Thursday, March 15, 2018

TheKawayiis' Inaugural Adventure on the Songthaew in Bangkok

For the past year, Noah had been bugging me about sitting in a Songthaew, one of Thailand's most creative ways of providing public transport for a population which absolutely detests walking under the sweltering Thailand heat. I kept telling him to wait for the cool season, and I will take the Songthaew with him to Seacon Square. Now that winter's come and gone without any Songthaew ride to boast of, it's time to fulfill a father's promise.

We were on our way to the BBQ Feast Mashup at Viva Thong Lor last Sunday and faced a long queue at the taxi stand outside Emquartier. A small truck parked in front of us and the security guards started asking whether anyone wanted to take it instead. It was a variation of the Songthaew, called the Sii Lor (literally translated as 4 wheels). It's a smaller vehicle, albeit also with two short rows of seats facing each other. Unlike the Songthaew, which in most cases have a fixed route, this smaller variation takes you to wherever you want in the vicinity, charging according to distance. My wife indicated her willingness to take this alternative form of transport, and off we went.

The girls were excited too!
It was quite a ride from Emquartier to Viva Thong Lor, weaving through countless tiny alleys, most of which I might not have passed by in my 8 years here, twisting and turning, bouncing up and down. It felt generally safe, but on occasions we had to hold on to the railings real tight to keep our balance.

Towards the end of the trip, I turned over to ask Noah if he enjoyed himself and whether he wanted to take the Songthaew again.

He smiled gleefully and nodded (oh crap).

Then I asked Ellie.



Fast asleep already!

PS. The trip cost us 60THB, comparable to a taxi journey (with metre). We did not haggle.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

RC怡香园 (Yi Xiang Yuan): Authentic Southern Chinese Cuisine in Pattanakan

I have been looking for a restaurant like this since the day I set foot in Bangkok. Proper authentic Chinese flavours are surprisingly not common in this metropolitan city, unless you either consider the high-class Chinese restaurants in 5* hotels (mostly Cantonese cuisine, and pricey), or Thai-Teochew Chinese restaurants, which are more common, but serve dishes that exhibit a fusion of locally-inspired flavours.

The unassuming shopfront of RC怡香园, which looks like a normal roast duck stall, but is more than meets the eye.
Sitting down with co-owner 大象 (literally translated as Elephant), he struggled to tell me exactly what cuisine his food represented. He came from Fujian, China, and his co-owner (who's in charge of the kitchen) spent much of his life in Hong Kong, and a few of his dishes are essentially Thai, like stir-fried basil roast duck and Tom Yum grouper head. Walking into the eatery, you will be forgiven for assuming it to be a typical roast duck stall. Don't be confused by its inaccurate packaging, look deeper into the menu and be daring when you order. If you love authentic Southern chinese cuisine, RC怡香园 will prove to be a precious hidden gem.

Their one and only double-boiled soup - cordyceps militaris with pork ribs

If you are a fan of double-boiled soups (老火汤) in Hong Kong, you will absolutely adore this cordyceps militaris soup. I can confidently say that it is the only place in Bangkok that I have tasted soup as good as this. They just don't do soup like this in Thailand.

Seafood/chicken porridge

Their porridge is another star. Unlike the usual gooey congee or boiled rice you find in Thailand, their porridge is somewhere in the middle, with a smooth consistency given by the Japanese rice that they use, and a flavorful punch contributed by their excellent soup base.

Flawless steamed pomfret.

One thing that strikes me about this place is their insistence to serve only the freshest fish. Whether it's their giant grouper fillets or pomfret, they either serve the best, or tell you they have none that day. Every dish is steamed to perfection, we've never had any fish that's overcooked. If you love fresh steamed fish, chinese-style, this place is perfect.

Claypot aubergines, warm and satisfying with steamed rice.

To balance off your meal, they have an assortment of other simple dishes, like vegetable stir-fries and hearty claypot dishes. You can also order some decent roast duck/pork from their counter, even though I don't think it's their strongest suit. For lamb lovers, don't miss their herbal lamb stew.

