Friday 28 May 2010

FREE Flights on Thai Air Asia -- HURRY!

Air Asia Thailand is making an irresistable offer: FREE FLIGHTS to BANGKOK. That's right, FREE! Jing Jing! Hey, that suits my budget perfectly!

Jump in now because you have to book before 1st June, and then travel any time from 7 June to 31 August.

Any fine print? yes, obviously. Such as you pay the normal taxes applicable, etc. Also it only applies to non-Thai citizens.

Why fly Air Asia? It just won the SkyTrax best low-cost carrier in the world for the second year running.

Why go to Bangkok, isn't that like Baghdad or Kabul or something at the moment? No. The Red Shirts have packed up and gone home and in the downtown area where they camped, life is back to its normal vibrant self. Meaning go-go-go, bright lights, big city.

For example, both Siam City Hotel and Grand Centara Hotel at CentralWorld (remember that building that was supposed to have been burned to the ground, in danger of collapse etc etc according to the media?) will both re-open for business on June 1. And they were right at the epicentre of the protests. CentralWorld shopping centre will re-open in 3 months. Virtually everywhere else outside of that Rajprasong Intersection -- yes folks just one intersection in a sprawling metropolis -- was and is unaffected.

Now, if you'll just excuse me, I'm going online to book some FREE tickets. See you in Bangkok, eh?

Wednesday 26 May 2010

No news is better news ...

I don't watch the TV news, nor do I read daily newspapers, for the simple reason that they're just full-to-overflowing with bad news from all over the world. Flashpoint after flashpoint.

However, I'm guessing that now that Bangkok has returned to its normal vibrant self again, Thailand is already out of the news altogether on the BBC and CNN. And your local TV station and daily newspaper. Am I correct?

I imagine they've already moved on to the next 'flashpoint' (or back to the old chestnuts of Iraq and Afghanistan) leaving in their wake images of Bangkok ablaze, burned (pardon the pun) into your memory. That's right -- you're left with this lingering image of the whole of Thailand in turmoil. And Thailand will receive no more news coverage until the next similar episode that warrants a minute or two of their airtime.

Incredulously, a friend of mine was saying he had a contact overseas who was asking recently 'Is the airport still closed?' That was nearly 2 years ago but that was the last he heard on the news so he presumed it still was! So it's not a case of 'no news is good news'. No news means you're left with the last perception you were given.

People, the news networks are not a charity nor a community service. They are hard-line businesses in their own right, in business to make money for their shareholders. Like any other business. They don't care if they trash a country and its reputation, don't care for the livelihoods compromised by their negative-only slants, nor the tourism industries they decimate. They just care about making headline news. And that, by definition, is bad news.

'If it bleeds it leads!'

I encourage you to tear up your subscriptions to news papers and switch off the TV news. Go outside and marvel at the wonderful world around you instead.

I do this in Chiang Mai everyday. And it is wonderful. Amazing even. Jing jing!

Monday 24 May 2010

Top Tips for Enjoying a Top Time at Sukhothai

Enjoyed the lovely drive this weekend from Bangkok up to Sukhothai. You can belt up the #1 Highway in about 3 hours, or you can take a more scenic route via Phitsanulok and stop for lunches and coffees/teas along the way. Keep your eyes peeled for some really snappy coffee shops attached to some of the bigger petrol stations -- none of this Nescafe 43 beans in a polystyrene cup truck-stop nonsense. And some of the rest rooms wouldn't be out of place in a Hyatt Hotel, jing jing!

This is a particularly good time of year to do this, as the Flame trees are out in full orange bloom, and the rice paddies in this flat, flat central Thailand section are positively luminously green.
So here's my list of 'best ofs' from Sukhothai.

Listen carefully, as I'm only going to say this once: The gates of Sukhothai Historical Park are open from 6am but the tour buses don‘t disgorge their milling masses till much later. So, go early in the morning, beat the crowds, enjoy the spiritual solitude, and be awed by the first light glinting off the Buddha figures and temple roofs. You’ll experience the real essence of the Sukhothai era this way. Jing jing!  Bike rent os only 30 baht for the day.

