Europe 2.0 – Day 2 29 May

WE HAVE LANDED! In Milan ~ 

Everything is great! (I think I also said this same sentence  in my previous post.) 

Just like I remembered, the grass is still ever green, the sky still a colour of the truest ‘sky blue’, wild flowers still grow out of the train tracks and the buildings everywhere are still displaying ugly graffiti. 

The immigrations were quicker than expected; surprisingly the airport was pretty empty. We took an earlier than planned train to Milano Centrale, where we tried to find our way to take another earlier than planned train. (But in the end it failed so we waited out 2h of extra time in a macs.) Throughout the whole journey, the only thing I felt could be better was if I had data on the go so that I could contact the people I care about hehe, or learn some Italian before starting the farming proper. 

As promised, our host (Marilena) was at the station waiting for us! We were both so happy to see a rather elderly (50-60 something year old) female welcoming us, instead of a youngish host, which we both agreed would be less favourable. We passed her our gifts from Singapore (Instant White Coffee, curry and sambal paste, iconic key chains and black pepper crab instant noodles). 

On the way to the farm, we exchanged conversation, most of which was sustained by yue shan as I was ‘brain dead’ or zoning out for most of the time haha… 

The scenery was GREAT! I was afraid that the place would be too modern or busy, unlike what the country side promised. Thankfully, as we drove further from the train station, houses became more distantly spreaded and more natural scenery came into view. I was especially thrilled by sights of settlements atop hills or vine yards hahaha! Furthermore the architecture was stunning. I really love the colors of the houses (orange, pink, white, yellow), the windows, the doors etc. Most houses also have some sort of garden or grow potted flowers outside their houses, which added vibrancy to the lovely neighbourhood. 

Finally after 15 minutes of driving, we arrived! We couldn’t see any farm or garden in view but  I was very satisfied that we were somewhere secluded by mother nature. The people here also seemed friendly enough – our host as an example and also her neighbour whom she stopped the car to say hi. 

We were shown our room, which had beautiful brick arches on the ceiling. A covered hole was located in front of our double bed and our host explained that this room used to be use for making wine, and the hole is where the wine drains out. Later we joined our host in the kitchen for some orange juice and home grown cherries (which tasted really sweet), and we continued the conversation further, most of it also led by yue shan. 

From our brief 30 minutes talk, we already found out many things about Marilena. She used to study in a university in Florence, where she majored in agriculture. Later she got pregnant with Susanna at a young age of 21 years old, and so she dropped out of school to raise her daughter. Later she managed to continue her studies, but with a focus on acquiring knowledge about medicinal herbs. Unfortunately the father of her daughter left her, and she eventually got together with Bruno, who is our second host and the co-owner of this establishment. They’re not married but they do have 3 cats and another black cat which drops by occasionally only for food. 

Marilena is the main person tending to guests at their bed and breakfast, and also to their garden, where she grows many herbs and aromatic plants. She left us to our own devices when the conversation became lengthy, and both of us retreated back to our room for some rest. 

Around 4h later, at 9pm, we had dinner, which comprised of millet with tomato sauce. It tasted delicious and we were later joined by Bruno, who is not only a photographer like me, but also a camera man for horse races. A talented man, he has 2 other jobs besides filming the races and tending to this establishment. On most days he works for a vineyard near his place and he occasionally teaches European folk dance to children in schools. Just wonderful! ūüôā He has also promised to lend me his wide angle lens after hearing my interest in photography, specifically, astrophotography in this countryside ^^ Best of all, both our hosts speak adequate English for us to communicate on many subjects, making our time here never a dull moment. 

Advertisements

Europe trip 2.0 – Day 1 28 May

This is it. We’re now on the plane, many miles from home but closer to place that we’ll be calling our second home for 1 week. 

It has been my dream since young (however clich√© this phrase may sound) to work abroad. More specifically, I’ve been interested in the idea of WWOOF ever since hearing about it. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farming  and let aspiring farmers (like me, heh) stay in Organic farms for free in exchange for work, so as to promote, well,  organic farming. 

