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.

 

 

 

 

4 Years in The Land of Smiles and Counting…

Sawadee Krap!

On this day exactly 4 years ago, I went out of my beloved country to take the opportunity of working in the Land of Smiles- Thailand. It was a gamble for myself and my would-be employer.
It was my first time working abroad in an almost 100% Thai environment and I had many questions in my mind back then as to what my future holds in Thailand.

For my employer, as in every employee that is newly hired, they are unable to judge 100%– my capabilities, my personality or even my commitment to working overseas as they’ve never met me personally before I landed in their country, but only knew me through some character references and background checking. However, since my designation is a Management post, it is definitely a gamble for them to accept me.

I would be working in the same company that I used to work for in Manila (Bangkok being another Branch office) so basically the systems and procedures are almost the same except it will be in a Thai setting and I just had to adjust my working style to adapt to Thai culture.

I had actually resigned from the company in Manila for almost a year prior to me accepting the job offer in Bangkok. I worked in a hotel group and was doing quite well if I may say so. One Sunday, I was on duty when my former boss of 7 years (which I also consider as my Mentor) Sir Nikki called me and asked where I am at that time and if he could meet me. There is a sense of urgency in his voice.

I told him I was in the hotel and just about to finish my duty. He drove all the way to the hotel on a weekend and meet up with me. He told me about the opportunity to work in Bangkok.

Naturally I was surprised by what he just told me because I really had no clue as to what his purpose is for meeting me so urgently on a weekend and I did not dare ask him earlier out of courtesy.

Besides, I am doing ok with my current employer at that time and has no plans of resigning too soon as there are a handful of projects I am heading and on the process of seeking approval from my current boss.

I would say the timing is right because at that time, I felt like the projects entrusted to me is progressing slower than I expected. I was used to having the liberty to make decisions quickly in my previous employer though I understand that the current one has to go through a long and tedious process and discussions even the very small details. I sort of felt I was not empowered.

Anyway, I still asked my Mentor what was the offer and how soon I need to fly in case I accepted the job. He told me about the position, the compensation offer and said I had to fly in about a month’s time. Once I make the decision, they have to process all the papers and stuff. It has to be decided quickly as my would-be boss will be on maternity leave for 3 months and I have to help her oversee the company during her absence.

Can u just imagine the shock on my face when I learned about it. Of course I felt flattered that my former boss still remembered me and vouched for my capabilities the reason why he recommended me for that job. I told him I cannot make the decision at that instant and I have to consult my family as it is definitely a big decision to make.

It was almost Holy Week at that time so I had time to contemplate. When I told my parents about it of course they wanted me to stay in the country. There was no member in our family who ever worked overseas so I was the first one to sort of “Explore the world”. After thinking of the big task I had to fill, I told my parents I want to take the challenge and perhaps try working abroad for a few years.

At the end, they supported me even though they still have some hesitations.

Fast forward, I accepted the job offer and  left for Bangkok.

When I saw the city, the people and surrounding it felt like I was still in Manila except that I can’t understand their language or the words written on the signs and billboards.

My mentor accompanied me in Bangkok and formally introduced me to my new boss, Khun Angie who I can say is a pleasant lady even meeting just for the first time. She only had over a week to train me and turnover some of the existing responsibilities. I must admit I was scared and worried if I can do the job well once she takes her maternity leave.

Fortunately, with the grace of God and the help of my supportive colleagues, I was able to do good (I think) until she returned. In the past 4 years I’ve been in Thailand I felt I was not an “alien” because my boss and colleagues are all kind and supportive and treated me as their own and not see me as a foreign Pinoy working in their country. They’ve also helped me grow as a person in terms of having more maturity now, gaining more confidence and having better business sense.

Over the years, I’ve also met  Filipino friends who are working and living in Bangkok like me. It is very hard to be in a foreign land by yourself but I believe my Pinoy friends helped me a lot to overcome home-sickness and in times I need some personal (or psychological?) help. LOL.

There are some who had come and go. Some are now based somewhere or back to the Philippines. Nothing is permanent in this world anyway. However the experiences we shared (whether good or bad) made our bond stronger.

Surely, tomorrow or in the longer future I would meet more new friends and I would welcome that opportunity as well.

I’ve also been to a lot of nice places in Thailand. I still have more places to go and definitely I will seize the opportunity to travel more whenever I can.

