Tuesday, September 29, 2020

New Normal 3D2N Family Road Trip to Hua Hin

2020 has been a special year. My wife and kids literally did not step out of our little apartment from March to June, and our usual trips back home to Singapore and Malaysia during summer vacation also wiped out due to the border closures.

That said, we can consider ourselves lucky to be in Amazing Thailand, where the situation is largely under control. It’s the perfect time for us to explore the country we live in and appreciate even more what it has to offer. We made a family road trip to Hua Hin last week, just to squeeze in a final getaway before school reopened.

The kids enjoying the pool view in the morning.

Then again, travelling is a touchy subject  in this climate, as most of us are understandably still focused on keeping our families safe. Thus, instead of listing down my full itinerary, I will share some tips and tricks I learnt from this Hua Hin exercise for you to make a more informed decision should you decide to embark on a trip yourself.

1. Go on weekdays and avoid long weekends.

I understand that some attractions only open during weekends in Hua Hin, but keeping social distancing in mind, I highly-recommend going Thu-Sat or Sun-Tue instead of Fri-Sun.

This way, you not only get to enjoy part of the usual weekend vibe, you also give yourselves a couple of quiet days, likely a less-occupied accommodation, and the choice to avoid crowds.

2. Choose a hotel/resort that gives you a peace of mind.

For me, this has to be the basis of your trip-planning. Through some research and direct communication with the shortlisted accommodation, you should have a feeling whether it has done its due diligence to keep its guests safe.

Thorough sanitization by Amari Hua Hin.

My choice this time was Amari Hua Hin, as I understood how their new Onyx Clean initiative originated from a reaction to the pandemic. Their efforts started from the moment we arrived and their sanitization and crowd-control measures (splitting breakfast crowd to 3 timings, installation of sneeze guards for buffet stations, masked+gloved staff etc.) gave us a lot of assurance.

Sneeze Guards installed for the buffet breakfast.

They have also added many family-oriented activities to their repertoire, like a bigger Kids’ Club, cooking lessons, indoor movie screening and even beach-side boxing sessions, which was really an unforgettable experience. We ended up spending half our trip enjoying ourselves within a well-prepared beachside hotel.

The amazing Muay Thai by the Beach experience.

Pizza-making class for the kids,

3. Choose Nature

Whenever I make a roadtrip in Thailand, I will make sure I give my children a dose of nature, as a contrast to their everyday-life in the bustling city.

Enjoying at Hua Hin beach.

In this time, I feel it’s even more crucial for this, as not only do they get to learn about things they hardly get to see in Bangkok, they also gain access to space and fresh air.

Long Rak Na

Aside of the beach, which is not as crowded these days, we went to  Long Rak Na, a restaurant overseeing a lake in Petchaburi on our way to Hua Hin, and Pran Buri Forest Walk, a spectacular mangrove walk just a short drive away from our hotel. If the weather was more forgiving, we would have gone to the vineyard in the vicinity as well.

Viewing tower of Pran Buri Forest Walk.

4. Hua Hin Favourites

I am happy to announce that many of our favourite attractions at Hua Hin are already open.

Hua Hin Train Station

We went to Hua Hin Night Market, which is open every night and the historical Hua Hin Train Station, which is in normal operation.

Hua Hin Night Market

Our all-time favourite haunt in Hua Hin, Cicada Market is also open every Friday to Sunday. I have to give a special mention to their Cicada Amphitheatre, which gave us a brilliant magic bubble show during our visit, one so intriguing that the audience stayed through to the end in spite of the unrelenting drizzle.

Cicada Amphitheatre

It is also good to know that precautions have been taken at many of these favourites and many vendors/visitors are wearing masks.

Precautions taken at Cicada Market.

5. Your own mentality

I can’t stress this enough.

At the end of the day, how much you enjoy a trip largely depends on your own attitude.

First and foremost, we have to do our part to be responsible for our family and the people around us.

Travelling in the new normal means we have to, at the very least, wear our masks and wash our hands as much as possible.

With sufficient research, we can also make sure we stay in and visit places that have made reasonable precautions.

One other challenge we faced during the trip was the rainy season. We worked our loose schedule around our limitations, even if we are clad in raincoats, holding umbrellas, or plain drenched, happily taking in everything Hua Hin had in store for us.