They have ample seating, both open-air and air-conditioned.

I think their only 'problem' would be their location, deep inside Pattanakan, beyond Pattanakan Soi 78, right opposite the bright red ATIKER building, towards the new flyover that leads to Onnut and Chaloem Phrakiat.

Their map in Thai.

They open everyday, only closing during the last Wednesday of every month. If you have been looking for such flavours in Thailand for a while, please make the journey, trust me that it will be a fruitful one.

There's only one thing left to do now.

Wah Lau Eh!

PS. RC 怡香园 was formerly known as 格香,and is currently going through its name change. Many of the large signages still bear its old name so hopefully they will be changed soon.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Ter'ra X Kin: One Night Only in Kuching

Our perfect location.

5.30pm, 13th February 2018:

I arrived at Kin, half-expecting a frenzy. Michelle was tying up loose ends outside, sorting plates, cutlery, briefing the service staff. She exuded ice-cold calmness, something uncommon for a 23-year old. This was her show(she's from Kuching) - it was probably the only time her extended family could enjoy her talents in one place, and it was not fazing her at all.

Michelle giving her final instructions.

Top was nowhere to be seen. He's definitely sweating it out in the kitchen, out of my sight. The flash-frozen groupers, 'dying' clams, his high temperature. He must have found a solution for everything, or so I hope.

The selection of wine for the event.

6.30pm, 13th February 2018:

Finally, a glimpse of Top. Everything seemed under control. Adrenaline had taken over. He looked in perfect shape.

The #sexythaiboy displaying his usual antics.

Come, one nice shot before hell freezes over, oh, I mean before Ter'ra X Kin takes over.

7pm, 13th February 2018:

After turning a couple of walk-ins away, guests seemed to be finally arriving. It was also the time when Kin, the restaurant itself, transformed from the bright homey eatery in the day, into a classy dining insitution at night. The ambience was spot-on, especially the long wooden platform in front of the kitchen that allowed our chefs to finish off every dish in the clear view of all 40 guests. What a perfect place for the event.

Soon, a healthy elderly man strutted in.

"Are you a guest for the event?" I asked, trying to be as polite as possible.

"Michelle is my grand-daughter!" he bellowed back in pride.

I was taken aback, how was I to know? He proceeded to move forward to take pictures of his granddaughter with his mobile phone.

I looked at Justin and Sze-lyn, my fellow organisers for this event. Sh*t's really happening, here in Kuching, and to think that this was only the 3rd time we met since our 'accidental' meet-up in Bangkok at the end of December. By now, Michelle's entire clan was showering her with embrace and adoration. It was quite a sight, and even before a single dish was served, I knew the effort was worth it.

(From the corner of my eye, I caught Top playing with the wok in the kitchen, and I remembered him saying he had little to no experience with it.)

2 chefs based in Bangkok, 1 with high fever, taking over a kitchen in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia.

100% local ingredients. Unfamiliar kitchen. Unfamiliar equipment. Unfamiliar restaurant team.

1.5 days of prep. 6 dishes. 40 guests. 1 night (aka 1 chance) only.

Let's do this.

Coriander Crackers| Crab| Rose Apple, an appetising starter to kick the night off.

Soft Seed| Bovril| Honey Butter, the absolute crowd pleaser, I don't think anyone expected the bread dish to be this spectacular. I believe most customers had at least 2, if not 3 of these soft rolls. This was a clear testament to Michelle's talent as a pastry chef.

Mango Sorbet| Fish Floss, back in Bangkok, this was a gamble. Customers either loved or hated Top's frozen mango + fish sauce combination. It was a winner here in Kuching. Everyone finished their lot, even my 7-year-old niece.

