Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Honeymoon Bliss in Thailand

Australian travel agent Reena Tory and her new husband Nick Terrone recently chose to honeymoon in Thailand. Kao Jai Thailand asked them why they chose the Land of Smiles for their romantic holiday... 

We chose Thailand because we had both travelled there, and loved the people, the landscapes and the food! Since it was our honeymoon, we wanted to see the quieter areas, away from tourist hotspots like Phuket and Koh Samui. After a hectic wedding (and an Indian one at that!) we wanted to chill, explore beaches, relax, and do nothing! 

We spent four days in Bangkok, seven days in Krabi and an overnight stay in Bangkok on our way back from Krabi. In Bangkok we stayed at Vie Hotel - M Gallery, which was the perfect hotel for us. Our main aim in Bangkok was to shop and see temples. Vie is walking distance to MBK. We spent time shopping there - fantastic. We also went to Chatuchak Weekend Market, which was a Skytrain ride away. 

The highlight of our stay in Bangkok was a visit to Ayutthaya. The UNESCO heritage ruins were beautiful. Wat Phra Mahthat, with the famous Buddha face in the tree, is magical. 

The honeymooners at Wat Phra Mathat
Of course no trip to Bangkok is complete without going to the red light district! It's nice to see the lovely ladies say a prayer to their Buddha and king at a small shrine before jumping up on stage and getting their groove on. Religion is everywhere! 

In Krabi we stayed at Klong Muong Beach at Beyond Krabi Resort which is on the mainland. There is literally no one on this beach except hotel guests. You will find mainly European couples and families at this resort. Seaview rooms have unobstructed views of the beach, overlooking the infinity-style pool. The rooms were clean and modern. 

Beyond Krabi Resort
We were interested in seeing nature, and obviously some tours to the islands and kayaking were on our agenda. The 4 Island Tour is a good one which takes you by speed boat to Railay Beach (technically not an island but the only way to get there is by boat!), Chicken Island, Tub Island and Poda Island. This was a short five-hour tour of all the islands, but a good one to do. 

Kayaking was also a highlight at Bor Thor. The guides were fantastic. They understood the environment and educated us about the importance of the mangroves and the limestone caves to the area.

Another day we hired a scooter (I had travel insurance!) and visited Khao Phanom Bencha National Park. Its main attraction is Huay Toh waterfall, a seven-tiered waterfall. Another beautiful gem, and the perfect spot to cool off. Next stop Tiger Temple Cave...1327 steps up a mountain to reach the temple. Definitely worth the hike. Spectacular views of Krabi's striking coastline and huge Buddha statue at the top. 

The main highlight of our trip was the final three nights in Krabi. We stayed at Islanda Eco village resort on Koh Klang. It is a small island that is a five minute boat ride from Krabi Town. Love love love this place. The island has only a one-lane road, and a majority Muslim island with a population of 3000. 

Nick in a tuk-tuk on the beach at Koh Klang
We wish we spent more time here. It is the perfect honeymoon destination, and the staff at Islanda really look after you. The cocktails are amazing, especially at happy hour. It is pretty isolated, and if that's what you want, it's perfect. The villas are very cute, with open air showers. We suggest the ocean facing villas for privacy. If you are after a beach beach, this is not it as the tide is too low to swim. However they have a great pool. 

Honeymoon chilling at Islanda
We took a trip to Phi Phi Island from here, which was really disappointing. After being on this island then going to Phi Phi, it was like going back to Bangkok - a very busy island, thanks to the Hollywood movie filmed there, 'The Beach'. 

We definitely recommend Thailand for a honeymoon! We could have gone with the masses to places like Phuket, but sometimes you have to do the research to find the gems!

Thursday, 21 February 2013

View from the Inside #2

Featured artist Chris Chun shares his favourite haunts in his adopted city of Chiang Mai...

Chris contemplating his next meal in Chiang Mai!

- What's your favourite thing about living in Chiang Mai? 

There are lots of great things about living here. The town has it’s own charm and unique vibe. It’s very peaceful – well, with over 300 temples I think it should be, right? The food here is amazing as well as my thrice weekly massages and the cost of living is very cheap compared to Australia. 

 - Can you list your top 5 bars/cocktail lounges? 

Chiang Mai has loads of bars, depending on what you like….not that many cocktail lounges though. I love taking friends to the Chedi Hotel for a drink by the river and 137 Pillars House is a gorgeous hotel to just chill with a quiet drink in the original homestead. House of Wine we love (especially with the tapas bar and French Fry Bar next door). Yokka Dok is lots of fun with the gay boys and the cabaret show at Anusarn Market is a scream!! Monkey Club and MO’c MO’l are great too. 

Jack Bains Bar at 137 Pillars House Pic: Matthew Burns

 - Any favourite restaurants? 