Before going, I had many doubts. But as the plane steered towards the runway just before taking off from Changi Airport, I know that there’s no going back. No room for uncertainty. This is it. And it feels so surreal…i can now understand what Zea when she said that her exchange was a dream.

It feels like a dream because you can’t believe it’s happening. And moreover, everything is too good to be true yet it is indeed, happening, and most of all, to YOU! 

Today my father didn’t send me off at the airport, perhaps due to his disapproval for my trip. Why so – i don’t know! There’s too many possibilities to speculate. Firstly, traveling is a way to spend a lot of money quickly and consecutively for 2 years, I’ve been travelling to Europe for extended periods of time. Secondly, he doesn’t understand why I need/want to travel. Thirdly, he may not want to be accountable for anything that goes wrong. I’ll never find out, I suppose. 

I must admit that it saddened me a bit… I hope he will be happy for me eventually, or that I’ll be able to justify my spending with more income from tuition, or some sort of life changing experience derived from my travels. 

My dad was supposed to be my ride to the airport so without him, my mom, sis and I had to take bus to the airport, and I had a pre-trip warm up for back packing. 

On board the Turkish Airline flight, everything is better than expected. I found a movie on my to-watch list – LA LA LAND – and the food was great. The service was to my surprise, even better than my previous long haul flight with Emirates. They provided a travel kit with essentials like eye mask, socks and ear plugs. Blankets and pillows were available, and the crew made their rounds after dinner to make sure we are all well fed before going to bed. (But the thing about sleeping on airplanes is, you can’t seem to fall asleep. What a shame!) 

It’s 0206h as I’m typing this as falling to sleep has been in vain. I’m excited for what’s about to come!

Bangkok (Day 3 and 4)

Day 3:

Wat Traimit

Found along the way from Hua Lamphong Mrt Station to Chinatown, the Temple of the Golden Buddha houses a Рyou guessed it РBuddha made of Gold that weighs 5.5 tons. After missing it a few times on our previous trips (because it was always closed by the time we visited Chinatown), we decided to pay a special trip bright and early in the morning. A few tour groups were here by the time we arrived; we never knew it was such a popular attraction!

IMG_9622.JPG
Very grand, just like the most of the religious attractions in BKK

It is said that the Golden Buddha was hidden in plaster to prevent it from being discovered by invaders, and later uncovered by a monk who, to his surprise, found a Golden Buddha hidden in the rock. Wat Traimit was later built to house this Buddha, itself a beautiful structure to admire.

IMG_9670.JPG
The walls of the temple was mainly made of marble

Grand Palace

We decided to do a tour of the Grand Palace again because the first time we went, our hotel room had a break in and we lost our camera as well as the photos in them. Besides, we were really young then and couldn’t remember nuts; so, my sister suggested for us to go again.

IMG_9739.jpg
Completely no memory of this structure, and pretty else everything else in the Grand Palace

The nearest train station is Hua Lamphong MRT and to get here, we took a tuk tuk from Wat Traimit (~10 mins ride). There was a long stretch for us to walk in and our journey was filled with many throngs of visitors, clustered within their tour groups. Thankfully the ticket queue was alright (500 Baht per entry) and we rented an audio guide (200 Baht for 1.5h). Throughout our visit, we witnessed many mourners who came to pay their respects and their profound love and loyalty to their late King made me feel humbled.

The sun was scorching hot and there were so, so many Chinese tourists around, which made some parts of the tour a bit unpleasant. Nonetheless, the trip was worthwhile in every way because of how exquisite and unique the architecture was. Besides that, it houses Wat Phra Kaew, temple of the Emerald Buddha. While the name is pretty self-explanatory, this temple is a top attraction in the Grand Palace for its beautiful decor as well -mainly of coloured mirror or glass mosaic pieces found on its walls and pillars.

