Chiang Rai Flower Festival 2009 ...


Upgrading by Downsizing ...

When our old pocket camera died, I got a Sony H-7.  Big zoom and lightweight enough but no RAW and definitely not a pock camera.  Never was completely satisfied with the picture quality.  My wife never really took to it and recently had been asking about a new pocket camera that she could throw in her bag.

Not thinking it practical to have separate cameras that only one of us would use, I did some searching.  There are some new small cameras with the ability to change lenses but they were a bit too expensive and defeated the purpose of the pocket camera. 

Then I came across the Canon S-90, found it at the local supermarket and showed it to the wife.  Reasonable price and she liked it, so that is our New Year present to each other.  A definite upgrade in a smaller package, that I will also enjoy using on my little adventures.  Okay, not very romantic but very practical and we are both happy. 

We bought it after our trip to the annual Flower Festival here in Chiang Rai, so those upcoming pictures were taken with the old camera.

Last day of 2009 here in the Rai, so Happy New Year!

Getting excited

It's 4 weeks today that I land in Christchurch, New Zealand which is mental and bloody brilliant. I'll try to keep a blog updated for all my lovely family and friends to have an idea of what I'm getting up to.

Tomorrow I'm getting my Malaria tablets and buying some trousers with zips on to make it a bit less likely that I lose my wallet or get robbed when I'm sleeping on park benches.

Old Phuket Local Life Street Festival

On Sunday evening there was another of these little-promoted local festivals in Phuket Town - although this one had been mentioned in the local news websites and judging by the number of foreigners I saw, the word had got out. In fact there are meant to be live music events regularly in the old town.

This event is organised by the Phuket Old Town Foundation, who I think do a great job of keeping the old town safe from development and making sure that Phuket keeps a sense of history despite the tourist invasion and huge developments in infrastructure are real estate in the last 15 years. Some parts of Phuket Town really do retain an old world feel, which has been helped in recent months by work to remove all overhead cables along Thalang Road. The work has now been completed and Thalang Road, along with the very quaint Soi Romanee, is looking great. I think the area looked even better at night with many small bars and restaurants and all the street stalls and entertainment for this 1 night only festival.

Part of Thalang road was closed to traffic for the night, and Soi Romanee was also made a walking street. I parked just north of Soi Romanee and headed down there first.

Lottery ticket seller on Soi Romanee

Outside the Glastnost bar on Soi Romanee

There was live music at the Glastnost bar - see photo above, with many people sitting outside enjoying a cold drink. I have meant to visit this bar for ages, they often play Jazz music here and my parents (who used to go to Jazz clubs back in the 60's) made friends with the owner when they visited Phuket last time.

On Thalang Road, lot of stalls selling local foods....



 

If you want to sample some local dishes, a street festival or a market such as the weekend market is a good place to find a huge variety of things to eat without having to spend more than 20 or 30 Baht for a dish. Hint - there is another fair starting this week - the Red Cross fair at Sapan Hin, in the south of Phuket Town is running until 9th January.

There was street entertainment along Thalang Road and plenty of happy faces. Festivals and markets are great for people watching and for photos - I was happy with the night photos here - taken with my EOS 20D and a 10-22mm wide angle lens with ISO set to 1600 or 3200 so no flash was needed.

Next years X Factor winner?

Live rock music on Thalang Road, Phuket Town

Street performers on Thalang Road



At the end of the street at stage was set up with a large screen - during the time I was there, a play was being staged with actors playing roles depicting the history of Phuket (and yes there is a lot of history here). I believe later there was also some music and dancing on stage. There were VIP tables in front of the stage for Phuket's great and good.



More photos of this festival on Facebook

The aim of this blog has always tended to show the "other side" of Phuket - not the crowded beaches or bars but the local life, the quiet spots, the places that I like to go with the family. Hope this can continue in 2010 - things get busy during high season, so sometimes I have nothing to blog except maybe adding a hotel recommendation - would be nice to have more time, but that's not possible right now. Hope to do a few things after New Year that will be of interest to everyone... or at least someone.

