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Honeymoon Diaries

...it's not just where we go or what we do, it's being together at these places and experiencing new things together that's really the heart of the adventure...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

On A Roll For The Summer

The week after our Phuket holiday, we were once again at the beach. This time it was Koh Samet for a farewell party for one of our friends here in Bangkok. It was but an overnight trip but I could fairly say, this was a more relaxed vacation than Phuket. For one, we were booked at a resort with a private beach (Moo Baan Talay Resort) so shuttling Jianna to and from the beach or the pool was easier.

Our friends picked us up from our home at about 5AM and we proceeded to pick up all the others before heading out of town. Everyone was asleep during the first half of the trip save maybe for me, who was nursing Jianna way in the back seat of the van. I did get some sleep - maybe 30 minutes. On our stopover at a gas station, I finally managed to guzzle down some coffee to keep me awake for the rest of the day.

As soon as we arrived at the resort, we immediately stripped Jianna down to her swimsuit and ran for the beach. When the sun got too high, we moved her to the pool where she had fun riding her floater. And then it was nap time! We forgot to bring the baby monitor so I had to stay with her while she slept. Need I say, I got really bored just sitting there. But oh well, that's what moms do I guess. I should have taken a nap, but with the coffee I drank sleep just wasn't about to come to me.

For lunch, we headed to the floating restaurant. It was a 10 minute walk I think, but it sure felt like an hour, as once again the sun was pounding on our backs. Sweat was trickling over me and Jianna and I were melting into each other as I carried her. But the sight of the restaurant was certainly refreshing. The place was up on stilts over the water and every tabletop was of glass and had no floor underneath so you can see the water and the fishes. And the food was delicious, too!

The afternoon was once again spent lounging around the pool until it was time for dinner. Dinner was at another beach cove so we had to take a cab ride. We dined on the beach in the usual Koh Samet style, with fire dance performances and videoke music in the background. Since we had Jianna with us, we had to return to the resort ahead of the group to put Jianna to sleep. And as soon as she was settled, JM and I took a stroll on the beach. It was romantic. Sigh.

We had first dibs on the beach again the following morning so Jianna could take advantage of the sun not having risen so yet. Breakfast was on the lazy side, we all lingered after the meal and had a few good laughs. Then it was time to pack up. After a hurried lunch, we set off on the speedboat back to mainland. And oh yeah, Jianna loved riding the speedboat -- this baby of ours seems to have the taste for speed and adventure, I could see her bungee jumping as soon as she's old enough!

I would give anything to have this kind of holiday again. I loved every hectic moment of it. And most of all, I loved that JM and I had some time to rekindle the romance. *wink*

Friday, May 23, 2008

...And We're Back!

Summer is over but it's still worthwhile to chronicle vacations past, specially with a new member of the family in tow.

During the Holy Week, JM's family came over and we headed to the famed island of Phuket in the south of Thailand. Phuket has many beaches, the most popular of which is Patong. But Patong is a bit too cosmopolitan, crowded with bars and hundreds of hotels and hostels. We chose instead to stay at a quieter beach, Kata. The thing with Kata beach though is that majority of its beach front has been hogged by Club Med so to get to the beach, one has to walk about 5-15 minutes, depending on where you're staying or take a tuk-tuk that will charge you 100 baht even for just a quick ride

The trip to Phuket involved a plane ride to the town of Phuket and a car ride to Kata. Upon arriving, we were disappointed to learn that there weren't enough metered taxi cabs to take us to Kata so we had no choice but to take a van that charges about 200 baht per person.

We stayed at a very family-friendly resort, the Centara Kata Resort, which is a member of the Centara chain of hotels and resorts. It's a bit out of our usual budget, but seeing the happy look on Jianna's face whenever she was in the wading pool was enough for us to forget about the cost. As I said, the place is very family-friendly, and you will see it in the number families checking in and the kids loitering around the pool. There are pools of different shapes and sizes to suit all ages. There is a daycare center and they organize activities for kids like movie viewing or kiddie discos. Of course, since Jianna's too young to join in the activities, we only had her play at the daycare center under our supervision.

We didn't get to the beach until the afternoon of the second day because we arrived quite late in the afternoon. Instead, we had Jianna take a dip in the wading pool, which she thoroughly enjoyed. We then had dinner on the beach, and I had Jianna sleep in my arms to the sound of the waves lapping on the shore. It was beautiful.

On the second day, we woke up a bit too late and a morning trip to the beach would have conflicted with Jianna's nap time so, as in the first day, we stayed by the wading pool to have Jianna swim. Just before lunch, JM and I availed of the free 30 minute massage, leaving the napping Jianna in the care of JM's mom. The massage was thoroughly relaxing that I honestly wanted more, but scheduling an appointment that would synchronize with Jianna's activities was a challenge so no more massage for me for the rest of the trip.