IMG20170515114400
No photography allowed inside Wat Phra Kaew, nonetheless the outside is picture perfect as well

Many of the buildings in the Grand Palace were stunning in the same way – they were decorated with mosaic pieces made of glass, mirrors or porcelain bowls. Statues of mythical creatures are built to guard these buildings and the entrances of the compound, and are the opportune photo spots for a picture¬†straight out of a postcard! (See the featured image of this post. :P) For more photos of the Grand Palace, click¬†here! ūüôā

Sadly, we didn’t visit Wat Pho (a temple which houses a reclining Buddha), which is separate from the Grand Palace complex but is walking distance away. (And…that is because my sister feels that she has a good memory of the place. I’m sure it must be equally mesmerising; my memory has failed me.) :/ So moving on…

Wat Suthat

Still in the Western part of Bangkok, Wat Suthat is the temple with the giant swing and we have come here since our first visit. (According to my dad, he has been here 10 out of his 10 visits to Bangkok.) Although less impressive than other temples which receives more tourists, what I really like about this temple is its serenity and that Buddha statues in Gold and Black colour line its perimeter.

IMG_9798
Surprise surprise, a new finding!

Behind the main temple, we discovered a new complex that we have never visited, its colour scheme not golden, but a pristine white with colourful porcelain flowers as its motif. Although its exterior is a refreshing design from other golden shiny temples, the interior is similar in nature as Wat Phra Kaew and the main hall of Wat Suthat Рit is adorned with paintings depicting Buddhist symbols, such as the Buddha and his disciples.

Somboon Seafood at Central Embassy

As a prayer session was going on in the main hall of Wat Suthat, we did not linger and headed to town for lunch. We never knew that there were 3 ‘Central’, being Central World, Central Embassy and Central. Our tuk tuk driver brought us to Central World and so we had to suffer once again under the merciless sun to our destination.

The food must be nice but my appetite drops when it comes to expensive food. We had their famous curry crab, which did not taste like curry and wasn’t satisfying because we weren’t provided with ‘tools’ to take out the crab meat. The morning glory was not stir fried with shrimp paste. Our last 2 dishses, braised duck with mushroom and fried fish were better but limited in quantity. I don’t think we’ll be coming back again but at least we ticked this off our to do list since our uncle recommended it to us since our first trip.

IMG20170515150113
Even the leaves were fried to crisps!

Platinum Fashion Mall

Things have really changed a lot since our previous trip although we only went 2 years ago, and despite our high frequency of visitations to the Land of Smiles, we may not be the most informed after all. Case in point: there is now an overhead bridge that links the BTS Chit Lom to Platinum Fashion Mall, via Gaysorn and Big C! It is extremely convenient since the mall isn’t right next to the BTS station and one has to cross a few roads (sometimes dangerously) to get there.

IMG20170515180742
Yay or nay?

Platinum Fashion Mall is definitely on all Singaporeans’ destination because it is where you can find the most number of retailers under one roof to shop for clothes! Usually, my sis and I would only be able to cover 30% in a few hours’ time. But for the same reasons as Chatuchak (fashion sense that disagrees with us), we moved from store to store very quickly and were 100% done with what we wanted to complete in 3h! Good timing! (And nah we didn’t buy that jacket in the end)

Big C

IMG20170516012845
Most people do an overlay of the clothes ‘loot’, but¬†for us, we prefer to show off our food

Only 5 mins walking distance using the very convenient and safe overhead bridge, we arrived at Big C, which is a hypermart with Thai products. It has probably the cheapest prices, judging from the crowd of locals. We bought some local snacks as souvenirs back home for our friends!

Terminal 21

We met back with our parents in our hotel for the evening but since everyone was too full for dinner, we went to Terminal 21 for a quick dinner fix as it is only a few minutes of walking distance from our hotel.

This mall is very special from the rest and is popular with locals despite being located further away from town because of its unique theme for every floor and for its relative newness! Every level is designed to represent a certain country, and the whole mall itself is based on the theme of an airport terminal. One of the best things about this mall is also its food court because it has a large variety of Thai food, from Mango sticky rice to Beef Noodles Soup, and has lower prices as compared to the food courts in town. Totally love food that is both good and cheap! ūüėõ

Day 4:

Siam Paragon

My sis and I ditched the hotel’s breakfast buffet to have thick toast at After You cafe. We have looked forward to this ever since we last ate it and this time, it didn’t disappoint either (although we both later had sore throat due to the amount of butter they added to make the toast crispy).

p.s. T21 also has After You Cafe but the waiting time is crazy when we visited yesterday

IMG20170516103456
We were the first customers to arrive! Featuring Choc toast with banana

“Siam Paragon has the best of everything!” I kept exclaiming this while window shopping in the mall and it is true! The basement and its supermarket is extremely well stocked with all kinds of food imaginable! The food court is simply the best for the same reasons as Terminal 21, but its portions bigger (despite being slightly pricier)!