Now, elsewhere around the town, make sure you check out as many of the following as possible:

Ananda Museum Gallery:

The 33-room Ananda Museum Gallery Hotel blends traditional dark woods and furniture with modern minimalist aesthetics to create a pleasing fusion. Located in the city centre, it has the Sanghalok Museum adjacent where centuries-old ceramics and weapons can be browsed.

Tel: 055-622428.

Dream Cafe:

Both suitably stylish and tropical, Dream Café offers cozy indoor and outdoor dining options from 10 to 10 pm daily. Put energy lost from sightseeing back with their signature fondue hotpot of noodles, meat and vegetables. A little more expensive than other eateries in town, but worth it. Take mosquito repellant.

86/1 Singhawat Rd. Tel: 05561-2081

Chopper Bar:

Sukhothai is light on for night life by Thai standards, but the most popular watering hole is the rustic Chopper Bar where you can enjoy live music on the front terrace or open-air garden behind.

96/1 Prawet Nakhon Road, Sukhothai. Tel: 055-611190

Lotus Village Spa:

Temple-hopping can be hard work on the legs, so chill out at Lotus Village Spa in the heart of the city, with lotus ponds, tropical gardens and teak buildings taking you back to the golden age. Enjoy their signature 90 minute aroma massage for 1200 baht.

170 Ratchathanee St, Sukhothai. Tel: 55 621 484

Next blog will be on the Thanaburi Hotel, adjacent the Sukhothai Historical Park. A charming little place.

Meantime, enjoy the tranquility ... Shhhh!

Friday 21 May 2010

Sukhothai -- Cradle of Siamese Civilisation

A trip to Sukhothai is much more than a visit to some old ruins. It is a journey to the very core of Siamese civilization ...

It was here from 1238 until 1438 that so many aspects of Thai culture were developed, such as the formalization of the Thai alphabet under Pho Khun Ramkhamhaeng. It was a turbulent period of blood-letting and empire building with ‘Thailand’s’ footprint being much larger than it is today. Then, remarkably like Angkor Wat, the vulnerable city characterized by its lotus-bud style chedis was abandoned and lost to the jungle, with Ayutthaya favoured as the new capital site for the kingdom.

The area was gazetted for protection in 1961, and restoration of Sukhothai Historical Park’s five zones commenced in earnest. Detractors claim that much of the restoration has been too well done, diminishing the aged authenticity of the Buddha figures, chedis, stupas, salas, ramparts and moats they’re viewing.

(A tip: take a bicycle and venture further than the heavily restored central zone. Temples at the rear and on the fringes of other zones are largely untouched to date. Unmarked tracks reward the intrepid with original-condition ruins, giving you an Indiana Jones feeling.)

However, if you are here around Loy Krathong festival time, you will be absolutely enchanted by the site of thousands -- yes, thousands -- of lanterns floating skyward from amid the lit ruins. That is a transformational experience in anybody's life.

It makes you believe in Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy all over again. Jing jing!
Otherwise, make a day trip of the 55 km journey north out to the much less trampled Si Satchanalai Historic Park, also a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site, which flourished parallel to Sukhothai. Within the 90-odd hectare old city walls adjacent the Yom River, Wat Chang Lom, Wat Chedi Jet Thaew and Wat Nang Phaya are sure to delight with their intriguingly different designs. Chang Lom for instance owes its design to a Sri Lankan design aesthetic, with 39 standing elephant buttresses around its base.

Others tilt more toward the Khmer or even Ayutthaya styles.

Si Satchanalai also has the added dimension of ceramic kiln relics at Ban Ko Noi, around five kilometers north of the town. At its peak, possibly 1000 kilns produced celadon ceramics known as Sawankhalok, showing remarkable enterprise and exporting their signature ceramics as far as Japan, China and Indonesia.

This triumvirate of Thai civilisation is completed by Kamphaengphet Historical Park, listed by UNESCO, too, though smaller in scale. However, laterite left-overs are easily accessible around this small provincial town about an hour’s drive southwest of Sukhothai (the road into town even curves around some red brick rampart relics).

