Friday, December 27, 2013

The Thailand Winter Getaway Series Part 2: Camp @ Farm Chokchai ฟาร์มโชคชัย

My first tent in 20 years.

I was 13 when I slept for my first and only time in a tent. It was in Sentosa (Singapore) during a mid-year school camp. I remember clearly how I fought with some of my classmates over the concept of our Talentime performance (which managed to win the big prize), and also how my first and only sleep in a tent was a muddy flooded one as torrential rain poured over our campsite and we had to move into a huge hall in the middle of the night. It was really a case of 'been there done that' for me.

Camp @ Farm Chokchai!

It took me 20 more years before embarking on my 2nd and definitely not my last camping expedition. Part of me wanted to do something unique with Li Li and Noah, the rest of me gave full trust to what Farm Chokchai is capable of, bearing in mind the excellence of their agro-tour and how much we loved their fresh milk ice-cream, surely they will not charge campers 3500THB per tent per night and give us a disappointing experience right? So here's to share some highlights of our stay as well as give a few pointers to make your stay a better one:

1. A 'real' camping experience

One thing Chokchai did perfectly was to give their campers a 'real' camping experience. We slept in tents pitched close to each other, surrounded by greenery, with no TV and a need to use a communal toilet. Why I emphasised 'real' in inverted commas is because there is enough in the tent to free campers from all worries bar the bitter cold (12degrees Celsius) which the in-tent air-conditioning cannot do anything about.

Bath robe, insect repellant, torch, umbrellas, towels, toiletries, laundry bag, ice box with drinks, even air-conditioning
A bed! Not the most comfortable bed, but still, a bed in the tent!

Writing table, lamp, mirror, tissue. No TV, which is brilliant

Noah playing high-5 with mummy, not caring that he was trapped outside in the cold
Time to wake up!
View of the campsite in the day

How long since we had a couple pic like this?

2. Answering nature's call nature's way

No one will leave Camp@ Farm Chokchai without mentioning their toilets.

I have finally found the toilet.

What the?! Where's the toilet bowl and how can I do my business when the toilet isn't complete?
Ok, it's complete, it's meant for us to answer the call of nature in the nature.
The view while you're sitting on your throne.
Doesn't get much better during your shower as well
Even though we trusted the level of privacy in this open concept, we ultimately did not take our showers, because in temperatures as low as 12 degrees Celsius, it would be freezing cold to bathe under such circumstances.

3. Burgers over steaks, and lay your hands off their pasta

There's breakfast included in the package, but if you are looking for something to eat at other times of the day, I have some advice. Many would be drawn to the famous Chokchai steakhouse, but having eaten there before, I can conclude that their steaks are generally not worth the price. Their pork chops are pretty good value, and please lay your hands off their grossly overcooked pastas.

Instead, there is something that Chokchai does pretty well, their burgers (only available in the day).

Totally loving it
At 150THB for their original steakburger (pork/beef) with full option (cheese, caramelized onion and bacon), this makes the best meal in the entire Farm Chokchai facility, particularly if you wash it down with their excellent dairy drinks.

4. Plan your stay to be before or after Farm Chokchai's agro-tour

I am not going to spend too much time here as I have written a pretty detailed piece on this a few years ago and nothing much has changed since. But it simply means that the award-winning family-friendly tour is still worth going, especially if you have kids with you. This camping experience will work perfectly with the farm tour, besides, what's the point of camping here if you do not know anything about the farm itself?

Noah did not feed the deer himself, but he got very very close to them

5. Immerse your children in the fun!

Noah really enjoyed himself during the trip

Our 2-day-1-night trip to the 2 farms was a huge success, largely thanks to the magnificent weather and the angelic behaviour of Noah, who honestly had the power to totally destroy the trip if he wanted to. I have heard of parents who prefer to leave their little babies and toddlers at home until they are older and are able to remember their vacations. I beg to differ. We have been bringing Noah out since he was 4 months' old and he has enjoyed himself every single time. Of course, there is always an element of risk that a little baby might spoil the mood of a leisure trip (on top of the added amount of packing required), but his exposure to the fresh sights and sounds is better than any lesson we can give him at home.