On the upper floors, we walked into a stationery and gifts shop which had a large variety of products and we stopped very often to admire them. Then we headed to Kino, which is SERIOUSLY THE BEST KINO I EVER BEEN TO! They have books in every language and genre – I pored over Biology colouring books, novels which were made into films, TV series-based books (ahem GoT) – and the most satisfying thing is, everything was SO WELL ARRANGED! (Unlike certain branches in SG where I spend x3 time and effort to find one thing zzz)

IMG20170516123803
Spotted! Kumamoto Bear in the stationery department. SIAM PARAGON HAS EVERYTHINGGGG
IMG20170516123508
OCD me is squealing

On even higher floors, there’s a movie theater with IMAX and 4D. And nearby, Siam Discovery Centre also has an underwater aquarium of its own. Simply amazing! It is my only regret for not staying near the city…

MBK

IMG20170516150132
Wait… Animate in BKK?!

Like everything else in Bangkok, MBK also upgraded! It used to be more old fashioned and dingy but now, it has been renovated to keep up with the times. They added a new luxurious food court on level 5, and renovated the ‘ordinary’ food court on level 6. We headed to the latter for oyster omelette (which is said to be delicious), and indeed, it lived up to its name YUM~ The egg was so crispy and the oysters had no smelly taste. Just to my liking~

We later proceeded to spend 30mins on Mario Kart and basketball ūüôā

Bangkok Art and Convention Centre

New to BKK, what my sis and I love about this place was that 1. It is HUGE, 2. It features many LOCAL artists (unlike the SAM), 3. It had an exhibition on the late Thai King, which we enjoyed very much.

IMG20170516161451
Very, very good Thai artists submitted their works, dedicated to their beloved King

Through that exhibition, we could see why King Bumi was well received by his people and what kind of contributions he has made for his country (mainly involvement in the rural farming areas, where he did many projects and first hand surveying). My sis and I were really touched by the artworks, which we could feel were made with much love and sincerity. Only if we had more time to admire them and the galleries on other floors… We also liked how various art mediums¬†were represented, from using cloth to tiles. It was definitely a soothing break for the soul to see something besides food and clothes heh ūüėČ

IMG20170516161551
My first time seeing an artwork made of wood carving; very exquisite

Central World

Slightly more disappointing than what I recalled from our previous trips because it is filled with posh shops and restaurants. (Personally, I believe it is only good for its Toys’R us, BAKE cheese tart outlet and Marvel store, all found on the upper floors. We had no appetite for expensive food although there were sure many options around.)

Our plane was delayed by 2h (AGAIN) so we ate more good food here and checked out its Kino book store (which GREATLY pales in comparison to the NUMBER 1 SIAM PARAGON) HAHA!

IMG20170516172001
Our last plate of Mango sticky rice in the Central World food court. FYI it is 3x the price at T21 ūüė¶

Here’s the end of my post! Hope you enjoyed it; we certainly did ^^

Bangkok – A place close to my heart (Day 1 and 2)

It’s my family’s 5th time in Bangkok and since I have only visited this city with them, it is also my 5th time here! And as usual, we planned a 4d3n itinerary.

My impression of this city has always been good; there are always new attractions to explore during each visit, new stalls to try and new malls to shop in. Most of all, things are CHEAP! Even though my family’s hotel room was raided during our first trip and we lost 2 phones and 1 camera, it did not deter us from going back (to both the same hotel and city). Yet in Sapa, I overheard a few white travellers agreeing with one another about how they disliked this city because it is too…city-ish. (How is that possible??!) And that they only visit because it is the cheapest place to go in and out of Asia.

