Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Memories of wild animals in Thailand


Reliving the distant memories of a childhood in Thailand, fast-forwarding two decades to the memories of revisiting the place I was born and then snapping forward another two decades into today's experiences, I am left wondering what happened to the wild animals of Thailand.

Monkey training on Koh Samui 

On my journeys into Thailand and rediscovering the memories of my youth, I often wondered of the wild animals that once roamed freely throughout dense jungles of the kingdom; tigers, black panthers and spotted leopards, deer, snakes, birds, monkeys and the myriad of insect life.  Elephants and buffaloes for hundreds of years have been enslaved to the greater human needs but the more exotic animals I suspect, based upon the length of teeth and related ferocity, have been hunted out of existence as farming and urbanisation took over once pristine jungles.

Certainly, there are still snakes of all sorts as there are birds. Of insect, reptilian, amphibian and fish life forms, one only needs to visit any of Thailand's thousands of fresh food markets and street vendors to know what has befallen the populations of wildlife...  As there are mouths to feed, there are uncountable recipes for any of the above and more unmentioned animals.  One thing for sure though, most Thais don't like snakes and give them a wide berth should any be encountered.  By the very nature of snakes and Thai peoples' disdain of them, it could be said that their future in the wild is assured.

Of monkeys, I am not so sure of their existence in the wild except to say they still remain in the small town of Lopburi, just north of Bangkok.  There, outside the railway station is a large statue of a monkey, attesting to that very fact that this is where monkeys live. Pulling up at the railway station, one can be greeted by the "oh so usual sight" of people leaning on or squatting along a concrete wall and wooden picket fence, while interspersed between them will be any number of monkeys...Person, monkey, person, person, monkey, person, monkey, monkey, person...

Other than that, I recalled that monkeys abound in Koh Samui and the island's large coconut industry.  To find out if that was still the case, I decided to venture to the Gulf of Siam and explore Koh Samui.

Arriving at the airport aboard a domestic Thai Airways flight, I was greeted by the slap of extreme humidity that instantly replaced the gentler embrace of the airconditioned aeroplane's interior during my brief flight from Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport to the island.  Outside of the airport and on the way to my hotel, I totally forgot about monkeys and the once-thriving coconut industry as I became concerned about my own existence in the face of a barrage of motorcycles, racing shuttle buses, cars and trucks all vying for the same strip of concrete which lines the entire island.

Not a coconut could be seen being delivered...where there used to be an island industry of coconuts, many of the lands used for that have now been turned into resorts, urban complexes and shopping centres.  The industry has been sidelined in favour of the tourist dollar.  So too have the monkeys of Samui been sidelined.  Where before there used to be a laid back island lifestyle of gentlefolk and monkeys going about the toils of gathering coconuts for a living, Koh Samui's monkeys are so few now, relegated to performing shows of agricultural history.

Waking up early on the last morning of my stay at the island, I heard what sounded like a monkey calling out.  Further off in the distance, I heard another return the call.  Yawning, I thought I might have been imagining things as surely they were birds of some sort...   

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

The Jim Thompson House

Jim Thompson House (bangkok.com)

Jim Thompson, an American who was born Greenville, Delaware, in 1906 practiced architect prior to World War 11, he volunteered for service in the U.S. Army, campaigned in Europe, and came to Asia as part of the force that planned to liberate Thailand. However, the war ended before the operation. He arrived in Bangkok a short time later as a military intelligence officer attached to the O.S.S. After leaving the service, he decided to return and live in Thailand permanently.

The hand weaving of silk, a long neglected cottage industry, captured Jim Thompson's attention, and he devoted himself to reviving the craft. Highly gifted as a designer and textile colorist, he contributed substantially to the industry's growth and to the worldwide recognition accorded to Thai silk. He gained further known through the construction of this house combining six teak buildings which represented the best of traditional Thai architecture. Most of the houses were at least two centuries old and were easily dismantled and brought to the present site, some from as far away as the old capital of Ayudhya.


In his quest for authenticity, Jim Thompson adhered to the customs of the early builders in most respects. The houses were elevated a full story above the ground, a practical Thai precaution to avoid flooding during the rainy season, and the roof tiles were fired in Ayudhya employing a design common centuries ago but rarely used today. The red paint on the outside walls is a preservative commonly found on many old Thai buildings. The chandeliers were electrified as a concession to modern convenience, but even they belong to a past era, having come from 18th and 19th century Bangkok palaces.

Jim Thompson at home with his silk. His disappearance remains a mystery to this day.

All the traditional religious procedures were followed during construction of the house, and on a date in the spring of 1959, decreed as being auspicious by astrologers, Jim Thompson moved in. The house and the art collection soon became such a point of interest that he decided to open it to the public with proceeds donated to Thai charities and to projects directed at the preservation of Thailand's rich cultural heritage.