4 Years is too long for many, too short for some. As for my case, I now consider Thailand as my second home having stayed here quite long enough. I still don’t know how long I will still be working and living in Bangkok as I don’t know what will happen in the future.

But as the saying goes, Enjoy it while it lasts.

Over the years, I’ve gained some and also lost some but overall I can say I am blessed being here.

Kob Khun Krap Thailand! Looking forward to more great experiences here.

P.S. In the 4 years I’ve been here I think I only can speak the common phrases like “Sawadee Krap” and “Kob Khun Krap” which is a pity. Ha ha ha.

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.

My Luggage and all it’s happy stuff

It has been 2 months that I’ve not blogged. I was busy with work and all it’s challenges but also had a great time last New Year when I had the opportunity to spend it at home (1st time in 3 years)! I was there before New Year and went back to Bangkok 5th of January after my Mom’s birthday. It was a short but really memorable trip.

Now, going back to my new blog post. Maybe you wonder what is the picture above all about? Or you may also be thinking if what it was, actually. From afar, it may look like a mini Sari-Sari Store (Philippine version of the convenience store but it’s more of a family-run business) what with all those toiletries, noodles, chocolates, mixes and sauces. Well it’s not a delivery for 7-11. The picture you are seeing above is my typical luggage…

I am coming back home (again!). And what you had seen above are the items I had been compiling in my room for several weeks/months. It’s all the goodies I want to bring home. Actually, If I have no scheduled trip I would usually put it in a Balikbayan box and send back home.

Maybe some of you think I am a fool bringing back all these stuff as if there are nothing like those in the Philippines and at times the cost of shipping them is even more than the actual cost of the item.

Overseas workers like me would definitely understand (I bet 90% or even more of these OFW’s are doing the same thing everytime they go back home) what I had been doing since I started working abroad (coming 4 years on May).

For me, it’s not all about the price or the quantity of goods that matter. Looking at my family (even friends) waiting for what’s inside my luggage and dividing it amongst them (as if I’m the younger and slimmer version of Santa Claus) and seeing how excited they are for any “pasalubong” I bought is good enough for me. And the feeling is just great. It is also a product of my hard work as each item in the luggage (or box) are from my hard-earned money.  There was even a time that I bought bottles of perfumes for each member of my family. Even though it cost a small fortune for me, they were really happy to receive something from my heart (and of course seeing me makes them happy and excited too!).

Honestly, I don’t mind packing stuff like these even if I really have to spend time going to the supermarket or malls regularly, putting packaging tapes on liquid items so it won’t spill, making sure everyone has something to receive and even replacing my clothes with all these items.

My forthcoming trip in the next couple of days is kinda exciting in the sense that I am traveling in time for my birthday. I treated myself  and my mom to a trip to Cebu and Bohol for several nights. It is even more special because it’s the first time for my mom to visit these places (for me will be 1st time in Bohol). I was inviting my siblings and their families to join the trip so it will be a big family affair but since school is still on, they cannot join. It could have been more memorable if my Dad was still alive.

Another reason for me coming home again this February is in time for my Dad’s 1st year death anniversary. It seems like only yesterday when he was still with us but now almost one year has passed since he joined our Creator. I know that even though he is not physically with us  anymore, he is happy that my Mom could go to places she’s never been before. They’ve always treasured memories of trips together as a couple or with the whole family.

Going back to Bangkok from my holidays, my luggage is again always full. The contents are different though. I would fill it with all those Sinigang, Menudo, Kare-kare and all the whatnot, local vitamins and medicines, some local-brand toiletries and also pasalubong for my friends and colleagues in Bangkok.

My luggage is always full. Full of foods and other perishable stuff. But I also make sure that my luggage is also full of happy memories from all my travels. All my excess baggage (read as: bitter memories) I usually leave behind.

Have a good one my friends and readers!

Stories in Siem Reap

Aw Khun Ch’ran Siem Reap…
That’s how they say “Thank You Very Much” in Khmer Language.
Me and 4 other friends spend 3 days/2 nights in Siem Reap, Cambodia last week because of a long Thailand public holiday.
I am glad the trip pushed through even if we only planned for it less than 2 weeks. It was discussed only briefly when our group had a mini-Pinoy party eating all Filipino Foods.
My friend, Tine said she will be going to Cambodia by land for holiday. In jest, we told her we want to join. Then suddenly we became excited with the idea of traveling cross-country by land and so what was supposedly just a joke became a reality.

