Friday, October 5, 2012

The Market Where a Train Runs Through - Youtube Star Thailand

How to visit the market near Bangkok where the train drives 
straight through.

Mae Klong train drives through "folding umbrella market." 

Updated 13 May 2017. After I saw one of the startling Youtube videos of a Thai market ebbing and  flowing over the tracks of a train, I had many questions. Where was the market? Could I visit it? What is the history of this line? The first leg of what is actually two lines began running around 1905 as a freight line, hauling coal from the coast to Bangkok. Operated by Danes for decades, it was nationalized during the Japanese occupation of World War II and still runs most of the original century-old steam trains today.

As for the rest of the answer:  No, you can't reach it from Hualampong, Bangkok's central train station. Nor from Bangkok Noi, the small station on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, where the train to Kanchanaburi and the River Kwai departs.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Charice, Glee Singer - Youtube Star Philippines

Age 20, Charice, Sunshine from "Glee," looks destined to become the best-known Philippine-born musical star.

Charice singing an acoustic version of Billboard hit "Pyramid."

Is there another country where popular music and entertainment are considered such mainstream current events, ice-breaker topics cutting across lines of class and region? In the Philippines, conferences, reunions and celebrations are occasions for participants to break into song or break out an instrument. Filipinos keep up with popular music in the Philippines, United States, the greater Hispanic world and to some extent Southeast Asia. 

Movies are another popular topic. When I was in the Philippines in 2011 during the Oscar awards, of course everyone knew that the little girl in "True Grit" had a Filipina grandmother. I'm glad I read the newspapers sufficiently to know that Filipino-Americans involved behind the camera were also Oscar contenders. 

I don't know if Charice Pempengco, age 20, can yet claim to be the Philippine musician best known outside of her home country. (Although, with her tomboyish new look, she can claim to be the best known Filipino gay musician now.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Vegetarian Festival - Best Annual Events Thailand

a cube of tofu

It's easy to find vegetarian food all over Thailand during these ten days every autumn.


Vegetarian Festival 2014 dates: September 23 - October 3.

The yearly vegetarian festival has Chinese origins but all Thais partake of the food and many adopt the spiritual practices.

Food court stands, sidewalk stalls, hotel restaurants and small family restaurants all get into the act. To spot the first two eateries, look for small yellow flags. Bigger places will indicate their vegetarian choices on menus. Every hotel dining room will have a vegetarian offering, if not an entire buffet.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Airlines in Cambodia - Offices, Contacts, Phones

Cambodian flag

Phnom Penh and Siem Reap office addresses, telephones, contacts for AirAsia, Bangkok Airways,  Cambodia Angkor Air, SilkAir and 12 other airlines operating in Cambodia. 

Updated 20 January 2015!

Below is contact information for airlines with offices in Phnom Penh. It is followed by airline contact information in Siem Reap, the base for the Angkor temples. Specific Cambodia  international and domestic air routes and the airlines that fly them are summarized in this article.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Airlines Serving Cambodia - International and Domestic

cockpit of Cambodia Angkor Airways airplane
An incredible 17 airlines are now flying directly to and from Cambodia but you probably only need to know about Bangkok Airways, cheap airlines AirAsia, Jetstar Asia, Thai Smile and a few others.

Updated March 16, 2016.

Below I have compiled the international air routes to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and the airlines flying them. This section is followed by the meager offerings in domestic routes served by Cambodia Angkor Air. Then I describe the three (arguably four) types of airlines operating along these routes and how to find the best airfare to Cambodia.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Bangkok's 2 Airports - How to travel between? Which airlines?

green tunnel airport interior

Nine scheduled airlines now fly out of Bangkok's old Don Muang Airport while the others continue to use Suvarnabhumi Airport over 40 kilometers away. How to travel between them?

Updated 4 June  AirAsia, Orient Thai's 1-2-3-Go, Kan AirMalindo Air, Nok Air, Scoot, Lion Air (aka Thai Lion Air), and Thai Smile airlines now fly out of Don Mueang Airport. So do Tiger Airways flights to Taipei.

THAI Smile, Thai Airways' new budget airline, is still in the process of moving all its flights to Don Mueang. So far, that means some domestic flights such as Bangkok-Chiang Mai, Bangkok-Khon Kaen and Bangkok-Phuket are now based at Don Mueang (and flying from Terminal 2 there.)