In the meantime, Happy New Year from Phuket!

Hotel Recommendation: Ibis Kata Beach

Having just reviewed one brand new resort at Kata Beach (Avista), would you believe it, there's another one just opened recently. World economic downturn be damned! New hotels are a very good thing in a place like Phuket. There has to be growth and renewal in the tourist areas or things might start to get a bit old and stale. Even if occupancy is down this year, there's a strong likelihood that by next year the economies of the world will be on the up again and my guess is that people who maybe cut back on holidays this year will be already saving for an overseas trip. So - hope to see you in Phuket!

The Ibis brand is promoted as kind of new and trendy, inexpensive and with everything you need for a great holiday... in other words, nothing too flash... hotels that have the same brand over the world may not suit everyone, maybe they tend to be a bit like a "fast-food hotel". You know exactly what you're going to get no matter which country you are in. If you want something more original, best look again at my recommended Phuket hotels list, but if you want new, clean, smily and fresh.. oh, and inexpensive.. (check the rates here).. Ibis is about right.

We stayed one time at the Ibis Hua Hin, and had a great nights sleep, everything was just right, and not expensive!

The hotel is near (not on) Kata Beach, about a 5 minute walk to the sand. It's in the Kata Center area at the north end of Kata Beach with a lot of restaurants and shops nearby. The only Starbucks in the Kata/Karon area is a few minutes away, as is the Dino Park Mini Golf.

Ibis Kata Hotel - Booking Online

Ibis Kata Beach - Rates and Reservations
Ibis Kata Beach - Reviews


Ibis Kata - Photos

Ibis Kata Entrance

Ibis Kata Lobby ar

Ibis Kata - Family Room

Phuket Hotels - More Info & Online Booking

Jamie's Phuket Hotel Recommendations
Top 10 Phuket Hotels 2016
Book Phuket Hotels at Agoda.com

The Chiang Rai Hash, Again? ...

I am nothing, if not a man of contradictions.  Where is the fun in being predictable, steadfast and never changing ones mind?  It is the simple mind that sticks rigidly to an idea or belief, fearful of a change of direction or even asking questions.  Fearful that fingers will be pointed and contradictions pointed out.  Where is this leading, one might ask?  It is leading to the fact that we went to another Hash House Harriers, yesterday.

Considering the trouble I got into the last time I went and wrote about the Hash, one would be justified in asking me, “Why?”.  Well, I will get to that but the obnoxious answer would be “Why not?”.  To be honest, I was even asked when I could be expected to pen something about this outing, to which I laughed and replied that I might abstain this time around.  So here I am contradicting that response as well, in the manner of my own choosing.  Not constrained by Hashly etiquette or protocol I am able to do, or not do, as I wish.

Perhaps I should start off by explaining how this all came about.  From the very beginning I had ulterior motives for attending the Hash, even the first time.  One might say I go to the Hash, in spite of the Hash, not because of it.  There just aren’t that many places where farangs of the Rai, gather in the light of day.  Of course one sees them in BigC and Makro, but it is not the done thing, to acknowledge those to whom you have not been properly introduced.  Something we have picked up from the Thais, no doubt.  So the Hash presents an opportunity to meet others, that you might not otherwise cross paths with.  Sometimes that is a good thing, the not crossing paths part.  Sometimes you get lucky and meet a like minded soul or someone you can at least enjoy a conversation with.

We happen to know and like the hosts of the Christmas Hash and have been to their house before.  Though we frequent the city seldom, on two recent occasions our paths crossed.  Most recently at Makro, where they extended an invitation to the Hash they were hosting.  Okay, so they were just being polite, but my wife wanted to go.  Not that my wife would ever be so straightforward in acknowledging her desire.  With a healthy dose of that uniquely Thai notion of “Krengjai” she queried as to whether I would be too putout if we tried another Hash.