Traveling from Thailand to Cambodia by land is a good option because road condition in Thailand is excellent and cost is a lot cheaper than flying. There is a van from Victory Monument in Bangkok that goes to Aranyaprathet which is the Thailand side of the border. Cost is around THB 230 per way. However, our friend Alek decided to bring his pick-up truck so we can just drive all the way to the border. It is definitely faster and cheaper. We left their home at 5:30 am and drove less than 3 hours. After securing our entry stamp we arrived in the Kingdom of Cambodia (Poipet Border).

From Poipet border, we travelled 2.5 hours to reach Siem Reap by taxi (which is actually an unmarked car, parked in their so-called Bus station). We paid USD 10 per person and the taxi dropped us off in our hotel. We stayed in Lin Ratanak Angkor Hotel, a 4-star hotel located only few minutes away from the Old Market. The lobby of the hotel is a bit dark and designed in a contemporary Khmer style decor. However, the staff were all very courteous, friendly and accommodating. We felt we are treated like Royalty considering we only paid around THB 800 per night (breakfast included). The receptionist suggested a good itinerary for us to maximize our stay in the city. We decided to hire their car for our tours because the price they quoted us is really cheap. The driver is also very friendly and professional.

During our first night, we had a dinner buffet with cultural dance in a local restaurant. Wide range of Khmer and International foods can be selected. Khmer dance is very similar to Thai including hand gestures and costumes evidently because they are neighboring countries so there are many aspects in their life that is influenced by the other culture.

We want to see the sunrise in Angkor Wat so the next day, we asked for a wake-up call at 4:30 am. We left the hotel before 5:30. Unfortunately on that day, the weather is gloomy and the skies very cloudy so we weren’t able to take a decent shot of the sunrise. The Angkor Wat is also undergoing restoration so big green drapes cover the temples and this sight is not so attractive to look at in camera. Anyway, this is  a UNESCO World Heritage site and naturally all efforts are being made to preserve this man-made wonder.

1 Day pass to Angkor is USD 20 per person. If you decide to visit for 3 Days, you can buy it for only USD 40 while the 7 days pass cost only USD 60. Since we have limited time, we just bought 1 day pass which I think is good enough as we are not a very hardcore temple fanatics.

Angkor Wat is the most popular and highly recognizable structure in the complex. The walls were designed intricately and you can find many artwork etched in it depicting various stories.  We then proceeded to Angkor Thom, which in Khmer literally means Great City. Angkor Thom is the last capital city of the Khmer Empire. We took many pictures and then proceeded to Bayon Temple. I like Bayon Temple because of the many ruins you can see in the complex plus the massive stone faces in many towers of the complex.

Next stop is Ta Prohm. This area was used as location for various movies including the hugely popular Lara Croft: Tomb Raider wherein the trees literally grow in the temple ruins some of which the roots of the giant trees literally enveloped the area.

After more than 7 hours of walking, taking pictures and being awed by the great Ancient Khmer civilization through the temples we’ve visited, it’s time for us to take our late lunch. We decided to dine in KFC, the only International Fast food chain in Siem Reap. The taste of chicken is not as good as in Bangkok or Manila but is ok cos the set meal price is cheaper.

Next, we went for a tour of Tonle Sap Lake. According to Wikipedia, it is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and covers a big part of the Cambodian map. Tonle Sap is unique because of the water mechanism happening in this body of water. During dry season, the lake shrinks to 2,700 sq. km. and 1 meter deep because the flow of water is drained in the mighty Mekong River. However during Monsoon season, the lake swells as big as 16,000 sq. km and depth up to 9 meters as the flow is reversed and the Mekong River pushes water into the lake.

There are about 800 families along the Tonle Sap community  according to our boatman/guide named Ki, but I think it could be more. This community is considered the poorest in Cambodia. They rely only on fish and seafoods caught in the lake but during rainy season it is very dangerous to fish and they say many fishermen had died in the past because if they are out there in the middle of the lake, they will not know if there is a heavy rain or thunderstorm coming in so some of them drown in the lake or boats capsized.

This not-so-typical tour of the lake opened my eyes as well as that of my friends on the reality of life in Cambodia, considered one of the poorest nations in the world. Because they are so poor, they don’t have access to clean facilities, their small boat houses is where their living, dining, kitchen bedroom and bathroom are all rolled into one. They don’t have toilet so they just put their wastes directly into the river connected to the lake. We even saw one guy after soaping and shampooing himself, rinsed himself by jumping into the river which is full of mud, wastes and water hyacinths.