New Normal Family Portrait!

It was a great trip!

Monday, August 17, 2020

Mae NongNuch (Meechai Shop) - Must-try Desserts in Hua Hin made with heart

If you frequent Hua Hin and love traditional Thai desserts, Mae Nongnuch (Meechai Shop) probably needs no further recommendation. In preparation for our Hua Hin roadtrip, some discussions with foodie pals and online research pointed us there left-right-centre. So no, this is not a post to tell you more about this long-established dessert powerhouse, but to share an unforgettable incident which took place at the shop itself.

Meechai Shop, Raan Michay, Mae NongNuch?

The month of August coincides with the peak of Thailand's rainy season. We were not spared. Scary dark clouds were gathering when we made our way to Meechai Shop. Unaware that it was predominantly a take-away operation, we planned to eat our desserts there before moving on to our next stop. However, once we settled into the sole little round table outside the shop, it literally poured cats and dogs and threatened to destroy my family's experience.

Hand-gel prepared and every shopkeeper masked up.

Knowing the situation, the owner of Meechai rushed out and invited us to eat inside the shop, clearing a table where they were working on for us to enjoy our desserts in comfort. We were so grateful, yet stunned by their sincerity and warmth. This gesture might seem straightfoward, but was one that should never be expected, and one we definitely could not take for granted! They even pulled down the roller shutter closest to us to stop any possible splashing due to strong winds.

Eating in comfort, completely-sheltered from the rain.

So, to their food. Since we had the comfort of dining where most do not have the privilege to on a rainy afternoon where we were stuck for a bit, we could carefully savour the desserts.

Having been in Thailand for a decade, I am not shy to say I've tasted numerous versions of Mango Sticky Rice, including some of the most famous in Bangkok. From my first impression of Mae Nongnuch's version though, I think it's easily up there with the best. For this dish, mango has never been a spot of bother for me as it's more related to cost and sourcing (they use the rare Chok Anan breed btw). It's the sticky rice (khao niao moon) execution that makes or breaks the deal. Mae Nongnuch's version was glistening, every grain soft yet defined, with hints of pandan aroma, and the lightly-salted fresh coconut cream an icing on the cake.

A nice picture taken at the little table outside before we were completely washed out.

Thanks to my good friend Nicholas, I also bought their Khanom Tian, little pyramids of awesomeness. Unlike ones I'd eaten in Bangkok, the ones here had a dark green colour given by Chiukak หญ้า ชิวคัก 鼠壳草,and an intense dark brown bean paste that'd been cooked for hours with pepper and shallots. It's like biting into the best Ang Ku Kueh skin with a surprisingly-delicious savoury spicy 'vegan sambal'.

From the corner of my eye, I found a friendly old lady observing us from a few steps away. An assuring thumbs up brought the most confident smile I'd seen from someone her age. Turned out she is the sister of Mae Nongnuch (who has passed away) and had been cooking with her since the start of the business.

That swagger. She knows her stuff is good.

So if you happen to be in Hua Hin and only have time for dessert at 1 shop, this is where I highly recommend, as I have personally experienced not only their taste, but the heart they pour out for every customer. Search "Raan Michay" on Google Maps and you are laughing.

A cool painting of Mae NongNuch.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

New Normal 3D2N Family Road Trip to Amphawa

Just when I thought I wouldn't do a 3D2N family itinerary post about our first post-Covid 'new normal' road trip to Amphawa, my wife came up with a comprehensive video of our experience on TheKawayiis channel, so, voila~! Enjoy and do leave comments in the thread if you have any queries or suggestions and I am sure we will reply you promptly there.

Personally, I will drop some tips and tricks here, and hopefully they will help you make your trip a better one, should you decide to embark on one yourself.

1. Walk the market on Sunday, unless Monday is also a holiday

Amphawa Floating Market is a b*tch on Saturday. There are so many people, even if everyone is wearing a mask, it's impossible to get any semblance of distancing. Also, you get the rowdy feel but lose the spirit of a leisurely shopping trip.

So, walk Amphawa Floating Market on Sunday if you can afford the time. By mid-afternoon, Bangkokians will be hurrying back to start work on Monday, freeing up the market for you. Just note that shops start closing early on Sunday for the same reason, so don't leave it too late.