JM's family scheduled their massage at noon, so we had to go off by ourselves for lunch. I have to say, mobility is quite a challenge in Kata. Our resort wasn't exactly within walking distance of good restaurants and the sun was beating unbearably so we really had to take the expensive tuk-tuks. Like I mentioned, they charge a fixed rate of 100baht for trips within Kata and 200baht if you go to the next beach, Karon. We had decided to try a small restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet. As luck would have it though, by the time we got there which was about 2pm a lot of the restaurants were already closed for the afternoon. So we ended up having a quick noodle lunch at a small shophouse. I enjoyed my padthai, JM though did not enjoy his noodle soup.

After lunch, it was still too hot to go to the beach. We passed the time at Starbucks (yep, Starbucks is everywhere!), where Jianna had great fun practicing walking around. Finally at 4pm we were at the beach. I have to say, I was disappointed when I saw the beach. There was nothing special about it at all; the sand wasn't even as good as Koh Samet. JM and Jianna went to the surf while I took photos, and then it was JM's turn to take the photos while I played with Jianna on the sand. She started eating up the sand though so we decided she's had enough after only 30minutes out. We just waited for JM's family to arrive before we went back to the hotel. This made me realize how different vacationing is when one has a baby - it's goodbye to lounging at the beach, soaking in the pool or enjoying a massage - it's just all about the baby!

On our last day, there was only enough time for another trip to the wading pool after breakfast, and then it was time to pack up. Our plane schedule wasn't going to be until late afternoon but of course, check out is always at 12 noon. We lazed around at the lobby and the restaurant after lunch. The heat was still unbearable and Jianna was acting up from tiredness, waiting for our trip seemed endless and I was getting stressed.

By the time we got home, I just wanted to crash; it was a surprise that I still had the energy to get through dinner.

My take on Phuket: It's overhyped and overpriced. But as our friends say, at least, we got to see it what all the hype was and we would no longer be wondering about it.

My take on vacationing with a baby: A vacation with a baby is no vacation at all. Period.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Just because I want to break the lull

I was back on the beaten path again recently, this time traveling with a new companion - our little Jianna. We went home to the Philippines for a 2 1/2 week vacation, just the two of us. Ooh, how I dreaded the 3-hour plane rides, but my worry was in vain. She was a very well-behaved little girl, save for one incident in the toilet when I tried to change her nappy and she cried and screamed so much just as the lights were being dimmed so the passengers could rest. Oh yeah, and another one as we landed after our one hour flight to Bacolod when the ear pressure must have really gotten to her and there was nothing I could do to soothe her. Apart from these though, our flights went smoothly, I even managed to polish off the meal on our way back to Bangkok. We didn't do much while we were home except for one swimming expedition in Bacolod that ended up with Jianna catching a cold, so that we had to take a totally unplanned trip to the pediatrician.

One thing I just have to say, from this experience I gained more confidence in my ability as a parent and I realized I can take care of a kid, I just have to believe in myself.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Beach Babymoon

"Babymoon," it's how some people refer to the mid-pregnancy vacation that couples take before the baby arrives - kind of a last hurrah (see BabyCenter.com).

We had our babymoon last weekend at our favorite beach destination, Koh Samet. We had originally planned it for the week prior to that but since it was going to be a long holiday weekend for most people in celebration of the Chinese New Year, we decided to postpone it to avoid the crowds. When we arrived at Koh Samet though, it seemed, that there wasn't much difference whether we went on a holiday weekend or not. The beach was teeming with people, locals and foreigners alike, and they continued to come in hoards all through the afternoon of Saturday. There were even people coming in on Sunday as we prepared to leave. And because we risked not making prior room reservations, we almost didn't get any accomodations. Imagine me with my pregnant belly jogging down the beach to snag the last room at our usual resort before the newly-arrived western family could get to it! Of course, I had to do the racing because my still-limping husband would never have been able to get there in time. We even had no choice but to take the resort's more expensive accomodation which was a cottage in the traditional Thai house design. But thank our lucky stars, the woman at reception offered us a good discount, saying she remembered me from our previous trips there. This had me and JM wondering what memorable incident she could have remembered me by - JM asked me if I might have gotten into a heated discussion with the staff before, as if that was some norm for me. *guilty grin*.

So anyway, we finally checked in, had lunch and got ready to enjoy the rest of the afternoon on lounge chairs on the beach to enjoy the sun and breeze under a shady tree. And that was how it was until a group of giggly teenage girls came along and destroyed the peace and quiet with their chatter as they exhausted every possible pose for the camera that there was on the planet. One girl even climbed a branch of the tree to have her photo taken! Well at least JM still managed to sleep through the whole photo shoot, while I who couldn't get a wink had no other choice but to watch and laugh in secret.

In the late afternoon, we went back to our cottage to prepare for dinner and then a walk on the beach. It was such a lovely walk! Like a scene straight out of a romantic movie. *giggles*. We then had drinks (only a fruit punch for me) at a restaurant on the rocky part of the beach - another romantic scene complete with a lamp post shedding soft light on the waves lapping on the rocks. And as if the view wasn't enough, old love songs were wafting from the restaurant, a couple dining behind us couldn't help but dance to them. Sigh!