Black Rice| Pork Belly| Prawns, a congee dish that tasted more Asian than anything I had ever eaten from Top. It was a little salty at first, but every spoonful gave a different experience, especially after breaking the cured egg yolk hidden under the rolled pork belly charsiu. Many well-cooked elements put into 1 hearty bowl. I could eat this every other day.

Rock Grouper| Clams| Turmeric| Cabbage, I am not going to mince my words, I didn't enjoy this dish as much as I liked to. The dish had potential, but somehow I felt that with a bigger, fresher fish (which proved to be impossible during the Chinese New Year season in Kuching), served warmer, this dish would have been much much better.

Limau Kasturi| Tuak| Coconut, a play on uniquely-Kuching ingredients, but turned out to be possibly the most forgettable dish of the night. Mainly because we were all stuffed by then, and also that the Tuak (a wine commonly drank by Sarawak natives) and coconut didn't really come out.

And so, we pulled it off. There were hits and misses, but we pulled it off!

Such events, and food, are rare in Kuching, and it felt immensely satisfying to have finally made a small difference to this little city that I call home.

I hope everyone who has followed us in this journey will be inspired, even in a little way, by what a few passionate people have managed to achieve. Be creative, be brave. Share your ideas with your best friends, but ideas don't become things if no action's taken. If you find the right people in the right places and join the right dots together, anything is possible.

So thank you Justin, Sze-Lyn, Aaron, Top, Michelle, Jerome, everyone at Kin and all the diners that night. You made a dream come true.

PS. Read all about Ter'ra X Kin: The Making Of.... and follow #terraxkin on IG and Facebook to see all the precious pictures taken of the event.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Ter'ra X Kin: The Making Of...

21st December 2017:

The sparks between 2 total strangers started off with an Instagram post.

Someone actually took my instatories seriously? Anyway, it's definitely a relief he/she liked my recommendation.

Crying Thaiger was closing in a couple of days, so was #findthelockerroom (which has just re-opened at an equally-confidential location). Alone, unwell and a little freezing in the cold Bangkok winter, I made a lonely tour that night to say goodbye to a couple of places close to my heart.

I took a deep breath before sliding open the lockers at #findthelockerroom one final time, expecting a rowdy horde, aiming to find a vacant space to quietly show my support. Then someone raised his hand, as if he already knew me, and confirmed if I was @strangerinbangkok. It was Mr @fooddaytoyou, Justin! Even more incredibly, he's also from Kuching. What were the chances?!

22nd January 2018:

"Do you think he (Top) might want to do a simple tasting menu at a wine shop when he is around?"

This was a WhatsApp message sent to me by Justin out of the blue. Chef Top (Pongcharn Russell) from Freebird (Justin enjoyed the food there during his Bangkok trip in December) was visiting Kuching during the Chinese New Year period as his girlfriend Michelle Goh (pastry chef from Suhring) would be visiting back home (she's from Kuching too). An idea sprouted out of nowhere, and I was determined to make it work.

By the end of that very day, the chefs had given me a "yes" and the ball was back in Justin's court to find the right restaurant with all the equipment requested for the kitchen takeover.

23rd January 2018:

"We are on for 13Feb dinner," Justin.

"Yaaaaay," me.

"Venue will be at Kin. They have a full working kitchen and equipment."


24th January 2018:

A rough draft of the 6-course menu has been sent by Michelle. Being local, she selected only ingredients that can already be found easily in Kuching.

"There's no point going to Kuching to serve farmed salmon or Australian beef," Top added.

26th January 2018:

We received a market list of 48 items from the chefs. 48 items for 6 dishes!

2nd February 2018:

"Hey Top regarding the snapper, cannot guarantee supply. Boats are all docked. Both consumers and restaurant owners are already stocking up. The supplier we contacted is a major supplier of many restaurants in Kuching. Flash frozen fish." Message from Aaron, the owner of Kin, the restaurant hosting the event. He's been working out of his skin to source for the required ingredients.