2. Be ON TIME for the Mae Klong Railway Market

This world-famous train market had been touted as purely a tourist activity. After visiting, I kinda disagree. True, when borders were open, it's filled to the brim with tourists everyday, but in truth, Mae Klong Railway Market is very local. Visiting in the morning allows you to see a full view of a bustling local wet market patronized by residents living in the vicinity, and you get to enjoy the unique feeling of shopping right in the centre of paved railway tracks.

Now, to my point. Check the latest train schedule and don't be late. Trains are PUNCTUAL. If you only want to see the train passing over market produce, and arrive on the dot, you could be out of there within 10 minutes.

3. Salt Pans

The provinces of Samut Sakhon and Samut Songkhram are famous for their high-quality salt, so take a stop to enjoy the salt pans, and maybe buy some Fleur de Sel back. They are even exported to Europe, but please don't ask me how to choose the right one, just taste and follow your tongue I guess.

4. Mackerel, Coconut, Pomelo, Nostalgic Drinks

What to eat? I have given you the key words. Amphawa and its surroundings is paradise for lovers of the mentioned. Restaurants cook mackerel in so many ways they can keep you interested for days, and coconuts are so sweet you will lose interest in coconuts back home. Desserts and drinks made from coconut/palm sugar are also the bomb.

So here you go, I hope a combination of my notes and the video would give you a better idea of how you should plan your next trip to Amphawa.

Till next time.

PS. And 1 last tip: FIREFLIES!

Monday, June 15, 2020

First Family Outing Post-Covid

Note: Post-Covid is too much to claim, but just let me use it to commemorate the moment.

3 months.

It's been that long since #theKawayiis went out for a proper dinner together. It's been cooking and deliveries ever since we celebrated the wifey's birthday at Mia mid-March.

Come to think of it, we've actually been adjusting to the new situation in pretty well. We'd often struggled to make decisions regarding the next meal, but we've never talked about a burning desire to dine out again.

Last night, after making reservations and ensuring the family could sit together at the same table, we embarked on the exciting adventure to eat out again.

1. Entering Emquartier

It was nice to walk into the mall without little infra-red thermometers shooting at our foreheads. The mall is equipped with thermal imaging cameras to enable a hassle-free experience. Once we passed that, we were given cute stickers which were our passports for the rest of the journey.

The Entrance

Thai Chana check-in QR Code 

Cute thermometer sticker indicating we were all-clear

Note on Thai Chana:
Only 1 of us was required to check-in, and Thai Chana is NOT AN APPLICATION. You do not need to download anything, but it does give away your location and I believe it's tagged to your phone number.

2. Going to the restaurant

Everything was normal except there were signs reminding us to keep a 2-step distance away from the next person on the escalator.

Signs at every escalator

3. Entering the restaurant

Wanting reliable comfort food, our choice of dinner was Roast. As expected, one of us was required to check-in via Thai Chana as well.


Yes, it's true!

5. Food-ordering and dining

To minimize contact, Roast has decided to put their menu online (sorry, no more take-home newsletter-style menu). The menu has also shrunk a fair bit, though this change also gives them the freedom to make changes to it as-and-when they desire

New Online Menu

"I really miss eating in restaurants," he said.

"The bacon is so crispy!" she said.

6. Leaving

You should know the drill by now. We were required to check out via Thai Chana at both Roast and Emquartier.

Hope this step-by-step description will be of help to you as you ponder whether to bring your family out for dinner in the 'new normal'.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Taking stock at the midway point of 2020

It's a weird time.

How are you guys doing?

Getting used to the "new normal" that's being rolled out after your MCO (Movement Control Order), CB (Circuit Breaker), Lockdown or whatever it's called?

I personally can't believe it's already June.

I mean, what really happened since the turn of the year? I remember clearly going to Perth with my family for Chinese New Year (thank God that happened), but that was in January.

Almost 5 months have transpired since.

Work-wise, I can only say we've been lucky (so far) in Thailand. Official numbers don't look too bad, and companies like mine have not been ordered to shut. Then again, much of our emphasis has been to work in a different way, to change our mentality to expect a possible order to close tomorrow.

If we can close a deal today, we do it.

If we have time to make 1 more phone call to remind a customer to pay what's due, we do it, because we might not have the chance to make that call tomorrow.

