Thinking of Thongsomboon Club…

Last August 13, I joined the annual Family Outdoor activity by my Christian Church here in Bangkok. It was a long holiday, being Her Majesty, The Queen of Thailand’s Birthday which is also the celebration of Mother’s Day for Thai people.

The Family Outdoor was held in Thongsomboon Club located in Pakchong, Nakhon Ratchasima Province which is in the Northeastern Part of Thailand. This region is usually called Isarn region by Thais.

Thongsomboon Club is an established family-oriented adventure park which is very near the well known Khao Yai National Park. In Thongsomboon, you can do various activities such as ATV, Horse Riding, Dry Sledge, Go Kart, Flying Fox, Bumper Boat, Rolling Ball and many others.

My Church has several activities for that day but the Singles Group (including me!) were there the day before (12 Aug) to spend overnight and be an advanced party to the group.

Accommodations in Thongsomboon are very unique in design. Some are like trailer vans in the US while some look like Indian Tents (Teepee) while the others are designed like a Cart suite. As there are 12 of us, we had to split the group into 3 rooms, 1 room is large enough to accommodate up to 6 persons.

 

 

 

 

 

The resort being near the National Park which is a mountainous area, the weather is usually cool and the air fresh. Luckily there are not much mosquitoes in our room as everyone failed to bring an insect repellent.

The view of the surrounding is just magnificent!

 

 

We were entitled to 6 activities during the Outdoor. All church members were divided into different color groups. I was assigned as part of the Yellow Team.

We tried the Luge, an engine-less luge car that allows you to steer down a zigzaggy hill. The course though in a slope is very safe and we had a great fun. Didn’t have a photo of this ride though.

We had to ride the Sky Lift (a cable car) to go back on top after the Luge ride.

Next stop we tried the Dry Sledge. You have to ride in an inflatable tube and you are pushed backwards down a hilltop. This one is also very exciting but the ride is a bit short.

We went to the ATV area next. I like this ride though the course is not as rough as I expected. The air so so fresh and the green surrounding is just so refreshing!

 


Next we rode the Log Ride. It is a ride that resembles a wooden log and you have to travel a short distance and ending on a big splash as the log climbs up a slope and slides you and your friends down the canal.

After this ride, we headed to the Bumper Boat area. As the name goes, we have to bump into each others boat but to add more fun, there is a water fight wherein you can splash water using the built in water gun in the Boat. Me and my team mates gamely splashed water to each other so at the end of the ride we were all soaking wet!

After completing all the ride entitlements, I decided to pay for an extra ride. I saw the Rolling Ball and got so excited to try this. I ever saw it on TV in Amazing Race and few other shows and wanna try it out myself to experience the thrill. And boy, I was not disappointed!
It actually was the best and most adrenaline pumping ride in Thongsomboon if I may say so.

If you look at the ball, it seems not scary or thrilling as it goes down the hill quite smoothly and not too fast. However, once you are inside, the ride is actually fast and there was a feeling of breathlessness. The ride was less than a minute but it is really worth it.

Actually there were many of us who wanted to try the ride but they have a weight and height restriction. You cannot be too heavy and cannot be too short to ride the ball. Fortunately for me and 3 other friends we can pass the requirement. I can still remember the disappointed faces of my friends upon learning they cannot ride the ball.

Inside the ball, me and John my companion wanted to scream but we just cannot as the ball is spinning very fast and even we tried to shout there is no voice coming out because we cannot breathe normally. Only when the ball was down hill and slower that we were able to say something. When I asked him about his feeling, we had the same reaction and just laugh till we were out of the ball.

I actually wanted to try again but we don’t have enough time as there are more activities that we need to do indoor.

After all the activities, we went back to Bangkok all tired but very happy with the new experience in Thongsomboon Club!

If you happen to be in Bangkok and want to spend you weekend somewhere else, Thongsomboon Club would be a good alternative to the usual trips to Pattaya, Hua Hin, Kanchanaburi, etc. Thongsomboon is only 2 to 2.5 Hours away from Bangkok.

 

 

 

 

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Gardens by The Bay

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It is my 2nd visit to Singapore this year last being March and as I keep on mentioning, I’m really amazed that every time I visit this small city-state there is something new to see or do.

True enough, this trip I am blessed to be able to visit Singapore’s newest attraction, The Gardens by the Bay.

Last March, that place is totally a construction site! While passing the Marina Bay Sands area, I saw big skeleton posts and lots of big tractors or bulldozers. Those skeleton posts are now called the Supertree Grove and is just amazing!