She knows full well that I have never refused her anything, but still she doesn’t wish to impose or appear to come off as pushy.  With her typically Thai distaste for confrontation, she asked if I would feel uncomfortable in going again and perhaps bumping into someone of disagreeable  manner.  I assured her that no one was going to ruffle my feathers and I was quite capable of fending for myself.  My only consideration was what she wanted and nothing else mattered.

On the day we arrived a bit early to secure a safe and convenient parking space along the side of the soi.  There were quite a few new faces, new to me at least, so I basked in my anonymity.  There were a few who were surprised to see me, and the look on their faces, was worth the 65 km trip.

As others mounted the farm lories to be driven to the starting point, a few of us and one lovely chocolate lab, proceeded on foot.  We did come for a walk after all.  I was determined to approach things differently this time.  To that end, we decided to linger near the back. 

In a rush of testosterone, all the male bluster and bravado vanished into the forested hills.  Most of the way I was accompanied by four women and two children.  I have always appreciated the company of women.  We were familiar with two of the women, being the hosts of this and the previous Hash we attended.  We probably did more talking than walking.  Discussing life, health, events and travel, made for a very enjoyable, social stroll through beautiful surroundings. 

One of the children with us, looked as though he would be much happier in front of the computer or a playstation, and seemed to be suffering a bit.  He was a trooper, however, and suffered in silence.  With no other men anywhere to be seen, I slowed my stride as we all adjusted our pace to that of our lumbering young friend.

After a lovely walk, we were the last to arrive at the pickup point.  This time, no one turned down the ride.  There was food and drink for all and a little entertainment for the kids.  All of whom, went home with a lovely Christmas Poinsettia.  As the more Hashy stuff began, we quietly said our goodbyes to our hosts, and slipped off into the darkness.  Apparently not the thing to do but seemed best for us.

It was after dark, with a long drive ahead of us but we opted to make a brief stop at the walking street to purchase some food to take home, from the many vendors that line the side soi we frequent.  All in all, it was a good day and we found a way to make it work for us, without detracting from the enjoyment of others with differing sensibilities. 

So will we do it again?  Truthfully, I couldn’t say.  If my wife expresses an interest, then I guess you know what my answer would be.

A New Portrait and a Giveaway!

Remember Sunday night's post about Kenzoil, the awesome garlicky-basil salad dressing/dip/marinade made from cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil? Well, the makers of Kenzoil want to give one yummy bottle to a random commenter.

If you want to be entered in the giveaway, just leave a comment at the bottom of this post about what you'd do with Kenzoil if ya had some. On Friday morning (around 10 a.m. CST), I'll use a random number generator to pick a lucky winner. Be sure and leave me a way to contact you (like an e-mail address) if your identity isn't linked another blog. Oh, and the contest is only open to U.S. residents, due to shipping costs.

Besides this exciting giveaway, I also want to share my new portrait with you guys. Here I am at Deja Vu Creole Vegetarian Restaurant in Memphis (936 S. Florida St., if you're ever in town), about to chow down on some BBQ tofu, collard greens, and vegan candied yams:

The photo was taken by Amie Vanderford, an awesome photographer who is currently aiming to shoot 365 Memphians (one a day) for one whole year. In the end, she'll compile the photos into a book.

Amie said she sought out "cool people" in an attempt to show folks that if 365 cool Memphians exist, then Memphis must be a cool place. I didn't know Amie before the shoot, but one of her other subjects recommended me. I'm honored to be considered cool enough for Amie's project, and I'm super-happy to have this fun photo of me in my natural state — about to cram food in my mouth. She asked me to choose my favorite spot in Memphis, so of course I chose a restaurant that serves vegan soul food.

Here's a link to Amie's website if you want to see her other gorgeous photos!

Kenzoil: A Product Review

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by the makers of Kenzoil, a salad dressing/dip/marinade made from cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, fresh basil, and fresh garlic, about reviewing their product. The bottle arrived last week and I've been putting it on EVERYTHING ever since.