At home, my awesome wife and kids have stayed home for the best part of 2 months, with no complaints whatsoever.

School has moved online, and I can see the sheer amount of effort put in by the teachers to have made it happen in such a short time.

I realised it's a draining exercise trying to put meals punctually on the table all day everyday, but if everyone can, I have to find a way to make it work.

I have also seen the unexpected demise of some of my favourite restaurants. Jamie Oliver Kitchen (formerly Jamie's Italian), Karmakamet Diner to name a couple. Amazing destinations lost, but the memories there, never forgotten.

As I type away during lunchtime in the office, I know I will go home after work to my family waiting for me with a big smile on their faces, to children who have (mostly-happily) bonded with each other 24hours-a-day, to a fearless lady who stands beside me in all situations.

I know my parents are trying to stay at home as much as possible back in Kuching, keeping safe and healthy, waiting for the day their children and grand-children can visit again.

I know my wife's family is taking care of her grandmother with all their heart, and that she's trying to get well soon as she looks forward to us walking through the door again.

I also know all my friends are working as hard as me in order to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

So is this, what they call, the "new normal"?

When has "trying our best" become a "new normal"?

Why has spending your best time with your closest ones become a "new normal"?

Is putting the most effort to support each other, a "new normal"?

If it is. I kinda like this new normal.

Monday, March 16, 2020

2020, the Year of Reaction

At the end of 2019, I already knew my first part of 2020 would be disjointed. The end-of-year break (which I took in Taiwan) and early Chinese New Year meant that I wouldn't have a settled start to the year in Bangkok.

The thing is, I planned the trips personally, thus have made all the mental preparation required to go through the mess in Bangkok resulting from my travels.

On my return flight to Bangkok, I watched Oscar-winning movie "Parasite" on-board. This brilliant cinematic masterpiece boggled my mind for days..

I couldn't forget male lead Kim Ki-taek's quote before the movie's final act, "You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan at all. You know why? Because life cannot be planned."

Little did I know that this will become the theme for most of us for the best part of 2020 so far.

A couple of weeks after my Chinese New Year trip, I came down with chicken pox, which I failed to get as a boy despite many attempts by my mum. I didn't leave my house for the 7 days that ensued. It was easier than expected though, especially after I realised I hadn't had such a long rest in Thailand since the day I stepped in 10 years ago.

The Covid-19 catastrophe was steadily brewing globally in the meantime, and soon my everyday-life would not be spared. A day scheduled for pivotal meetings was punctured by urgent school closure for Covid-19-related issues.

From then on, 2020 was about reaction.

There was no longer a necessity to plan.

The day's activities would be dependent on official announcements/recommendations from schools and various governing authorities.

One would go bonkers in his/her struggle to keep to settled routines.

Travel, hospitality and retail are taking the first hit, which will not spare anyone moving forward, as disruptions in the supply chain and decreased demand rear their heads.

As nature takes its cruel course, I guess we have to go back to the basic priorities of our lives. Keep well, be socially-responsible, and keep your loved ones well.

I also believe strongly that somehow, good businesses deserve to survive. While we stumble around fighting for our dear lives, many livelihoods are hanging by a thread. It might be ours tomorrow.  Hopefully, once we take care of ourselves, we will not forget the people around us.

In this year of "no plan at all", we need each other more than ever.

Stay strong everyone.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Follow the Chef Project Taiwan: Wes Kuo 郭庭玮, damn I wish he's in Thailand!

My unexpected romantic relationship with Taiwan originates more from the people than the food or place itself. Every new visit brings me closer to more passionate craftsmen fighting everyday for what they believe in.

My first contact with Chef Wes Kuo started in an odd fashion. Highly recommended by my good friend Jeek, I spent nearly half an hour like a headless chicken looking for Chef Wes's restaurant, only to realize it's a hidden 'speakeasy' style bistro 2 levels above a popular Taiwanese hotpot shop at Shilin Night Market. Used to seeing similar modern bistro-style establishments in Thailand command an entire army in the kitchen, I was shocked to see Chef Wes pushing out equal quality with only 1 assistant in the open kitchen and 1 person on the floor, his wife Lucia.

Finally hanging out together in Taipei, December 2019

I enjoyed the meal tremendously. I guess deep inside me, I was yearning to dine at a modern bistro with a distinct Chinese (in this case, Taiwanese) soul running through the food regardless of its final form. Boogie Bistro would easily be one of my most frequented restaurants if it was here in Bangkok.