Having the event during Chinese New Year was a blessing yet a curse. It was the only window everyone was available in Kuching, yet it was also the only time that Kuching's strength in wild-caught seafood becomes its weakness, when the bad weather and festive rush threatened to deprive us of our most important ingredients.

The final menu, beautifully put together by Sze Lyn, Mrs @fooddaytoyou.

11th February:

"The clams are starting to smell." Aaron.

Our clams were dying?

12th February:

"Good morning. Top is at Borneo Medical Centre now with fever," Michelle.

It was a day before the event, a few hours before our final briefing. The 2 chefs only had 1.5 days to prepare from touch-down till serving our first dish.

Top was burning with high fever.


To be continued........

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Slow Afternoon with the Family in Bangkok: Open House @ Central Embassy

Last Sunday was a special one.

My family spent an entire day in what was my least favourite mall in Bangkok barely a year ago - Central Embassy. When it just opened, I went once in anticipation and got sorely disappointed at a place that seemed to exist to automatically exclude 90% of the local population due to its over-luxurious positioning. "What's the point?" I wondered. It was nice, but a bit (actually a lot) too nice.

It obviously wasn't working very well, so Central Embassy sprang into action and created a whopping 6th floor called Open House, which has single-handedly transformed the mall into one of the most all-inclusive, kid-friendly, family-friendly location in town.

Not the best picture, but this is a snapshot of what Open House is all about.
I am not suggesting you spend an afternoon here and not spend a single cent (it's probably not possible too with all the good food choices), but this is not an indoor playground nor a restaurant, you don't have to pay to enter or be obliged to buy anything, and that makes the concept even more beautiful. It's a food court, cafe, playground, co-working space, restaurant, library, bookstore combined into 1.

The cool co-working space tucked in the corner of Open House. There are meeting rooms for rent too, to impress your staff.

I will now list down a few things a family can do here to chill the entire afternoon away.

1. Treat it like your own restaurant

As a food court, Open House is, to me, something like the the G-floor at The Commons (at Thong Lor Soi 17), just better. Many of the coolest names in town are there (Paris Mikki, Peppina, Lady Nara, Bao and Buns etc.). You can order from any 'stall' and eat anywhere.

Always attracted by the firewood used as the main display at Peppina, referring to their woodfire oven.
You can find every cuisine here, even live freshwater shrimp that can be cooked to your liking.
It always helps when my favourite Paris Mikki is around.

2. Treat it like your favourite cafe

There is more than 1 place to grab a top-notch coffee at Open House (3 in fact, I will let you locate them yourselves) which you can pair with the best pastry/ice-cream Bangkok has to offer.

Have a 'chill' afternoon while your kids can entertain themselves doodling away.
Noah's favourite secret elevated corner.
Baby E's enjoying herself too.

Noah's photography skills improving. We are just gonna pretend Baby E is not in the picture.

3. The most peculiar mini indoor Playground

There's something about that playground. It's small. It looks like a mish-mash of solid-coloured square cushions. Yes they recently added a slide that makes it all the more exciting, but you just can't put a finger to why, without any equipment that you will normally expect from a playground, kids just cannot get enough of it.

Right there, yes just that one in the corner with the slide, that small place is the playground.
They just can't get enough of it.
Kid-friendly dining area conveniently-located near the playground.
Remember to bring socks for your kids. If not you can buy socks from the counter at a good price too.

4. Treat it as your favourite library/bookstore

Some would think that Open House is actually a bookstore, just one that you can eat in. I won't really argue against that. You are free to grab a book, sit somewhere comfortable (there are nice quiet corners everywhere even though there are kids all over the place) and read your way through the afternoon, and have the choice of purchasing it too. Reading is one of our favourite activities here.

Books and dining areas fused into one.

Baby E happily reading.

5. Play a game

If you have run out of ideas, use a receipt to loan a game from the information counter to have some fun with the family. This is a brilliant new initiative by Open House which, at least to me, raises the fun level to great new heights.

