Friday, January 24, 2014

The Chao Phraya River Cruise finally, at the end of my 5th calendar year in Bangkok

Boarding the Grand Pearl before 3 hours cruising on the majestic Chao Phraya River

While the political tension has continued to heat up, temperatures in Bangkok have hit new lows. I am writing now wearing a jacket at home, shivering at 18degC, though it's slightly 'warmer' than yesterday's 15.6degC, which was Bangkok's coldest day in 3 decades.

December 2013 marked the end of my 5th calendar year in Bangkok (yes, I moved here in August 2009), and what a month it was. I spent a brilliant few days with a good friend from Singapore (played EscapeHunt, visited Ayuthaya and the sunflowers in Lop Buri) before welcoming back my family, then subsequently went to Jim Thompson Farm and camping at Farm Chokchai in the 'extreme cold'. I even managed to find time to finally do a couple of 'must-dos' for tourists - viewing Bangkok from 84 storeys at Baiyoke Sky Hotel and cruising the Chao Phraya River.

Congratulations Nat and Mew!
Perhaps, one of the most meaningful things I did among the many unforgettable events was to attend Nat and Mew's beautiful wedding. As I told Nat many times, I had been waiting for this moment for YEARS, to the point I wasn't even sure whether it was going to happen, but all of a sudden, it did, and I am extremely pleased for both of them.

What a beautiful couple

Having a picture with the groom before boarding the ferry

How can we miss out on a family portrait

It was also because of them that Li Li and I had the opportunity to embark on our first ever cruise along the Chao Phraya River. I would like to thank the couple again, because there were limited seats on the ferry, and to be one of the guests invited on board to celebrate with them was an absolute privilege.

Many friends of mine have already done the cruise as tourists, and though none of them said it was very good, none of them complained about it as well. The service and food were decent, a mix of live band and Thai traditional dance performances kept everyone occupied, but if the weather is bearable, I do recommend choosing an outdoor Alfresco dining seat as the star of the experience is most definitely the view, as the ferry cruises for 3 hours, giving you brilliant views of both sides of the Chao Phraya.

Wat Arun looks better at night than it does in the day
Did you even know that there's such a beautiful bridge in Bangkok? This is the Rama VIII Bridge.
If you don't wish to join the squeeze at Asiatique, looking from afar's pretty cool too

Ok, now my verdict.

Like my other friends, I feel though there's nothing to shout about, there's absolutely nothing to complain about too. If you are in Bangkok and just can't find a place to spend your evening, the Chao Phraya River Cruise might just be the solution to all your headaches. Who knows, like me, you might end up writing good things about it after the experience.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Not a very good 1st of January 2014 for Daddy Eddie indeed.....

Brushing teeth has to be Noah's least favourite daily activity, and I have used many ways to make sure he behaved during each session. For the last week or so, I 'threatened' to leave him alone in the room, but two nights ago, it stopped working. So, I started to switch off the lights before leaving the room to make it more 'scary' for him, which did the trick.

Last night, Noah decided to play punk and asked me to leave the room even before I flashed the toothbrush at him. I was a little taken aback by his rudeness, so decided to switch off the lights and walk out immediately, closing the door behind me.

Alas, when I turned back to open the door to confront him, the door was locked! Noah was stuck, keys in the room, lights off, laying on a new mattress that measured at least 70cm off the floor. My wife, understandably, became very worried, and Noah soon started wailing. I was never a handyman myself, so it was fortunate that we stayed in a condominium with technicians standing by 24hours. I frantically rushed out to call for assistance, and within 10-15 minutes, with the help of a kind neighbour and the resident technician, the lock was broken. Thankfully Noah was still sobbing on the bed, unscathed.

Looking back at the whole incident, I can only count my blessings that the only tangible result of it is a couple of days with a lock-less door. Honestly, it could have been worse, I mean, really really bad. I cannot imagine what would have happened if Noah fell off the bed, tripped in the dark while making his way to the door, or suffered prolonged trauma if I did not find skilled help in time (or worse still, a combination of all of the above).

This has served as a shocking reminder of the level of ineptitude I have as a husband and father. 2013 was an exceptionally challenging year for the family, with Noah going through a difficult growing phase and both Li Li and myself forced to adjust our lifestyles to accommodate him.

