Monday, April 20, 2015

Survival Guide for Foreigners in Bangkok: The first 10 random tips

While walking along the road in my neighbourhood during the Songkran break in the morning, I could not help but notice the patches of white powder on the road. I soon realised that these white patches were indications of the various spots of water 'warfare' during more happening parts of the day. All of a sudden, I had successfully identified all the potentially dangerous locations in the vicinity, and could plan my route carefully if I had to venture out later.

Then I thought to myself, with my experience here, I can really share some random tips and tricks specific to Bangkok that might make newcomers' (tourists or new residents) lives easier. After brainstorming, here's my first instalment:

Refer to Tip #6

  1. Know where you live

    I came here more than 5 years ago needing to urgently find a permanent office and move in as soon as possible, so within a week of arriving, I had to start shopping at megastores to equip my new-found location. It took me by surprise that EVERY shop commanded me to draw a map of the delivery location before letting me leave. It's the standard operating procedure here in Thailand.

    Never mind the delivery staff will call you on the day itself regardless of the detail of your drawing, you better know where you live (and how to draw it) before you can navigate your way through your purchases.

  2. You can have anything anywhere, because 7-11 is everywhere

    Unless you are looking for canned San Marzano tomatoes or frozen Atlantic Cod, you are covered in Thailand, because 7-11 is everywhere (2nd highest number of branches in the world after Japan), and it has everything you need. In fact, most brands make items exclusive for 7-11, which you cannot find in the huge hypermarkets.

    With everything from incredible-tasting instant meals, gourmet coffee, to supersoakers during Songkran, and the ability to pay virtually all important bills at their counters (even air/bus tickets), life will never be the same without it again.

  3. Zebra crossings don't work as they should, but use them anyway

    Unfortunately, most cars will not deliberately stop for you just because you are standing at a zebra-crossing and obviously look like you want to cross the road, but use them anyway, especially at night.

    Because in the dimly-lit areas, the zebra crossing is often blessed with spotlights, so even if cars don't stop for you, it's the 1 place they are most likely to see you when you finally decide to risk your life sprinting to the other side.

  4. Chill when looking for taxis

    Taxis have always been a huge topic of debate in Thailand, mostly because of the way some drivers choose customers and others who refuse to turn on their meters.

    There are things that cannot be changed overnight no matter how much we whine, and the taxi situation is one of them, However, in terms of service quality and price, I still feel that Bangkok taxis might be one of the most value-for-money ones in the world.

    So, my advice will be to chill when you are rejected by a taxi, because unless it's a bad time (or really bad location), the next one will most definitely be round the corner and you will get your ride soon (I hope).

  5. (Men only) Chill when a lady of any age mops the floor really close to you while peeing in a public toilet

    Because I have been told by multiple sources that it will be weirder if it's a guy cleaning the toilet in Thailand!

  6. (Women only) If you suspect you are pregnant, look out for vending machines outside public toilets

    Because it's not rocket science and you deserve to know whether to shop for normal fashion or maternity fashion.

  7. You can always watch your favourite football match

    Because the most well-known way(s) might not be available where you live, and there are alternative(s).

  8. Don't feel awkward frequenting hospitals to cure your flu, and hotels for some nice food

    Because it's the norm for the sick to visit hospitals immediately (treat it like the clinic in your hometown) and for the best restaurants to be set up in good hotels.
  9. Learn to LINE

    Sure, you can continue to Whatsapp with your folks back home, but please please, learn to LINE in Thailand. Nothing else means anything here.

  10. And the life-saver, when asked, ALWAYS say Aroi (delicious)!

    When your friend buys you a meal, or a store-keeper asks you to taste their sample, they know that their food is very delicious. Even if it's not and they are waiting for the 'honest' answer, smile and say "Aroi". This is a life-saver.

Stay tuned for the next instalment of my random tips!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Stranger in Bangkok's (likely-permanent) Facelift

Thanks to you and everyone else reading this, I have been fortunate enough to have sufficient support and motivation to keep this blogging endeavor alive for the last 5 years. In fact, this blogging journey has given me more rewards that I could have ever imagined. The love from my readers, however few there may be, the precious friendships I have made or rekindled because of this space, I treasure every bit of it.