The following day we just had a quick breakfast, another quick lounge at the beach and got ready to go home.

The trip to the beach and back were quite exhausting for me but I think it was well worth it. When I came into my ID class on Monday night, my teacher commented on how I was glowing, how "alive" I looked, that, if she didn't look at my belly, she wouldn't think I was pregnant at all. But of course, she also commented on how my belly seems to keep growing ever so bigger every week.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Honeymoon On Hold

Blame it on the wifey swallowing the moon (*wink*wink*)

More stories to come on The Other Side

Friday, August 18, 2006

Holiday Hideaway: Hua Hin

A holiday came rolling in once more so JM and I headed to Hua Hin, about 300km south of Bangkok. It's considered to be the oldest beach resort in the kingdom and one which is said to be more popular among the Thai people than other beach resorts. It's a very historic place. It is where the first beach hotel, the Railway Hotel (now known as Sofitel) was built where scenes in the movie Killing Field were shot. It is also where Thailand's first golf course is located.

We were supposed to go there by train and I had already gotten quite excited over this new adventure but the husband changed his mind at the last moment when he learned that train trips are usually delayed and could take about 4 hours, whereas a bus ride would only take 3 hours. So we took a mini-bus/van from the Victory Monument (after almost 2 years here, we finally discovered that there are "bus stations" near our place!) and off to the beach we went.

Our experience of the Hua Hin beach was not as great as I would have wished it to be. We chose to stay near the city center and the only resorts there that had beachfronts were the luxurious ones - Hilton and Sofitel. So we had to walk for about 3 minutes to go to the beach and about another 3 minutes more to get to the part which was not rocky. And when we got there, it was low tide, so the waters were so far far away and the heat was so unbearable as their was no wind or nearby sea to cool us. And then the rental fee for lounge chairs and beach umbrellas were 50 baht! Well that's for a whole day, but hey it costs only 15 baht in Pattaya and you don't even have to pay if you order something. And in Koh Samet, there's no fee at all! Worse, the lounge chairs were really ratty. But we sat there for about an hour maybe until we felt faint from heat and hunger.

We had pizza and pasta for lunch at Roberto's Pizza. Their pizza was great, and it's probably the reason that the place was full for dinner. The pasta, though, was so-so. This pizza place was located on the corner of two main roads heading to the beach so we enjoyed some people watching and just general sight seeing. They had these quaint bicycle tuktuks, much like those in Vietnam and what really amused us for the whole duration of our stay was this one driver who was always asleep in his bicycle whenever we passed by.

After coffee we went to the Railway Station which is quite famous for its one-of-a-kind structure. It's one of the oldest railways stations in Thailand. And I must say it is indeed captivating. It has a Royal Waiting Room in traditional Thai architecture where the King was welcomed when he arrived. When we got there, JM got quite interested in taking the train back to Bangkok, but the train departure schedule that was convenient for us was already fully booked. After some picture taking at the station, we went back to our hotel to chill out by the pool. It was blessed! The breeze was coming in prettily to the pool area as JM swam some laps and I lounged with a book.

We decided to have an early dinner to avail of a nice sunset view, but unfortunately there was no beach sunset to speak of. We only realized on our second night, that there couldn't possibly be any marvelous sunset on the beaches Hua Hin since it was facing the wrong way. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a sumptous seafood dinner by the sea at Chao Lay restaurant. We had a feast! Baked scallops, deep fried sea bass in fish sauce, garlic prawns in their special sauce and seafood fried rice. Dessert was yummy gelato.

We then went to the Night Market, which is like the Walking Street in Chiangmai. The road was closed to traffic and was overflowing with stalls that sold everything from food to clothes to souvenir items. We also went to the Grand Market, which was basically the same thing except that it was not a street market thing. I was in search of something uniquely Hua Hin for a souvenir but everything they sold in the market were stuff I would also find in Bangkok, so I went home with empty hands.

On the second day, we were looking forward to breakfast by the sea. We had found a stall near the Hilton the night before and the stall owner told us she was willing to open earlier than her usual 1oAM so we could have breakfast there. But when we got there, the stall was closed. So instead of a nice breakfast by the sea we just sat around enjoying the breeze and the charming sight of 3 men fishing. It was great to be at the beach so early, to enjoy the warm feel of the sun and the cool breeze, to enjoy nature at its freshest. We ended up having so-so breakfast across the pizza place.

We then boarded a sawngthaew that took us to Khao Takiab, another stretch of beach on the southern part of Hua Hin. There we saw the gigantic golden buddha facing the sea and an interesting picture of a man scraping the sides of his little fishing boat. It was low tide once again, we walked close to the waters to avail of cooler sand for our feet. I liked this part of the beach, it wasn't rocky and there were very few people there. I told JM that if ever we were going back, I'd rather stay in this area. I could spend endless hours sitting on a lounge chair, staring out into the oceans, listening to the lapping of the waves.

