PADI Scuba Diving Certification Trip to Tioman

Two weeks after the quick KL trip in June, I went back to Malaysia again. This time I went for my PADI Open Water Certification with my friends AP and Melvin. We managed to get a really sweet deal with Simply Scuba for only S$365 at the diving expo earlier that year! Their SSI Certification is even cheaper, but since our other friends all have PADI we decided to make things less complicated and got the same thing.

Getting to Tioman was quite the journey. Friday night after work, we took a 6-hour night bus to Mersing. We arrived at Mersing around 1-2AM and resumed our journey with another 3-hour night ride on the jetty. I was fully asleep throughout the jetty ride (I’m talented at catching some Z’s no matter the situation), but AP and M went up to the dock to see night stars and was treated a view of starry skies!

We arrived around 5am and was assigned to our respective room, and went for a quick nap before going off to our first lessons at 8am.

Our room was complete shit. I guess accommodations for diving trip is not always the best, and we didn’t pay that much at all for this trip anyway, so it was alright. I consider myself not very high maintenance but I definitely was having problems with the bathroom being a bit sketch and missing tiles here and there… let’s just say I was pretty ecstatic to be back in Singapore after that.

HOWEVER! We did have an awesome beach access from our room! This was the sunset view right outside our door….

AP and I went for the Open Water certification while M went off on his own to do his advanced certification. We did a total of five dives in two days and now we are a happy, certified divers :D

I found diving to be relaxing and natural. I didn’t have any problems being under water and have to thank my dad for putting me in the water since I was a 6 months old baby. I guess all those swimming lessons I did when I was younger is good for something!

In one of the dives, which involved descending down via a rope, I was the first one in the water going down. This was an example of when visibility was low and we couldn’t see anything beyond five feet in front of us. Our instructor had to help one of the group members who was having trouble so we were left slowly descending down by ourselves.

It was really creepy being the first one down. At some point, I looked back to AP, who was right behind me and wanted to tell her that I really can’t descend more because I was scared, but then managed to tell myself to keep going. There is just something eerie being in an open space yet not being able to see anything around. It was one of our deepest dives at 18 meters down.

There was also another dive where the current was incredibly strong, that we didn’t have to fin our feet to get around. Just stay still and the current will take you away. Of course, this had to be done cautiously and under supervision of an experienced diver, or else you might end up getting lost. There was actually a group of 7 divers who were lost in the sea for over 24 hours that same weekend. They were really lucky to be spotted by some Indonesian fisherman the next day.

On the way back, I tried the infamous Ramly Burger at the Mersing terminal. I wanted to see what the buzz was all about, and while yes, it was delicious, I will never touch Ramly burger again. Why? Because I got a REALLY bad diarrhea that night after getting back to Singapore. I’m just thankful it started after I’m safely in my apartment and not while I was still in Tioman, or worse… on the bus ride to Singapore -_-. I referred to this incident as “getting ramly-ed”.

A Quick Weekend Trip to Kuala Lumpur

Let’s take a quick break from Africa, shall we?

Back in June, I took an impromptu trip up to Kuala Lumpur to see my good friend Harry. He moved to KL last year from Singapore and got an awesome two bedroom condo there ALLLLL to himself, so there’s really no reason for me to not visit!

I booked things very last minute, like literally the day before, so I had to get to KL by bus. I booked with Luxury Tours & Travel coach after looking at all the options, since they pick up conveniently close to my place at Concorde Hotel on Orchard Rd. The journey itself took approximately 5 hours with minimal traffic. It was annoying going through immigration twice (once for Singapore side then once more for Malaysia side), but the rest of the ride and the bus itself was very comfortable. I chose to fly on the way back though, since I heard traffic getting into Singapore is hellish.

Once I got to KL, I took a taxi to H’s place. Traveling in Malaysia by myself is not a problem since I kind of understand Malay, it’s about 90% similar to Indonesian. KL itself reminds me a lot of Jakarta – a big, chaotic metropolitan city with not much else to do but eat and enjoy the night life.

H’s place is really really nice! We took a quick dip in the awesome pool. I’m still a bit miffed that he pays the same rent as I do in Singapore, and he gets a whole two bedroom condo to himself in the middle of KL and I only get a small bedroom!

Then he took me to one of his favorite lunch place at a nearby mall, Madam Kwan’s

I LOVE char kway teow!

Right outside the mall is the famous Petronas Twin Tower, which lights up brilliantly at night. Unfortunately I was only there during the day.

At night H took me out with his friends for a quick peek at night life in KL, which like Singapore is dominated by a bunch of expats. We went to this new place called “The Pool”, and partied till 3AM. I was absolutely knackered the next day so we just had a quick brunch with his friends (I forgot where, was still nursing my hangover) and couch potato-ed at his condo for the rest of the day watching some TV shows.

We had a quick dinner with his friends again at a nearby Indian-Malay place. That Chicken Tikka Masala was the bomb.

I left soon after dinner to catch the bus to KLIA airport for my flight back to Singapore, and that concludes my super quick trip to KL!

Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia

I took this trip back in the beginning of August, but between just sheer laziness (surprise surprise) and starting a new job (yep!) I’ve only written this now, 3.5 months later in the middle of November. This is only because I just came back from a big trip to Africa, which I can’t wait to blog about next!

With that said, my reluctance to blog had nothing to do with Siem Reap itself. The trip was AMAZING! I was happy I finally got to check Angkor Wat off my to-visit list.

Day 1 – Getting to Siem Reap

We flew with Silk Air thanks to a pretty cheap deal from Deal.com.sg and stayed at Royal Empire Hotel, which was only some 10-minutes drive from the airport. We flew in late that day so we spent the day settling into the hotel and headed out to Pub street for dinner as well as booking a tour for the temples the next day.

This Tuk tuk was our mode of transportation throughout the trip. Super cheap and gets you there fast enough! We paid US$2 for a one way trip to the night market area.

Pub street is a very short street at down town Siem Reap that is alive with tourists at night. It’s only a short walk from the night market too!

We decided on a restaurant on Pub Street (honestly they all look the same, so we just picked at random) and tried some Cambodian delicacies that night.

Amok Curry – One of the famous dish from Cambodia. We opted to order with chicken but it can also be ordered with fish. This dish was delicious but wasn’t too memorable to me – I guess I’ve had one too many curries!

Beef Lok Kak – Another distinctly Cambodian dish. This was simply AMAZING with the tenderness of the beef and peppery lemon dip on the side! I’m a sucker for anything with black pepper and lemon so this dish gets two thumbs up from me.

I had heard sunrise from Angkor Wat is amazing, so we booked for a guide to pick us up in a tuk tuk at 5am the next day.. soo early, I know, but I was determined to experience Angkor Wat in all its glory!

Day 2 – Angkor Wat

We woke up not-so-bright (was still dark outside) and early at 4:45am, and headed down to the hotel lobby by 5:00am. Our guide and the tuk tuk was already punctually waiting there.

We paid US$40 for the private tour guide and tuk tuk ride to take us around the temples. It was so worth ever penny, and I highly suggest hiring a tour guide considering he: 1) figured out a good way around the temple for us, as well as timing, so we don’t get stuck behind big tour groups, 2) told us plenty of history of the temples we would otherwise have never bothered to look up. Furthermore, like most adult Cambodians our guide is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge era so it was interesting to hear the first hand account of it. If you ever go to Siem Reap do call him up:

Mr. Phoun Nak
(855) 092918083
His Yahoo email is tours_nak

So we set out of the lobby at 5:00AM. It took us about 15 minutes to reach the gate to buy our pass for Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples for US$20 per person. We had our pictures taken and printed to the pass on the spot, because the pass are strictly non-transferable.

We then drove to the front of Angkor Wat and our guide showed us a great spot to take pictures, which is right across the water from the actual temple itself. We waited for about 15-20 more minutes more before the sun finally rose up.

It was such a breathtaking scene, witnessing the majestic Angkor Wat slowly bathed in golden sun ray…

Our hotel came with breakfast buffet, and since we set out so early we didn’t have time to have breakfast so we requested to be dropped back off at our hotel for a quick breakfast before continuing on to our tour. After that it was pretty much temples after temples. I’m not going to bother writing about everything since I feel like it’s something you have to experience yourself, but here are some highlight shots from the temple trek

The trip included some serious climbing, both up and down.

And it was very steep!

My favorite temple has got to be Ta Prohm, which they also used as the location set for Tomb Raider movie. I played the game when I was young and loved Lara Croft!

We finally finished touring the temples at around 3:00pm. I was completely knackered after waking up so early, coupled with all the walking and climbing, that I just passed out cold in the hotel till dinner time, and even that I had to practically be peeled off the bed and dragged out of the hotel.

For dinner we settled on Tangram Garden, which is not exactly uniquely Cambodian but was a real lovely place for dinner. Getting there was a bit of an adventure though, as it was lightly drizzling and our tuk tuk driver couldn’t figure out where to drop us off. In the end we recognized some signs and ended up walking there in the middle of dark alleys for a few minutes.

I had their pork ribs with mash and was pleasantly satisfied with my dish!

Day 3 – Chillin’ at Siem Reap town

I was still so tired from yesterday’s early day, and quite frankly we were all templed-out so we decided to skip all the touristy things and just chill in town. I’m a massage junkie so we checked out one of the massage parlours that got a great review on Trip Advisor and opted for a two-hour massage. The place is called Lotus Dream Spa near Old market.

I’ve gotten plenty of massages in Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia and this one was by far the best one I’ve had by far! Although, I guess it was also relatively expensive for a South East asian massage. I paid US$16 for it (including tip) whereas I usually pay ~US$10 in Thailand.

After that we had a chill lunch nearby before heading down to the airport to catch our flight back to Singapore…

Chiang Mai 2012: Ziplining (Day 4)

We knew we wanted to do ziplining, but as most tourists visiting Chiang Mai would know, there are two major companies to choose from: Jungle Flight and Flight of the Gibbon. Jungle Flight was slightly cheaper than Gibbon and after researching online they both seem to be very similar experience, so we went with Jungle Flight for 1,790 baht per person.