My biggest satisfaction to date happened at the tail end of 2014, where my popular Thailand Winter Getaway Series indirectly inspired a couple of talented photographers (Terry and Ginosko from One Eye Click) and a set of lovebirds to embark on a journey deep into central Thailand (completely unknown to them otherwise) to shoot their pre-wedding pictures. I was involved in the planning, and when the beautiful pictures were published, I was literally beaming from ear to ear, elated at the positive energy this humble blog has generated.

Just one of the many stunning pictures taken. Credit: One Eye Click

Over the years, I have also made it a point to revamp the look of my blog frequently, to keep it fresh and updated, however, it also involved sticking my friends and colleagues onto the blog banner, which might not be totally appropriate. Therefore, in collaboration with One Eye Click, I did a personal shoot at my favourite night market in Thailand, and the shots have now been used to permanently grace the blog, as they have effectively captured its spirit-- the story of a stranger trying to navigate his way in his colourful surroundings that is called Bangkok.

Credits: One Eye Click

Aside of these, every picture you see on my "About Me" and "Contact Me" pages and also the banner on my Facebook Page are from the same shoot.

So thank you once again Terry and Ginosko, for making me such a satisfied blogger, and to subsequently capture the blog's spirit so well. I am certain this 'cosmetic surgery' has undoubtedly lifted the Stranger in Bangkok's image to another level. And to my readers, I hope you like what you see. As long as you want to read, I will not stop writing.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Stranger's Ultimate Guide to Online Shopping in Thailand

If you know someone who tells you Thai malls are getting quieter by the day and are not doing well, they don't know their stuff. Yes, new malls are sprouting like wild mushrooms by the minute, and the economy isn't exactly rosy, but the truth is, much of the 'shopping crowd' has been removed by the groups running the malls themselves, through their extremely comprehensive online shopping portals.

Anyone who has read my letter for Noah for his 3rd birthday will know that he is still resisting toilet training. Couple that with the arrival of Ellie, it means that I had recently been forced to scramble around for the best deals for diapers. This exercise pointed me to the beautiful world of online shopping, be it through mall groups like Central and Robinson, supermarket giants like Big C and Tesco Lotus, or even independent online shopping portals like Venbi and Lazada.

The advantages are obvious. Better deals. Delivery to your doorstep (diapers are bloody bulky) as soon as the next day. Access to most items you can find in the malls. Creative modes of payment (payment on delivery is the mode I recommend). Delivery trucks that have built-in sorting drawers, freezers and chillers all at the same time.

A common scene in my house, how to not look for best deal?

However, things might not be as rosy as it seems. If you are tempted to start buying groceries online in Thailand, do take note of the following tips to ensure you do not get frustrated.

  1. Be prepared to wait the entire day for your items.

    Depending on your order quantity and company you order from, delivery might or might not be free. Some even give you the luxury to select the time period in which you would like them to deliver. But trust me, it is impossible for them to give you any promises.

    Most will deliver on the day promised, often the working day after you place the order, but none of my orders had been delivered within the time frame I preferred. Every truck might have up to 50 locations to hit a day, so be prepared to be stuck in 1 place to wait for your items then celebrate your new-found freedom when they arrive.

  2. Be prepared to speak Thai, or look for help.

    In your order form, you can give all sorts of instructions, to the point of giving details of the slight cracks on your door to aid in their identification of your house.

    But whatever the case, the driver will still DEFINITELY call you on delivery day to ask you how to get to your place, and he will DEFINITELY only know how to speak Thai.

    So, if you don't speak Thai, or don't physically stay near anyone who speaks Thai, or do not want to receive urgent calls from random numbers during working hours (and speak Thai), purchasing online might be a very frustrating experience for you (and the driver).