On March 27th 1967, Jim Thompson disappeared while on a visit to the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. Not a single clue has turned up in the ensuing years as to what might have happened to him. His famous Thai house, however, remains as a lasting reminder of his creative ability and his deep love of Thailand. In 1976, the Thai Court appointed administrator for the property of Jim Thompson received permission from government ministries of the Kingdom of Thailand to legally establish the James H W Thompson Foundation.

By virtue of its presence and the dictates of its charter the Foundation is committed to the preservation of Thailand's rich artistic and cultural heritage. The foundation supports a wide variety of research, publication and seminar projects in furtherance of this aim. All these activities require funds, and the James H W Thompson Foundation welcomes any contributions.

==

Open everyday from 9 AM - 6PM
Last tour begins at 4:30 PM
Jim Thompson House and Museum
opposite The National Stadium (BTS exit 1)
6 Soi Kaseman 2
Rama I Road, Bangkok
Tel: 02-216-7368

Thursday, 7 March 2019

My 'Jackie O' Moment

by Kerrin Trenorden

I'm at dinner with a group of amazing ladies from Melbourne, at one of the most beautiful hotels I have stayed in, the SALA Hotel Phuket. I overhear one of them speaking about something they referred to as ‘Their Jackie O Moment’.

She was explaining to other members of our group, how during her afternoon free, she was laying on her sunbed in her private pool villa under the massive sunhat that was supplied in the room, she had to stop and appreciate that this was as close as she was going to get to a life like Jackie O – her Jackie O moment.



This comment made me stop and think about all the ‘pinch me experiences’ I have had on trips to Thailand. Experiences that I would not be able to have or really afford in other countries I have travelled to. It also made me realise that this feeling is my favourite thing about this country – the realisation that anyone can indulge in a moment of luxury for a fraction of the price at home or other destinations.

With Australia’s strong dollar and the amazing deals on offer to travellers, Thailand gives us the ability to stay in a top level room at a beautiful hotel in a better area for your family/honeymoon/boys or girls weekend away. You can also enjoy $3.00 cocktails, a $30.00 seafood buffet dinner after your hour-long $10.00 massage – and this is before I even mention the shopping!

Thailand’s ability to allow travellers to experience what I am referring to as ‘affordable luxury’ is why I believe that everyone should visit Thailand once in their life. I strongly believe that everyone deserves the chance to have their own Jackie O moment………



Backtracking a bit – what has been my Jackie O moment you ask? I have been lucky enough to have many! Most of them in Thailand and all quite different but that is a story for another time!

Below had to be in the top 5 however with thanks to SALA Phuket!
For those wanting their own Jackie O moment, it's time to contact your local travel agent or visit www.thaiairways.com.au

Chiang Dao: Elephants, ferns and crispy grasshoppers





Just an hour north of Chiang Mai is the community of Chiang Dao, a gateway to trekking in the mountains and a hub for elephant camps. Chiang Dao is where the rice field meet the jungle and home to a weekly market full of ethnic charm. Villagers from miles around head for Chiang Dao every Tuesday to shop for essentials and trade their home grown harvests.

The market stretches for a kilometre through the main street. Most vendors are selling fabrics or fried food, like deep fried bananas or spicy fish cakes (todd man pla). My favourite patch is a shady corner where charming old ladies sell rare forest foods from deeper in the hills. Tree ferns and wild greens are easy to find, but keep a close eye out for wasp larvae, river crabs, edible orchids and crunchy fried grasshoppers.





In the cooler months, the roads leading into Chiang Dao are thick with roadside stalls selling Khao Lam, sticky rice stuffed into bamboo sections. Red beans and mushrooms with wild herbs are used to add flavour to the rice, and the bamboo pieces are roasted over hot coals so the contents inside steam themselves to completion.



Most tourists to Chiang Dao get as far as the elephant camps and then head home to Chiang Mai, but some head deeper into the hills and spend a few nights in bamboo guesthouses. It's much cooler after dark than down in Chiang Mai, and you need to rug up a little. Mist often fills the valleys in the first light, until the sun comes out to brighten the jungle.

As a guest of some hill tribes or a day visit from Chiang Mai the charms of Chiang Dao are worth your time. You'll need a break from the temples and fancy night market eats of Chiang Mai anyway.

Like these images? You can join a photo tour with Ewen Bell and take your own.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Bangkok Shopping: Siam Paragon Shopping Centre


Words: Thea Easterby
To be honest, I am not much of a shopper. Taking that into consideration, I have to confess that the Siam Paragon Shopping Centre simply blew me away.

I enter the centre via the Siam Skytrain platform which has me walking through a metal detector to get in.

As I wander around I can’t help noticing how quiet the store is, some of the stores are not even open. Don’t head to the shops early. Many stores don’t open till ten or later and stay open late into the evening.