Dancing with his hat in the tent

So, while the cold winter will still be here for a few days yet, where shall we go next?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Thailand Winter Getaway Series Part 1: Jim Thompson Farm จิม ทอมป์สัน ฟาร์ม

Merry Christmas everyone!

The festive season is here again. Though there's no public holiday here in Thailand and I expect myself to work till I drop today, it will not dampen my Christmas mood, not when I am soaking in a wintry low temperature of 17degrees Celsius writing this.

There is always a week or two every year here when the weather will become nice and cool, but never has it dropped to the lows of 16degrees Celsius. This has lasted for more than a week and is expected to continue at least until the end of the year! In the midst of all the political chaos, the brilliant weather has to be one of the silver linings in an extremely cloudy sky looming over Bangkok now.

This weather has also prompted me to go for more than 1 weekend getaway this month, and I feel it's appropriate to start a series on this topic, to help all my readers plan family getaways in Thailand during the annual cool season, starting with Jim Thompson Farm.

I believe everyone recognizes the words Jim Thompson through its international chain of shops selling his famous silk products. Less people know that this American man who revitalized the silk industry in Thailand made a legendary exit from prominence after successfully completing a disappearing act in Malaysia after he set off on a leisurely afternoon stroll. Even though he was never found, and reasons for his evaporation never known, Jim Thompson has most definitely left a lasting legacy which could last generations after him.

I chose to feature Jim Thompson Farm first in my series is due to the fact that it is only open for 1 month a year (*GASP!), so everyone interested after reading this better start planning a trip because this time, it is only open from 14 December 2013 through 12 January 2014, from 9am to 5pm everyday.

Without boring you with more lengthy writing, I will summarize the farm's highlights into 4 main categories:

1. Flowers and other vegetation not called Pumpkin

It's not easy to find large patches of blooming flowers in Bangkok, unless you consider the King Rama 9 Park as one, but then, it looks more deliberate than natural there. Here, you can find an abundance of flower patches with different flowers with mountains as backdrop, certainly very refreshing for city folks like us.


My darlings enjoying the flowers
Endless patch of pink flowers

Bottle Gourd lesson for Noah

2. Pumpkins galore!

Pumpkins have always been pretty interesting for me. They are delicious, versatile, uber nutritious and come in all shapes and sizes. The folks at Jim Thompson are proud of their ability to cultivate various species of pumpkin and they should be. A trip to the farm is equivalent to a pumpkin lesson.

Giant pumpkin made of little ones, which becomes a pumpkin species lesson after you enter

Picture taken inside the giant pumpkin, look at the variety available, there's even one named "Jack Be Little"
Family pic taken in front of the giant pumpkin
Butternut Squash spell "N', and "N" is for "Noah"!
"Drive drive drive! Noah driving in the car!"

3. Understanding of the silk production process

Jim Thompson is most famous for their silk products, so the production of silk is naturally the main spirit of their farm. Here, the process of rearing silkworms and how they finally get the end product is clearly explained and demonstrated.

The life cycle of a silkworm
Weaving some spectacular smooth shiny purple Thai silk

4. Sights and sounds of village living

I come from Kuching, a place where natives roam the land and where there might be more wooden houses built on stilts than most other places in the world, so even though Jim Thompson Farm tries to showcase many things in a village-style setting, for me, it's nothing much to shout about so I will not spend too much time on this aspect.

Jim Thompson fabric displayed in the Isan Village

One of the signature sights at the Farm, but too many people around to take a really good picture of it.
As you can expect, the trip ends with a walk through their shop, where you can get your hands on all their products and bring them home, ranging from vegetables, food items, live plants and silk products, so even though the entrance fee is only 140THB per adult, be prepared to spend much more per head before you leave.