  3. Delivery staff are, well, delivery staff.

    Even though the delivery services are well-established and pretty mature in Thailand already, mistakes still happen. There is a possibility that wrong items are sent to you by mistake. Whatever it is, there is no point complaining to the delivery staff, as their job is to drop the items, collect payment and scoot off to their next destination. So, for online shopping, be mentally prepared to pay for the wrong item first, then contact the sales office again to request for the goods exchange. This is just how it works.

    And this leads me to an important sub-point that you should not leave your urgent items to the hands of these online shopping portals, because anything might happen and you might just not get your item on time.

  4. Scour around for the best deals, and don't forget to use the discount codes, if any!

    One of the best things about online shopping is that they often offer better deals than those you can get in the shops. Of course, it might need you to buy more pieces that you normally do, but they save you the hassle of carrying them home yourself.

    For the best deal, homework is required. Be diligent and go through a few websites, they will definitely be offering differing deals which might or might not suit you. Many will have special periodic promotion codes to give you good additional discounts, so please do not forget to use them!

I really wanted to write this post because I have learnt many lessons from my experiences with online shopping websites and I hope to highlight the things you should consider before making your first purchase.

I also want to emphasize again that even if the services are not perfect, I really do recommend online shopping in Thailand as a MORE THAN LEGIT way of getting products without leaving your house, especially if you know exactly what you want, and speak a bit of the local language.

Meanwhile, happy shopping!

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Ultimate Home-Made Valentine's Day Dish - Mediterranean Fish Soup

Valentine's Day happens to be tomorrow 
When restaurants laugh to make our pockets hollow
So what do we do to avoid this scam?
Make something great at home? 
Of course you can!

Pardon my lameness to start yet another blogpost with some poetry. Anyway, after at least 3 separate requests for the recipe to my Mediterranean Seafood Soup last night, and considering it's a perfect dish to impress your loved one (as long as he/she is not vegetarian and likes seafood), I shall rush out the cooking instructions with some of my random pictures taken under poor lighting.

No home-made stock on hand, so used some decent store-bought ones

Ingredients (serves 2-3)

  • 8 large shrimp, around 500g
  • 200g of boneless fish fillet, skinned and cubed (picture below, I used wild sea bass)
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 1 can of chopped Italian tomato (I used chopped as they are skinless and seedless, you could use the full tomatoes as well but remember to remove the seeds if you don't want your soup to be too sour)
  • 200ml of chicken stock
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic (for shrimp stock)
  • 1 large handful of parsley (preferably flat-leaf, but curly ones will do too), finely chopped
  • Sea salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 bay leaves (optional)

Cubed fish fillet
Diced onion

Cooking Procedure:

  1. Shell and devein the shrimp. If you like the heads, leave the heads on, if not, remove the heads and set aside with the shell for the shrimp stock.
  2. Fry 2 cloves of garlic in a small pot till fragrant, add shrimp shells and heads, fry till the entire house smells of hae mee (prawn noodle) then pour in around 2-300ml of water to simmer into a nice shrimp stock.
  3. In a separate soup pot where the whole dish will be put together, sweat the onions in some good olive oil. This will take some time on medium heat, till the onions become sweet but do not take up too much colour.
  4. Deglaze the pot with a cup of white wine and wait for the alcohol to boil away.
  5. Pour in the can of diced tomatoes and bring the mixture to a boil, add bay leaves.
  6. At this point add in shrimp stock and chicken stock and bring the soup to a boil again.
  7. Add in fish fillet cubes.
  8. Before adding in the shrimp, make sure you are well prepared with chopsticks or tongs to remove them once cooked and prepare your serving plates/bowls.
  9. Once you are ready, add in the shrimp and remove them immediately onto your serving bowls once they cook through, we do not want overcooked rubbery jumbo shrimp on your Valentine's Day.
  10. Finally, while the soup is still bubbling hot, stir in your parsley and season the soup to your preferred taste with salt and pepper.
  11. Serve.
My Mediterranean Fish Soup

How can I sign off without leaving you with some important tips?