So get off the time-worn track. Who knows, you might even uncover some long-forgotten ruin and be immortalized in history yourself.

Thursday 20 May 2010

The REAL Thais, The REAL Thailand

Despite what you might have seen on TV lately, Thailand's capacity for heart-warming humanity never ceazes to amaze.You can be having a shitty day (for whatever personal or professional reasons) and then suddenly out of the blue a random human kindness is rained upon you, and you remember all the reasons why Thailand is such a wonderful place to visit, or indeed live. It's the Thai people.

A couple of weeks ago I moved house. A truckful of movers (typical labourer types, if a little older than one might imagine) arrived, loaded my boxes, and trundled off to the specified address. At the other end, they took it upon themselves to arrange things like paintings and ornaments, etc, artfully in my living room. A nice touch, and certainly above and beyond my expectations at the meagre rate I was paying them.

Most of what they put in place, I've left as is, because the items look fine there.

And just yesterday, as I set off to ride from 7-11 back home with a bag full of milk and bottles of water, the bag gave way, sending bottles flying all over the road. By the time I'd stopped, a contruction worker/ driver waiting on the other side of the road had scooped up the rolling bottles, and brought them across to me. Seeing my dilemma of now having nothing to carry them in anymore, he then went back to his pick-up and fetched another plastic bag for me. Humbling, jing jing!

All in an average day in the REAL Thailand. Had this happened in, say, Sydney, I can imagine the average construction worker just standing there, thinking 'ya stupid wanker' and walking off to laugh with his mates about it.

All things being equal, is there a kinder nation of people on the face of this earth than the Thais?

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Bangkok -- the real view from the inside

I've been banging on now for quite some time about what a load of crap the media often come up with. You wonder whether they were actually witnessing the same events as you. Jing jing!

Read this link. Dissatisfaction with the media has never been so wonderfully articulated ...

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Cheers, Stu (heading back to Bangkok again this Saturday)

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Chiang Rai - Lisu hill-tribe festival

Colour. You have never seen anything like this in your life. Reds and blues and purples and oranges and greens. A spectral riot, a jubilee. Dazzling in the hazy highland sun.

We are in Doi Laan (doi being the northern Thai word for mountain) to attend an annual cultural festival of the Lisu hilltribes people, at the invitation of my Lisu friend, 'Mimi from the Mountains' as she calls herself. The Lisu originated somewhere near Tibet and mostly are domiciled in Yunnan, although a few filtered down to Burma and Thailand over the centuries.

'This festival is a good chance for the whole Lisu in Thailand to meet, a once-yearly meeting point, they choose this month because of the school holiday so all the students they can join the festival,' the charming university worker tells me. Somewhere between 500 and 750 (plus about five farang guests including us) have descended on this spartan village amid dramatic mountains, valleys and lakes about an hour southwest of Chiang Rai city. Every spare bit of floor of Doi Laan's homes, shacks and mud huts is occupied by guests. You can tell the ones who've come back from the 'big smoke' of Chiang Mai -- they're the ones sporting dyed Korean-style hair-dos and cellphones.

The centrepiece of imparting Lisu history is song, and dancing can go all night for three or so nights. But this is no Full Moon Rave. To the untrained eye (mine) it looks like Ring-a-ring-a-Rosie. 'It is the way to respect the holy tree,' explains Mimi over the rather dischordant rasp of the fulu bamboo flutes.

But before you go wading into the mosh-pit with abandon, it pays to know the strict rules of the game. 'Any man can hold the woman's hand unless she is the man's relative or cousin or the same last name. It is forbidden to hold the relative's hand, it is taboo. If it is necessary then women or men must have something like a handkerchief to block the hand so that their hand will not directly touch each other.'

During the dance, only men can ask women to hold their hand or to join the dance. 'Except if that woman is a bit drunk or wanted to make a joke to some men,' laughs Mimi with her trademark glowing smile.