The final verdict is that though there is nothing to really go "Wow" about at Jim Thompson Farm, there is enough to keep the whole family occupied for at least 4 to 5 hours. Keeping in mind that it is only open for a month (less than 3 weeks left this time round), any bored family in and around Bangkok should seriously consider paying it a visit, especially in this chilly weather.

If you are going to drive yourself, it's going to take you a good 4 hours drive from Bangkok (and the same time back). A day trip will be highly exhausting, but here's something that might cheer you up along the way, if you keep your eyes wide open.

A decent-sized plot of sunflowers, consider Lop Buri covered as well after you take pictures like this!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Hidden Dining Jewels in Suburban Bangkok: Saen Aroy Pochana แสนอร่อย โภชนา, Udomsuk 49

Front of Saen Aroy. I do like the logo very much

Have you ever been to a restaurant in your vicinity for the first time, and realised how silly you were to not have patronised it earlier? If you have, this is the exact feeling I had after visiting this restaurant with my friend and neighbour Wendy last weekend.

Saen Aroy Pochana is a simple dining establishment along Udomsuk (by the main road before the entrance to Soi 49) serving Thai-Chinese cuisine (think Somboon or Jae Ngor). The interior is clean and simple, with a glass panel separating the dining hall from the kitchen, which makes things interesting for people like myself who like to observe the happenings in any professional kitchen. As it was our first time, we did not know what to expect. We just picked a few dishes from the list of chef recommendations and let the food do the talking.

Braised duck tongue, pretty good, but not amazing

Shrimp with Glass Noodle, there were at least 5 shrimps of this size. Pretty good, but still not the star of the show.

Simple stir-fried bittergourd shoots

Special mention has to go to the bittergourd shoots. If anyone is familiar with the standard Thai-style vegetable stirfry, you will realise that too many chefs mix the raw vegetables with all required condiments before pouring everything into a hot wok at one go to complete the cooking process. I am in no position to judge cooking methods, but this kind of Thai-style stirfry is unlikely to bring out the deep fragrance of different elements in the dish and more importantly, not able to infuse the "wok hei" ("锅气“)into the vegetables. This"wok hei" sets this vegetable dish apart from the standard vegetable stirfry in Thailand, and I am glad I found a place to enjoy it.

The unexpected star of the show, fried shrimp roll.

If a restaurant should be judged by how well it makes the simplest stuff, Saen Aroy must be up there with the best. Aside of an excellent vegetable stirfry, the best of the 4 dishes had to be this very humble deep-fried shrimp rolls. Saen Aroy's shrimp rolls taste like they are made of nothing but the freshest shrimp, minced to perfection, leaving bite-sized chunks to enhance the springy texture of every bite. I can't find the right adjectives to describe this dish, but I can only say that this is the best shrimp roll I have tasted in Bangkok and will definitely order it during all my future visits (it's THAT good).

Update on 8th December 2014

Another must-try, steamed sea bass with lemon. Very much tangier and spicier than other common more soupy versions in other restaurants. Fish is always perfectly cooked.

I have now been to Saen Aroy countless times, with family, friends and business associates. Their consistency and level of service has been commendable, and will certainly continue to be one of my top choices for dining out.

stranger in bangkok

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What Daddy Missed

I missed your first trip to the zoo (and bird park)
Dear Noah

It's been a month now since we parted. 26 consecutive days of working with extensive traveling only served as a reminder to how much I love being with you and Mummy every single day.

I have missed an important month of your growth, and many important moments I wish I could have witnessed with my very own eyes.

I missed you making this expression for the first time.

I missed you negotiating your first successful piece of business

I missed you building your first mega blok figure

I missed you taking a MRT seat all by yourself for the first time

I missed you chomping into a full tin of raisins for the first time

I missed you walking around wrapped in a towel like a real man for the first time.

I was not in your first photobooth picture

I missed you feeding yourself noodles with chopsticks for the first time.

I missed your first real haircut!!

I hope all the unrest would have ended by the time you take your flight back with Mummy and Grandpa next week. You must give Daddy a kiss and promise you will not leave for so long anymore ok? 

Because Daddy doesn't want to miss a thing.


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