Monday 29 August 2011

Red Ginger, Ao Nang Thailand. Where red means go and green means stop.

Red ginger is a popular exotic flower in the south of Thailand. Even the very name is wildly exotic, isn't it?

And a particularly large red ginger can be found at Ao Nang, in Krabi, Thailand. How large? As large as a 60-room boutique hotel in fact.

And Red Ginger Chic Resort is as exotic as the name suggests ... a haven of designery touches and surprising flourishes that titillate the eye. The warm red colour concept is milked to the maximum -- starting with the welcome drinks -- and their signature cocktails are all, hic, ginger based.

Something about the feel screams Straits Chinese or Peranakan ... something more akin Singapore's Chinatown, or Malacca or Penang, than Amazing Thailand, but it works. And works well.

Splashes of orange and perfectly placed greenery make it modern. Asian. Tropical. Think wicker hanging lanterns, open wooden slat screens, billowing muslin screens and bamboo ceilings. Inner city chic by the sea. Frangipani overhang the pool.

If that doesn't whet your appetite to come here, perhaps the next paragraph will ...

At Spice Restaurant, seafood and international produce is sourced from local fishing boats, and they help locals by buying vegetables only from nearby markets, Khun Orn Panida -- the hotel's articulate reservations manager from nearby Had Yai  -- tells me over a sumptuous dinner.

First spicy prawn starters come out. They do like it kick-in-the-pants hot down here. Then, an interesting chicken-and-bean crispy affair to keep us going until the chicken coconut soup arrives. I'm almost full already but battle on bravely (OK, dived in if the truth must be told!) to the main seafood dish, bass with pesto pasta and mussels, dripping in a rich Hollandaise sauce.

She tells me the chef (who's not imported either) has a bit of a reputation and they run cooking classes here.

And Red Ginger takes its eco-responsibility very seriously. Whereas most hotels post a lame note to encourage you to re-use your towels, here they incentivize you. Each time you recycle you get a token (actually a seed). Collect 3 in your stay and get a free drink, jing jing. Probably red, probably with ginger in it, definitely delicious!

While they are still working to achieve Green Leaf Certification, they already use Green Leaf-certified shampoos, and left over fruit and vegetables from the kitchen are turned into soap.

If you are here on a Wednesday, you'll see the staff all wearing grey T-shirts with a green message on it: they go and clean the beach with school kids, or plant trees at the local school. Guests with a twinge of a responsible conscience can buy a package and join in. Their sister hotel up the road, the Pakasai which I'll blog about soon, does the same.

So let me sum it up for you here: basically if it's Red say Yes to More. If it's going Green: say No and ReUse, Reduce and Recycle it.

Saturday 20 August 2011

Conrad Bangkok - a serious business hotel with a playful attitude

So picture this. I am languishing in a huge bathtub, bubbles foaming up to near the ceiling, when I spot a little blue plastic elephant. I find that when I submerge him in the water, he fills up and you can use his trunk like a water pistol. Squiiiiiiiiiiiiiirt! Great fun.

Suddenly I am 4 years old again, sharing a tub with my giggling siblings. But wait a minute ...

I am a professional, fully grown (some would say over-grown) man, with a mortgage, the weight of the world on my shoulders, a monkey on my back, and my nose to the grindstone. Yes, you see, our modern business lives are nothing but a cunningly disguised game of Twister!

But this little frivolity -- a blue plastic elephant, made in China probably -- allows me to forget that for a little while.

And that brings us to the magical difference of The Conrad Bangkok. It has been voted Bangkok's best business hotel already in its rather short history. But it never forgets that, at heart, we are all human. Additionally there is a red silk elephant placed on my bed, a little leaflet explaining it's made from traditional southern style fabric design, and explaining a little about its southern temperament.

And then there's the PlayStation 3 in all their suites.

When it comes to business, though, you'll find the Conrad pushing the envelope. Try Thailand's fastest hotel internet speed, 50 mega-kilo-bitty-widgety-somethings of raw surfing power. Free in all rooms, and most areas of the hotel. How fast? So fast your emails are sent before you even write them, jing jing.

And the executive lounge, bristling with Macs with screens that would make ground control at NASA envious ... and I'm sure some of those space cadets would surely envy the array of yummy hors d'ouevres freely for the taking in the executive lounge too. (Er, Houston, we have a problem ... it seems like some travel writer guy has eaten all the smoked salmon.)

As for location, it is nicely located near the BTS line in downtown Ploenchit (lower Sukhumvit Road embassy and business area), with shuttles running frequently to the station.

Not that you'll be in a hurry to leave your room, mind you. Each is artfully and tastefully done out with Herman Miller desk chairs, and Thai finishing flourishes; dark woods, silk fabrics, and ... well, elephants. Squiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirt!

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Phuket Thailand breaking tourist arrivals records ...

I just read a report where Phuket is expecting a record 4,000,000 international visitors this year. Check the zeroes ... that's four million, folks.

That's like the whole population of Singapore visiting the island. Or the whole population of Sydney.
Or all the readers of Thailand Jing Jing.

And if you thought the queue at Burger King at the airport was a little busier, you'd be right. Those arrivals figures are a whopping 20% above last year's numbers and -- here's a funny thing -- if you add in Thai citizen arrivals too, the airport's actually running 22% over capacity.

Standing room only (even in the ladies' loo, jing jing).

Ok I've gone a little far this time ...

Point is, if you're looking for a great party island that's jumping and pumping with an international cocktail of Aussies, Thais, Swedes, Russians, Chinese, Koreans etc, head for Phuket. Patong is party central, of course, but the fun can break out in many other parts of the island too.

But make sure you book early. Otherwise you'll only get an airplane seat on the wing. Or you'll have to sleep in one of the dozens of hotels that are still under construction.

In any case, you'll have a great travel story from Amazing Thailand to tell.

(Source: C9 Hotelworks)

Saturday 13 August 2011

Eco travel and green tourism activities in Ao Thalane, Krabi Thailand

Kayaking in the Ao Thalane area of Krabi Thailand is one of the most peaceful things you can do in the Phuket area, enjoying the pristine nature amid the emerald bays of the Andaman Sea.

These companies can give you more information, or arrange a half day or full day green tourism adventure for you ...

+ Oriental Escape

+ Andaman Adventures

+ Rev Travel 

+ Lets Tour Bangkok

+ OK Krabi

+ Railay Tours

Just me and Mother Nature (and two ladyboys) in Ao Thalane Thailand

Ok, I admit, I've got no idea where I am. We had been traversing the huge bay of Krabi for days, bouncing around between Ao Nang, Rai Ley, Koh Phi Phi, until I no longer knew if we were in the Andaman Sea, in a bay, on the mainland, or on an island.

So when the little song taew truck picked us up in Ao Nang for a half day eco-adventure at Ao Thalane, I was amazed how big the 'island' was because we drove for at least 45 minutes to get there.

'Actually this is the road to Phuket,' explained my companion. Well, that did my head in, too. 

'Phuket's an island and I thought this was an island, so wouldn't a boat be a better choice???' She just rolled her eyes.

Long story short, we arrived at Ao Thalane, a sleepy fishing village where a number of jetties poked into the bay, riven with sand bars at low tide. Locals hunched over scooped up clams and prawns from the shallows. A few other vans full of backpackers from Canada, Germany, and Israel soon arrived.

We clambered aboard our 2-person kayaks. Our two guides plied a lively line of humour, mainly centred on calling the other guy 'lady boy'. Haha, this was quite funny until about the 300th time which was only 2 minutes into the experience. They explained that this beautifully pristine area was the first of the limestone karts to emerge from the sea, about 300,000,000 years ago

Great white upthrusts of jungle-clad rock wall soared up across the bay. In front were thriving mangroves, home to colonies of exceptionally cheeky macaque monkeys. The water can be a sparkling turquoise blue, but in the off-season it's just kinda green.

In convoy we headed out across the bay at a leisurely pace, rounding craggy headlands, passing wonderful sandy coves and what looked like concealed entrances. To me it had the makings of a Hardy Boys adventure setting, for those old enough to remember those story books of childhood derring-do.

With the shoulders feeling the pinch of persistent paddling, we pulled into a little sheltered nook -- a sandy strip dwarfed by the sheer rock walls closing in on each side. Jungle vines, ferns, palms and other trees reached for the sunlight hundreds of metres above. The ladyboy jibes continued. Something about this reminded me of the remote Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, where parts of Jurassic Park were filmed. 

Hugging the rocky shore, an arching tunnel loomed ahead. It was just above water level, leaving not much clearance at this tidal level. We were heading straight for it. Surely we're not, no we can't be ... yes we are! One of the two ladyboys guiding us leaned back flat in his kayak and flipped his head back at the last minute -- clear!

We all followed suit, like a conga line feeding into a limbo contest. I expected heads to be gashed, arms to be shredded, limbs to be lost, but we re-emerged with the same headcount on the other side.

Then a narrow rock opening appeared, and the current surged inward. 'Go left, go left!' shouted one of the ladyboys. We found ourselves in a cavernous area which opened up into a secret garden ... sheltered from the world. It was dead quiet other than the shrill of cicadas, the shriek of fish-eagles hovering ... and -- you guessed it -- more taunting lady boy accusations.

The current swept us along this section, in dappled daylight, amid such virginal verdancy. Then we swung left, into the mangroves. the section was narrow, so tight the leaves formed a complete canopy above us. The bottom got shallower, shallower, shal ... er, scrape.

'We turn around here,' instructed the leader of the lady-boys.

I took the opportunity to turn on my turbo-charger. Firstly for the exercise, and secondly to leave the group in my wake so I could enjoy this as nature had intended: sans voce (that's Latin or French or something for 'no voice')

I paddled furiously to put a 100m space between myself and the others. You could've almost waterskiied behind my kayak, jing jing.

It was wonderful. Such unspoilt ageless beauty. Just the gentle sounds of paddles dipping into the water. Birds serenading. And warm sunshine on my back. Perfect!

All too soon, we were back in the open water of whatever bay this was. But now the breeze had got up and it was choppy. We bee-lined for the headland to the right, every muscle straining against the tide and the headwind. Round the headland, the welcome sight of the jetty with its promise of lunch and a drink.

That was all the incentive I needed to power on home. Well, that plus the nervousness of having two 'ladyboys' closing in behind me ...

(Footnote: This activity was kindly arranged and sponsored by the good 'green' folks at Pakasai Resort and Red Ginger Chic Resort, Krabi. Thanks!)

Thailand Elephant Polo 2012 - Hua Hin

Warning: September 12-16 2012 pacy pachyderms will be running riot in Hua Hin, the royal seaside town just south of Bangkok.

Unstoppable: D2 makes a run down the sideline ...
Fortunately, their top speed is only around 30km/h, and they will be under the control of experienced mahouts, and goaded on by largely middle-aged, corpulent players in bright shirts, all under the guise of 'sport'.

In this case, elephant polo, jing jing.

Read my previous blog on this rather eccentric sport which brings together some heavy hitters from around the world, all building up a good sweat, quenching voracious thirsts, and building up a good amount of money to conserve Asian elephants.

The Anantara Group is behind this as usual (they set up the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation in northern Thailand), and this September the tournament returns to its spiritual home, Hua Hin, where it was first staged.

Guests at the gala dinner ...
'Anantara has partnered with some of the world’s biggest personalities of the screen, stage, fashion and business world and asked them to share their larger than life artistic talents to help raise money through an ele-auction to be held during a gala dinner,' trumpets their press release.

Over half a million dollars has been raised for charity in the 11 years this tournament has been staged.

Your humble scribe will be participating again this year (yes, as a player, not as an elephant as some have unkindly suggested!) 

