under the coconut tree

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Swimming elephants and floating women

I've always wanted to go to the floating market but never realised that it was a 2-hour drive away from Bangkok! It was definitely a long (and early) ride for a market that opens for less than half a day.

We were warned by friends and family alike that the market has turned extremely touristy in recent years. So we were prepared to jostle against tides of tourists but were extremely lucky to be mingling only among the locals out having breakfast. Guess it pays to be the early-birds!

There were 2 sides of the market - one of which sold hot food and fruits to locals while the other dabbled more on arts and crafts catering mostly to tourists. In addition, you still have many river traders that paddled up and down the canal hawking their wares. A rather delightful market experience but boy, was the whole place hot and humid!!
The four ladies taking a break by the canal to catch up on gossips.
A scene of the floating market.
Traffic jam at the canals.

We stopped over at Saiyok Elephant Park before making our way to the Tiger Temple. Slightly out of character, we succumbed to being "tourist suckers" and paid for an elephant ride. In fairness, it was my first time sitting on something so big and hairy!! :p Well, the jungle "trek" was a mere 20-min walk through the bush, down a valley and just to give us a cheap sense of adventure, a foray into the River Kwai.
KL considering a career change. He didn't get vey far, the elephant absolutely refused to budge!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tiger, tiger burning bright

Yoohoo... we're back in London. Nice cool weather, lots of greenery and I'm in the comforts of our home, treating ourselves to some nice home cooked meals. =) Even though it's just 2 weeks before we head back to HK, I intend to fully utilise my time at home.

Anyways, back to our Thailand trip. We were in Bangkok's Khao San area looking for tours that included the floating market, elephant rides and the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi. After much scouting around and not finding what we wanted, we decided to rent a car along with a driver for 3500B. Quite a good deal considering we started our trip at 7am and only got back to the hotel at 7pm and most importantly we were able to tailor the day to meet our specific itinerary.

KL have always wanted to go to the Tiger Temple ever since it was featured in the Discovery Channel. We have been reading up on the place and found a fair bit of negative reviews on a few popular travel forums. As KL has a big soft spot for big cats we went ahead anyway with little expectations.

The entrance fee to the temple was 300B (US$10) : "expensive for what you get" was a common comment amongst fellow travellers. To be honest, having travelled extensively around the world - I personally thought it wasn't too ridiculously priced. Well, I guess if you were with a tour group making a quick in-and-out visit, you'd probably feel somewhat ripped off. We on the other hand spent the whole afternoon there - observing, photographing the tigers and spent some time exploring the temple grounds. After all, from our safari experiences patience and plenty of time are required where 'wild' animals are concerned.

The tigers in the temple are usually orphaned cubs that were brought in by neighbouring villagers. As far as we know the temple has lived up to its promise to take in and care for all living creatures for many years now, so we would expect some grown-up tigers. These cats get a daily outdoor "exercise time" in the afternoon, which is open to the public.

With the entrance fee, you get to have your photos taken next to the tigers (that are in good mood) in the canyon as many times as you wish. The tigers are chained and we were heavily supervised by each tiger's caretaker. On top of that, those feeling generous could opt to pay 1000B (USD30) to have a 'special photo's taken with the tiger's head resting on your lap.

As far as the negative reviews and controversies we had heard about, I do think some of them may have been a little unfair. Based on half a day's visit, the caretakers certainly seemed to be very fond of the tigers and clearly looked after them very well. Many travellers also brought up suspicions of the tigers being drugged to keep them sedated; we reckoned the sluggish tiger behaviour was because big cats normally rest during the day and would only be on the prowl between dusk and dawn. Anyone who has been to Africa would have seen really really lazy looking lions under an Acacia tree, dead to the world (even to the rumblings of a 4x4 jeep). And, true enough, they got pretty restless towards the later part of the afternoon - growling and pacing within the limits of the chain. All this said, I do have reservations about wild animals being chained and paraded to tourists in such a fashion. Surely this cannot be good for the welfare of the animals? And to the tourists also......standing within striking distance of one the the world's most lethal predator?

Tourists queueing for a photo oppurtunity with the tigers.

The excited yet apprehensive me posing with a sleepy full grown papa tiger under the watchful eyes of the abbott.
Towards later of the afternoon, the tigers were all up and about waiting to be brought back to their cages.
The abbott playing with the tiger cub.
A caretaker giving the cub a piggy back ride back to the temple grounds. Doesn't the cub look oh-so-cute?

KL taking the tiger out for a stroll. Or, is that the other way round?
After the hordes of tourists left, we got to spend some time with the cubs. This one was particularly playful (and hungry) as it was nibbling on KL's a fingers all the time. Hmm.... maybe he should have washed his hands after the KFC bucket!
The other inhabitants of the temple. The water buffaloes and a rooster that will soon to be flatten if it doesn't start to move out of the way soon.
The many wild boars (?) who turned up in huge numbers out of nowhere when the feeding bell was rung. Kinda frightened us, the onlookers as it looked like a mini stampede heading our way.
All in all, we were rather pleased we went to the Tiger Temple. A long drive from Bangkok but we thought it was well worth the trip. After all, not many people get the oppurtunity to get up close and personal with tigers and baby cubs!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Hot (and spicy) nights in Bangkok

KL and I spent 4 days and 3 nights in Bangkok recently for a short well-derserved break (well, for him anyway!). We booked ourselves into the hotel, Silom Serene I stayed in a few years ago when I was in Bangkok for work. I had fond memories there (long working hours aside, of course), bargain shopping in Pat Pong and the late night supper along Silom Road with my then colleagues.