However: most THAI Smile flights are still based out of Suvarnabhumi, including Bangkok-Chiang Rai and Bangkok-Samui. So are its international flights: flights between Mandalay and Bangkok and between Bangkok and Macau are using Suvarnabhumi. Check with THAI Smile's website or, better yet, a travel agent if you are considering the other THAI Smile routes. (No, it's not your computer; THAI Smile's website must be loaded with huge images. It could churn for hours.) THAI Smile primarily flies domestic routes but also has three international routes: Bangkok-Luang Phrabang, Bangkok-Macau and Bangkok-Mandalay.

In December 2015, a second terminal has opened at Don Mueang. It's the old domestic terminal, Terminal 2,  once again serving all domestic flights from Don Mueang. Taxi drivers will ask which you want,  the shuttle buses (from Suvarnabhumi or the BTS stations) will stop at both, so pay attention! Give yourself time if you're switching between domestic and international AirAsia flights. 

All international flights will continue flying out from Terminal 1. 

Known for decades as Don Muang Airport, Don Mueang was the sole Bangkok airport prior to Suvarnabhumi's opening in 2006. 

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bangkok International Festival of Dance & Music - Best Annual Events Thailand

Orchestras, opera companies and world-class classical and modern dancers perform at this September-October Bangkok festival. The yearly series is unrivaled in the region and probably  in East Asia. A pity so few tourists are aware of it.

Portugal's Quorum Ballet Company to Perform in Bangkok Festival.
Usually a classical ballet company from Russia or one of the former Soviet republics performs at the annual fall Bangkok International Festival of Dance and Music. I sometimes complain about the customary performance of The Nutcracker. In 2013, something really different is happening: Nutcracker on Ice!  Also some bits of Cinderella and Swan Lake.The performers were members of various Olympics and national teams, however, so it should be quite jaw-dropping.

Here's the calendar of 2013 performances with a bit more about the performersNo one would call is user friendly, I'm afraid. You need to keep going back to the calendar and start over. 

The above video of Portugal's Quorum Company is a bit misleading because the company will be performing another dance, "Correr o Fado." While there are Youtube videos of it, the quality is poor, so I chose a clip from "The Elements."  

German ballet company Karlsruhe will perform "Giselle." There will also be two operas ("The Barber of Seville" is one) and a concert performed by Russia's unconventional Helikon Opera Company; performances by US jazz pianist, Chick Corea and a triple bill of Dutch jazz musicians with Thailand's own legendary sax player, Mr. Koh; traditional dance by India's Shri Ram Bharataya Kala Kalendr; Ten Tenors from Australia; and Italy's Orchestra Teatro Regio di Parma with two opera singers. There are a few more but clicking around is downright exhausting.

It seems to me that the Bangkok International Festival of Dance & Music used to span six or eight weeks; in 2013, it will run a little over a month, beginning September 13.  About 18-20 performances take by 15-16 ensembles take place. Besides a classical ballet company, there is usually a symphony orchestra, a European opera company or two, an Indian classical dance company, a tango or flamenco company from a Spanish-speaking country and a couple of contemporary dance companies from the United States and Europe. Then each year there are a few oddities that don't fit with the general tone (such as this year's ice skaters and, in the past, the Vienna Choir Boys, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, Swedish Jazz Kings).

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hilarious lip syncher Nong Kong - Thai Youtube Star

Nong Kong, the funny lip-synching schoolboy, is back with a medley of Thai pop songs and famous friends.

This kid will make you laugh: Nong Kong lip-synchs Thai pop songs

"Whatever" by the Thai female singer Waii was already a big hit in Thailand in early 2012 but it became much more famous when a young schoolboy did a lip-synching, gesture-mocking version from his bedroom. Nong Kong uploaded it to Youtube in May and within about a month about 3 million people had seen it. The number must be close to 5 million by now. He was soon appearing on talk and variety shows, sang with Waii herself, spawned parodies and you can imagine the rest. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Rabbit Card - Do Tourists Need It for Bangkok BTS travel?

orange Rabbit Card used on Bangkok Skytrain

What is a Rabbit Card? FAQs for new users of  the Bangkok Skytrain.

Relax. You can continue to pay cash in the machines on either the Skytrain or the MRT (subway).  If you don't have proper change, you can still get it from the clerk behind the glass-walled counter.