There is also an even cheaper, locally managed ziplining adventure, but we didn’t go for that due to safety concerns. I don’t think there has been any accidents there though, so it’s really up to you if you want to choose this one and support locals instead (Jungle Flight and Gibbon were both managed by foreigners from New Zealand). I think they are about 1200 baht for the same amount of ziplining. Just ask any tour companies and they’ll be glad to assist you.

Day 4 – April 28, 2012

We were picked up early morning (again) at 7:45am and headed straight to the jungle, which was about 30 minutes drive away. Upon arriving, we were each handed a yellow helmet with green hairnet to wear underneath, fitted into a yellow harness and picked up a mysterious bamboo stick (which we later learned is used to control our speed during zip lining).

Yes, we looked ridiculous

We took a short walk to our first platform, where we were briefed on what to do and how to slow down if the ride gets too fast. Over all, it was pretty simple and safe. Our first platform was a pretty short one:

This is the view from one of the platforms. It may not look like it from the picture, but it was very high up, and the forest was massive!

One of the longer platforms. It takes a good 8-10 seconds to reach the other side.

I’m not sure which platform this is, but I took a video of one of the long platforms that had me screaming like a little girl:

Serena looks calm and composed in this picture, but she was actually screaming all the way

Our first abseiling, a 20m plunge. This was really scary!!!

The trip also involved a bit of up hill hiking

This is our last platform: a long 40m drop. I ungracefully screamed all the way down

Tired after a whole day of screamfest, we happily arrive at the last point before lunch. They called it… happy ending. yeah…

And that concludes my amazing visit to Chiang Mai. I will end this post with a picture of our last meal at the favorite place Ratana’s Kitchen. My mouth is watering just remembering how crazy good and insanely cheap the food was back there…

Bye bye Chiang Mai!

Chiang Mai 2012: Patara Elephant Farm (Day 3)

On our third day, we visited Patara Elephant Farm, which is the one activity I looked forward the most in Chiang Mai. It wasn’t cheap, we paid 5,800 baht for a full day of interacting and taking care of the elephants, but I also feel the money was well-justified seeing how all of the elephants were roaming free in a spacious meadow, well-cared for, and just from the sheer amount of food they eat in one day I’m sure they are not cheap to care for.

Day 3 – April 27, 2012

A driver from Patara picked us up at our hotel at 7:30am. From there, we fetched a few more groups and drove to the farm, which is located about an hour drive away from the city and up in the mountains (this means cooler weather!). I slept through the entire ride but woke up just in time as we were driving into the farm. I spotted a few elephants grazing around the meadow and woke everyone else up in excitement.

We were lead to the briefing area, an outdoor wood hut with a few wooden benches, where there were already about 30-something people sitting around. We were later split into four groups of 8-10 people and never saw the other groups again for the rest of the day. Within the vicinity of the hut, there were also two small baby elephants, one only slightly bigger than the other, with their respective mothers. Everyone was super excited because both of them were extremely playful and curious.

We met the owner of Patara Elephant Farm, Pat, who talked about the history of the farm. Pat claims to not be an elephant lover any more than the rest of us, but he started off rescuing one female elephant about 20 years ago and have successfully brought more in since then.

He informed of us of the alarming rate the Thai elephant population have decreased over the past decade – they nearly halved their population in just ten years, due to threats from us human beings (poaching and poisoning due to their destructive nature to farmers) and lack of natural space for them to live. However, on the more positive side, Pat revealed that last year and this year is an exciting time for them, due to the two babies who were born healthy, as well as a few other female elephants who are expecting next year!

I was a bit distracted throughout the briefing because the two curious baby elephants, who seem to be inseparable from each other, would come into our hut and playfully nudge us with their not-so-small head and inspect us with their tiny trunks.

That’s Pat in blue shirt being sandwiched by the two babies. The hands pushing the babies are the mahout’s hands, trying to guide them out of the briefing area to stop distracting everyone.

This one demands to be let through. Why, you ask?

Because on the other side a mahout is trying to lure him out, so that he stops distracting our briefing. Danny gave in and let him pass.

Each of us are assigned one elephant per day at Patara. After the briefing, we were instructed to carry these big baskets of elephant food down and meet our elephants. The baskets of food, consisting of chunks of sugar cane and some sort of pumpkin-like fruits, were really big and heavy. We had to walk down a hill and cross a small river to get to the elephant keep, and my arms were hurting by then!

The babies crossed the river with us as well! I’m not sure if you can hear from the video below, but our guide was explaining how the baby was just born in December (so about 4 months old at the time) and wasn’t sure how to do things as an elephants yet. She drank the river water with her mouth instead of with her trunk like usual elephants do. Still learning I guess! :)

We were taught how to inspect our elephants to make sure they are healthy and had a good night sleep. We were also taught how to approach the elephants and see if they accepts us. You do this by approaching them with an arm raised, food in hand, and walking to them from their front as to not startle them. Here is Serena demonstrating how to approach her elephant:

Serena called the elephant’s name, Nui, and she responded (that’s the loud sound you hear in the beginning). If the elephant takes the food from your hands, that means they have accepted you. You have to continue feeding them and making sure they are comfortable with you.