Finally we could no longer take the heat (and we'd forgotten to bring our sunblock so I was afraid of getting toasted) so we went to one of the seaside resorts and relished some cool cool drinks. JM ordered a coconut shake (prettily served in its shell) while I had a watermelon shake. We decided to sit around until lunchtime and have our lunch at the same resort. As we sat there, I envied the resort's guests who were chilling in the pool...I remember one of our friends telling us that she and her husband would sometimes just order ice cream at some fancy hotel in Phuket in order to avail of the pool and I wondered if we could do that there too, besides we were ordering more than just ice cream. Lunch was prawns in garlic and grilled porkchop.

After lunch we walked by the sea some more and finally went back to our hotel to once again cool down by the pool with a bottle of beer each. JM once again took a dip in the pool while I read some more. We had planned to get a foot massage after lounging but I was too sleepy and tired so we decided to skip the massage. By the time I knew it, it was almost 6 and I had to get ready for dinner.

To celebrate JM's birthday we had dinner at White Lotus, the chinese restaurant on the top floor of the Hilton where we got marvelous views of the ocean and the city. We again had an early dinner, and of course there was no sunset on the beach to witness, but what we witnessed was the spectacular lighting up of the city as dark set in. Dinner was good too. Let's see...I had minced peking duck wrapped in tofu rolls for appetizers while JM had a lobster and mango salad (the peking duck came in a huge portion, I gave half to JM who wasn't satisfied with his salad)...For entrees, I had grilled sea bass and JM had grilled prawns...We each had a glass of white wine to go with the meal. We had agreed to skip dessert in favor of more drinks at some bar we were yet to discover.

Little did JM know though that I had made other plans. After I finished my meal I excused myself to go to the restroom. When I came out, I approached the friendlier looking waitress and asked if they had cake for dessert (I didn't see any on the menu earlier) and I explained to her that it was the gentleman's birthday. She told me she had to make a call if they had any (to the bakeshop I presume). I was fidgety as I waited for her to come back, JM might get suspicious if I was away for too long (but no! he had assumed I needed to do the number two in the toilet!). Finally, the waitress came back and told me they only had two kinds of cake, chocolate and black forest. I decided to choose the black forest since I thought it would look fancier than a chocolate cake and I asked that they put a candle on it. The kind waitress then offered to add "Happy Birthday" on the plate.

I went back to the table and tried my best to look normal. JM asked if I wanted to ask for the bill and I told him I wanted to enjoy the view some more. I came up with different topics to chat about while we waited. I took photos of the view from where I sat. Gosh, I must have looked and sounded funny! And then the waitress came by and JM asked for the bill and I gave her a smile. In a few moments, a waiter came to our table carrying the cake - and he joined me in singing Happy Birthday! The look on JM's face was priceless =D Wow, there's always great satisfaction when I'm able to successfully pull off a surprise for him. You see, I'm such a failure when it comes to these things and JM always beats me in the area of surprises. Ah, victory is sweet!

We skipped the margaritas we had planned to have after dinner. Instead we had coffee at Doitung (it's the local coffee place that is a project of H.M. The Princess Mother) and walked around town. It's actually fun, walking in and around the small streets of the city, discovering quaint little shops. By the way, I fell in love with a painting in one of the shops. It was of 5 Buddhist monks walking in a line. I loved the brightness of the orange background and the play of light and shadows. I gulped hard when we inquired about the price -4,5oo baht! In my mind I was saying "Baket, sikat ka ba??? Gagayahin ko na lang yan!"

On the way home we passed by a massage place and decided to get the foot massage we were earlier planning on. Nice! But by golly, if the place was empty when we came in, people started streaming in after we had settled in our seats! My friend, Jet, refers to it as the Jet Effect (the phenomenon wherein one enters a shop that is empty and then all of a sudden it fills up, presumably because of one's presence) to which I would disagree and say it's the Jenn Effect. But ok, Jet Effect sounds much better so I long gave up on the fight and pointed out to JM the Jet Effect that was happening at the massage place.

On our last morning in Hua Hin, we had breakfast at a German place. JM originally wanted to have the Bavarian knuckles which he had seen in the menu the night before. But when he asked the waitress about it, he only got an astounded reply of "For breakfast?" Well it turns out they didn't serve knuckles for breakfast so we had the usual American Breakfast of toast, eggs, bacon and coffee. And then JM still wanted to have a last taste of the gelato before going home, but the shop was still closed when we walked by. Yep, that's my husband!

We arrived back in Bangkok before 2PM.