They also don’t have access to clean drinking water. If they have money, they will buy water from the refilling station but if none (which is the fact in most cases) they will just get drinking water from Tonle Sap (without even boiling) so a lot of them especially kids have poor health and are malnourished.

While we traverse, many of the families try to beg for USD 1 to buy some food and drinks. Ki is honest enough to discourage us giving these people money because if some others will know, all of them will just flock asking for alms. On the way back he took us to the only primary school in the community where he used to study and now 2 of his siblings were studying. The floating school is small but 200 children are studying. There are 3 small classrooms so they have to do classes in different shifts to accommodate all the students. Many of the children have no families so the school also serve as their home. When we went there less than 20 children were there (because it was a Sunday and almost sunset). We also met the Vietnamese volunteer teacher who is really kind and selfless for doing such deed.

There are many Vietnamese who went there during the Khmer Rouge time to help and a lot of them decided not to return to Vietnam and just settle in Cambodia specifically Tonle Sap area so in school they have to teach in Khmer, Vietnamese and English. Since we didn’t have enough money as we never expected this scenario in our tour, my group and I were only able to buy over 50 bottles of water and some treat. It may be small but we know it could help the children in some ways. We were discouraged to donate money because of rampant corruption in the country and we also felt it’s best to give goods or school materials next time we go back.

Before reaching the jetty port, we realized that Ki’s left arm is missing. We didn’t noticed it earlier because he is wearing a long-sleeved shirt. He told us he lost his arm when he was 11 years old because of landmine. At 21 years old, he is about to finish secondary school. He wants to go to college and study English so he could become an English teacher someday. Because of his physical condition, he cannot do some work so being a teacher is ideal for him because he can perform his best while helping the poor children learn English (we noticed a lot of them speak good English and can catch up easily even those children and sellers on the street). He said he used to have a Filipino teacher and that he love watching Filipino series (surprisingly many Cambodians know Pangako Sa’Yo and Marimar of Marian Rivera translated in Khmer language).

His perspective in life is good as I did not see or hear him sulk or complain about his life a bit and he still have a positive disposition despite his physical handicap and social condition of his community.

After our Cambodia trip and we were back to the busy streets of Bangkok, I just find it so surreal that in one part of the world many people are hungry and impoverished while in many other places life is very convenient and good. This fact made me feel very blessed and fortunate and I am very thankful to God for being in a better position. And this should remind us to be more compassionate and giving to our less fortunate brothers.

I saw the sun set in Tonle Sap but I did not fret, because I know the same sun will also rise above them the next day. This made me felt assured that there is always light after the darkest hours of these people.

Singapore Sojourn (2011)

Last week, I had a quick business trip to Singapore (sorry Ms. GBP, didn’t have the chance to contact you so we could meet up). As usual, Singapore never cease to amaze me as it always offer something new every time I visit this highly-urbanized City State.

The last time I was there was February 2010 and in a very short span of time, a lot of new developments had happened.

Of course we all know that Marina Bay Sands, Resorts World Sentosa and Universal Studios Singapore are now open which was partly still under construction last time I was there so I did not miss the opportunity to see these hot attractions.

I stayed in Park Regis Hotel, a new hotel conveniently located in Clarke Quay. The location is great as it is less than 5 mins. walk to MRT station as well as the Central Mall and all those nice night spots.

The room is good but a bit small. But never mind as I am not in the hotel most of the time.

The meetings of the 1st 2 days of my trip was very rigorous if not tiring but it was a good exchange of ideas from various heads of different countries.

Tuesday night, I get to meet my former Philippine colleagues and had a sumptuous dinner in a Hawker centre overlooking Marina Bay Sands. It is very ironic that the other country heads were having dinner at Marina Bay Sands during that time (which I had to pass so I could meet my former colleagues) and we were just looking at the grand structure while eating tasty foods outside.

After dinner, few of us headed straight to Chijmes to cap the night with a few drinks and good music.

Next day was the day of our flight back to Bangkok. We still had a meeting over lunch but after that, I get to enjoy Universal Studios Singapore even for a few hours (as we had to rush to the airport for our flight). Luckily most of the rides have short queue or none at all since it was a weekday.