Entrance to the Gardens by the Bay is around SGD 33 (approx. THB 900) per person. It is good for 2 conservatories and the OCBC Skyway.

At first, me and my colleagues thought that we don’t need to stay at the attraction long. We thought we will spend maximum 30 minutes, just walk around and take few snapshots. Apparently, the 30 minutes became almost 3 hours (including lunch) plus the heavy downpour just before we had our late lunch.

Gardens by the Bay opened few months ago so the place is not 100% complete. Even at its current state though, the place is just lovely. You can see many kinds of floras all over the world. While walking, we can’t help but compare the place to the setting of the movie Avatar (Pandora).

Our first stop is the Supertree Groves, 12 16-storey high structures that provides height and dimension to the place. Marina area is teeming with tall skyscrapers including the iconic Marina Bay Sands and Singapore Flyer. From the Supertree, you get to appreciate these modern wonders as the perfect backdrop for a truly magnificent photo.

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Then we headed upstairs to the OCBC Skyway. It is a foot bridge linking all the Supertrees together. The bridge is suspension type so it was slightly moving. I’m a bit anxious and wanted to walk fast to the other side of the bridge due to my fear of heights. But the sheer beauty of the surrounding kept me taking a lot of photos.

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Do I looked scared on the last picture above? He he he.

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You can really breathe fresh air while up there. Singapore is a very clean and green city so the air is fresher than most of the highly urbanized cities of the world (except occasional smog experienced yearly).

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Later on, the walls of the Supertree will be covered with flowers and plants. You could notice now that there are still some empty spaces because the vines or flowers have not fully grown yet.

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Then we headed to Cloud Forest. This is a cooled and covered conservatory that houses a giant man-made waterfalls and many more trees and flowers.

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There is also an audio tour for visitors who want to learn more about the species of plants in the Cloud Forest.

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From the glass panels, you can see the picturesque view of Singapore skyline.

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Suddenly, it started to rain heavily and it gives a nice waterfall effect on the glass dome.

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You can also see exotic plants like Venus Flytrap and Pitcher Plant.


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There is also the “Cloud Walk” allowing you to traverse around the man-made mountain and see the view from top.

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Last stop is the Flower Dome. It is a very big enclosed space housing more species of colorful flowers and plants. It is dubbed as the World’s largest columnless greenhouse.

The entrance to the Flower Dome is a visual feast with brightly colored flower walls surrounding the walk way.

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You can see variety of succulents, plants from Mediterranean, Australia, California and many other places.

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This picture is so cute..looks like the statue is smelling the flowers…ha ha ha.

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I’m now looking forward to go back to this Garden hopefully next year together with my family once all the flowers are in bloom.

God’s magnificence is surely in that place. He colours and beautifies our lives and surroundings.

Bangayan sa Bora

I was very bothered and alarmed upon watching “Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho”‘s last episode about a current dispute between the local Boracay Tour Guide vs. foreign guides.

Boracay is our country’s top beach destination and has consistently been voted as one of the best beaches in the world by many travel magazines and organizations. I’ve been to Boracay many times in the past and the sheer powdery like white sand, clear waters and vibrant night life are good enough magnets to draw attention of local and foreign tourists alike.

The last time I was in Boracay was more than 5 years ago. During that time, there are already plenty of Korean tourists but in recent years more and more South Koreans visit the country which is definitely good for our tourism. I can imagine some parts of Boracay now has transformed into a Korean town of sorts.

On top of that, we have also been drawing a good share of Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese and Russian tourists lately.

More tourists means more business and employment opportunities for locals right? But not in the case of Tour Guides in the island as what Jessica Soho’s program depicts in their last episode.

A lot of the licensed local tour guides are now finding themselves getting fewer share of the tour guiding works for these nationals. This is due to the fact that many of the tour groups and travel companies prefer hiring native speakers to assist the group rather than getting Filipino guide who mostly can only speak Filipino and English language.

Naturally, if I am a Korean I would prefer a Korean tour guide who speaks the same language as I am, understand a Korean tourist behavior better at the same or slightly higher price than Filipino guides.

According to the report, there are over 150 Korean guides working in the Island now many of them are tourists at the first time but decided to stay in Boracay longer. To sustain their expenses they have to work as a guide.

In the past, our local guides could earn up to PHP 30,000 per month  but with the influx of Korean guides, they are earning average of PHP 10,000 more or less whilst Korean guide could earn up to PHP 100,000 depending on the season and number of groups they assist. Big bucks right?

As a Filipino and a professional working in the travel industry I am very worried of these recent developments. Surely more tourists would mean added revenue to our country’s coffers. It would also attract more investors.