In summary, like I said earlier Hua Hin was not as I expected it to be. It doesn't have the pristine beaches and clear waters of Koh Samet. Prices were kind of on the higher end of the usual Thailand scale, our meals averaged 700 baht every time, except of course for JM's birthday dinner which was expectedly expensive. It's very city-ish, not at all a resort place. Surprisingly, though, we had fun. We loved our walks by the sea, our walks around town, the early morning sea breeze, and despite the numerous bars and nightspots, I hardly felt it to be a party place. The place was able to maintain a charmingly serene air despite the bustle of the city.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Trekking The Hills Of Chiangmai

Well, it's official - JM and I have masochistic streaks in us. And I more. Here's why.

On Thursday night (May11), we found ourselves stuck in a bus for 11 hours. It was supposed to be a pretty comfortable ride - the roads were perfectly paved, the seats were reclining so we should be able to sleep well, right? Wrong. The airconditioning got so cold late in the night and the vent above me was missing one flap so I couldn't close it fully. I kept tossing and turning in my seat, trying to find the most comfortable position possible (read: as far away from the draft as possible) - would you believe sitting cross-legged was it? In all, JM and I only had 3 hours of sleep, and that's not even for a straight 3 hours!

We finally arrived in Chiangmai. We boarded a sawngthaew that took us to a guesthouse where we were supposed to wait for another sawngthaew that would take us to another guesthouse from where our trekking guide was supposed to pick us up. Thank goodness we were allowed to shower at the second guesthouse. We ordered breakfast and then walked around the area to check out the place. There was a nearby temple so we decided to take a peek. Going back to the guesthouse, we tried to catch some sleep. I fell asleep on a garden chair, my legs stretched out to the bottom of the table and my head hanging over on the back of the chair. Obviously I woke up with a crick in my neck.

The sawngthaew picked us up promptly at 9AM, as advised, and we proceeded to pick up the other participants of the trekking tour. We found out JM was to be the only guy in the group, the rest were all girls and all westerners; the tourist police kidded him that he must now feel what heaven is like. Well, not with the wife heavily guarding. Then again, not. I fell asleep again on the way to the market where our guide purchased our food supplies, and then I slept again on our way up the hills.

When I woke up, we were almost at the elephant camp where we were supposed to enjoy an hour of elephant riding. But having done this before, I can't really say that I enjoyed the ride. The 1-hour ride seemed to take ages moreso because our elephant was a particularly stubborn one that did not respond to our guide's proddings to keep walking - she only wanted to eat, eat, eat. But what was cute and entertaining was the baby elephant that kept following us around, I believe he was the baby of our elephant.

After the elephant ride, it was time for some trekking. We headed to a waterfall where we had lunch and a dip in the waters. Imagine, JM in the pool surrounded by 7 ladies in two-piece bikinis - now that is what guys would call heaven! Heck, I was the only one wearing a tankini and boyleg bottoms, which made me feel really prudish, not to mention fat. But the dip in the watefall was refreshing, the water was so cool.

We changed back into our trekking outfits (using the trees and plants as cover up) and the real trekking began. They should have told us it wasn't just hill trekking, it was mountain climbing! And JM and I are sooo not fit for something like that. At first, we found ourselves in the lead of the tail end. Later on, we became the tail end and a very far tail end at that. Even the girl with a deep cut on her foot (from the waterfall) overtook us. We were sweating and panting and every step was pulling so badly on my hamstring muscles, I was tempted to stop and just camp in the wilderness. Apart from the uphill terrain, the heat of the mid-afternoon sun was unbearable. So I said to myself, to hell with trekking porma! and whipped out my purple umbrella to shield myself from the sun. I wouldn't be surprised if I was suddenly labeled as "The Girl With The Purple Retro Umbrella" and I didn't care too if I appeared like a primadonna who was trying too hard to rough it out in the woods - I needed to find even a little respite from this already hellish trekking journey.

After 3 hours, we finally reached the tribal village where we were to spend the night. And surprise! There was some problem with their water system so there was to be no shower for us! Well, it's not all that bad for me. I'd had enough experience of water shortages during college at the dorm. And I'd already experienced bathing on two bottles of mineral water before. So I made the most of what little water I had. And I'm not even going into the details of what I was able to do with the half bottle of water - it's enough to say that I managed to clean the essential body parts. =D

I felt refreshed after having changed into my sleeping clothes. And then we were called for dinner, a surprisingly delightful dinner. There was green curry tofu (i love green curry!), stir-fried veggies, and stir-fried beansprouts. They were all delicious, or was I just too hungry? Nah, I didn't even eat much as sleep was more beckoning than hunger. But before we could get to our beds, the children of the village entertained us with some local songs in front of a bonfire. Charming, really. And this cute little girl standing on the far side of the group close to me, kept gazing at me in a really cute way. Cute!

After the mini-concert, I don't know what else the rest of the group did coz I conked out. That was the earliest I slept in months - at 9PM. I didn't even stir when JM lay down next to me or when the other girls came in. By the way, we all slept in one hut - lucky, lucky JM huh! At midnight though, I woke up feeling cold and needing to pee. Since the toilet was an outhouse, I woke JM so he could accompany me. The full moon was shining so wonderfully bright! We didn't even need to turn on the flashlight to see the path to the toilet.