Number 1, this soup is exceptionally versatile. It can be cooked with any kind of seafood you prefer, so mussels, clams, squid, even crab will work beautifully. Just put in anything you can find. Just keep in mind that the most vital point is that every element needs to be extremely fresh, we don't want to take chances with anything that might spoil the whole pot of soup!

Number 2, this is a main course, not a starter. You eat this together with some nice bread or baked potato to complete a good meal. You need a lot of seafood in the soup (also to make the soup delicious). If the amount makes you feel that it might be slightly excessive, it's perfect.

Number 3, you can add some chopped fresh tomato as well, to spruce up the taste a little, but I still recommend you to use a can of tomatoes as the base, because unless we use those expensive imported tomatoes, it's unlikely the standard ones we find in our markets can provide enough flavour to the soup.

Number 4, Do not overcook the seafood!

Number 5, Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Belated Birthday Letter for Noah's 3rd Birthday

Dear Noah

We just had your birthday gathering yesterday with a small group of neighbours, and Daddy has to apologise for nearly forgetting to put the customary yummy Foochow chicken soup on the table for you. It was really comforting to see you chomping it down during dinner though, and to know that you enjoyed your little birthday 'party'.

Our very different birthday picture this year, with 4 of us instead of 3

In view of you reaching the ripe old age of 3, Daddy has 2 precious words for you, 2 words that I hope you will hold dear to your heart and execute in the very near future.

1. Unbind

Your have been bound by diapers virtually 24 hours a day for 3 full years already. So long, that you know all different models of diapers by heart and tell me which kind you want to wear during different parts of the day.

This can be partly due to Daddy and Mummy, who want to give you time and freedom to decide when you are ready to go to the toilet by yourself. We are still standing by that decision and will continue to give you the time and space your require. BUT the amount of diapers Daddy has been pulling off the shelves now with Ellie's arrival is nothing short of insane, and honestly I have more than once attempted to wrap Ellie's tiny butt up in your ginormous undies.

SO, I hope 2015 is a good time for you to finally unbind. You will not regret the decision.

I am 3 years old from now onwards!

2. Unwind Unwhine, yes seriously, unwhine

Don't be confused. Yes, the word is not even in the Urban Dictionary, but that's what you've given me since I've become your Daddy. Unlimited bouts of creativity and inspiration, so much so that I have come up with new words that are destined for parenting blog greatness.

Ok, back to the point.

Noah, please stop whining, because whining does not get you anything, well not in my house at least, or in any house with me around. I always pray for more patience, but my patience runs out whenever you start whining, mostly without reason at all!

I promise you I will tell you, in a nice manner, to stop when you whine, but please do everyone a favour and stop!

My 2 words for you seem harsh, but I love you very much Noah, I really do. So much so that I am dedicating my blog's 200th post to you.

What a birthday means to a child, and thank you everyone for the gifts!

My day starts with sending you to school, and ends with putting you to sleep in my arms, there's nothing much left in my world if you're not in it.

So happy birthday Noah, one last time, till the clock strikes 1st of February again in 2016.

Noahdaddy aka Stranger in Bangkok

Thursday, January 29, 2015

[REVIEW] Foodpanda Thailand Food Delivery Service, with a brilliant discount code for my readers!

*Please read till the end, as I have a brilliant discount code for all my readers*

As you can see from my blog's first ever linky [Putting Food on the Table], I have been in charge of my family's meals most of the time for the past 3 years. But taking charge of meals does not necessarily mean cooking, as we still have to eat regardless of whether I have time to cook.

Bangkok has a very established food delivery industry. Not only can we get food from most restaurant chains delivered right to our doorstep, the services are also reliable and punctual.

I have 2 very little kids now. It is virtually impossible to weave through the Bangkok traffic with them to simply eat something that MIGHT be nice. So food delivery services mean more to me than just convenience. For a foodie like me, they also give me an opportunity to taste food from restaurants I would otherwise not have the opportunity to taste because of the complicated logistics of getting there.

Therefore, when Foodpanda approached me to explore the possibility of writing a review for their services, it all made sense, as I would really love to share with my fellow friends (especially those with families) an avenue to help them put proper food on the table when cooking at home is just not possible.