However, progress in our tourism should benefit Filipinos as a priority. There is no better host that could describe the real “Boracay” or even “Philippine” experience than a local despite the language barrier. Sadly, I don’t think our laws could regulate the number of foreign guides in the country at the moment.

I verified on the case of Tour guides in Thailand as I thought many of the tour guides serving in popular tourist attractions are locals but fluently speaking in a foreign language. I’ve been to touristy places like Royal Grand Palace, Wat Po, Pattaya or Phuket beaches and often times I would hear a Thai guide explaining to a group of tourist about the place either in French, German, Russian, Chinese, etc. I would always get amazed by how Thailand was able to maximize their tourism work force and even enhance the skills of the people in order to get the opportunities of their tourism boom. Of course once in a while some overseas companies would secretly hire the service of the guide from that country but the Government also protects the welfare of the Thai guides with regulations on foreign workers.

In our country’s case, regulating these foreign workers would also mean our tour guide must enhance their skills and learn how to speak a foreign language apart from English in order to compete. I believe it’s not hard as many Filipinos could learn a foreign language easily due to our common adaptability.

It is inevitable for our tourism to boom. I’ve been reading a lot of positive news about many hotels opening in the next few years and various efforts of public and private sector to lure overseas tourists and investors recently.

Apart from suggestions to improve the country’s infrastructure which is long overdue, we also have to consider the workforce if they are able to address the demands of the job.

The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) will be in effect by 2015. We could expect more ASEAN friends to influx our country either for leisure or employment. We have to be prepared as early as now.

Family Fun in Thailand

It’s been 4 years in the making!

Last 2 weeks I was so busy. Busy with work and arranging itinerary for my so-called VIP’s.
You see, I’ve been working in Bangkok for nearly 4 years now and it will be the first time my family (not entire though) will visit the Land of Smiles- Thailand.

I would’ve wanted them to come earlier but as some of my regular blog readers would know, the past 2 years had been quite a roller coaster ride for me and my family. My Dad was diagnosed with Bladder Cancer and they have to stay home as much as possible due to frequent visits to the Doctor. He died early last year.

It was really my earnest wish for my parents to visit the place I now consider my 2nd home. I know my Dad really wanted me to just work in the country so the family could be together but I would always tell him I had to grab this opportunity. It also helped us financially speaking during his sickness.

Some years ago, I had the chance to take both of them to Ilocos Region during a business trip. The room and transfer was free anyway so I just had to pay for their meals and other miscellaneous costs. They would always tell their friends and relatives about how memorable that trip was and how beautiful are the places we’ve visited. Apart from that we would go to some nearby places like Baguio, Tagaytay, etc. if our busy schedule permits.

Going back to the Thailand trip, it was postponed further as my Mom had some problems in securing her passport due to her birth records cannot be found in Manila so they have to go to the province to secure the documents. Anyway, it finally happened mid of April in time for Thailand’s longest and happiest event- Songkran Festival or their Thai New Year.

My Mom, my youngest Sister and her Boyfriend arrived in Bangkok on 13 April which is the first day of Songkran. Traditionally, Songkran is a water-splashing festival wherein everyone just literally splash water to each other either by water gun, hose or any thing they can use to throw water to expecting or non-suspecting passersby.

I had to meet them at the airport so I really carefully walked along the street from my pad to the main road and gingerly took taxi. I was successful not to get wet.

After they arrived in my place and had few hours of rest, they began their 1-week journey with a visit to one of the biggest shopping mall in Bangkok, MBK or locally known as Mah Boon Krong. It is the counterpart of Greenhills Shopping Center in Manila but maybe 5x bigger. You can buy clothes, souvenirs, cellphone and all those gadgets in this mall.

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After MBK I took them to Siam area which many consider is the very heart of Bangkok. We visited few other shopping malls like Siam Center and Siam Paragon.

Next day I took them to the traditional places tourists visit such as Royal Grand Palace, Wat Po, Chatuchak Weekend Market. It was such a scorching hot day so it made our activities on that day more tiring. They enjoyed the cheap price of clothes and souvenirs though.

Before heading home, I let them try Thai Massage. It was indeed a great relief after walking almost the whole day!

Next day I took them to Holy Redeemer Church which is one of the few Catholic Churches in Bangkok. After that we went to Platinum Fashion Mall for more shopping. At night, I took them to a Dinner Cruise along Chao Phraya River.

Monday is still a holiday because of Songkran. My Thai boss and her family took us to the ancient capital of Siam (former name of Thailand), Ayutthaya to visit the ruins of the old city as well as the Bangpa-In Summer Palace. We also rode an Elephant which is a first time experience for me and my family.