Well perhaps different travellers have different goals in mind. Indeed, Bangkok doesn’t offer the rural experience for the uninitiated to roughen it out. But for the rest of us (and especially my family), it is almost a ritual that occurs in regular timings, usually every 2-3 years. We come here to pray and ask for blessings in temples, satisfy our cravings for authentic Thai food, shop for our new wardrobe etc.

At the same time, we never get bored because Bangkok is changing so rapidly that we have new options to choose from each time. And even with a 5th visit, we haven’t fully covered this vibrant city.

Day 1:

We were notified of a 2h delay just as we were ready to pack and leave the house (no thank you, Jetstar). Aside from this small setback, everything went great. Being regulars in this city, weaving in and out of the streets and alleys was simply muscle memory. This must be an advantage of visiting so regularly!

Accommodation

We checked into Manhattan hotel, which was hosting us for the 3rd time. For all 5 visits, we stayed in Sukhumvit, which is well known as a red light district. If you don’t mind the sex workers doing their own thing after the sun sets, it is a pretty great place to stay because it is quick to get into the city (around 15mins) by train, is reasonably priced and has aplenty of food, shopping and massage options nearby.

Most people I know stay in the city (Siam area) which in comparison, is more expensive and has fewer roadside food stalls/bars/massage parlours/clothes vendors. Besides the unfortunate break-in during our first visit, I’d say Sukhumvit is pretty safe. (While walking along its streets at night, sex workers and vendors selling dildos and viagras are extremely common. ¬†But I guess my younger sis and I have gotten so used to it that we weren’t bothered by this.)

Chinatown

We are also not strangers to Chinatown, which is situated at Yaowarat Road (closest station is Hua Lampong, which is next to the main railway station). Depending on what you seek, you may visit at different timings – in the day for purchase of jewellery or the Chinese ‘4 great delicacies’ like shark fin and bird nest, and at night for roadside food. ūüôā On our first 2 visits, we ordered stir-fried dishes to go with rice as dinner. But this time, we wanted to try as many food as possible, so we usually ordered one serving for 4 persons to share.

IMG20170513202137.jpg
Yum… Braised Pork Knuckle with Rice

We managed to try the sweet-and-sour rice noodle soup (with dumplings), mixed seafood soup with rice, braised pork knuckle with rice, fish maw soup and satay with peanut sauce. Everything was GREAT and writing this is making me hungry! Of course we had this with  freshly squeezed pomegranate and orange juice, both essential to every of our 5 trips so far.

Khao San 

The westerner’s paradise! Everything here is catered for them, evidenced by pubs blasting loud music and backpacker stalls and hostels lining the street. Interesting to watch but certainly not for us, even though we recalled that many years back, there were more things to look at besides places to drink/dance/have fun. :/ (And at those decibels, not suitable for anyone who wants to have good hearing.) Khao San is relatively near to Chinatown, only 5-10mins by tuk tuk!

Thip Samai

Supposedly the best Phad Thai in Bangkok, Thip Samai had a LONG QUEUE when we arrived (also by 5-10mins tuk tuk ride; all 3 are in the same area). It was heartening to see that local Thais made up majority of its customer base. Unfortunately, it did not suit our taste buds… The noodles were too dry for our liking and I felt that it was too bland. I wonder if this is supposed to be the authentic taste or it is simply not good?

IMG20170513211119.jpg
All Phad Thai come with an option of omelette style

Day 2:

Or Tor Kor Market

We awoke bright and early to Chatuchak market (only opened on weekends) but before we headed there, we dropped by the nearby Or Tor Kor market, which means ‘Marketing Organization for Farmers’ in Thai. It has been ranked Number Four of the World‚Äôs 10 Best Fresh Markets by CNN Go¬†and is described as ‘Bangkok‚Äôs highest-quality fruit and agricultural market’ by Lonely Planet. As for us, we got word through a Singaporean show that featured the market.