I have to admit, I did think the name was a little strange at first. It sounds more like something you'd put in your car than on your salad. But after reading a little history on the product's website, I learned that Kenzoil was created by a guy named Ken from Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was looking to create a salad dressing with no sugar or vinegar for a food combining diet he was following. The result was "Ken's Oil," later changed to Kenzoil. The oil was a hit with Ken's friends and eventually at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market. Now it's a hit with me too!

When I first tasted the oil, I immediately thought it'd make a great bread-dipping oil. It's super-garlicky, which was the perfect accent for this slice of whole wheat beer bread:

And it was delicious tossed with some cubed red potatoes and baked at 450 degrees for about 30 minutes:

But my favorite use of Kenzoil was mixed with balsamic vinegar and tossed with a side salad:

The Kenzoil took my ordinary side salad — romaine, carrots, red bell pepper, and vegan bacon bits — up so many notches.

Right now, Kenzoil is only available in Whole Foods stores in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri and Nebraska. But thankfully, the product is also available by mail order through Kenzoil's website.

Road to Doi Phatang, A Motorcycle Adventure...

This can’t be real.  This can’t be me.  Its dark, its cold, its late and I am still on my motorcycle, riding through villages thick with smoke.  At least I’m nearing home.  What is that eerie orange glow in the sky?  
As if in unison, the villagers were burning their massive mounds of rice-straw, leftover from the harvest.  Dozens of bright orange, flickering mountains of fire, and hanging above each, a gigantic glowing cloud of smoke.  
Somewhere in the midst of this inferno, I could just make out the silhouette of our house in the field.  Having previously taken careful note of distances from our house, of each and every potential inferno, I was not overly concerned.  Still ones heart sinks each year when this bacchanal, love fest of fire occurs.  
Anticipating an edict that, “Thou shalt not burn.”, there is a mad rush to set alight all that is flammable, before that day comes.  Not that they stop burning, when told not to.  Just that it is more difficult to evade detection when there might be someone watching.  So by the time the order comes down, most of the damage has already been done.
With the dawn of morning, as first light broke upon this chilly, foggy day, I had no notion that it would end the way it had.  Earlier in the week we had not felt well enough to accept a camping invitation to Doi Chang with a Farang friend and his Thai family.  Last night, feeling better, I did say yes to a Thai friend who wanted to ride our Phantoms to Doi Phatang, high in the mountains overlooking the Lao boarder, past Phu Chi Faa. 
Riding to our rendezvous point, I was shivering from the cold, as the fog clung to my visor obscuring my view.  I was greeted with a welcome cup of hot tea and warmed up while we waited for our third rider.  Briefly there were four of us, as we bumped into someone else at the gas station, but the trip was really two Fire Edition Phantoms and a Kawasaki Boss.  As we reached the foothills and started up the first steep road to Phu Chi Faa, my friend’s Phantom died with no warning.  
Repairs were attempted, but failed.  It was decided to leave the bike and continue the trip, with my two Thai companions doubled up on the Boss.  There were no further incidents but we took it quite easy as the roads were very twisty, steep and covered with loose gravel on many of the bends.  Some areas had washed out during the rainy season, so there were dirt detours and makeshift wooden bridges in places.
Higher up the mountain we stopped to visit another friend who has a school for young mountain children and bungalows for visitors or tourist from Bangkok.  The four of us sat around talking of culture, business, politics and life.  All of us being worldly and travelled, topics were varied, animated and much to my liking.  I must say, I could not hide my pleasure or my smile when our host was so adamant that the four of us must be of the same age.  Thais often maintain friendships within a narrow range of age and socioeconomic background, so being ten years older, I was delighted being seen as a peer.
We continued on to our destination, arriving in time for lunch, followed by obligatory shopping, visiting with vendors and taking pictures of the area.  On the way we stopped to take pictures of the cabbage patches that blanket the slopes but sped past the onion patches as there was less going on.  