We had our lunch in a popular restaurant by the River. We feast ourselves with a variety of Thai and Seafood dishes including the highlight of the restaurant, the grilled King Prawn. It’s very large and costs THB 300 a piece. Good enough to indulge once in a while.

We visited Bang Pa-In Royal Palace which is also known as Summer Palace. Entrance to the Palace is THB 100 per person for foreigner and it is convenient to rent a Golf Cart as the complex is big and if the weather is very warm, walking is discouraged.

The Palace has a mix of Thai, Roman and Chinese style structures. The lawn and gardens are well maintained and such a refreshing view.

Within the next few days we did more activities. We went watching Siam Niramit, dubbed as Thailand’s Must See Show. I’ve watched several other shows like Alangkarn Show, Tiffany Show and others but I must say that Siam Niramit is the best of them all in terms of grandeur and production value. Too bad they don’t allow photography or video inside the Theater but there are many interesting things in the Theater grounds that is worth taking few snapshots.

We stayed in one of Bangkok’s finest 5-Star Hotel, lebua at State Tower near the Chao Phraya Riverside Area. The hotel offers picturesque view from the balcony. We were assigned in the 57th floor of the hotel so you can just imagine the unobstructed magnificent view of the city.

Not only is the view the selling point of this hotel but all the spacious and luxurious guest rooms. We were assigned in the Club Floor Room with access to the Executive Lounge and the bath amenities are Bvlgari. You will literally bathe in perfume when using the toiletries.

We capped their  one week holiday with a drink in the hotel’s rooftop bar located at the 64th floor called “Sirocco- Sky Bar”on their last night in Bangkok.

It was such a memorable trip for my family. I would surely be glad to welcome them again and other family members too.

Welcome to Safari World…The World of Happiness

The title of my blog post is the catchphrase of Safari World, one of Bangkok’s interesting attractions. The park is quite far from the Central Business District (approx. an hour drive) but is easily accessible. My friends and I went there last Sunday. Took an Ordinary Bus (No. 115) from Lumpini Park  and paid THB 8.00 per person till Fashion Island (a shopping mall located in Ramintra Road on the outskirts of Bangkok).  From there we took a taxi to Safari World and paid THB 80.00.

We were able to visit the place at a cheaper price because during a recent travel consumer fair in Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre, Safari World has a booth and is selling entrance ticket for only THB 380 per person instead of THB 580. Quite great discount!

Safari World has a total land area of 1,650 rai and comprises of the Safari Park and Marine Park and is open from 0900H-1700H everyday.

We first entered the Marine Park. This area houses vast spectrum of animals from land, sea or air and visitors are entertained with a variety of shows like Orangutan, Sea Lion, Elephant, Dolphin, Bird Show, Spy War and Stunt Show. My friends and I find the Spy War show a bit boring as it seem like an act from some TV Action-Drama series. The animal shows are quite entertaining though and I enjoyed the Dolphin Show and Bird Show the most.


However, the highlight of the Marine Park for me is their newest attraction called Mini World. You will have to go inside a giant bird cage-like space and once there, you will see variety of birds. There is 1 section wherein you could have  the opportunity to feed birds. It’s very cool that birds would fly to either the palm of your hands or your shoulder to eat some of the feeds and you can take photos with them very closely.

Only consideration when visiting the park is that since it is open area, the temperature can be very hot and humid especially during summer but there are plenty of shops to buy water or food or some staff would roam around the stadium before each animal show starts. However, I find the price of their food as well as souvenir 2 notches more expensive than the other popular places in Thailand like Dream World, Siam Park, etc.

After roaming Marine Park and viewing most of the shows, we went to the Safari Park. This area allows the visitors to get to see hundreds of animals from all over the world up close and have the feel of a real Safari experience from their own vehicle or through the shuttle buses that regularly roam the park. We took the shuttle bus and paid THB 30.00 per person. Entire trip took approximately 45 minutes to complete.

There was an area in the park with several lions comfortably resting under the shade of the trees. When our shuttle bus passed by, we were fortunate to see one lion capturing an innocent bird for his “dinner’. Talk about an authentic Safari scene.

I just came to know while writing this blog the information written in Wikipedia that Safari World has been subject to some controversies about the way they keep and treat animals in the Zoo and many groups discourage visitors to support the park because it is almost the same as helping them to continue mistreating the animals particularly Orangutans and Elephants. Not sure about the status of these international scrutiny is at this point.

If you are Bangkok and would like to see the City of Angels on a different angle sans the temples, shopping malls and food stall, then Safari World is definitely a good option.