I was assigned to Mari, a 32-year old female elephant rescued from a local circus. She was so gentle and calm that we had no problem getting along throughout the day.

After feeding them, we were instructed to clean the elephants. Because elephants sleep on their sides at night, there are a lot of mud and dirt that needs to be cleaned before they can be bathed. Obviously since these elephants are big, it would be hard to clean them while they are standing up. Elephants are really intelligent animals and can understand several commands so we were taught a command to tell them to crouch down or lay on their sides for cleaning! I was amazed at how quick and responsive they are to these commands!

We then led our elephants into the river and began cleaning them with hard brush and water. It was seriously like cleaning a medium sized car, except the car understands what you’re doing and are watching you!

If you are wondering why there are so many pictures of us, it’s because Patara gave us a DVD full of pictures at the end of the day, all inclusive within the 5,800 baht price tag, so you don’t have to worry about carrying your own cameras.

Here is one of Serena cleaning her elephant, Nui, in style. Nui is a 12 year old female elephant, who was also rescued from a local circus. Nui is a sassy one though, she wasn’t just rescued – she basically ran away in the middle of her circus act, presumably because she decided she won’t put up with it anymore and just up and left. She was described as a playful girl, but has wisened up and is currently one of the mothers expecting a baby this year!

After cleaning the elephants, we went back to our hut to dry off. We were distracted by one of the bigger boys who came into the hut looking for food. I’m with him though, I was also pretty hungry by then!

We were then taught how to ride our elephants, since none of them were equipped with chairs or any sort of support. There were three ways to mount your elephant, and I chose the easiest one :P

Then we took a walk out of the farm, and onto the mountains. It got pretty scary and steep and some points, but the elephants took it well.

After about 20-30 minutes ride, we arrived at an open area with small waterfall. I was most delighted to see that our banana leaf lunch is served and ready to eat!

It was so good that I had THREE of those drum sticks on top of all the sticky rice, dessert and fruits we had. After we were done eating, whatever leftover was given to the elephants – but only the banana leaves and fruits. Elephants can’t eat leftover chicken bones and meat.

We spent some time soaking at the waterfall. You can also opt to bathe with the elephants, but I didn’t feel like getting myself too wet, so we just sat at the side and watched. The elephants were so happy playing around, sprouting water at each other playfully. We were also joined by the two babies and their mothers here.

After about an hour at the waterfall, we went back to the farm the same way we came in – by riding our elephants. The pack of elephants walked in line to the wooden hut.

When we reached the hut, we noticed one of the baby elephants, the smaller one, started making loud panicky noises, which in turn made the rest of the pack go wild with loud noises as well. It turns out the mother had stopped across the river and was separated from the baby. The mother started calling out to the baby and it promptly ran back across the river to be reunited with his mommy. Soooo cute!!!

This boy is dirty again after playing in the mud, but apparently they were smart – the mud act as a sun block for them, and also to ward off bugs that feast on their blood (similar to mosquitoes, but much bigger and scary!)

While we were sitting in the hut resting, we got to observe some elephants interaction with each other. Apparently elephants form friendship outside family relations, just like humans. One of the younger boy is particularly close to another much older male elephant, even though they had only met at Patara. You can often spot them by each other’s side. I find this extremely endearing!

Towards the end of our visit, I was still sitting in the hut and I spotted my elephant Mari as she seemingly spotted me as well. Then she walked fast and straight towards me, stopping only a few feet away. Serena asked if it’s because she remembers me. I’m not entirely sure about that, but it sure seemed like it. I could feel her watching me with her large, human-like eyes. I went up to her, rubbed her trunk and said good bye before she was taken by her mahout back to her living area :(

I left Patara with a heavy heart. I really wanted to spend more time with these gentle giants and one day was definitely not enough. A visit back to Chiang Mai to one of these elephant farms is definitely in the future for me!

On our way out we spotted the two babies again, this time accompanied by three adult elephants walking back to their living area.

Exhausted after a day of taking care of the elephants, we opted for an easy dinner by the river recommended by our hotel again. When we got to the place though, it was closed due to a royal family visit :( so in the end we were dropped off at a touristy restaurant by the Mae Ping river. Upon entering the restaurant, we were asked if we would like to sit on the boat for an extra 300 baht per table. We agreed since the weather was nice and 75 baht per person is really cheap.

Halfway through finishing our dinner, the waiter informed us there will be no more orders after 8. We were confused but thought nothing of it, until they started turning off the lights and revving up the boat’s engine… and then we were off on a surprise cruise! Apparently the 300 baht table includes a 45 minute boat cruise down Mae Ping river! We were pleased by this surprise. It was a nice, memorable way to end the day!

Next up, is our ziplining adventure through the jungles of Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai 2012: Tiger Kingdom (Day 2)

For our second day in Chiang Mai, we visited Tiger Kingdom. I’m aware of the moral complication associated with this place with the allegation of drugged / beaten tigers, but my stance on the tigers is this: If they aren’t cared for at the Tiger Kingdom, they would have been endangered by us human pushing for modern living (and this includes anyone reading this paragraph) as well as face the dangers of being hunted down by poachers looking for tiger parts.