Sleep was fitful after that midnight break. The cold got to me, and every muscle was aching from both the trek and the hard bamboo floors of the hut. I woke up at 4, and then at 6 and finally at 8. We had an American breakfast of toast, scrambled eggs and fruits. There was coffee and tea as well. Then it was time to pack up.

We left camp at 9AM and trekked for two hours. This time it was a downhill trek so I was able to keep pace with the guide, except when I had to wait for JM to catch up. See, JM thought it was going to be an easy trek like the one in Kanchanaburi (well, we both thought that) and only brought sandals for footwear so pebbles kept coming in to his sandals, sometimes cutting skin. I was actually thankful I brought my trainers instead of sneakers as I'd originally planned. But as a whole, the 2nd day was a lot better than the first. We even had the pleasure of taking pictures along the way, and I bought a wood carved buddha head at one of our pit stops! By the way, I also bought a beautiful turqouise hand-woven cloth from our village camp.

When we got to the end of the trek a sawngthaew was waiting to take us to lunch. Lunch was ladna noodles (flat rice noodles in "gravy" with chicken and broccoli), which is another one of my favorite Thai dishes. We rested a bit before moving on to bamboo rafting. This one I totally enjoyed. It wasn't at all like the bamboo rafting in Kanchanaburi where the river was peaceful but the sun was pounding on our backs. This time, there was more shade but the river was quite rough with huge boulders along the way. JM was asked to help steer the raft from the back, which I must say was quite a challenge for him. Our raft bumped into boulders and ran into low-hanging branches of trees, it tipped to the left and to the right that, by the time we got off we were drenched from waist down. No wonder our guide specifically told us not to bring our cameras as it would get wet during the ride.

The end of the raft ride signalled the end of our trekking adventure and we were delivered back to the guesthouse where we finally washed off two day's worth of filth on our bodies.

But for me and JM, our adventure was not yet over. We had another overnight bus ride back to Bangkok. I thought it was going to be an easy ride this time, what with the fatigue that would help me conk out once again. But no! The bus's aircon was condensating, so, every so often, just as I would feel sleep taking over me, a cold droplet would bring me back to my senses and make la-la land seem so far away. After a while, I gave up on trying to sleep. Instead, I "daydreamed" of getting home, having a nice warm shower, getting in bed, comfortable under the covers, and sleeping the whole day off - which is exactly what I did as soon as we arrived home.

Here now is the explanation of why I'm more masochistic than JM.

After mass late Sunday afternoon, we went for a massage as originally planned from day 1 of the trek, after we realized how back-breaking the trek was going to be. The masseuse asked me if I wanted the massage strong, I said yes. And how strong the massage was! It's a surprise I didn't end up with bruises. But the masseuse didn't hear a single complaint from me. By the way, it was the real traditional Thai massage were the masseuse steps all over your back. I loved it!

To add, I was actually a bit disappointed with this trip, not because of the transportation issues but that this trip was promoted as a trekking and hilltribe visit activity so I was expecting that we would be able to witness how the tribes live and go about in their daily manner. I was expecting that we would be sleeping in their huts and dining with them. But as it turned out, the trip has been very much commercialized they've even built a special hut for the tourists to sleep in. Why, except for the kids performing for us, we really didn't get to interact with any tribe member except for one of our tour guides who I believe came from that tribe. Maybe I could blame it on us booking just an overnight trip, maybe a 3 day trip would have allowed us to witness more - but I don't think so. I think these hilltribe treks are more about trekking than hilltribe visits, so I can't say I'd like to do it again, not even a 3-day or 5-day one, not even when I'm fit enough to climb mountains. But I would like to go back to Chiangmai (again!) and stay for a while in the city. It is quite a charming place, with the remains of the old city walls and the moat and the little narrow streets. It's such a shame that after 2 visits we still haven't been able to explore the city itself. Next time...there'll always be a next time...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Weekend in Sukhothai

Sukhothai is the old capital city of Thailand. It is divided into two sections - New Sukhothai and Old Sukhothai, the latter being the old capital city where the historical park is situated. The historical park contains ruins of the old palace and temples.

We took a late-night bus (11PM, but left at 11:30) on Friday evening from the North and Northeastern Terminal Station in Mo Chit. It was a 6-hour trip mostly spent sleeping. The bus seats were reclining and passengers were provided with blankets to make for a comfortable sleep. We arrived at the bus terminal in New Sukhothai at 6AM and hired a sawngthaew (a pick-up truck with bench seats in the back) to take us to the guesthouse area.