Indeed, corn whisky has a lot to answer for. It is served up in liberal lashings. Not too disimilar to the worst Scotch you ever tasted, but with a burnt earthy aftertaste (OK, it'll be a while before I get a job in PR with the Lisu Corn Whisky Marketing Board.) Flushed cheeks radiate in the late afternoon sun. Mimi ushers us into her mum and dad's house (which doubles as the village clinic), where we sit on tiny wooden stools raised just inches above the dirt floor. The meal is stunning, a mixture of spicy vegetable and meat dishes, all courtesy of the jungle. 'We don't go to market for anything except sometimes meat,' declares Mimi proudly. Chickens tip-toe gingerly through the house. Pot-bellied pigs bask in the sunny pen outside. She is momentarily distracted by a call on her mobile phone.

The only other modern intrusion here seems to be Crocs shoes. I spy several flourescent pairs competing for visual attention with the rest of the blinding outfits. Jing jing!

But no garment is richer than their hats called U-thue, garnished with a thousand or more red strings and beads. Imagine Liberace in a Foreign Legionnaire's cap and you get the idea. 'It is more like fashion now with all the colour;  in the past we use the knitting wool. The strings hanging down are to please the spirit, the spirit likes to see the color. It is springtime for the Lisu so the spirit would love it and be happy to see spring as well.'

It is a real privilege to experience this cultural life from the inside as we have. But just one marketing suggestion if I may: add some snappy break beats to the raspy music and package this festival as a -- wait for it -- Fulu Moon Party.

Thursday 13 May 2010

Sale! Sale! Sale!

Attention Fashionistas!

Bangkok is on sale: the major fashion stores in Siam Discovery, Siam Centre and The Emporium are getting rid of their end of season stocks with sales at up to 90% off designer stuff. Yes, ninety percent.  Jing jing!

Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss, Rip Curl, Max Mara, etc, etc, all has to go.

The stores are doing it in an innovative way, too ... the Emporium have converted their car park over the road into a massive air-conditioned space. A real sale atmosphere, with credit card machines going into meltdown. Sale on till 20th May.

The two Siam developments are holding their sale at Queen Sirikit Centre (near Asoke BTS), a little further out from their own centres which were very close to the disruptions downtown lately. So shoppers were a bit to venture too close to that part of town. Sale on till 16th May.

So the winner is YOU! Just don't expect to find anything in red. It's very out of fashion at the moment.

Footnote: I couldn't resist this photo of a shopping bag from a fashion store in Siam. Only in Thailand, eh?

Tuesday 11 May 2010

TCDC Bangkok - Think you know Thailand? Think Again!

When I mention the name TCDC what do you think of? That's right, a double adapter, an each way bet, a lady-boy or katoey. So damn predictable, you lot!

TCDC has got nothing to do with AC/DC or anything of the sort. It is the Thailand Creative and Design Centre, based in The Emporium at Phrong Pohm in the heart of Sukhumvit, Bangkok.

The Centre opened about five years ago to serve as Thailand's 'premier learning resource centre for design and creativity'. OK, that part sounds pretty boring, but wait till you hear this: the centre holds 25,000 design magazines in its library, and stages regular exhibitions.

The permanent exhibition is really cool: 'What is Design?' displays Genius Loci, the best of 10 inventive countries around the world, starting with Louis Vuitton steamer trunks and homberg hats in the middle 1800s and on from there, showing how economics, politics, religion, etc, all inform a nation's sense of, and need for, design. Presented in a wonderful multi-coloured chronological timeline along the walls.

Visually, there's a huge old Citroen as a centrepiece. And so many items of fashion and gadgets like Philippe Starck's famous alien spider-like lemon juicer that does nothing but dribble juice onto your kitchen counter, a Vespa scooter, amazing minimalist Muji electronics, and, yes, even the Bic pen gets a run. It was revolutionary once, you know. Jing jing!

What's also on now? 'Baht and Brains' addresses the marriage of creativity and business. Did you know that Thailand is one of the top 20 exporters of creative goods in the world? It's not surprising when you see the home-grown fashion bursting from the windows of Siam Paragon, Siam Centre, and the Emporium. And what about the amazing design of Thailand's countless spas and boutique hotels?

Yes, there is a very funky heart to this culture, hence their drive toward a Creative Economy.

Want to see another side of Thailand? It's right here at TCDC in the heart of Bangkok's urban jungle.

Sunday 9 May 2010

Bangkok -- situation update

I flew into Bangkok last night (7 May) and was really pleased to see Sufannabum, Soovannapom, er, the international airport so busy. Actually I wasn't pleased -- it was so damn busy I had to queue five minutes to get a plate of pad thai noodles.

Anyway, it's a sign that things are back to normal in the City of Angels. (If the word 'normal' can ever be applied to Bangkok, that is.) Perhaps a lot of pent-up demand from business people and tourists that chose not to come here in the last few weeks.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has put the following status update information together exclusively for you, the dear readers of Thailand JING JING. Jing Jing!

"In terms of inconveniences and disruptions to the general public, anti-government protests in Thailand are now largely confined to only certain locations in Bangkok, namely, around the Ratchaprasong Intersection. In particular, popular tourist destinations in most parts of the country remain unaffected, and the country’s transportation systems, including the two Bangkok airports (Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang), are operating as normal.

"For foreigners living in or visiting the Kingdom, it is important to note that foreigners have never been targeted in political conflicts in Thailand. 

"Information regarding the overall political situation in Thailand is available on the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s website at . In addition, the Tourism Authority of Thailand has a 24-hour hotline at 1672 and general information for tourists is updated on its websites at and, while the Thai Tourist Police is ready to answer enquiries and provide assistance to tourists. The 24-hour Tourist Police hotline is 1155."

So the point is, come back to Bangkok now. It's a great time to squeeze hotels, car rentals, etc, for great deals, and you can enjoy a bit more space for yourself on the beaches of Thailand and in the usual tourist haunts.

Just to clarify: the airport was busy with people coming IN, not leaving. And the pad thai was well worth the wait. Not to mention the mango sticky rice, and the mango, lychee and apple smoothie ...

Saturday 8 May 2010

Bangkok -- A Spectacular Siamese Show (no, not upstairs in Patpong)


Ok, you might not think that a three-letter word can quite capture and do justice to a USD$40 million production, featuring 500 costumes and 150 actors (plus not a few pachyderms, goats and chickens) ... and you would be absolutely correct!

I am really struggling to describe this spectacular show -- listed in the Guinness Books of Records -- to you. The official slogan is 'A Journey to the Enchanted Kingdom of Siam'. But that could equally describe a midnight stroll down Patpong Road.

And to say It's a Journey Back into History as they do on their website is way too bland, and conjures up images too generic and old and dusty. It doesn't compel you with the dramatic dioaramas of Khmer civilisation, the colour of the Lanna culture, and the clangour of the Chinese traders seeking their fortune. It says nothing of the Ramayana-like depictions of heaven and hell and the mystical Himpaan Forest, nor the joyous depictions of Thailand's many festivals such as Songkhran (think water) or Loy Krathong (think candles).

Instead, there are boats being paddled across the 65 metre stage, bands of sylph-like figures floating gracefully through the sky, and trumpeting elephants plodding across bucolic mountainscapes. Oh, and levity in the form of some audience participation at half time. (Tip: don't sit in the seat I was sitting in -- you'll soon find yourself up on stage making an arse of yourself with some kind of rigged bamboo rattle!)

As words fail me -- Yay! I hear you cheer -- I shall leave it to a couple of others to sum it up for you instead:

"Think Cirque de Soleil plus Italian grand opera and classical Thai dance dressed by Las Vegas costumers and staged by Hollywood," gushes Susan McKee of Jax Fax Travel Marketing magazine. Ok, Susan I'm trying to think of that. "World-class staging, heart-stopping colors and pulsating performances all to the beat of hummable music and energetic dancing. Siam Niramit is a must see!" raves Francine LeFrak, a Tony Award-Winning Broadway producer. Yes, I can see where she's coming from.

But I think H.E. Mr. Rodolphe Imhoof, Ambassador for Switzerland, says it best: "Une superbe soiree d'introduction a'la art et la civilisation Thaie. Merci de tout couer."

That's French for, um, "wow!"

Friday 7 May 2010

Bangkok - Siam Niramit

Travel Advisor's Top 10's for 2010 has just been released, and no one will be surprised to hear that Bangkok makes it for nightlife.

But not for the type of nightlife you might be thinking of that's normally associated with Bangkok (Ok, lads down the back, you can put your ping pong bats away now ...)

Instead, it lists attractions like Siam Nirimit (an amazing cultural stage extravaganza, about which I'll blog tomorrow), Calypso Cabaret, and Sky Bar (about which I blogged a couple of months ago).

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Fly Thai and Join the Smile High Club

On Saturday May 1, Thai Airways reenacted its historical first ever flight between Bangkok and Hong Kong, with the crew decked out in nostalgic mod/pop 60s style fashions, and the plane also bearing the original Thai Airways livery (featuring highly unoriginal blue and red stripes).

The original menu was also replicated with those in the pointy end of the plane enjoying Lobster Medallion Bellevue served with Russian Salad, Smoked Snapper Marinated with Mustard Sauce served with Thai herbs such as lime wedges, shallot, peanut, ginger, chili slices and spring onion, all together wrapped with betel leaves. And that was just for starters, literally. For the main course, first class passengers feasted on Lobster in Chu-Chee Sauce and Braised Cubed Beef Hong Kong Style.

It’s 50 years since that first flight in 1960, done in a plane borrowed from the Wright Brothers (actually a DC-6B). Boy, TG -- as it’s known in the trade -- has come a looooooooooooooong way since then, with 10,000 planes flying to 550 countries worldwide now, making Thailand the perfect travel hub for anyone travelling in just about any direction across the globe. Even if you're flying from Sydney to Melbourne, for instance, you should consider flying via Bangkok.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Thai’s pilot simulator training centre in Bangkok, where half a dozen sims of Airbuses, and all the other models in their modern fleet, stand like a miniature NASA laboratory. What a fun session and a great chance to try out the Airbus technology first hand. (The less said about my first landing attempt the better. Suffice to say we all walked away from it.)

Coincidentally my first ever flight on TG was Hong Kong to Bangkok.

I was travelling with a work colleague, an ‘Old Bangkok Hand’ who was going to show us youngsters the sights, sounds, smells, etc of Bangkok. We flew First Class (well, it was the Eighties, the age of excess) and us six passengers in the 1st class bubble upstairs on the 747 were – as I remember – outnumbered by the crew.

Boarding that plane was my first taste of Thailand. The graceful silk garments. The wai. The smiles. Being younger and better looking then, I was sure they were only smiling that special smile for me. None of the other passengers were surely enjoying the same smile I was receiving! I had unwittingly joined Thai Airways’ World Famous Smile High Club.

We floated on a cloud to and fro Bangkok. Smooth as silk indeed. And that experience planted a seed in my mind then that was only to come to fruition some years later when I finally did move to live in Thailand.

Out of thousands of airplane journeys I’ve done, covering over half a billion kilometers, that journey sticks in my mind as one of the most memorable and enjoyable ever. Nothing at all to do with the sixteen double vodka tonics. Jing jing!

Well here’s to you, TG. You’re an elegant lady still, and looking pretty good for 50. Especially those little laugh lines around your eyes.

Monday 3 May 2010

Coming up in May ...

Dear Readers

Can you believe it's May already?

We've covered a LOT of ground already this year, and yet we've still got so much of Amazing Thailand to cover.

Coming up for your enjoyment in May:

Khao Suk (the Guilin of Thailand)
Diving in the Similan Islands
Watching and playing Elephant Polo in the Golden Triangle
How to become a fully qualified mahout
The wonderful gardens of Doi Tung

But we'll kick off with a little tribute to Thai Airways who turned 50 years old at the weekend. Check back tomorrow for that little story.