IMG_9601.JPG
Very neat and appealing displays of food

My first impression was that it is hard to get to and there is nothing special, besides the point that there is a wide variety of fresh produce, from seafood to fruits. I am glad that my parents wanted to come here because I had a changed impression this time round. With respect to accessibility, we found out that it is easily reachable by MRT to Kamphaeng Phet station. (How could we not have known??! Previously we would take the train to the station nearest to Chatuchak, and then walk by foot under the scorching sun for about 15 mins.) And also I see why other people have given it such high praise.

Firstly, it is very authentic and for those who are not here to do marketing (aka me), there is a wide selection of Thai food available. We bought 100g of roasted pork 3 times (because it was that good) and I tried the fruits which were in season. (I tasted the juiciest, sweetest Wax Jambu/Rose Apple EVER, and we could not finish the portion so we brought it to Chatuchak where it served as hydration; all for 100 Baht).

IMG20170514105353.jpg
UNFORGETTABLE FRUIT!
IMG20170514111848
Crispy and chewy, salty to the right degree

Secondly, my father correctly pointed out that there are almost no stench or houseflies despite the many alluring food in this market. I agree with him on the cleanliness aspect – the floors are generally not wet or slippery and the vendors seem to uphold reasonable hygiene standards. Prices were reasonable as well and it made the whole marketing experience very comfortable and enjoyable for the urbanite.

Last but not the least, it is not as touristy as you’d expect this place to be – I guess not everyone would be interested in going to a wet market – and I hope it stays like this the next time we return. ūüôā¬†This website has a more detailed introduction of this place.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

This place is a familiar name to Singaporeans because it is a shopping heaven and Singaporeans LOVE shopping (especially if it is cheap). We have come here since our 1st trip and the place becomes less complicated and easier to complete with each visit. It helped that the fashion trend this year didn’t agree with my sis and me, so we quickly covered a lot of ground. In total we spent 3 h and it only took so long because my dad went out by himself to Pantip Plaza (apparently a heaven for amulet lovers like him).

P’Aor

The day activities ended around 3 pm. We took the BTS to Phaya Thai station for the ‘Best Tom Yum in Bangkok’. From the station, we walked for around 10 mins, guided Google Maps, in the alleys of what seemed to be a Muslim residential area. There was no queue to go in and the prices were reasonable (less than 100 Baht for a bowl). We chose from a variety of noodles, like maggie mee and Thai rice noodles.

IMG20170514160527

What we liked about the Tom Yum noodles was the it tasted very authentic and had a lot of seafood (perhaps even more than the noodles). However, we didn’t like that the soup had a lot of crunchy bits inside, probably from its ingredients. Secondly, we saw a few locals who visited the store, but most of the customers which came were Malaysian or Singaporean tourists, which made me think that this stall may only be famous ¬†amongst foreigners due to recommendations by travel guides.

Talad Neon and Talad Rod Fai

(unfortunately ArtBox was closed)

After returning to the hotel to drop off our shopping haul, we decided to visit the night markets in Bangkok. It is our first time visiting them, as they are relatively new to Bangkok. My general impression is good; the variety is huge and doesn’t overlap very much between the other shopping places, and at the same time there are many interesting ¬†and affordable food options available.

IMG20170514191413
Talad Neon receives fewer people, probably because it has fewer stalls

Talad Neon is 15 minutes by foot from the nearest BTS station and once again, our day was saved by Google Maps, which provided reliable directions for most of our attractions.  But we much preferred Talad Rod Fai, which is easily accessible by the Thailand Cultural Centre MRT station, and is bigger in size. Both have several lovely pubs/bars to chill in, but Talad Rod Fai also wins in terms of the type of food options available (mostly seafood related; like bbq or grilled platter) and the bustling, hipster atmosphere.

At Talad Neon, I bought a pair of sunglasses at 100 Baht while my sis got an iced Earl Grey Lemon tea. Whereas at the other night market, we tried grilled beef cubes and grilled mussels and scallops with cheese (absolutely amazing). I also bought an off shoulder top, a clip-on fish eye lens, a metal puzzle to fix when I went back and 2 other tops which I would later bring for my Europe trip. (My point being that Rod Fai better catered to our shopping needs :)) I wanted to come here on another day of our trip, but unfortunately it is opened from Thursday to Sunday. Wished we had more time here but it’s ok, we will be back!