It did not help that the Thailand economy and politics went through a disastrous patch and I was given the added responsibility of setting up a 2nd company during this non-ideal period. Whenever I thought I was really doing my best to balance everything and make them my absolute priority regardless, things happen to bring me back down to earth. What happened last night was no doubt my rudest awakening.

Over the last 3 years, be it through my utter ignorance, severe lack of tact when I say things, or sheer carelessness, I have never failed to continually cause immense pressure to my wife or trauma to my son, no matter how hard I had been trying make everything else as perfect as possible.

I am never going to un-Eddie myself, but my wife and son are here solely because of me, shouldn't I buck up and consciously do a better job to make their sacrifice worthwhile?

So here's my 1 and only resolution for 2014, that is to minimize my shortcomings and maximize my potential to become the perfect husband and Daddy (if I had any in the first place).

The hard work starts now, I hope it's not too late.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Thailand Winter Getaway Series Part 3: Sunflowers @ Lop Buri

Happy New Year everyone! It's my 1st post in 2014!

With winter slowly but surely coming to an end, I shall draw a temporary conclusion to my series with the my first getaway during the cool season: visiting sunflower fields in Lop Buri, which I did with my Singaporean friends Yaohui and Wendy (who are also proudly gracing my latest banner) before Li Li and Noah came back from Singapore.

The lame trio

It was not so long ago that I deliberately flew to the Netherlands to visit Keukenhof (and made some life-long vows there), the world-famous tulip garden which only opens a couple of months a year, and passed by endless yellow patches of canola while in the UK. Little did I know that I could have enjoyed similar splendor in nearby Thailand as well. One of the locations to witness this is in the province of Lop Buri, 3 hours drive up north from Bangkok, which is famous for its monkeys, Pa Sak Dam and most of all, sunflowers.

A bright yellow sunflower will never fail to brighten anyone's day

A sunflower field magnifies the happiness a million times 

Don't go too late because the sunflowers start to droop a little in the afternoon

There isn't much English information online with regards to the exact locations of the sunflower patches. Most instructions tell us to drive in the general direction of Lop Buri and watch out for signs, which are not necessarily useful because many signs will be in Thai. I did not drive, so unfortunately I cannot give you much information too, but I can tell you that you might want to go towards the direction of the city centre of Lop Buri. There you will pass by un-commercialised sunflower farms in front of bare mountains called Khao Jiin Lae.

The location of the sunflower fields we visited, if this means anything to anyone

If you headed the way we did, towards Pa Sak Dam (pretty decent local family hangout place but really nothing to shout about), you will only see a few smaller commercialised patches providing parking, toilets, photo-spots and sunflower-related merchandise in return for a small entrance fee. The size of the fields are pretty underwhelming though, but heck, since we went all the way there, we decided to make the most of our time and enjoy ourselves anyway. Besides, a sunflower patch, big or small, will light up anyone's day.

Yaohui and myself sharing a laugh in front of the short mini sunflowers


On our way back, we decided to make a quick stop at Ayuthaya since we were passing by. Ayuthaya is an ex-capital of Siam and had witnessed a lot of internal and regional warfare. Much of Thailand's history can be seen and felt here through the beauty and tranquility in its many temples and ruins.

Food-wise, Ayuthaya is most famous for its fresh river shrimp, as most of the best shrimp farms are located here. They are succulent, grilled-to-perfection, cheaper and easily found in many local restaurants.

Not been a fan of river shrimp, but those in Ayuthaya are really quite delicious

Overall, I must admit that if we had taken the correct route to Khao Jiin Lae, I might have felt that the sunflowers were much more spectacular and that Lop Buri is a must-go destination. Unfortunately, the route I went meant that there are many other places which might give you a similar view (see here, on the way to Jim Thompson Farm), though they are all relatively long drives from Bangkok.

If you couple your daytrip with a visit to the historical province of Ayuthaya, like us, then I would definitely say that it is a trip worth going, particularly during the cool winter, as the sunflowers only bloom for a month annually, and it's usually blistering hot or terribly rainy in Ayuthaya during other parts of the year.

Our only proper picture together, taken in Ayuthaya
I am very pleased with the new little series I have started, as it helps me preserve precious memories as well as give good recommendations to all my readers like you while you are making your travel decisions in Thailand. This is by no means the end of the series, as I will most definitely visit many more places when the next winter arrives.

Meanwhile, have a happy new year, and may 2014 be a year of joy and immense family bliss for all of you.

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