The first guesthouse we went to was fully-booked, it was most popular on the web with a lot of positive comments regarding service but the room was not very pretty looking. We decided to check out the guesthouse next door and were sufficiently satisfied - room was smaller but it was a bungalow hut with a small terrace in front- so we immediately booked the bungalow that we were showed. Besides, it cost a mere 350 Baht for an airconditioned bungalow with hot shower! The guesthouse was aptly named, Garden House, as the path to the bungalows was lined with a variety of plants and each bungalow was likewise surrounded by plants (and weeds!). It was also very conveniently located - close to the sawngthaew terminal that would take us to the historical park in Old Sukhothai, just a few minutes walk to the city center and with a 7-11 close by. We always consider having a 7-11 nearby as a big plus as it will make for a convenient purchase of food and drinks (and other stuff we might find we need) should we not find any good restaurants available within the area.

We each took a quick shower before walking to the sawngthaew terminal and getting a ride to the park. I was amazed when I saw the sawngthaew - it had wooden flooring, wooden benches on each side and wooden ceilings! The only thing not wooden about it was probably the engine and the engine hood! Of course, with this you then have to expect the ride to be really slow. But it was something I didn't mind as I enjoyed the scenery along the way - beautiful old teak homes and more elaborately designed, modernized new ones.

We finally arrived at the park, but before entering, we had to hire a bicycle. Now, I have to admit, I don't really know how to ride one. Yes - and I can't help feeling so idiotic about it. I only learned to ride a bike about 6 years ago and the last time I rode one was about 5 years ago. When I did try out a bike that morning, I merely wobbled around so we decided to just rent one bike that had a back seat. Imagine now the pains my husband had to go through to take us around the park! And the bike too - I could actually hear it squeaking with every push of the pedal. We were just too fortunate that the sun wasn't bearing down too heavily that day. We enjoyed our ride around the park, stopping every so often to walk into the temple ruins and to give the hubby some rest.

I loved being in the park, it was peaceful and the surroundings were beautiful. If only it wasn't too far away from Bangkok, I'd probably find myself there every weekend or so - learning to expertly ride a bike! Another striking feature of the temples in Sukhothai are the Khmer influences that you will find in the intricate carvings on the chedis and the phrangs, much like those that you will find in the ruins of Angkor. My favorite spot was the Wat Sa Si and its surrounding park with a lagoon enclosing it. It felt refreshing just to sit under one of the native gazebos and look out to the rest of the park. This was were we stopped to rest and have some food. The next spot I liked was the Wat Mahathat mainly for the huge buddhas that until now are still intact. But nothing will beat the gigantic buddha of the Wat Si Chum, and JM captured a very nice shot of it. The other temple I enjoyed was the Wat Phra Phai Luang, mainly for the pigeons that flew around and over its chedis.

By midday, JM no longer had the energy to carry us around for some more sight seeing, so we went back to return the bike and have a leisurely lunch by the highway. We slept the afternoon off at the guesthouse, which wasn't a really good time to be out anyway since it had gotten too hot by then. In the late afternoon, we tried to explore the city center of New Sukhothai, but there really wasn't much to see. We looked for one of the recommended cafes of Lonely Planet, Dream Cafe, and got ourselves some snacks. It was a charming cafe with the ambiance of a tavern. Tables were made of antique sewing machines tops and the seats were of heavy wood. The walls and ceilings were adorned with several antique home furnishings as well. It started to rain while we were in the cafe so we decided to take a tuktuk back to the guesthouse. Their tuktuks were also quite different from the ones in Bangkok. Instead of the passenger seats being at the back of the driver, the driver was instead behind the "carriage".

More sleep for JM while I read a book on the terrace, and then it was time for dinner. We had spotted a barbecue stall during our earlier walk so we went back there to buy some Gai Yaang (Grilled Chicken), Moo Yaang (Grilled Pork Belly) and Khao Niew (Sticky Rice) which we ate at the guest house. We also bought some drinks from 7-11 and enjoyed them with chips at the terrace to the varying tunes of crickets, frogs and other nocturnal animals.

Sleep was good for the night and in the morning we only had bath and breakfast before heading back to Bangkok.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hunnymooner No More?

We celebrated our first wedding anniversary much like we celebrated our first christmas - quiet and low-key. I know for a fact JM had asked around my friends what could be a possible anniversary gift for me and he had been given sugggestions as going out of town or out of the country. But since we are based out of the country and we always go out of town on the many Thai holidays, it was but appropriate that we spend it locally. And we did. We booked a room at the New World hotel and had dinner at the neighboring Shangri-la hotel.

Before checking in, we had lunch with JM's family. To satisfy the hubby's yearning for crispy pata, we had our lunch at Sentro. Need I say that it also satisfied my own yearnings, both for crispy pata and their original corned beef sinigang. I would have opted to have the bottomless sago gulaman too but decided to be more conscious of my sugar intake. The family then dropped us off at the hotel and left us to our devices...*evil grin* - not!

As soon as we settled our luggage in the room, we went out again for some errands and then to the church that we were wed to attend Mass. We were surprised to see the church packed with kids and learned later on that it was a children's easter mass we were attending, thus the children's choir and puppet homily. Yes, the homily was given, not by the priest, but by severely altered looking cookie monster, kermit and big bird. Hmmm, could this be a hint to us? Hehehe!