Noah chose Bad Dog, which he didn't even dare to play. #COYS
Baby E was the braver one.
Big Brother was just hiding!

So, yeah, now you know where my new favourite place is.

And, no, this is not a sponsored post.

We'll be back soon.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Thailand Winter Getaway Series 2017: Khao Yai 3D2N Itinerary for Families (with kids)

It's that time of the year again, when I build upon my Thailand Winter Getaway Series. I have a feeling you will like this one man, especially if you are planning a trip to Khao Yai for your family. What I am going to share is the exact itinerary of my recent trip which involved a 'small' group of 21, ages ranging from 0 to 84, so if we managed to do this, so can you.

This was taken on the 3rd day, everyone still beaming with delight.

Before you decide to embark on a trip to Khao Yai, there are a few things to take note:

  1. A car is a must. The area is huge and there is no public transport, whether you take van or drive yourself, you need to ensure you have your own form of transportation for the trip to work.
  2. Do some research. There are too many places to visit, have a rough idea of where you would like to visit to have a more efficient trip.
  3. To get the most out of the Khao Yai experience, try to go when it's cool, which means December-early January. Even then, the days might still be scorching hot while it gets really cool at night. I can't imagine enjoying Khao Yai properly during the rainy season (June to September).
DAY 1:

Tung Buachom Floating Market

I wanted to leave this out, because there's really nothing interesting. We left home before 9am and arrived slightly after 10am. You can consider this a toilet break, and for the kids to have fun feeding the ginormous catfish, who have obviously enjoyed too many feasts over the new year break.

Fish that are bigger than duck?

Rai Suwan Corn Farm

Absolutely nothing to see, or rather we didn't find out whether there was any farm tour available. This initially-underwhelming visit ended up giving us the best food we had throughout the entire trip, their boiled corn. Fresh, sweet and slightly salty, you will struggle to find more delicious corn anywhere else in Thailand. The corn milk is a must-try as well. It runs out really quickly so come early.

World-class boiled corn and corn milk.
Hands-down the best thing I ate during the entire trip. 

It's my 3rd time there and most things remain similar so I will direct you here and here to enjoy seeing me looking slightly more like a young man. That's not to say there are no changes at all. I was happy to see more English being incorporated into their tour, though 90% is still conducted in Thai (don't worry, it's pretty engaging even though you might not understand the commentary). The animal show has also been scaled down into a brief dog show and the animal feeding stations have been moved outside the farm (meaning you can feed animals without buying tickets to enter the farm).

Little E dressed for the occasion.

Spend 155baht on their burger, it will leave you more satisfied than the steak, which is a lot pricier and always a let-down.
Don't forget their ice-cream and milk, if they are not sold-out yet.
If you have kids in tow, I highly recommend the 2-hour tour, which you will do well to book in advance from their website. It's not the most exciting tour in the world, but it's likely to be your kids' (and yours too) first time in a real, proper cattle ranch, observing how cows are milked, bred, how milk is bottled and enjoy some antics from cowboys. There's also a pretty extensive dragonfruit plantation, if you haven't seen one before.

Before moving on to day 2, I would like to emphasize the importance of the choice of your accomodation. There are countless possibilities in Khao Yai, ranging from farmstays, resorts, hotels, European-style villages and lodging close to the National Park. We chose the glamping route, giving our children a comfortable yet semi-real experience of staying in a tent. However well-equipped it is, with just a piece of canvas as protection, we were still vulnerable to the unpredictable forces of nature.

Hanging bridge leading to the tents.
Picturesque surroundings.
Fully-furnished tent, complete with a bathroom.
What I woke up to every morning.
Noah enjoyed his surroundings so much he started doodling a tree.
The footpath, and many more. That's what the experience is all about.
The view from our tent at night.

DAY 2:

I have been to sunflower fields before, but this is easily the best of all. It's HUGE, and quite a sight. I would personally make a day trip just to see this.