Updated July 

Nonetheless, this orange stored-value card might be of interest to frequent Bangkok visitors, especially if it someday becomes useful for more BTS (Bangkok Transportation Services) services in addition to the Skytrain. Like the now obsolete stored-value Skytrain passes used by residents, the Rabbit Card is a time-saver since it spares you from queuing at the machines to buy tickets for a single ride or to get change from the cashier.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Zee Avi, Sarawak Singer-Songwriter - Malaysia Youtube Star

Discovered on Youtube and now based in the US, young Malaysian singer-songwriter Zee Avi follows up her first namesake album with Ghostbird.

Malaysian singer Zee Avi live and in casual, medley mood

I'm pushing the limits of news you can use  by introducing Southeast Asian celebrities viewable on Youtube video. I see it as a simple means to strike up a conversation and form a bond with local people. In this case of singer Zee Avi, that would be with her fellow Malaysians, though she's  known to Singaporeans too.

After all, tourists and expats always profess to be interested in local "culture." Usually that translates as "food." But watching a video isn't as demanding as reading a book, right?

The second song on this medley, "Bitter Heart," is probably her best known. It was her first iTunes release as a single and then on her first studio album in 2009, Zee Avi. The medley also provides a good sampling of her sound. Even if the lyrics are about heartbreak or heroin addiction, the sound is light, sprightly, a little bit country-folk, a little bit Tin Pan Alley. Sometimes her voice almost swings. She usually sings in English but occasionally in Malay.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fair-Trade Craft Sales and Tours in Thailand

colored baskets among sale items at Thai fair
At ThaiCraft Association's monthly sales, a large range of crafts are on sale at fair-trade prices.

Are you in looking for hand-made in Thailand handbags, stuffed toys, woven baskets, wooden picture frames or silver jewelry? How about tableware, lamps, bed linen, souvenirs and holiday ornaments?  Bangkokians skip the shops, street stalls and wandering vendors--and bargaining. Instead, they go to the monthly fair-trade craft show. Bonus: handicraft quality is good and the artisans themselves set prices and earn most of the profits. You can meet the makers as well. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Art and Indie Movies in Bangkok - Lido, Scala and RCA Theaters

thai movie theaters include imax

Independent movies, art-house films, alternative cinema, foreign-language, non-mainstream, whatever ... such movies are screened regularly at these theaters.

Updated 23 July 2014 The Apex-Lido theaters are the most convenient places to see alternative movies in Bangkok. These two old theaters with a total of four screens are located in movie-mad Siam Square, easily reached from either the Siam Square or Stadium Skytrain stations. There used to be three old theaters; sadly, the Siam Theater went up in flames in the final days of the May 2010 demonstrations.

The Lido theaters are housed in a large building across Rama I Road from the Siam Center. The three theaters here have been carved from what was once a single big theater.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Rainforest World Music Festival - Best Annual Events Malaysia

 Indonesia's Rafli Wa SAJA to headline Rainforest Music Festival 2013

The region's best festival of world music is held for three days every June or July in the Malaysian Borneo state of Sarawak.  Directions, location, costs, hotels.

The annual outdoor Rainforest World Music Festival, held near Kuching, next runs from June 20-22, 2014. So far, no further details of the 2014 festival, stay tuned.

Among 2012's year's leading performers were the percussion band Gema SLDN-SCV  and sape player Maya Green  from Sarawak, Australian aboriginal singers and dancers Nunukul Yuggera, Korean dancers Palsandae and  Indonesia's Rafli Wa SAJA  ensemble ( Rafli, or Rafly, is the singer above)

You can see the full 2012 schedule and download a program here.  The headliners perform at night but there are also workshops during the day. These tend to be more interactive and include both the main acts  and some local musicians. Workshops this year will present stories and songs of Borneo's Bidayuh people, Jamaican singers, Malay gamelan players, Bandari dance and song from southern Iran, Korean folk songs, and a Chinese chamber ensemble.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Best Bangkok Art Galleries - Sathorn Road

art gallery in Bangkok's Sathorn area

H Gallery interior

Three private art galleries and two artsy spaces close to Sathorn and Silom roads are covered in the second chapter of a two-part walking tour.