This shopping centre oozes luxury, so if you are looking for designer labels, this is the place to be. There are shops for Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Dolce and Gabbana, Versace as well as many more designers (including quite a few I have never heard of).

If you are feeling cashed up, you could always head to the auto gallery on the 2nd floor. You could buy a BMW, Lamborghini or Porsche Spider. While a couple of men stare longingly through the shop front windows at their objects of desire, all I can wonder is how they drove the cars in there in the first place?

Siam Paragon Shopping Centre (bangkok.com)

This complex is not all luxury shopping, there is also a fantastic range of stores for moderate budgets.

Don’t leave this shopping centre without visiting the Food Hall on the lower level. Besides the fact that you will be hungry and thirsty after all that shopping, this hall has to be seen to be believed. As I step off the escalator there is food of every type, in every direction as far as the eye can see. This area is part traditional food hall, part small restaurant quality stalls, a gourmet food market, fast food outlets and traditional restaurants. The hardest part about this place is making a decision on what to buy and eat.

By the way, did I mention Siam Ocean World with a four million litre water aquarium in the basement of this shopping complex?


Bangkok Bookstores

Kinokuniya Bookstore

The one thing I do love shopping for is books. Being a writer, I love a good read. Bookstores are where I go to relax; my oasis of calm. The moment I walk into a bookstore, I instantly feel comfortable and at ease.

The great thing about shopping for books overseas is that you always come across ones that you have never seen before. There is always a new discovery. For obvious reasons, I always check out the Writers Reference section to see what their collection of books on writing is like.

Kinokuniya Bookstore is situated on the 3rd floor of the Siam Paragon Centre. This bookstore has a large selection of English books. Other nationalities with a great selection are Chinese, Japanese and naturally Thai. Some of the books are covered in plastic, so you can’t flip and read through all of your options. There is also an extensive art and design section, a decent selection of cookbooks and a wide selection of comics and graphic novels. For music fans, check out their selection of sheet music.

Another bookstore option is B2S, a massive two-level store in the CentralWorld complex. It sells books, stationary and music. There is an extensive collection of books in English in this store, though by picking up a couple of books I notice the prices for a new hardcover non-fiction are slightly higher than Kinokuniya.

If you prefer your books second hand, head over to the Dasa Book Café on Sukhumvit between Soi 26 and 28. This quaint store has three levels of books, a small café and low prices. There is a great assortment of fiction books to choose from as well as some unusual and collectable books. The March special had fiction books on sale out front of the store for 9 baht each, so check as these specials change each month. They have novels in a range of different nationalities including French, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, German and Russian. They exchange and sell books for cash.

You are bound to find some rare gems in this store. Grab a coffee, a cookie and pull up one of the chairs at the front window and get stuck into your new purchase.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Phuket: perfect beachfront hotel and spa on Kata Noi Bay


by Kerrin Trenorden

Phuket is often celebrated for its busting nightlife, amazing shopping and markets and of course the sunshine, however once you leave the major tourist areas, you can discover the ultimate destination for relaxation or a family getaway.

Having been to Phuket previously, I was looking for somewhere to relax, have a massage, read a good book and sit and enjoy the amazing beaches; so it was recommended that I look at the Katathani Phuket Beach Resort in Kata Noi.

Kata Noi (meaning 'Little Kata'), is located approximately 25min by Tuk Tuk from the Patong Beach area past (Big) Kata Beach. To me, it will be forever known as 'my little stretch of paradise'.

The pristine white sandy beach spans the entire length of the Resort which stretches for over 850 metres and provides crystal-clear warm waters for swimmers to float away the day. The Resort also backs right onto the beach so guests can conveniently enjoy one of SIX pools whilst watching the sun go down. A cocktail at this time is highly recommended.

With a range of rooms and suites to suit all budgets, 4 children’s pools, 3 Jacuzzis, 2 bubbly water springs, a mini water slide, 6 restaurants, nightly activities and massages available around the pool and a kids club, the Katathani really is a one-stop holiday destination for all kinds of holidaymakers.

If you're looking for the hustle and bustle typical of Patong Beach, the hotel is within walking distance of Kata Beach (although the hill can be a bit steep after a long day) or a 2 minute walk to other local restaurants, convenience stores, tailors and massage places just outside the lobby area.

For anyone wanting to experience all the wonders of Thailand in a quiet location, whether for a quiet relax or some family-time, I recommend you take a look at this Resort.

For more information, visit http://www.katathani.com/  or ask your travel agent.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Thailand yoga on Koh Samui - finding the 'one'


by Bianca Lucas

I’ve been flirting for years.

I start to get involved then I back off.

I reach a certain level in the relationship and I get scared. Too much work I tell myself. I’m still looking for the right ‘one’.
Well, I found it.