Personally, I judge food deliveries according to a few main criteria:
  • Punctuality and accuracy of food delivered
  • Packaging of the food and whether they are warm
  • Service attitude of delivery staff
  • Response from company when unexpected situations happen
I ordered meals from Foodpanda thrice via their pretty user-friendly phone application, and I shall share my very honest views on how each experience went for you to judge for yourself whether you would like to use it in the future.

1st Experience

Something that surprised me about Foodpanda was the availability of food that are not ready meals. For example, raw Norwegian salmon, organic juice cleanse packages, fresh Italian pasta and Paleo meals etc., so I gave it a try, as I would love to have some nice hard-to-get raw materials to aid me in my cooking endeavours.

I was still pretty confused on what would happen after my order, so after I pressed submit, I waited in anticipation. It didn't take very long, less than a minute, in fact, for Foodpanda staff to call me. The shop was closed, and it will stay closed for the next 2 weeks. Didn't your app show it was open? Hmmm...... but oh well, it didn't matter as I was not depending on the delivery for my dinner that night.

So there you go, my first experience. A pleasant failure.

Second Experience

It was a Sunday morning when we decided to order food for an early lunch, so we used Foodpanda again. This time, something different happened after I made the order. Instead of a call, I received a text message telling me the restaurant had received my order and that I would receive the food in an hour. And abacadabra, the food actually arrived within 30 minutes! Excellent, I must say. Here are the pictures of the food, all received perfectly packed (this really depends on the individual eatery) and warm.

Food all packed up

Yummylicious lunch

Third experience

After the positive experience on a weekend lunch, I decided to put Foodpanda to the test on a weekday night. After the order was placed, I received a phonecall immediately, with the operator informing me that the food might take up to 2 hours as their riders were busy and also whether I wanted to go ahead with the order. I accepted as I ordered the food early. It was a nice touch from them to have kept me in the loop on this unexpected situation.

Around 20 minutes later, the sms came, informing me that the restaurant has received the order and will deliver in an hours' time. And true to their word, I got the food less than an hour and a half after placing my order, which was much shorter than 2 hours!

We really enjoyed our dinner too, including Noah.

Once again, the food came perfectly packaged and warm.

Stranger in Bangkok's verdict.

Foodpanda is a good food delivery service, as they have a good mobile app that allows you to order food without having to make any calls, sends text messages to confirm orders, calls you promptly when unexpected situations arise, and finally delivers within the promised time.

However,  how excellent this service ultimately turns out to be for you really depends on your location, as the restaurant selection very much depends on your proximity to the participating eateries. The closer you are to the city, the more choices you will enjoy, I assume. That said, I am sure Foodpanda is in the process of garnering more food options in every location.

In any case, Foodpanda's a good panda, so do consider it should you need a convenient fix to put decent food on your table.

Bonus for my readers based in Thailand

Here comes the good news.

For all my readers who have not used Foodpanda before, they have given me a discount code specially for you.

When you place your order, fill in this discount code strangerxxx to get a 10% discount off the bill! This is only for the first 50 readers who have previously not used this service before, and the deal expires at the end of February 2015, so please order soon!

Disclaimer: Foodpanda provided me with voucher codes to try the service twice, but all opinions and comments are mine.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Poems by a Hands-on Dad

Poems by a Hands-on Dad
(Who's read one too many children's books)

There was one
Now there's two
Our house has become a zoo
Full of screams and pee and poo
I love it, you should too


Did you ever think
How on earth to catch a wink
Or go out with friends for a drink
All day long you're on the brink
Like your ship's gonna sink
And your head's turning pink
If you still can't get a link
Then you should have some kids, I think


"Daddy, I can hear you snore!"
I only just slept and you want more?
Sleeping has become a chore
On the bed, sofa or the floor
On the floor?
Yes! Near the toilet door
Just have a kid or four
You don't get to sleep no more


Inspired by Dr Seuss and his classic "One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish"