romantic beach walks
Then there's Yao Noi, a really unspoilt little island in the Krabi area (so you could combine a few spots, some lively, some quieter and more secluded in your trip). If you really want to indulge in the most wonderful spot, choose the Six Senses Yao Noi. 

Ko Lanta is another that comes to mind in the Krabi area, in the Andaman Sea, with endless stretches of white sandy beaches. As does Khao Lak, just north of Phuket.

All those places will give you idyllic beaches, sunshine, diving and snorkelling. 

Do I actually recommend Phuket? Frankly I am over it as I've been travelling there since 1988 (!) and I can see how it's really popular with the beach and beer crowd -- not really how you want to spend your honeymoon is it? (Or if so, good thing you are not married to me!) Although there is the Millionaire's Mile of Anantara, Indigo Pearl, JW Marriot, etc up the very top north west of the island.

But if you prefer mountains and quieter bucolic times, choose Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai which also have a lifetime's worth of cozy and secluded resorts, with languid vistas of rice fields and beautiful valleys.

Gardens at Doi Tung, Chiang Rai province.
So that's almost a top 10 destinations for honeymoon in Thailand. Hope it's been a useful starting point for you? Let me know.

Of course, if you'd like to go to the Maldives for honeymoon anyway, it's easy to access from Bangkok too. So you can have the best of both worlds, and, like Liz and Andrew, claim you spent your honeymoon in Bangkok.




Best places to get married? Many say Get Married in Thailand

 Hey folks,

For once in my life I am writing about something I actually know something about. Actually two things - Thailand and Weddings. (Without going into detail I've a fair bit of experience at the latter!)

The recent Kuoni 2013 Travel Trends report put Thailand in 6th place in best places to get married (or technically, the 6th most popular place their customers were flying to this year in order to get married).

Oh no, I can see you already thinking Hangover 2 and recoiling in fear and horror ...

But let me set your mind at ease.

You see I got married (again) just a few months ago. We were thinking Chiang Mai, as we have spent a lot of time in the north, it was cool winter time, and there are lots of lovely places like Chiang Dao which are laid back, peaceful, romantic, and can fit the bill (literally). Affordability is probably one of the biggest attractions of staging your wedding in Thailand - see the footnote for some even better news.

We held the bucks night in Pattaya and I worried for weeks about being handcuffed to some ladyboys and not making it to the ceremony, etc etc. A rowdy night with some mates in this purpose-built pleasure capital but none of my nightmares eventuated, luckily.

Anyway, we settled on Bangkok for our wedding; the Swissotel Nai Lert Park Hotel, for its lush tropical garden setting. We had a marquee tent set up outside in the garden, hired a student musician quartet to play classical and pop music, and it was lovely. We prayed for great weather and boy did we get it!

The organisation was really on the ball and the day went swimmingly (we were adjacent the pool, but that's not I mean. Nor was I referring to the sweat pouring off my brother's brow -- he joined us straight out of an English winter!)

The service itself was a three-in-one affair, starting off with Buddhist touches such as nine chanting monks, followed by water ceremony. Then we had a Chinese component which was centred around a tea ceremony. And finally an exchange of vows as the Western part.

I started off in some traditional Thai silk outfit, with blooming gold pantaloons, sash, brocade jacket and the works. Consensus was that I was channeling Yul Brunner in the King and I. (I think that was meant as a compliment?!?)

It really was an out-of-body experience for me (better than being an out-of-pocket experience). Like some ancient Siamese fairy tale, with me in the lead role!

Oh, I meant to tell you about the good news: arrange to have some Chinese relatives join your wedding ... you see,  it's their practice to pass on some money to the couple. At the end of the day, these bulging envelopes more than paid for the whole affair.

So, if you're thinking of a wedding in Thailand, for me, sure it's no surprise that it's in the top 10 wedding destinations, with no shortage of choices of the most romantic wedding places such as Chiang Mai, Kao Yai, Chiang Rai, or Koh Samui.

Hmmm, so many choices. I wonder where I'll get married next time.

Hey, only joking, sweetie, jing jing.

Hey, open the door ...

Sweetie!!!


Where to travel in Thailand? Thailand Jing Jing points you ...

 Dear first-time readers, sawasdee krub and welcome to my Thailand Jing Jing blog.

I have been travelling to the Kingdom for 25 years now (and had a base here for over 10 years), so I am happy to share my insider guide knowledge on how to travel Thailand and where to travel in Thailand.

So please cruise these pages and you should find what you are after ... valuable info such as:

+ Best time to travel to Thailand (noting that monsoon season is different on the east and west coasts)

+ Some great ideas and itineraries for your Thailand travel tour (I'm a fan of the do-it-yourself travel mentality by foot, bus, plane, car, motorcycle or elephant)

And generally I hope that -- as a travel guide for Thailand -- Thailand Jing Jing becomes one of your favourite sources of good and fun info. Drop me a note and do let me know.

What you will probably NOT find on these pages is:

+ How to go about getting a travel visa to Thailand (if in fact your country's citizens need one for tourism).

Frankly that's boring bureaucratic mind-numbing BS and there are other anoraks who deal with that sort of thing better than I do!

Cheers and jer gan (see you). Stu

Thailand travel rated 2nd most popular destination 2013

The folks at UK tour company Kuoni have just put out a report based on their 2013 Travel Trends (hey February is better late than never!) and forward bookings.

Good news is that long haul travel to Thailand comes in 2nd most popular for the Brits. So where is more popular this year for the dentally challenged sandal wearers? Only travel to the Maldives. And after Thailand comes Sri Lanka. I've been to both, and they are undeniably magical in very different ways. For me, Maldives is purely about honeymoon. A week of indoor bedroom sports, coming up for air occasionally to go scuba diving or to drink a champagne toast to the glorious sunsets. But frankly not much local indigenous culture (or even local people) to see or enjoy or experience on your distant atoll.

I will blog soon on how Thailand fared in the top 10 Wedding destinations and top 10 Honeymoon destinations section of the report.

In making the announcement on Thailand, Kuoni's report talks about Bangkok as a captivating city, the floating markets, and the small island hideaways,"overlaid with a friendly, open culture."

Personally I would have questioned the use of a word like "overlaid" in the context of Thailand! ;)

But this should not detract from the enjoyment of perennial favourites such as Phuket, Koh Samui, and the up-and-coming Koh Chang.

Oh, and I'll leave with a little language pronouncing lesson for all our British visitors to the Kingdom in 2013. Koh Chang is pronounced "got chung" (rhymes with hung). Otherwise your boat driver may not know where you want to go.





Monday, 4 February 2013

How to speak in Thai - according to Rosetta Stone and Saturday Night Live

This spoof clip from the popular comedy show Saturday Night Live is ruffling feathers.

According to the Bangkok Post, the Thai authorities are apparently requesting for it to be removed from You Tube.


Watch it. Do you think it warrants the fuss??? Is it any better or worse for the country's image than Hangover 2 which I blogged about last year?

If nothing else, it should encourage a hell of a lot more people to learn the Thai language. But frankly I think the government should concern itself with much bigger issues ... such as teaching Thais to speak English and engage with the global economy to get the country moving ahead so that it is not so reliant on the sex industry to provide jobs.

Otherwise it continues to provide comedic fodder for the outside world ...

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Ecotourism Thailand - Getting the Green Light


I'm a bit of a greenhorn when it comes to ecotourism, but as a passionate traveller and travel writer who has visited 55 countries, I have seen the effects of tourism on communities, villages -- even cities -- and their people.

Cave Lodge, Pang Ma Pa, Mae Hong Son province
I've seen benefits and advantages and progress and prosperity ...

And I've seen defiling and damage and spoiling (a big hello to everyone in Pattaya!).

In the place and the people sometimes.

So while I don't like all these Buzzword Bingo terms (yes, the introduction above has most of these in it in order to attract the search engines: Hello Mr GoogleBot) I am fully on board with the fact that we need to do things differently. Better. Greener. More sustainably. And less irresponsibly. And I'm just talking about myself here!

Elephant ride. I'm the one on the left!
Travelling by plane, bus, car, tuk-tuk, elephant, boat, bicycle and mainly motorbike through Amazing Thailand for the past 25 years has given up countless examples of how things have changed and how they could've been done differently and, yes, better for all concerned.

Fortunately, we are all now collectively more aware and the Tourism Authority of Thailand is now making sustainability a real priority (see their write up on 7 Green Concepts).


Here are three organisations that are also helping to push ecotourism along locally:


Rama 9 Lake, Chiang Mai
There are many more, so feel free to add your link in the comments section below and let others know about it. 

As someone who's lived in several parts of the Kingdom over the years I'm here to show you that Thailand offers a ton of exciting and fun green tourism options ... and you don't have to be some hairy-legged beatnik to appreciate it fully.