Monday, February 13, 2017

The Thailand Winter Getaway Series 2016: Sunrise at Phu Chi Fa (ภูชี้ฟ้า), Chiang Rai

It's been a peculiar winter in Bangkok.

The chill came for a week early December and some unexpected heavy showers took over thereafter (it really isn't supposed to rain during winter even if it isn't cool). Just when we thought the Bangkok winter has become a pipe dream, I saw FB posts from friends of low temperatures hitting again at the end of January 2017 for a couple of days. This morning, the temperature was as low as 20degC again, and expected to remain cold for the week. It's already mid-February, I guess we're going to have a wintry Valentine's in Bangkok this year.

It's a little late, I know, but my blog is not complete until I make a new annual entry to this Thailand Winter Getaway series (you can always use it for future winters right?). I spent winter way up in Chiang Rai again this time, and instead of chasing the sun at Doi Phatang again, we explored the more popular Phu Chi Fa, hoping to catch an even better view.

Before I give my verdict on the view, I have a few pointers for all of you planning the hike up Phu Chi Fa.

Had to do a lot of cropping to get a picture of myself with the view

1. Be prepared for companions

A lot of them. Prior to seeing the sea of clouds (that is if weather permits), brace yourself for a sea of people first, like maybe more than a thousand of them.

Taking a proper picture of the view will be a challenge.
So I tried taking a picture to my right.
And then to my left

Fret not, such is the wonder of nature, God makes sure that the scale of natural beauty is so huge that no human wall can stop anyone who made the effort from having a chance to admire what they worked hard for.

2. Cover your head

As your visit will likely be in the winter months between November and February, the wee hours of the morning will be extremely cold. It was early December during my visit, and the temperature was already below 10degC as we began our journey.

Beautiful sunrise over a sea of clouds
Unlike last year's comforts of sunrise-viewing at Doi Phatang, which was the home-ground of our guest-house, Phu Chifa threw us a curve ball. We had to park our minivan mid-journey and continue our ascent at the back of a pick-up truck, in the open pitch-dark gusty cold, winding up hilly tracks for no less than 20 minutes. At such temperatures, 50% of your body heat is dissipated from your head, so get your head covered (I didn't) unless you want a really uncomfortable ride.

3. Know that you can get to the top, and enjoy the process

I have stopped proper exercise since Noah arrived (that's more than 5 years ago). The trek up is not considered long, but a little steep at certain points. I certainly felt tired more than once and wondered whether it was necessary to go all the way up. Anyway, I would just like to tell you that you can do it. Since you made it all the way here, just suck it in and push yourself to the top. Phu Chi Fa has its way to make sure you remember your conquest.

Our group photo, we did it, 1,628m above sea level!

So, is Phu Chi Fa worth the trouble?

I would say yes, if you have not been there before. Even though the sun is the same (duh!), you can enjoy a more extensive view of the surroundings at Phu Chi Fa compared to other spots like Doi Phatang.

Captivating view on the descent too, but just look at the number of people.

You might even find yourself falling in love with one of the many kids jostling for your attention along the way.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Kuching Food Recommendations from the Kuching Boy, feat. lava sweet potato balls

In case you didn't know, I come from Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, a province in East Malaysia (on Borneo Island). I've never mentioned this much because I am a little confused myself regarding my heritage. My dad hails from Sarikei, my mum from Sibu and I was born in Singapore, thus it's both a little peculiar yet also accurate that all of us now call Kuching home.

I've also never spent an extended period of my life in Kuching bar the months waiting for University to start. That said, I do have a strong feeling for this endearing little city and I am extremely impressed with its rapid development especially over the last 5 years. At this rate, within a decade, I am sure Kuching will become one of the most comfortable places to live within our region.

Despite this growth, the core of food in Kuching has not changed one bit. The food I longed to eat when I was a little boy is still what the locals eat today, everyday. Most of these delicacies are found in the increasingly-modern coffeeshops, with a focus in simple, hearty flavours. I am not familiar enough to give you details on where to eat what, but through this post, I hope to show you what you should look for if you manage to drop by.