Visiting Tiger Kingdom was expensive, but so does caring and feeding these big cats. I do believe the money was well-justified in that sense, and that boycotting this place without any real personal effort to better the lives of these tigers is just another example of silly slacktivism.

Day 2 – April 26, 2012

Getting to Tiger Kingdom was easy enough, just approach any of the red tuk tuk van that can be found all around Chiang Mai. We bargained our fare down to about 200-300 baht for our round trip and it took about 20 minutes from the city. Once you get there, you can choose to spend time with four types of tigers – baby, small, medium and large tigers – for 520 baht each. They also have packages consisting of visits to the S, M and L tigers, but we were only interested in the baby and the large tigers so we didn’t buy the package and spent 1,040 baht instead.

We visited the big tigers first. I have to say, I was really scared and nervous to be so close to the large tigers!

Really did not want to touch this big one. They are really big, heavy and intimidating. They were mostly laying around being lazy, but they occasionally open their eyes, and boy does it track you with their piercing stares. I figured I’ve already gone so far, might as well get a picture in.

The tigers were mostly napping throughout the entire day – they are nocturnal beings after all, sleeping 16-18 hours during the day. We try not to bug them in case that makes them angry.

Next we visited the cub cages, which was far less intimidating than their mothers.

Cure little soft paws!

The cubs were really, really cute, but I did get a sense that they just wanted to sleep and be left alone. They are not domesticated animals, so I mostly just took pictures of them sleeping around. A few of them would be awake and playful, like the one above.

After Tiger Kingdom, we went back to the hotel to rest up for the day. We were really exhausted from the heat!

For dinner, we got another recommendation from our hotel lady. She wrote us the address on a piece of paper to give to our tuk tuk driver and it was all in Thai, so I never found out the exact name of it. All I know is that it’s referred to as “dangling feet” restaurant, because the place is located on wooden structure on the second floor and you could choose to be seated on a table with hole below it, as such:

We didn’t sit on these table though. Instead we sat on one of those low tables on the floor. We knew the place was REALLY local when we opened the menu and not a single english alphabet was seen. Thankfully the waiter was able to give us some recommendations with her limited english and fortunately everything was tasty!

For our next day, we had booked a day at Patara Elephant Farm for a day of elephant care taking.

Chiang Mai 2012: Thai Cooking Class (Day 1)

Back in April I did a 1.5 week trip to Thailand. I met up with Serena, who has become my regular travel buddy since we went to HK/TW a year ago. This time we were joined by two other friends: Danny and my sister for Bangkok and Chiang Mai then Danny and Jenie for Phuket (my sister went back home after Chiang Mai).

Since Serena and friends traveled a long, long way to Thailand, we decided to hit up as much touristy spots as we can in one go. We flew in to Bangkok and stayed there for two days, then went on to Chiang Mai for 4 days and to Phuket for 3 days.

I had been to Bangkok before, not just once but twice over the past two years, so this time around I spent my time sitting around getting a massage or reading in our hotel while my friends did the floating market and visited the royal palace. As for Phuket, I have also been there before and didn’t do anything different from last time, so I’m not going to write about these two places again.

Day 1 – April 25, 2012

We flew to Chiang Mai on our third day in Thailand. As soon as we landed, we were greeted by a HOT, dry 100-something degree weather that resembles Vegas in the summer. In fact it was so hot that my nose bled three times on the first day!

We arrived around noon, and took a (really cheap) taxi van to our hotel near the night market area. Everything in Chiang Mai is noticeably cheaper than Bangkok and Phuket. I think we paid 80 baht (US$2.40) per person for the taxi ride. As for our hotel, we stayed at Studio 99 at another 2 bedroom apartment, which was super spacious and cheap.

We asked for lunch recommendation and the hotel lady pointed us to Ratana’s Kitchen, which quickly became our favorite spot for the rest of the Chiang Mai trip and consequently the best Thai food I had in the entire trip! They sell Chang beer for super cheap, around 60-70 baht so Danny and I happily helped ourselves to a bottle with each meal.

One of the things to do when you are in Chiang Mai is to take a Thai cooking class, so we did exactly that. We booked a course through our hotel with Asia Scenic and were promptly picked up at 4pm on the same day.

Upon arriving at the school, which looks like an ordinary residential house, we were offered a traditional Thai appetizer called Miang Kum, pictured above. According to our guide, this appetizer is typically offered to a guest visiting your house as a welcome snack. You put any combination of the ingredients above (coconut shavings, peanuts, onion, chili, lime and ginger) into the lettuce and drizzle some palm sugar on it, wrap it up and pop them into your mouth. I liked it so much I had three servings of these!

After a brief introduction, we were asked to choose our own menu. Since we did the half day class we only get to choose one stir fry, one curry and one soup. I chose to make Chicken Pad See Ew, Panang curry and Tom Yum soup. After that, we were taken to a local wet market to buy ingredients.

Then the cooking begins. First up is the stir fry category, or Chicken Pad See Ew for me.

From the same category, you can choose other menu but will cook it at the same time with the rest of the class. Here is Danny and Serena hard at work with their own dishes.

