Saturday, December 17, 2005

Ironic that I have 'net access in some far-flung island and none for a couple of days when I'm back home. Truth is, I haven't been home much. Family retreat began almost as soon as we returned from Samui. Our family got 3 rooms at le Meridian Changi Village and we stayed there overnight.

Just got myself a Flickr account and still playing around with it to see how it works. Won't inflict you with a slew of snapshots (I haven't quite figured out how yet), but you should be able to see what I've uploaded if you click the Flickr icon below.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

We got a few hours of bright sunshine at last. Perfect for laps in the pool and beach walking. But necessity also helped us discover that eating cheap crap is just as good, if not better than the fancy-schmancy pants places we've been going to so far.

But first, we decided to honour the sun more than our promise to visit our benefactors of our "grand prize" of yesterday. There was nothing they could offer that we really wanted anyway -- we already knew which prize option we were going to get: free holiday at their spa/resort. Yay. It wasn't easy to avoid the pair 'cos there's only one Chaweng Beach Road and anyone plying the streets could spot us easily from a mile away. We encountered them twice but after firmly telling them that we were not interested in their product, they finally left us alone.

Our grand lunch plan was to go find this awesome sushi place called Hagi. From our hotel, we walked right up to almost the end of the road (about 45mins walking time) and found ourselves at a magnificently posh-looking resort which we had to enter to find our restaurant. We found it all right, but discovered it only opened at dinner time! All that walking for nothing.

We took so long to get there, we were getting late for our afternoon appointment. So we settled on eating at "Exotic Thai Food" instead, a local kopi-tiam equivalent. The food quality was good, pineapple rice especially, but the prices blew us away -- a small fraction of what we had gotten used to paying. And a godsend too, as we're quickly depleting our financial resources anyway.

We rushed back to our hotel where June booked us for an aromatherapy spa package. Spent a glorious afternoon getting pampered with a soak in a hot tub, a body scrub and while June went mild, I opted for a medium pressure rubdown to ease my knotted back and neck. A masseuse with strong fingers, scented oils, orchids in my bathtub... I could get used to this sort of treatment. Yes.

After a short nap in our room while we waited for the rain to go away -- it started raining again while we were at the spa -- we went out looking for more cheap crap. Found the Khaosan, a restaurant/bakery nearby which we always kept walking past because it was always crowded. We were lucky to get a table so quickly and we had some lovely tom yum soup with a generous supply of prawns and straw mushrooms, and more prawns fried in garlic and pepper on rice. So much garlic... vampires aren't going to bother me tonight. And neither will June. Bah.

Well, it's been a short trip. Last night in Samui, then we're back home tomorrow. Then we'll start loading up our holiday snapshots, if you're interested.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Began our day with a drive up to view the Big Buddha temple. Cost us 600B 2-way, cab driver doubling as our guide and photog. The giant statue is a landmark to look for on arrival by plane, but it was too dark to see anything on our night flight. Bought some cuttlefish from one of the stalls for M-i-L and they gave us 3 whole barbecued cuttlefish to sample with a sweet hot dip.

Took our first dip in the hotel pool (it's quite small) and took a little snooze in the weak morning sun. Sky still overcast here, though it didn't rain. Walked the beach too, me topless in support of the psychotic equine activities currently going on in Singapore.

Lunched at Prego. Didn't cost us an arm and a leg like we thought it would. We had a lovely lasagna and spaghetti frutti de mare and a fine apple pie ala mode for dessert. Here, seafood is always fresh so it's a good bet.

After lunch, we were accosted by a couple of fellas on a motorbike with a scratch-and-win opportunity for us. Of course, we won the "big prize" and they were all jump-up-and-down, wave-arms-in-the-air and shout, "yahoo," about it. Caught unaware, though we should have known better, they bundled us off into a cab and drove us to their head office for a presentation. My mind was going over all the possibilities of such an unwary-tourist scenario on the way there. Boy, were we tense.

The resort they're selling is called the "Samui Peninsula Spa and Resort," so such sales gimmicks have reached the remote shores of this island paradise too. The office turned out to be a little place on the outskirts of town. We filled out a form that focused on our demographic rather than our specific personal information, then were informed that, unfortunately, the presentation staff had left the office for the day, and would we be so kind as to postpone the presentation till tomorrow? A private car will be dispatched to collect us if so. We consented and got a free ride back to our hotel to await tomorrow's song-and-dance.

Meantime, we walked the beach again, trying to decide which beach restaurant to dine at in the evening. Much of Chaweng beach transforms into beachfront dining rooms in the late afternoon. Miraculously, palms and bamboo spring up on the beach draped with soft lighting over intimate dining tables-for-two set up on the sand. How romantic when darkness falls. Unfortunately, our faces fell when we looked at the menus. These prices we couldn't afford.