I really enjoyed The Mummy ride and the most sought after Battlestar Galactica. It was one helluva scary ride but I will definitely try it again next time.

Didn’t get the chance to go shopping or go to the Bak Kuh Teh shop near our office where I tasted the best one in Singapore. I just consoled my self with a bowl of this food bought in Vivo City en route to the airport.

I’m looking forward to going back to Singapore again very soon.

Sharing you some of the pics here..Pardon me I inserted some pics with me in it..lol.

 

Christmas in the Sky

For the 3rd straight year, I am celebrating Christmas away from home. I just came back home for a very brief holiday beginning of December so I am not too emotional not having to spend Christmas with my family. In Facebook, I can read many of my friends working overseas and not spending their holidays at home are posting all those comments about missing their families for Christmas, being alone in a faraway land which makes it more difficult, etc.

The fact of life is that most of us working abroad decided to have this kind of life for our dear families in the Philippines so we just have to make the most out of our situation.

Fortunately for me, 2 of my friends are staying in Bangkok for Christmas. Most decided to fly back or spend the holidays somewhere so the 3 of us decided to experience Christmas the GRAND way.

We booked 2 nights in Lebua Hotel, a 5-Star luxury hotel located near the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok. Because of some connections, I managed to get our room upgraded. We were assigned in a 58th floor Suite with a very spacious living area, a kitchenette, luxurious bathroom with Bulgari toiletries and a balcony overlooking the magnificent river. We felt like a total VIP!



We had dinner in a Pizzeria near the hotel as it’s almost 10 PM and there was also a bit of traffic jam on the riverside area perhaps due to Christmas festivities in the hotels within the vicinity (most of the hotels along the Chao Phraya River are 5-Star International chain hotels). We were deceived by this restaurant because from the outside, it looked quite well and have a good number of selection.

The food served can be forgotten as it is not tasty at all. The Pasta in white sauce I ordered seemed more like a stew because of overflow of sauce that made it tasteless. My friend ordered a glass of Red wine and it was served chilled (which is not the correct way) and tastes like the wine cooler “Spy” than an actual Red Wine. Only thing good was the Caesar’s Salad I ordered but I can’t say it is outstanding. Anyway, for the price that we paid, we can’t complain much (price range almost the same as Pizza Hut)…and we just console ourselves that the highlight of our Christmas Eve celebration is a drink in the signature bar of Lebua- – Sky Bar.

After Dinner, we called home and greeted our families. It is midnight in the Philippines and is quite difficult to call. After few attempts, we managed to speak to our loved ones back home. It was such a good feeling spending time with family over the phone and asking them about their celebration and vice-versa no matter how short the conversation was.

Suddenly, there were fireworks near Shangri-La Hotel which is few minutes away from our hotel. It’s the signal that the world is already welcoming Christmas Day!

After the fireworks, we headed to the 64th floor (roof top) of the hotel to a bar called Sky Bar. Sky Bar during Christmas Eve is teeming with people (foreigners mostly). On the edge of the bar are glass panels which serves as the walls of the bar. Since I am afraid of heights, I am a bit uncomfortable in the beginning especially with cool winds blowing and less space to walk around.

Anyway after getting our cocktail drinks and having a few sips, I felt easy. We took a few snapshots though most of the pictures didn’t come out quite good because we failed to bring any DSLR cameras.


We decided to sit in a corner of the bar and while me and my friends are talking, we were able to witness an actual marriage proposal at the Sky Bar. The couple are just few meters away from our spot and we realized it was a proposal when the 2 just started kissing each other and the lady was so happy and they are looking at the ring just worn in the hands of the wife-to-be. It was such a romantic venue to do a proposal.

Only thing that is unappealing are the huge crowd in the bar at that time which makes the place very noisy. Nevertheless, it is the thought of asking someone to marry him and on the other way around her replying on the affirmative that matters most.

We headed back to our Suite almost 3AM, tired but full (of food and drinks) and satisfied. Next day we enjoyed a buffet breakfast feast in the Hotel’s coffee shop and headed to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. Later at dinner, we went to Narai Hotel to try Buffet in their Thai Restaurant wherein the food was superb! It really compensated for the lousy dinner we had on Christmas Eve.

It was such an enjoyable and unforgettable Christmas in the Sky with friends.

What about you, what is your Christmas Story?