Yeah, not kidding. It's unreal. Wah Lau Eh!
Unfortunately we only managed to take a family picture at a part of the field where most flowers were droopy.

Now that Ellie is more than ready, we had to bring her here, because it is where some of our fondest memories were made, when we only had Noah. Furthermore, it's only open for barely 2 months every year, so the window to visit isn't big at all.

One of my favourite pictures this entire trip.
Noah attempting to mill rice.

To update, everything has remained largely the same since my previous post. The farm tour is still split into 4 parts - pumpkin patch, Isaan village, life cycle of silkworms/silk manufacture and finally the huge merchandise area. If you are a fan of their products, this is a wonderful place to find a large variety and snag a bargain or two. Oh, and they have quite a beautiful patch of sunflowers too!

This is a magnificent building reminiscent of castles built during the medieval ages in Europe. We came here after dinner for some drinks. 

Ellie posing nicely in order to get some ice cream.
Beautiful, no?
Is this place just an enormous themed restaurant though? I struggle to figure out any other point of the building. Then again, it's worth a visit, as it has ample seating, live music, playground and a unique ambience that takes some beating, especially on a cool midwinter day.

DAY 3:

I will call this the day to "visit all the other places before shooting back to Bangkok".

This has to be the most satisfying new find in Khaoyai. It's not the most straightforward location, but please take the trouble to spend a casual morning here if you can spare the time. I wish I had the stomach to try their food to give you a more complete review, now I can only say that the drinks are decent.

Finally found it.

Please Don't Tell Khaoyai

Colourful drinks served on the longest coffeebar I have ever seen.

One of those places where I got highly-polarising reviews from friends. Again, we didn't dine here. The chocolate wafer lollies we bought for the kids were quite a delight though.

Christmas spirit still very much alive deep into the first week of January.
Right when the clock strikes 12 noon, millions of little bubbles are dispensed from a couple of bubble machines in the open area outside. It's a pleasant surprise for adults and children alike.

This is one of the interesting choices of accomodation in Khao Yai. But if you do not stay here, you must visit especially during the weekend. 

The Birder's Lodge Weekend Farmer's Market.
I will most definitely come by again, even if it's just for the weekend Farmer's Market. It's not a big place, but some of the produce I managed to get my hands on, I have never seen in Bangkok.

A surprisingly-good crowd at the market.
Just some of the produce that might only be found exclusively here.

I have been told the cafe is good, but it was simply too crowded that day for 21 of us, so we moved on. This will not be the last you see of me here.

Grand Finale: Dairy Home Farm Shop

Dairy Home is one of the most popular milk brands among expat mums in Bangkok, as they produce organic milk from grass-fed cows.

Sky turned gloomy when we got here.
Tree house that made the kids really really happy.
Unless you are buying milk in gallons, don't expect to get a bargain even though you have traveled the distance. 

Must-eat in Khao Yai!
Instead, don't leave without their excellent ice-cream, which was lauded as Haagen Daz-quality by one of my companions. 2 scoops plus any one of their cute cups will set you back only by 80THB. In terms of price vs quality, this could be the best ice cream deal in Thailand.


Phew! This post is quite epic isn't it. For those who are still scratching their heads wondering why I didn't recommend any restaurants throughout the post, I have to tell you the truth. After a long thought process I decided to leave them out, as they were one disappointment after another. I can only assume they are still suffering from the new year hangover to make myself feel better.

All in all, I believe you can see for yourself that Khao Yai is more than worth a trip. Just manage your expectations, because while the hardware here might be world-class, the software, be it service standards, food quality etc., still has a long way to go before Khao Yai can become the ideal getaway location.

That said, no place is perfect. Let's embrace Khao Yai as it is. Hope you will find this year's winter getaway instalment useful for your future travels.

PS. I live in Thailand, thus I am lucky enough to have my own car to travel in Khao Yai. I am afraid I will not be able to help you with van/car rental contacts, should you need any. Apologies in advance and thanks for your kind understanding.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...