So back to the main Chaweng Beach Road where we found Rice and Stars, a fusion diner. Chic Zen themed with a koi pond right at the entrance. Fabulous tom yum, and the best mango salad we've tasted. Such chunky, sweet mangoes blending so well with the tangy Thai salad. My roasted snapper on mash was really fresh too with a hint of stingray in the fish. I like.

Sadly, Rice isn't well patronized. We and only 2 or 3 other tables were occupied while we were there. The price isn't bad for the quality of the food we get. Oh, well. We were there early. Maybe the place really gets jumping much later?

That's us. Too cheap to buy souvenirs, but always on the lookout for new ways to increase our waistlines. Burp.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Camping out at the Chaweng Regent. Spacious room, bathroom set up for multiple users if necessary. Quite thoughtful. Room temperature can get quite cold, but if we were experiencing hot weather the air-con would be a relief. Really courteous English-speaking staff so we're quite comfortable here.

Started our explorations of Samui with the half-day tour of the island. Hotel pickup to experience elephant trekking, a waterfall view, a gander at the undecomposed body of a dead monk, a monkey show, a visit to the local aquarium-zoo, a break for a Thai lunch, and a view of the "grandfather" & "grandmother" rock formations.

Elephant riding is ok for a while. Passengers sit on a metal bench perched on the elephant's back. There's a little sway to get used to and some unexpected lurches as the elephant tries to find footing along the jungle pathway and into the river on the way to Namaung Falls I, a photo op location. We had a young, chatty mahout who allowed me to sit on the elephant's neck where he usually would be sitting for most of the ride. Meantime, he sat behind with June. Wonder if he planned it that way?

Kinda' sad to see the elephants work the way they do. Yes, they do earn their keep and there seems to be no end of tourists to keep them rolling in bananas, but as I sat balancing myself on the great beast's head, I had to wonder about the routineness of his life and if he would be happier in the wild, without this sort of "work" imposed on him. Sadly, the alternative is extinction. Not much of a choice there.

Same thing with the tigers who were supposed to put on a show for us at the zoo. But the weather turned nasty so the tigers got the day off. The zoo tried to run the bird show anyway. We saw a few bird tricks like a macaw picking up empty beer cans and depositing them in a step-bin, and a budgie who pecked a 100b note from a tourist's fingers (but became uncooperative when instructed to return it -- clever fellow). But we never got to see the end of the show. It absolutely poured right into the arena, effectively cancelling the programme for us.

The larger Namaung Falls II was also on the tour programme, but the bad weather made it too dangerous to get to. Sigh.

Our group had a simple Thai meal at an eatery by the beach. Rice and assorted dishes. The deep-fried spring rolls were delicious. Even our tour companion, an elderly Brit who claimed he wouldn't eat anything other than junk food found himself picking from the dishes anyway.

Last stop: the natural rock formations that look remarkably like anatomically correct, um... phallic and fertility symbols. Gawk and photo-op time. There are a number of souvenir shops here as well and we picked up some pandan-flavoured coconut caramel which everyone here hand-makes for sale. It's sweet and has a nice bite. It's also not going to survive the night. Haha!

Found some tom yum for June for dinner 'cos there wasn't any at lunch. Around us the smell of barbecued seafood was so good. KIV for dinner tomorrow.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Chance for a quick entry. Taking a short trip to Koh Samui. Sea, sand, and monsoon, the cab driver promised us. Now using the free Internet at Changi Airport while waiting for our flight to depart. Will be staying at the Regent, which is apparently on the beach.

A bit of uncertainty in my language 'cos no one we know has been to Koh Samui before. If not for the cab driver, we wouldn't even know the island is on the South China Sea side of Thailand. So we're off pioneering and exploring unknown lands again. If Samui's nice, we'll tell you about it.

Meantime, try not to miss us, 'k? Back soon!
Another combined birthday celebration, sort-of. Mary's belated and Adrian's be-earlied. We had dinner with them and Jen at the new Viet Lang restaurant at the Arts House. Attentive and obliging service, and the food isn't bad either. I've never enjoyed paper-skin spring rolls before but the ones they served here had bite and taste, in no small part thanks to the bean sauce dip that made it work. We also had a fresh pomelo salad eaten on keropok discs; a prawn otah-like paste rolled around a piece of sugar-cane; and June ordered a fragrant oxtail soup as a starter.

For the main course, we had the pho bo -- beef noodles. Bits of beef, thinly sliced, finely edged with a little fat to give it the taste of cow goodness, without becoming overpowering. And the unexpected arrival of a tapioca cake with a lighted candle sticking out of it was Mary's little surprise for Adrian.

We were at the Arts House because Mary invited us to her show, "A Broadway Christmas Carol," an opportunity to parody famous show tunes set within the framework of a seasonally appropriate chestnut of a story. It's quite a funny show as you'll never know which popular show tune will come up next to advance the plot further. Quite a fun evening, spent in the room once occupied by the likes of D Marshall when he was Chief Minister of our little scrap of dirt we call our country.