Pad See Ew is done! it was relatively easy since the ingredients have been prepared for you, and all you had to do is throw things into the frying pan with fish sauce :P Mine was yummy!

Next up is the curry, which involves a bit more effort as you make the curry paste from scratch. This means mashing up some raw chili and other ingredients. I just let Danny do all the hard work…

After the curry paste is done, you cook it with some coconut milk in the frying pan

… and done! My panang curry was really yummy! I chose this type of curry because i’m a huge fan of nuts, and this curry calls for peanuts on top of all the chili so the resulting curry is this thick, nutty, super yummy red curry.

For my soup I chose Tom Yum soup, but since it wasn’t very photogenic I didn’t take a picture of it. Also mine was kinda a failure :( it just tasted like sour water with some salt…

And here is the complete meal. It was quite an experience cooking my own Thai food. I appreciate how simple – yet tasty everything was! Thai food definitely ranks high up there as my favorite cuisine.

After the class, we walked around night market looking for things to do the next day (Continue to Chiang Mai, Day 2).

Bangkok in 2011

Day 1 – June 26, 2011

We arrived back in Bangkok at 1pm, and was promptly picked up by Paul’s nice cousins. They took us to lunch, then to one of his cousin’s house where I stayed the night. There wasn’t much else to do that day so I decided to get an hour head and foot massage at a place nearby. Massage was so good that I fell asleep and drooled -_- plus it was pretty cheap too! Man, I love Thailand…

Afterwards we decided to book the same hotel as the one I stayed in on my last trip in 2011, simply because it was closer to the city: Citadines on Sukhumvit 23. I highly recommend this place if you’re ever in Bangkok!

For dinner we met up with his extended family.

Day 2 – June 27, 2011

It rained really heavily in the morning, but thankfully stopped by the time Paul picked me up and we went for breakfast.

Thai breakfast

Yeah I had no idea what’s going on, so I let him do all the ordering.

Thai-style chicken rice

Thai-style chicken rice! It was more flavorful than the one we have here in Singapore.

Thai breakfast

Dunno why he decided to act cute with the food…

After breakfast, we drove around a bit and Paul took me to get some Thai iced tea at a local market.

Driving around Thailand

Getting Thai Iced Tea

Yummy iced tea in the making. Paul told me his dad had been going here for YEARS. It was seriously one of the best I’ve ever tasted! We got it to-go so they placed it in this tiny plastic bag with straw sticking out of it, and you just drink it like that.

Market

Walked around the market place for a bit, then we headed off to Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm. We were just in time for the elephant show, so we immediately headed off to that area

Elephant Show

After this and the elephant trekking in Krabi, I became obsessed with elephants. They are so adorable and extremely intelligent! Prior to this trip, I’ve never had so much interaction with elephants before but I want go to Chiang Mai next year and do elephant day care :)

Elephant Show

We were laughing our asses off because one of the elephants (pictured above) is named Boonmee, which is Paul’s last name.

Elephant Show

Elephant Show

If you hold out a piece of fruit, the elephant will take it off your hands and start munching on it. After the show, I bought a thing of bananas and Paul was all ready to take more pics of me while telling me “feed the bananas one by one!”. But as I was trying to tear off one banana one of the elephants kept coming towards me and I got scared, so I ended up giving the whole thing to him all at once! We couldn’t stop laughing after…

Samutprakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo

Upon entering the zoo, we saw this huge tiger in an open space, no cage in sight. Turns 0ut visitors can take pictures with the tiger! So we did, for 200 baht. Nothing crazy happened but I was pretty nervous. I’ve never been so close to a HUGE adult tiger, let alone touching it!

Samutprakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo

Tiger not happy.

Samutprakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo

Cuuuute chimpanzees! They look like babies!

Samutprakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo

I also fed two bottles of milk for tiger cubs. They are SO CUTE!!

Samutprakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo

Fed alligators some fresh fish too. That wasn’t as exciting since we just drop the food down and most of them were pretty lazy.

Samutprakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo

We caught the crocodile show, which was one of the most nerve-wrecking show ever! The guys would put their hands and stick their head inside the crocodile’s mouth, and pull it out seconds before the jaw clamps down.

Samutprakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo

Bought yet another thing of bananas and fed it to the hippos. Upon seeing us, the hippos immediately swam over and opened their mouth.

We originally wanted to only spend maybe an hour in the zoo, but we ended up staying there for FOUR hours. When we got out we were pretty starved so we went straight for lunch.

Got a sour mushroom soup, and some “salad” dishes. I guess thais use the term salad very loosely because one of our salads have crispy bacon in it.

Lunch

That corn salad was SO yummy!! I loved it. Had to pick out the dried shrimp though.

After lunch, me, paul and his cousin went back to the same massage parlor and we got yet another massage. Two hours later, we were driven to downtown Bangkok to our hotel and was stuck in traffic for almost two hours -_-. We ended up eating around 8:30pm thanks to that. We met up with (yet another) one of his cousins at this all you can eat Japanese BBQ place at Sukhumvit 51. The whole street was filled with Japanese / Korean BBQ restaurant! I’m kicking myself for leaving my iPhone at the hotel.