1. Sarawak Laksa

With all due respect to other laksas, which I also enjoy to different extents, Sarawak Laksa is definitely the best. I believe the only reason it's not more widely found is because of the difficulty to obtain the authentic laksa paste. It also takes a lot of good ingredients to make a broth robust enough to present the laksa at its best, so a good bowl of Sarawak laksa is not necessarily easy to find even in Kuching.

2. Kolo Mee

A Kuching staple, the ultimate everyday food of the local. Kolo Mee focuses on clean flavours and the curly, springy noodles, usually paired with minced pork and charsiew. However, Kolo Mee condiments can come in numerous iterations, with blanched seafood being my favourite after the original.

3. Kampua Mee

More popular in a small town in Sarawak called Sibu, Kampua is a staple of the Foochows. A meal does not get simpler than a plate of Kampua, which always comes with just a serving of al-dente noodles (thicker than the standard kolo mee) tossed in lard and shallot oil plus a few wafer-thin pieces of blanched pork.

4. Teh C Peng Special

There's nothing uncommon about iced tea with evaporated milk, until it fell into the hands of the innovative coffeeshop owners in Kuching. Not only did they make iced tea "special" again, they made it look great (with some managing up to 5 colour layers in a single glass) and made it a signature drink of the city.

A photo posted by Eddie (@strangerinbangkok) on

5. Mongolian BBQ

The influx of Chinese in Kuching created a new Chinese food culture. My pick has to go to the Mongolian BBQ stands which only open from evening onwards. The lamb skewers and racks of ribs are to die for.

6. Omakase-style tzechar stalls

Omakase or "up-to-the-chef" dining is in-trend at the moment, especially among the upper class. Did anyone realize that this kind of dining might already have been around in Kuching coffee shops since a long time ago? I know of at least 3 such locations in Kuching and do give it a go if you are adventurous enough!

7. Lava sweet potato balls

For a guy who has random emails frequently from people all over the world asking for restaurant recommendations in Bangkok, I did not expect to be surprised by anything my hometown can offer, until this.

Ordinary-looking Thai Fried Sweet Potato Balls

Bite in and voila, oozy lava custard

I've always been a fan of sweet potato balls in Thailand, though I wonder why they are not as commonly found here as they should. Molten lava buns are also something I frequently order during our dim sum fixes. Putting these 2 together should be common sense, but why did it feel so new and interesting when I chomped into these crispy balls? Perhaps common sense is not that common anymore.

So there you go, my lengthy but by-no-means exhaustive amateur guide to food in Kuching. If it's your first time in Kuching and you managed to try all or most of the above, give yourself a pat on your back. It's a job well done.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Birthday Letters from Daddy: Noah turns 5

Dear Noah,

I remembered when you were still an infant (or was it before you were born), my Auntie (your grand-auntie) Elfy told me that her son Jodan (your uncle) taught her way more than she can ever teach him.

I think I am slowly starting to understand what she was trying to say. You are my first-born, my first baby, first infant, first toddler and will soon be my first teenage, then first adult child. You will always be throwing at me curve balls I have never caught before, no matter how many years of parenting experience I would have accumulated.

In no time, you will be learning from your school, your friends, your bosses, your seniors and less and less from me, while because of you, I will still be learning how to be a better father every single day.

I used to think that the parent's love is unconditional, that I am willing to die for my children if situation calls for it. Even though that is true, I also realise that my love for you is maybe not that unconditional after all. I find myself being nasty to you for the little tantrums you throw, for the minor disobediences that are inevitable in a growing child increasingly mesmerised by the world around him.

2 nights ago, I got impatient with you for dragging your feet when I wanted to brush your teeth to prepare for bed. You climbed onto the dining table with pen and paper when it's way past bedtime. I got frustrated and gave you a strict ultimatum. You quickly came with the piece of paper with "Noah loves Eddie" written on it.

That's all you wanted to do?

Even when I started to evolve into the angry Dad when you didn't follow my orders.

This is the kind of love lesson you are giving me every single day.

Happy birthday Noah. You are 5 now, and will start to realise Daddy is no perfect know-it-all. But Daddy hopes you will understand that Daddy has a job to do, that is to tell you what is right and what is wrong, so that you grow up a righteous discerning young man who is a blessing to everyone around you.

Even though we will have our differences, we are family at the end of the day and I will be behind you all the way.

Never forget that.

Loving you more everyday,
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...