For more details on Anantara King's Cup elephant polo 2012, click here.

Sunday 7 August 2011

Hua Hin Jazz Festival: their promotion really blows ...

There is an annual jazz festival at Hua Hin which enjoys a massive reputation as a great event to see some big local and international players blowing their horns. Apparently ...

Sadly, that's about all I know about it, as it seems that too many 'jazz cigarettes' have led the organizers to neglect something as simple as creating a website with a program of acts, pricing, and timing, man. Some sites have the dates as June 2011, Jing Jing.

You can try but your best bet is our friends at Tourism Authority of Thailand. There at least you get some confirmed dates and a contact number.

So what you need to do is make sure you're in Hua Hin (less than 2 hours drive south of Bangkok) on Friday 26th August and Saturday 27th.

The concert itself is staged on the lovely beach right out front of the Sofitel Centara Grand Hua Hin Hotel, one of my favourite historic hotels in all of Asia.

Hua Hin has a long and proud association with jazz in this country because HM The King is a keen saxophonist and has penned many a jazz tune at his seaside residence here. This festival -- running for the last 10 years -- is testament to this contribution.

So, jazz lovers, we'll see you then. And perhaps we can pass the hat around so they can afford to create a proper website for next year.

Otherwise it should be renamed the Mua Nim ('All mixed up') Jazz Festival.

Saturday 6 August 2011

Dancers of a different type in Bangkok Thailand

I know how your naughty minds work ... when I mention 'Bangkok' and 'dancers' you automatically think of the go-go dancer type right?

(Pardon me if I'm wrong, but I'm just working on percentages here.)

Well, in September and October there's a whole new type of dancer coming to the City of Angels. And they're not Thai girls but Brazilian men, jing jing.

Ok, so I just lost half my audience, but the other half perked up suddenly. Let me explain ...

The Bangkok International Festival of Dance and Music is coming to town, September 9 to October 15 2011.

One of the headline acts is the Bale de Rua (which means 'street ballet' in I presume Brazilian Portuguese) who will bring their foot-stomping hip-shaking bottom-wriggling pelvic-thrusting blend of Samba and Hip Hop to the party.

There's also opera, music, ballet and dance from all over the world (places as diverse as Russia, Germany, Taiwan, Holland, Austria and Portugal and Spain) to check out.

So jump on the phone, or jump on a plane, and make sure you go go to this festival. And if Brazilian men are not your style, well, look on the bright side ... the show will be finished by 11pm so you can always pop down to Patpong after if you like.

Thursday 4 August 2011

Bangkok Airways -- the surprisingly affordable choice in Thailand

Bangkok Airways Airbus A319

Bangkok Airways, Asia's Boutique airline which services all the exotic destinations in Southeast Asia that come to mind, is travelling about 30% better than last year.

“Our most popular destinations are Samui, Phuket, and Chiang Mai," said a pleased Bangkok Airways’ president, Mr. Puttipong Prasarttong-Osoth. "We have improved our performance over the year, especially on the Bangkok-Phuket route where we now fly six flights daily. For Bangkok-Chiang Mai, we fly five flights per day. Direct flights from Chiang Mai to Samui are especially popular with an 80 per cent cabin factor.”

Although not a Low Cost Carrier (LCC) -- in fact, they are the opposite, with fancy lounges and nice meals -- they are often priced similarly to Air Asia and the like, and therefore are my first choice for short-haul travel in and around Amazing Thailand, jing jing.

Get around Bangkok faster in Porsche Taxi ...

Need to get from A to B in Bangkok in quick time? No worries, just hail this Porsche Taxi, jing jing.

Amazing Thailand enjoys massive rebound in travellers

Figures from PATA show that Amazing Thailand is enjoying a massive rebound, with tourist arrivals growing 66% year-on-year compared to last May when there was political unrest.

Better still, there's been no unrest at all since the election over a month ago, and it's business -- and pleasure! -- in Bangkok and the rest of the country as usual.