We went back to the hotel after the mass to get some rest. The past week had been really busy and sleep always came late so I wasn't surprised to find myself off to lala land too soon. I woke up to find JM having finsihed his bath and getting dressed for dinner so, much as I would have wanted to sleep some more, I had to fix myself up for dinner as well.

Dinner wasn't up to my expectations. I had heard praises about the buffet at the Shangri-la and have been told of the wide selection of delicious food. Indeed it was a wide selection, but the choices weren't very appealing to me. The only section I went to twice was the Japanese bar, for the salmon sashimi and the california maki. I had some fresh oysters, but was too afraid of getting a tummy ache so I ate sparingly. The prawns were so-so, although they went well with their mango salsa and tomato dips. There was the usual carving station but the meat looked too fatty, I didn't get any. The lamb chops weren't all that delicious, but the beef kebab was good. The grilled sea bass was ok. I didn't touch pasta or any other Italian food. And I didn't take anything from the Chinese section too.

BUT the dessert more than made up for my disappointment! I totally forgot about being conscious of my sugar intake. As I spooned chocolate after chocolate into my mouth, I told JM "I could die now and I'm gonna die happy, with a smile on my face."

Back at the hotel, though, I had to once more face the reality of packing our luggage to prepare for the following day's departure. We got up quite early the next day to find time for a dip in the pool. I was too lazy to actually get into the pool but as I had already been thoroughly tanned from prior beach trips, I couldn't very well do anymore sunbathing, so I did get myself wet. And that was when I realized how out of shape I really was (as if I hadn't yet!) - I couldn't complete a lap unless I did it in backstroke! So I vowed to make more use of our building pool and to immediately make use of JM's wedding anniversary gift - yoga classes!

A Night At Sonya's Garden

I visited this place in 2004 with two girl friends as I was in search of a perfect date place for my parents. When I saw the cottages and the garden, I knew I'd found the right place. However, things didn't go as planned as my parents decided to skip it and preferred to spend all their days and nights in Manila with their kids. But to myself I swore I was going to spend a night here with my husband.

The cottages and the garden were as charming as ever, peaceful and tranquil (save for the irritating scraping of furniture on the 2nd floor of our cottage so I suggest booking a cottage on the 2nd floor or with no 2nd floor). It was even more lovely at night when the garden luminaries and lanterns were all lit up and the moon hung bright and round against the dark sky; when the crickets began to sing to the bass chanting of the frogs; and when we sat on the garden chairs to enjoy the stillness of nature.

We spent our first few hours reading - the cottages were well stocked with an interesting collection of books, I realized there really was no need for me to bring all 4 books that I was reading at the time as I read two of their in-house books in intervals (The Third Treasury of Kahlil Gibran and Stillness Speaks).

Dinner was the usual salad greens and pasta. The greens were different varieties of lettuce with ceasar dressing. There was also chopped boiled egg, mango and pineapple slices, nuts and parmesan cheese to top the salad with. For the herbed bread, we were provided with 5 kinds of spreads - mushroom pate, anchovies, kesong puti, sun-dried tomatoes and the fifth I never did figure out what. The pasta came with two types of sauce - sundried tomatoes and cream with chicken. This time they also added grilled salmon, probably in observance of the Holy Week when some Catholics would abstain from meat. Finally, dessert was caramelized sweet potatoes and banana turon. And along with all these was a bottomless pitcher of sweetened dalandan juice.

We ate too much of the salad and bread that by the time the pasta arrived we could afford to eat very little of it and JM's parents didn't even eat any. Too bad, I really wanted to try the grilled salmon with the sun-dried tomato sauce but I just didn't have any room left for it.

And then a delightful massage! Loved, loved, loved the massage! Just the right amount of pressure on just the right places. And because of that, I immediately booked a foot spa for the following morning. I actually considered having another body massage but felt I needed a foot spa more. Besides, while I could always get a body massage in Bangkok, foot spas are rare here (and I mean full foot spas with scrubbing and all), and expensive. I'm glad I went for the foot spa. I got the same girl who did my body massage and she worked as wonderfully as the previous night.

Breakfast was an endless supply of delicious traditional Filipino dishes. There was fried rice, chicken adobo (swimming in oil, if i may add), danggit, tsokolate a(gua), and a plate of mangoes. There was mushroom omelet as well, which I snubbed in favor of the local fare. I am not much of a breakfast person, except when we're traveling for fear of starving if I should find myself in the middle of nowhere. But this time I filled my stomach full and faster than they could re-fill the dishes.

We lounged some more at the cottage before check out and received a goodwill bag of yummy freshly-baked Spanish bread from Sonya.

So my wish of spending a night at Sonya's Garden did come true. But it doesn't end there. I still wish I could go back - only me and JM next time. :D