Looking at the map it was decided not to retrace our path, but to take a slightly longer but better maintained route back, lower down the mountain.  Even with the haze, the views and atmosphere were fantastic.  The twists and turns provided an intensive course of maneuvering, braking and gear selection.  I would have preferred not to be driving directly into the setting sun, in the end that was but a minor annoyance.
Eventually we made it back to where we had left the lifeless Phantom, and in the goodness of time, managed to load it in the back of a pickup truck and have it taken to a shop in Thoeng, as we followed.  From there it was back to my friend’s house.  
Friends safely delivered and the contents of my saddlebags sorted, I was ready to leave.  “But you can’t leave.  We have made dinner and you simply must stay and eat.”  As I “waied” to all, I explained that my wife would be very worried about me riding my motorcycle after dark and I really needed to get home.  After all I had never driven at night, steadfastly considering it too foolhardy to do so.  
Had I been on my own, the day would have been much different.  Not better but different and more controlled.  It was definitely more fun with others but with that came more difficulties and responsibilities.  It was easier being a follower most of the way, with no need to make decisions.  It also meant that I was driving home alone on a dark, cold, smokey night with many hazards along the way.
Returning well after dark, to the relief on my wife and the joy of my dog, I was soon relating the events of the day.  It struck me that just the other night, while we enjoyed luxuriating in a hot aromatic bath, the wife and I had been discussing our differing outlook on group activities.  For me, more people means more responsibility, stress and less freedom of action.  For my wife, more people means more fun, less stress and more security.  
The day’s events provided excellent object lessons for both points of view.  I think it was clear to both of us, that it is not really an either/or decision on most occasions.  It is more of a balancing act, where we weigh the needs of those involved, against the task at hand.  Sometimes choosing one path over another and sometimes compromising as we strike a balance between the two.
So in spite of it being dark, and cold, and late, and decidedly not me, it was very real indeed.  In all, a good day where I stepped out of my comfort zone.  A day filled with beauty, friendship, camaraderie, overcoming adversity, compromise, new experiences and the simple undeniable joy of riding a motorcycle in the mountains of Chiang Rai.

My Sweet Holiday Cupcake

A few weeks ago, the publisher of My Sweet Vegan contacted me about reviewing Hannah Kaminsky's much sought-after vegan dessert cookbook. Of course I said hell yes! I've been drooling over Hannah's luscious-looking desserts on other people's blogs for way too long.

But drool no more (well, actually I guess I'm drooling even more now that the book is in my possession). It's filled with mouth-watering full-color photos of cakes, pies, tarts, scones, and cookies. She even has a recipe for Matzoh Toffee, which the lovely Stephanie of Poopie Bitch made me for Xmas last year. So, so delicious. It made me sad that I didn't grow up in a Jewish household, eating that stuff all my life!

For my first My Sweet Vegan creation, I decided on the Not Nog Cupcakes — a perfect holiday cake and a wonderful excuse to splurge on a carton of Silk Nog:

I also got a chance to use the vintage holly berry cupcake toppers I ordered from Estelle's Sweet Baking Supply on Etsy.com.

As for the cakes, they are absolutely delicious! Unfortunately, I overfilled about half of the cupcake liners, so several spilled over. And that caused the tops to rip off a couple. But that was no fault of the recipe ... just my silly baking blunder. The cake batter was thicker than what I'm used to and I didn't realize I was over-filling. Oops!

The glaze — a mixture of brown sugar, corn syrup, and dark rum – added a delicious hearty sweetness. I subbed a mixture of evaporated cane juice and water for the corn syrup, a substitution recommendation I found here on the Taste of Home website. I'm not a big fan of conventional corn syrup and that's all that is available in the stores near my house. I didn't have time to make the 20-minute drive to Whole Foods for an organic syrup. But the substitution seemed to work just fine.

There are loads more recipes I'd like to make from My Sweet Vegan, so stay tuned. And I just received another bundle of vegan cookbooks — all dessert cookbooks — from the Farm's Book Publishing Company to review. Plus, I'm still fleshing out the dessert section for my cookbook. Needless to say, you'll likely see more sweet treats on my blog this December!