I’m not sure if I want to give away all my secrets LOL. One of the best places for Thai food is Café de Nimman – their fried fish with Thai herbs is the BEST in town but it runs out quickly so get there fast. We love Anchan for their organic vegetarian food. Giorgios is our favourite Italian restaurant with food just like Mama used to make. Wanluman is great for French cakes and The House is a great place to take visitors – chic restaurant and designer boutique all rolled into one. 

 - Favourite way to waste time in Chiang Mai! 

Massage and eating cake – Chiang Mai has a huge sweet tooth and there are lots of great cake shops and patisseries.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Mae Khlong: The Risky Market

Guest blogger John Borthwick, a confirmed non-shopper, makes an exception and goes to market at one known, for very good reason, as “the Risky Market”.

Thais call it Talat Rohm Hoop, the Closing Umbrella Market but for foreigners it is “the Risky Market”. And right now a large train is bearing down upon me as I stand far too close to its tracks.

My Thai friend Sam suggests politely, “Maybe you move back some little bit more.” I fling myself against a wall, flat as a pressed duck, as the train rumbles past, inches away. With a shave this close, who needs a razor?

Minutes before this level-a-tourist crossing event, I was amid a full-on market. Mackerel, brassieres, rambutan, sneakers, chili and nail clippers — all arrayed in a 100-metre long stretch. Down the middle of it, almost unnoticed, runs a narrow-gauge railway. Shade awnings (rhom) completely overhang the tracks, goods of every kind are stacked beside the line and shoppers mill across the tracks.

The train, a two-carriage electric service, rumbles through here four times a day but the stall-holders wait until it is almost upon them to make way for it. The awnings are rapidly pulled back while goods are shuffled aside. There’s such lack of urgency that tourists, awaiting some dramatic warning, are barely aware that the train is upon them.

I’m glad I’m not an elderly, plump Russian or a slow(-er) Aussie. Stand 20 cm too close and you have to leap for your life — as I do. One day though, someone will ... well, you know what I mean. A big, fat, lumbering loco will meets a tourist who’s artistically framing a tray of rambutan through a lens — and, Oh-my-Buddha! Or, as Sam says imperfectly but impeccably, “The train got no wrong.”

The market parts before the train like the Red Sea before Moses, then closes-in again behind the last carriage. The canvas awnings swing back and the goods, sellers and buyers spill right back to where they were. When the train returns later, the seas of commerce will part once more and some other tardy farang again will have to leap like a lizard.

Pics by John Borthwick, risking his life for his art!

All this happens at the morning market in the fishing port of Samut Songkram, also known as Mae Khlong, 80 km southwest of Bangkok. The tiny Mae Khlong-Mahachai railway line is the shortest in Thailand, at just 33 km in length. It starts in west Bangkok at Wong Wian Yai station, is cut by one large river and terminates beside another at Mae Khlong, the “capital” of Thailand’s smallest province, Samut Songkram.

Other than a few curious foreigners, the market is Thai to the max. Among the durian, fresh crabs, steamed mackerel and fried silkworms, we find two-frog satays for a bargain 35 baht — as opposed to 100 baht in Bangkok.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Inspiration of Chiang Mai

Award-winning Australian textile designer and fine artist Chris Chun has lived in Chiang Mai for two years, and finds great inspiration in the northern Thai city. Here he talks about how living in Thailand has impacted on his art.

The multi-talented Chris Chun
- When did you move to Chiang Mai, and why did you decide to move there?

My husband Matthew and I moved to Chiang Mai back in December 2010 and it was our third visit here. We wanted a lifestyle change/ mini sabbatical from Australia and Matthew (an environmental lawyer) wanted to take some time off from the bar to write a book and experience living overseas for the first time. I think we were only supposed to be here for a year!

- How has living in Chiang Mai affected your work?

I am definitely a lot more relaxed and chilled out living here. It is definitely a slower, more relaxed pace of life, probably a bit too much for me! For example, I am still waiting to hear back on a quote from the printers to get some things made and this was over three weeks ago.

I am very inspired by the whole city - nature, colour, textiles and culture here. There is a rich arts and crafts movement in Chiang Mai and there are lots of artisans here doing their own thing which is very inspiring to be part of. I am learning how to make ceramics as well as getting back into printmaking, specifically etchings and silkscreen. I am also doing lots more creative things (like making videos) and not thinking about just making stuff for money.

Cherry Blosson Love @Chris Chun
- What inspires you? Anything specifically Thai?

The flower markets here are incredible. As I paint a lot of flowers, I’ve been walking around to Kamtiang Flower Markets which is just behind my studio to take photos and paint the orchids there. I also think the textiles available here are beautiful.

Details of orchids @Chris Chun
- Is there a vibrant art scene in Chiang Mai?

I don’t know if I would call it vibrant but there is a cool, little art scene here. The Meeting Room Art Gallery is well worth a visit and there are lots of independent ones that no one has ever heard about which are good. The Thais don’t seem to be that pro-active in their marketing and promotion. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be many opportunities for artists to make a living apart from selling their works at the markets but I am trying to help in any way I can.

For more information about Chris, visit his website

Tea Garden @Chris Chun