Wandering in Wat Arun

Many tourists have flocked to Thailand to enjoy the Sand, Sea and Som Tum (read as: Food). However, a lot of travelers also find the temples in Thailand as unique and amusing this blogger included.

I am a fan of great civilizations of the world and I really hope I have the time (and the money) to visit ancient man-made wonders. I was fortunate to visit Angkor Wat of Cambodia sometime last year as well as few old temples in Thailand like in Ayutthaya and looking forward to visit other places like Great Wall of China, Forbidden City, Taj Mahal, Borobudur then after which the other farther places.

I’m fascinated by the sheer beauty of the various Buddhist temples I visited in Thailand. Every temple I see has their own characteristic and charm. Last Saturday, me and 2 friends decided last minute to go to Wat Arun also popularly called Temple of the Dawn.

I’ve passed by Wat Arun many times in the past years I’ve been based in Thailand but never get to see the temple up close as mostly I view it from the deck of the various Dinner Cruises I took every time a friend is visiting. At night, Wat Arun is fully lit up and is already a sight to behold. However when you see the temple at arms length, you will admire the intricate design and architecture as well as the picturesque view of Bangkok from the top of the temple.

According to Wikipedia, Wat Arun’s full name is Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan taken from the Indian God of Dawn, Aruna. The temple got it’s name because “the first light of the morning reflects off the surface of the temple with pearly iridescence.”

Wat Arun is located at the other side of Chao Phraya River (Thonburi side) which is considered as old Bangkok. Entrance fee is THB 50 per person. Visitors are also expected to follow the dress code when visiting this temple. Ladies should not wear revealing clothes (sleeveless) or wear short pants. There is a skirt rental in the ticket booth at the entrance for 20 Baht. Men are also expected to wear proper attire.

The Central Tower is quite high and you will have to climb a steep steel ladder to get a better view of the surrounding areas from the tower (also called Prang).

Then on the banks of the river which is just opposite of the temple, public commuter ferries are plenty. To cross the other side of the river, one must pay THB 3.00 per person. Then to go to the other station near the city (most tourists drop at Si Phraya station) you have to pay THB 15.00 per person.

After getting off at Si Phraya we decided to take a walk to Chinatown which is not so far away (around 20 minutes walk) to have our sumptuous dinner of Chinese Food.

Singapore Sojourn (2012)

I just came back from a 5 days Singapore trip last week. It was my first trip to this mini-city state this year but me and few friends are already planning to go back mid of this year. Time and again, this city has never failed to amaze me with newer sights to see and better things to do.

It was such a busy trip as mainly the purpose of my travel is for business and a bit of leisure is just a bonus if time permits. Didn’t have the chance to go perfume-hording this time but was able to enjoy the food and some new attractions.

Me and a colleague tried Duck Tour. It is such a popular tour for Thais so we have to try and see for ourselves what makes it attractive. It is a land and water tour (half of the trip you will traverse the concrete streets and the other half, the vehicle will wade the waters particularly the area along Marina Bay.

We were in the middle of the tour when it started to drizzle so most of the pictures I took while on water is a bit dark and gloomy. Tour Duration is 1 hour. You will get to see a different angle of the now famous landmarks of Singapore: The Singapore Flyer, The Esplanade and Marina Bay Sands.

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We also did inspection of the new Resorts World Sentosa hotels as part of our job. Isn’t it great that your job requires you to be able to see and stay (at times) those fine hotels that normally you would only see in the glossy magazines or travel books?

We went to Equarius Hotel as well as the Beach Villa. These 2 newly opened property completes the accommodation part of RWS. Equarius Hotel is a refreshing hotel. The moment you stepped into the lobby, there is huge waterfall replica with cascading waters and plenty of green. Really relaxing colours.

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We’ve also inspected The Beach Villa. Actually, there is no sandy beach in sight. However, the Villas are overlooking the Bay and the tall skyscrapers of modern Singapore is definitely a sight to behold.


Was also able to try Transformers The Ride which is the latest and most expensive ride in Universal Studios Singapore (USS). It is not an extreme ride like Battlestar Galactica and The Mummy but the sheer technology used (they define it as hyper-realistic 3D thrill ride) will definitely give you a feeling like you are in the middle of the battle between AUTOBOTS and DECEPTICONS. Everyone in the capsule I was in was clapping and rejoicing as we “Freedom Fighters” successfully defeated the villains. Unfortunately, you cannot take photo or video of the ride.

Hopefully my Singapore trip with friends will push through middle of this year. It is their first time in Singapore so I would let them “Get Lost” in Singapore (taken from the latest PR campaign of Singapore to Australia).