Day 3 – June 28, 2011

We woke up pretty late – almost noon and had breakfast nearby the hotel. After that, we caught the cab to the Grand Palace, which I skipped on my last year Bangkok trip.

It didn’t take long for us to reach the palace. Upon arriving, we had to borrow clothes because I was wearing a skirt and Paul was wearing shorts. Also, I had to pay entrance fee of 350 baht since I’m a foreigner while Paul gets in for free. Upon entering we were curious if I could pass as a Thai, so both of us went into the “Thai only” line… and I passed!

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

A miniature of Angkor Wat. I’ll be there to see the real one some day!!

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

gold foil, incense and flower to be put on the buddha.

Grand Palace

Poor guy must have been SO HOT in that uniform! But he trucked on and kept a smile as tourists take turns taking pictures with him. MAJOR props to him!!

Grand Palace

After the Grand Palace, we went shopping at Platinum. Paul went crazy shopping but I just couldn’t find anything aside of a cute necklace (i really like it!). Mainly because while everything was very cheap and cute, I couldn’t try it on and I hate buying something without trying on first. Paul pretty shopped his way up to the top floor, and we decided to just have a late lunch there since it was raining out. While having lunch, we talked about what else to do and at that point i was pretty much thailand-ed out. So I told him to go back home because he wanted to meet up with some of his friends and his house is pretty far from downtown Bangkok. Plus, he was going back to America the day after I leave and doesn’t have much time left in Bangkok.

So he left around 8pm, and I took a shower while trying to figure out what to do. I ended up exploring sukhumvit, walking from Sukhumvit 23 to Sukhumvit 11.

Bangkok

Bangkok

Somehow I ended up in a dark alley by myself. I was walking really fast out of fear when taking this picture, thus the blurriness.

Bangkok

Cowboy Soi near my hotel. Guess what it’s famous for?

Bangkok

Clean clean BTS station!

Bangkok

This picture was taken at the same spot as this one i took last year!

Then I took the BTS down to Siam station and walked some more before going back home around 10pm and watched TV before sleeping.

Day 4 – June 29, 2011

I woke up and got breakfast at the same place I did before, and pretty much just chilled and savored the last hours of vacation in the hotel. I checked out promptly at noon, took the tuk tuk shuttle to the Asok BTS station and took BTS to Phaya Thai. From there I transferred to the airport link, which was dirt cheap at 45 baht!

Bangkok

The train were also nicer than the inner city trains (which were already pretty nice) and smooth. I think it only took around 30 mins to get to the airport.

Bangkok

I arrived pretty early so I spent some time scouring the DFS section since I had a coupon, but I only wanted to get Miss Dior perfume and that coupon can’t be used on Dior brands.

Bangkok

I walked to my gate, stopped by Burger King for lunch and finally flew out of BKK at 5pm :(

Krabi, Thailand 2011

A month or so ago, my friend Paul (who came to visit me in Singapore last year) facebook messaged me saying he’ll be in Thailand for a month and that I should come. Of course, without much hesitation I booked a round trip ticket from SIN – BKK :D. We ended up deciding to go to Krabi for 4 days as well.

* * *

Day 1 – June 23, 2011

A day of travelling. I woke up early since my flight is at 11am. Took the cab to Changi Aiport and flew to BKK. I arrived there at 1pm, and met up with Paul. We had lunch at a ridiculously cheap food court in the airport.

My whole meal was only $3!

We then waited around for our next flight to Krabi at 4pm, just chatting and catching up with each other. I hadn’t really talked to him that much since last year.

We got to Krabi after a short flight at 6pm. Our tour van was already waiting for us and took us to the hotel. BUT, upon arriving we were informed that our hotel was full! Paul had even called in to confirm in the morning and they didn’t say anything then. We had no choice but to be sent to another smaller hotel. It turned out to be fine though, although still unhappy about the hotel overbooking us.

They did serve us dinner though..

We got to the hotel, showered, and I had a masseuse come to our room to give me Thai massage. First massage in the trip :D it costed me 300 baht, which is expensive but she came pretty late at night so i’m not complaining.

After the massage I pretty much conked out till the next morning.

* * *

Day 2 – June 24, 2011

Woke up at 7:30am to a sunny day. Thank god, because we had been informed that the weather was bad for the past week that they couldn’t bring the boat out for snorkeling.

Anyway, the tour van picked us up and we had breakfast at the other hotel. We were then picked up again using this shady tuk tuk to the beach.

Then our boat set out to sail by 10am.

We visited four islands that day. The first island was called Tap island, which is this tiny island with soft sands and clear water!

Our second stop was snorkeling. It was basically the same as phi phi snorkeling I did in Phuket. I saw a lot of fish and some people saw sea snakes but I didn’t :(. After about 20 mins of snorkeling we came back onto the boat and had lunch there. We stopped by another island, and ate there again because I was still hungry.

The last stop (and our fourth island) was an island with very pretty cliff by the beach.

We passed by a lot of natural caves. There was also a lagoon, but we didn’t have time to visit it since it required a lot of extreme climbing to get to.

After that we sailed back to our starting point, and that’s when i started getting a bit sea sick. Thank god it was near the end of the trip! We were transported back to the hotel, showered and was picked up again to go to Ao Nang, which is the down town of Krabi.