The buffet breakfast was as I remembered it - really good. It had a huge variety and array of food that suited everyone - I was not disappointed!! KL, who is not usually a breakfast person (his first meal of the day is usually lunch) had a plate of Thai fried rice, followed by fried noodles and congee!! That's how good the food was!

Food aside though, the service was rather disappointing - most of the staff (with some exceptions) seemed to wear perpectual frowns on their faces. It was something I did not expect for Thai hospitality. The staff I remembered were extremely pleasant and very generous with their smiles and "Sawa-dee-kap"s. Oh well, maybe things do change over time. In fairness I was here more than 8 years ago.

We usually skip lunch after the heavy and filling breakfast. So we normally have a sumptous dinner to compensate. We headed to Chinatown for dinner after a recommendation from my aunt and uncle who were there recently. A seafood restaurant at the corner of the main street in Chinatown that goes by the name TK Seafood Restaurant. You'll smell the place as you get closer since the seafood gets BBQ-ed in the open charcoal grill outside. If that fails, look out for the illuminous, bright green t-shirts that the staff wears.
The charcoal grilled mama prawns! Thank goodness we went for our annual medical check before we left for Bangkok -our cholesterol levels would have hit the roof after this trip!
I am aware that there are many photos here. So, before you think "My god, these two can really eat !!", we actually went back to the place on two separate occasions. I really really (yummmmy) loved their tom-yum-kung, with its fresh seafood, creamy yet spicy soup and the taste of lemongrass which just balanced the whole dish perfectly. It has got to be the best I had ever tasted!
I absolutely love the fish dish below too. Fresh off-the-boat fish steamed with slices of garlic, bird's eye chili, lemon grass, onions and (I think) a squeeze of lime/lemon juice too. It's was soooo good but KL thought it was too spicy for his liking.
Crab fried rice. A rather plain but tasty dish cooked with a lot of shredded crab meat.
Pan fried omelette with oysters.
Kangkung belacan - KL's favourite dish.
I just couldn't resist - a plate of grilled cockles. Went down extremely well with a bowl of bird-eyes chillies in fish sauce.

To wash it all down, we went with the ever-trusted coconut juice - an excellent complement for the many spicy dishes we had.
Ok I have to go now. I am too hungry to continue............. :)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Monkeys in the jungle - trek up Ulu Gombak

Our plans to Taman Negara had to be shelved much to KL's dissappointment. Now in his 30's, he's starting to find motivating a bunch of middle aged men and women to take on leech infested rivers and slippery mud trails quite a task. List of excuses for non-attendance included pure laziness (re: Roy), work commitments or family obligations. Truth be told, we were partially to blame as we extended the invite pretty late due to KL's work commitments! Anyway, we thought it would be worth checking out what the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur had to offer. KL found this link that gave us a few interesting waterfalls treks in Malaysia.

And so, KL managed to find 2 new outdoor recruits in the form of my two young and eager cousins for a trek up Ulu Gombak. The Pisang Waterfalls was an hour drive away from PJ, heading towards Karak Highway (East Coast Highway).

We parked near the pumphouse and followed the short well-trodden path along the river. Then, we had to wade through the Sungai Gombak to get to the tunnel below the Karak Highway in search of the Pisang Waterfalls.
Trudging along the wet, foresty and muddy terrain, I was so confident I was going to be bitten by leeches. Never did like those gross, black slimey things.... that's why I was never keen on any tropical jungle treks. Thankfully, my cousins and myself were spared and only KL got bitten by 3 pesky leeches.

Since we ran out of durian puffs, my cousins tried their luck spearing for fishes. Did we get any? KL waded upstream and sat there as he waited ("By my calculation the chances of the boys landing a fish is as good as a roti-canai floating downstream right into my lap!")
After a 30-minute trek, we decided to turn back as it was getting rather dark. No waterfalls this time - but I reckon we'll definitely be back. This time with more food for a nice picnic and more dry clothes (my little cousin - bless him - was so exhausted from the trek that he started tripping over himself often and landing with his bum in the river)

We stopped near the camp ground nearby for a swim. The boys had a really good time 'mandi sungai' (swimming in the river) as it was their first time, though they were shivering the whole time in the cold stream water.
We ended the day with a well-deserved teh tarik and roti canai at a nearby mamak in Batu Caves.

I'm now back in HK after spending a month dividing my time between home, Singapore and a spot of travelling in Thailand. Hence, the silence on the blogging end!

The trip home has been great - managed to meet up with friends, spent time with the family, met a new addition to the family (my cousin sis just had a baby) and of course, stuffed ourselves with local food.

My big bro took us to many great eats in Singapore this time round. Among them Tian Tian Chicken rice (reputed to be the best chicken rice in S'pore), Porridge in Outram Park, Cumi Bali (Indonesian food) at Duxton Road, German food (yes, German -great beer and finger licking pork knuckles). If you are out looking for good food in Singapore, don't give the above places a miss!

Admittedly, as Singapore does not have a big reputation as a food-haven (we Malaysians liked to think of S'pore food as nothing more than a second-grade imitation of our own delicacies) we were pleasantly surprised by what we encountered! Don't get me wrong Singapore food is still sub-standard in general, but there are some good places if you know where to find them!

Our lack of faith made us leave our camera behind on most eating outings, except for the Soup Restaurant in Paragon. The place is well known for the samsu chicken dish. The cold deboned chicken is served with delicious ginger dipping sauce and cucumber slices. It's eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves. Yum-mmy..!

The other dishes we had - steam fish with light soya sauce garnished with spring onions and coriander. KL commented that this comes pretty close to Wah Chai's restaurant in Menglembu, near Ipoh.
Deep fried japanese tofu with prawns & egg white in sweet-sour sauce.
So all in all we left Singapore when a fairly happy tummy and possibly few kg's heavier!