In the beautiful, laid back island of Koh Samui.

The ‘one’ I’m referring to is Ashtanga Yoga.



An energetic flowing sequence of postures that has a focus on synchronising the breath to movement, with the aim being to create a calm, focused mind whilst increasing strength, stamina and flexibility. Just the tonic I needed.

After a bad breakup that left me, well, rather broken, I decided the best course of action was to remove myself physically and mentally from the scene of the crime to a place that would allow me to rest, regroup, get some balance and ultimately some strength back (physically and mentally).

I found my place of respite at the wonderful ‘Yoga Thailand‘, situated on Laem Sor beach, a 45 minute drive south of Koh Samui airport. The yoga (and spa) retreat has an emphasis on eco-friendliness and is set on a picture perfect, coconut palm fringed beach.

The rooms were spacious, light and airy. White washed walls gave one the sense of calmness and relaxation with the fragrance from the frangipanis wafting in from outside my bedroom window.

The bathrooms were clean and modern with lots of natural lighting.

All-in-all I would describe the accommodation as ‘eco-chic’ and rather lovely.

My days consisted of rising early (6.30am), having a herbal tea then going for a contemplative walk along the beach before coming back to meditate in the ‘shala’ on the waterfront.

This was then followed by a 1&1/2 hour Ashtanga Mysore yoga class in the beautiful ‘yoga shala’ that overlooks the meditation garden and salt water swimming pool.

Taking influence from yogi’s from India and Thai Buddhist masters, the shala wasn’t air-conditioned so at times one found oneself very warm - and very sweaty. Moments when the sea breeze wafted in were little moments of heaven.

So was the food. Brunch went for 2 hours following the morning class (I would have 1st breakfast then come back for 2nd and sometimes 3rd breakfast!!) in the open air beach/pool-front restaurant.

Afternoons were spent reading in the beachside lounge, lazing on comfy cushions and alternating between the pool and beach to cool off, snorkelling and trips to nearby islands.

Late afternoons consisted of a gentle, restorative hour yoga class followed by conversation with newly made friends over a nutritious and delicious (chocolate chip cookies were beyond amazing) 3 hour dinner.

I had found the yoga goddess within and I left feeling calm, balanced, happier, a little wiser and definitely stronger. And committed.

It might not have been the ‘one’ I was looking for (or lost) but it is the one I don’t think I could ever live without now.

Lazing and laughs on Koh Samui

by Roger Hanson

A good laugh always accompanies a good holiday and the more laughs better the holiday seems.
It is a simple formula because laughter means being relaxed and enjoying the moment, and that’s what we found at Koh Samui. A place that met all the criteria we had set for a holiday as a couple with friends.

After working a year of hard 7-day rosters with swing shifts, we were tired and eager for a break. Sitting on a mid-winter’s day as the cold rain pelted down outside the Flight Centre’s office in North Hobart, in Australia’s most southern capital, we thought long and hard where to go for our holiday. We visualised a country rich in culture, fine food, cocktails and cold beer by the pool or beach and the mandatory daily massage or two massages if we could sneak the extra in.

Thailand fitted that bill, and we had flown Thai Airways before and enjoyed the experience, so flights booked, but where to stay, we had heard good reports Koh Samui was a good place to relax and to get a taste of Thailand. We took a punt on the Amari Palm Reef Resort, Chaweng Beach on Koh Samui , and it ticked all the right boxes.

Travelling with another couple, who originally came from El Salvador, but now living in Tasmania, we spent 3 nights in Bangkok at the sensational Sofitel Sukhumvit, a true 5-star hotel, with its attentive staff. We enjoyed the buzz of Bangkok, with fabulous assortment of entertainment, food and cultural sights. The longer our holiday went, with good company , more the laughs bubbled to the surface as relaxation set in.

Sofitel Sukhumvit Bangkok

Thai Airways flight to Koh Samui where not only were the bags unpacked but the stresses of everyday life melted away at the Amari Palm Reef amongst a gorgeous setting of beach, pools and the gentle pace of a seaside resort.

The Amari Palm Reef has wonderful mix of guests, from newly-wed couples to families. The pleasant vibe amongst guests and staff is testament to general manager Martin Kunzmann and his executive assistant manager Julian Paech’s approach.

The resort is set out as a traditional Thai village, with a pool the centrepiece surrounded by swaying palms of the main accommodation area. Another pool, near the beach, is close to the casual dining and bar. It is an ideal environment to relax, yet close enough to shops and night-time entertainment further down the beach.

Amari Resort Koh Samui

The food was exquisite, because of that I took time out to find out Torsak Pong-ampai is the executive chef in charge of 28 staff creating consistently good food.

It was our first time to Koh Samui, and I am sure there will be a next time.