We stopped by this restaurant by the beach, which serves crazy good Thai food. Paul went a bit overboard with the ordering…

After dinner we walked down the road for a bit of sightseeing, and stopped at a massage parlour. Paul had back and neck massage while I got mani/pedi for 300 baht. while walking around we also managed to book a cheaper price for the Jungle Tour, so we canceled the tour with our hotel and booked it here instead. It was only 900 baht as opposed to 1500 baht that we were going to pay at the hotel!

* * *

Day 3 – June 25, 2011

We woke up at 7:30 again, went to the original hotel with our luggages (since we’re moving there finally) and was picked up by 9am by the tour van.

After picking up all the other tour members, we arrived at our first stop – elephant trekking. Without much delay, we climbed a makeshift tent and onto our own elephant. It was quite possibly the most exciting experience in my life!

We crossed the street onto a eucalyptus field, and onto a small forest. The whole time we were on the elephant’s back with a trainer, but after awhile the trainer let me sit on the front near the elephant’s head.

After about 30-45 mins, we came back to the starting spot and bought bananas to feed the elephants with. We then set off to our next destination, the Tiger Cave temple.

The temple was famous for the 1000+ stairs it has that leads to top of the mountain. We took the shorter route though, a 200+ steps to a natural cave. It was only 200 steps but my body was all sore the next day -_-

Our third stop was a natural hot spring. We took a dip for about 10 mins before it got too hot, then got out and had some snacks since we were hungry. Thankfully the next item in agenda was lunch :D We had a simple lunch right outside of the hot spring place, inside a private hut for each of us.

We then drove to our next and last stop, which is the emerald pool. We were dropped off on the entrance and had to walk a mile or so in. I made the huge mistake of using the bathroom here and it was quite possibly the most disgusting one i’ve encountered so far -_-. We also decided not to go into the pool since there was a lot of moss and I hate moss, so we just walked around the pool and back to the entrance. I had an ice cream for 20 baht while outside waiting!

After everyone came back, we got back into the van and was driven back to our hotel. Once we got to the hotel we showered and went back to Ao Nang for dinner. We got a foot massage for an hour first though, since we weren’t that hungry, and it was very cheap at 190 baht.

After massage we walked around to look for a dinner place and settled down at a place we saw the night before that was full with foreigners. It’s called Aning restaurant and everything was delicious and CHEAP here. ok, not gonna lie, the main reason why we ended up here is because their cocktail was 1-for-1, which means it was only 90 baht per cocktail! I went ballistic.

We ordered three dishes: A duck pizza, olive fried rice and thai glass noodle that i became so fond of during this trip. Everything was so delicious! the place also had a good live music going on throughout the night.

We finished dinner around 10 and was picked up to go back to the hotel.

* * *

Day 4 – June 26, 2011

We checked out of our hotel and got into the airport shuttle at 10am. We stopped by at a small souvenir place to buy some souvenirs back before finally getting to the airport and back to Bangkok.

Taiwan 2011

After spending four amazing days in Hong Kong Serena and I flew to Taiwan on separate flights, because Serena had booked hers as a package while I booked mine individually since I traveled budget with Tiger Airways from my Singapore flights.

As mentioned before in my HK entry, I flew Eva Air and the flight was expensive for a short one way ride! I’m not sure if there’s a cheaper way, but I searched high and low and considered many alternatives before finally settling with the flight booked through ZUJI Hong Kong. It set me back HKD2251, which is almost US$300! ridiculous. but the flight was smooth, so I’m not going to complain further.

* * *

Day 1 – Arriving in Taiwan, Hotpot at Taihoden and Shida Night Market

Serena and I landed in Taipei at around 2pm local time. Taipei was gloomy and cold throughout my trip, but I really enjoyed my stay the city. It made me fat and broke, but happy! You’ll see why in a moment! :D

From the airport, We took the shuttle bus to the city which costed us NT125 (very cheap! US$4). Then, from Taipei Main station, which is a HUGE station by itself, we traveled a few stations to the west and transferred to the brown line to Da’an MRT. all the while lugging our heavy baggage. It was very exhausting.

We stayed at W Hostel. I highly recommend because for a hostel, it was very clean, cozy and conveniently located. only one minute away from the MRT station! The owner was also very helpful and friendly. The only downside is communal bathroom and no wireless in our individual rooms, but that’s actually not too bad.

Immediately noticed a few things about Taipei: they aren’t as foreigner-friendly as Hong Kong. A lot of the names are very chinese (so took me some time to get the hang of), and aside of the public transport places, they don’t really provide english translations for things. Also locals don’t speak english, which makes it hard for me to communicate aside of hand gestures. Thankfully Serena speaks mandarin, or I would have died.

After setting down our stuff, showering and resting up for awhile, we walked down Xinyi rd towards Taipei 101 building since I needed to find a DBS atm to withdraw some cash.

Witnessed insane traffic on the way there. You think your city’s traffic is bad? think again. But to be fair, the traffic was only this bad that one night. The other night’s weren’t so bad but that’s probably also because we were there right before Chinese New Year.

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