Then again, our first meet-up ended without speaking a single word to each other. Later in the week, we did speak briefly at Chefs Top and Michelle's pop-up at Jeek's Foodmaze Studio. It was only after I returned to Bangkok did we start communicating more online, and that was when I realised how much fire was buried within that quiet petite frame of his. Every inch of him was burning with the desire to showcase the unknown food wisdom on Taiwan's small but diverse terroir, and the energy to move towards having a louder voice to share his idealogies.

[Stranger in Taipei #eatdrink_02] 好福食研室-Boogie bistro This trip to Taipei, the 1 place that left the deepest has to be this hidden gem, literally a Speakeasy restaurant called Boogie Bistro, hidden above a hotpot restaurant and a beauty salon in the middle of Shilin Night Market (where food is very average). Chef Wes Kuo works with one of the smallest teams I've ever seen for such a place, with his hospitable wife Lucia Chou and 1 sous chef. Chef Wes has only 1 message in his food, that is to bring out the best in Taiwanese premium ingredients, in the Taiwanese way, as can be seen from his chicken dish, which was seasoned with preserved salted radish and served with a side of bamboo shoot. My favourite dish of the night was the smoked oyster, bursting with salty goodness dressed with grass jelly sauce. His lamb shoulder was executed to perfection, in a way to allow the ingredient to shine as brightly as it can. Oh, don't forget the chicken liver Mille-feuille too. For the foodie, this place is a must-visit in Taipei, and the one legitimate reason to set foot in Shilin Night Market again. 本来不打算再去士林夜市,但是有了好福,应该每次到台北都得往士林跑一趟了。😕 #strangerin台北 #boogiebistro #好福食研室 #士林夜市 #strangerfirstimpression #strangerfirstimpressiontaipei #shilinnightmarket
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Subsequently, Boogie Bistro closed in view of opening a new restaurant that would communicate Chef's directions more effectively. During his break, I was glad to have spent a few days in Bangkok with him and Lucia to get to know them much better. I was a little taken aback when Chef Wes revealed his background in F & B management but actually got his success in the depths of Shilin Night Market selling 'premium' fried skewers. He then owned an equally-successful Kushiage restaurant before setting up Good Food Lab at Boogie Bistro (where I ate his food).

Without prior training in a fine-dining kitchen, he shared that all his inspirations come from ingredients from the land, and his infatuation with how to most-effectively present its story to the diners. If the best way is for the ingredient to be expressed as a mousse, he will then figure out how to make it into his perfect mousse for the dish. There is no emphasis whatsoever, on showing off how well he can cook, or how adept he is in a certain technique.

Chef Wes Kuo,  focusing on a dish at 80/20

In this moment, a mere matter of days before the grand-opening of Chef Wes's new restaurant Embers, I would like to congratulate him and Lucia for obtaining a new platform which will hopefully amplify what he has always been trying to do, that is to share and spread the spirit of his land.

與曲木在森林裡邂逅 創作出EMBERS的林 在筆直的杉木林中 挑選了三根柳杉 從伐木開始 我們一起參與 透過曲木製作與雕琢 期待在空間中重生 溝通的火花裡 曲木的製作如同料理 我們朔源以國產材的使用出發 透過設計、前處理、蒸氣、彎曲 雕朔成型 像是一道料理的呈現 用心對待 EMBERS的存在 想說的不是我們 而是遇見了這土地上用心經營每一專業的人們 期待你們親臨感受 We fortunately encountered Curvink Architects in the forest There we meet three cedars in the woodland Logging with the lumbermen we brought the trees back to Embers Bending and steaming the timbers just like what we do in our kitchen From farm to table From forest to bar Understanding, pre-processing, cooking and shaping with heart It’s exactly assemble to the dishes we present We would talk more than just about us More about the precious people who devote their talents to this land to share with you Looking forward to meet you here We are Embers #embers #曲墨建築師事務所 #正昌製材廠
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Chef Wes is the perfect personification of Embers, the glowing hot coal that remains after the fire, looking like the aftermath but packs more penetrative heat than you can ever imagine. I look forward to my first impression at his new restaurant. But damn, I wish he's here!

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