Updated June 3, 2014. If you have just exited Silom Galleria, whose galleries were described in the first part of the tour, you are now ready for the actual walking portion. (If you want to visit more galleries after this, the three Ardel galleries are covered in a third entry.) Once on Silom Road, turn right, away from the river. You're aiming for the Indian temple and Pan Road.  But after passing a Subway sandwich outlet, you may want to make a little detour on the first lane on your right, Silom Soi 19.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Asiatique - Review of Bangkok's Riverside Night Market

renovated East Asiatic warehouses by

Attractions, food, directions for Bangkok’s shiniest night bazaar: Has Asiatique replaced the late, lamented Suan Lum market?

Updated OctoberTourists in town for a few days will find enough to buy, eat and be amused by at Bangkok’s newest, flashiest night market by the river.  Opened in spring 2012, Asiatique is shinier, more upmarket, than its chief rival, Siam Paradise Night Bazaar, or the defunct Suan Lum Night Market—and much more than the Onnuj night market. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Singapore Food Festival in July - Best Annual Events Singapore

 Singapore Food Festival image by Singapore Tourism Board
Malay satay 

July's Singapore Food Festival has meals and events for all ages and price ranges. Locals and tourists are welcome. What/When/Where/How much.

Singapore's World Gourmet Summit is the annual food festival foreigners are more likely to recognize. But the week-long Singapore Food Festival--next to run July 12 to 21, 2013--is actually more popular, supposedly attracting more than 400,000 participants each year. It features more family-friendly outdoor events and friendlier prices. Rather than Michelin-starred French and Italian chefs, the cooks here are all almost all local and even include some of the stellar street vendors.

Launched in 1994 by the Singapore Tourism Board, the Singapore Food Festival (SFF) used to run for a month. The 20th edition will span nine days.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Best Thai Art Galleries in Bangkok - Silom Road

Shy Maiden (after Botero) - Thai painter Jirapat

Shy Maiden (after Botero) by Jirapat T

Nine commercial art galleries close to Silom Road and the Chao Phraya River are covered in the first chapter of a two-part walking tour.

Updated! September 20, 2014

Tourists who want to see and buy work by the best living Thai artists don’t have an easy time of it. The new, private Museum of Contemporary Art finally has provided a showcase for some of the greats of Thai modern art. The more central Bangkok Art and Culture Centre sometimes has good shows, but no permanent collection.  In brief, it's harder to see and buy the work of younger generations.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

George Town Festival of Penang - Best Annual Events Malaysia

The mid-year Georgetown (or George Town) arts festival is a month of music, dance and visual art featuring artists from Malaysia and other countries.

Blinded Mind dancer - Photo by George Town Festival

Finland's Blinded Mind dance troupe: performing July 4 in Penang

As you might guess from the above photo of a Finnish dancer in Blinded Mind, Penang's annual arts festival has a decided contemporary emphasis. There are some traditional performances--such as the demonstration of the Malay martial art silat and the sacred songs of the Philippine Madrigal Singers at the 2012 festival. But you're more likely to see something like the Lee Wushu theater company, which "merges the traditional martial art of Wushu with contemporary dance forms to create a unique stage performance."

Monday, May 7, 2012

CommunicAsia - Best Annual Events Singapore

courtesy Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Convention Centre

Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Casino, Expo, etc.

CommunicAsia is Asia's biggest yearly trade show and conference for the computer, telecoms and information technology industries. It is always held in Singapore in June. If you are in the region, you might want to visit.

How big is CommunicAsia? If the previous year is any guide, CommunicAsia2013--which will run from June 18-21--should draw more than 35,000 attendees. About half the attendees come from foreign countries. If at least 20,000 people are filling up the hotels, you might want to be aware of the dates for CommunicAsia just to avoid visiting Singapore at that time.

The event has two parts. The following details are based on the  2012 event: I'll update as new information become available. The first part is the enormous trade exhibition, which is free to attend if you can show you're involved in a relevant industry. The second is the conference, consisting of panels, speakers and workshops which have several prices and packages. As in recent years, CommunicaAsia2013 will take place in the convention center of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino, sometimes called simply MBS.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Best Bangkok Art Galleries - Ardel, DOB, Third Place

Ardel Gallery of Modern Art - Nakhon Pathom

Ardel Gallery of Modern Art

Where to see and buy the best contemporary Thai art. Two of the Ardel galleries covered in this article are in central neighborhoods of Bangkok. The third is in a suburb on the western side of the Chao Phraya River.

It's not easy to see or buy modern Thai art because good galleries are scattered widely. One of the major developments in recent years has been the opening by multi-media artist Thavorn Ko-udomvit of three galleries. A few shows have featured foreign artists, but the emphasis is on Thai artists, both emerging and well established.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

World Gourmet Summit - Best Annual Events Singapore

Courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board

Taste of a Singapore food festival

Of Singapore's two annual food festivals, April's World Gourmet Summit has the higher international profile since it features celebrity chefs from all over the world.

Strictly-run Singapore doesn't have a reputation for cultural attractions. In compensation, the government works hard to attract tourists by vigorously promoting the city's food and restaurants. Launched in 1996 by the government's tourism board, the World Gourmet Summit is probably the year's highlight for many Singaporeans and near neighbors.

Lately the gourmet festival has been running for two weeks or ten days beginning in late April. The next edition will run from April 16-26, 2013.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

How to Make Hibiscus Tea or Roselle Juice – Recipes

Ice roselle by Chotda

Hibiscus drinks, such as agua de Jamaica, are simple to make at home because the main ingredient can now bought online.

The principal ingredients you need to make roselle juice or hibiscus tea are hibiscus calyces. Ideally, you should start with fresh calyces. Contrary to what you might read on a content farm websites, hibiscus foods and drinks aren’t made from the hibiscus sabdariffa flower petals. They’re made from the calyces—the red casings or pods that enclose the seeds. The calyces are harvested after the petals dry up and fall off.

For the botanical names and health benefits of drinks made from hibiscus sabdariffa, see this earlier story.

In the Caribbean, Panama and West Africa, you can find these in fresh markets. I haven’t seen them in any fresh markets in Southeast Asia, but I have not made an intensive search. This Swiss chef, making a dessert filling, actually found fresh calyces in Hong Kong.  More likely, you will find plastic bags of dried roselle in the dried goods section of a big traditional wooden-walled market or in specialty shops selling organic or health foods.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What is hibiscus tea? Roselle juice? Flor de Jamaica? Karkadé? Health and medical benefits of hibiscus drinks

Rozelle, sorrel, agua de Jamaica and carcadé are some of the many names for a citrusy cold and hot drink made from the hibiscus plant and consumed all over the world.

Sorrel flower in bloom

Hibiscus sabdariffa flower by Melop

Served icy cold, the tart, grape juice-like drink is commonly called roselle juice in English. Served hot, it's usually known as hibiscus tea or Jamaica tea.

However, hibiscus, roselle, rozelle, Florida cranberry, flor de Jamaica, Jamaica sorrel, Indian sorrel, Guinea sorrel, sorrel, red sorrel, saril, sour-sour, Queensland jelly plant, jelly okra and lemon bush are just some of the English names for the plant that supplies the flavoring and edible ingredient.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thailand Factory Outlets for Glassware, China and Cookware

Visit factory outlets for Lotus Crystal, Mikasa, Hadeland, Silverstone, Ecco and other brands of glasses, porcelain bone china and cooking pans.

glassware factory in thailand

Lotus Crystal

Tens of thousands of brand-name products from clothing to jewelry to appliances are manufactured in Thailand and exported overseas. Unfortunately, not many have real factory outlet shops, although the term "factory outlet" is slapped on many discount shops in Thailand. Lotus Crystal, Royal Bone China, Meyer and Ecco shoes are three genuine factory outlets.

Lotus Crystal in Rayong for Mikasa, Hadeland, Kagami ...

Founded in the early 1990s by a Swiss engineer, Lotus Crystal makes premium-quality lead crystal glasses, bowls and vases. Products are exported to Europe, Japan, Taiwan and the United States under such brand names as Mikasa, Calvin Klein, Darlington Crystal, Hadeland Glassverk and Kagami Crystal. Wine glasses and other stemware are mouth-blown by 160 top craftsmen.

Night Bazaars of Bangkok – Punnawithi (Siam Paradise) and Onnut

Siam Paradise Night Bazaar Market are better, safer alternatives to sleazy old Patpong night market.

Bangkok's Siam Paradise entrance - the new Suan Lum night bazaar

Siam Paradise Night Market gate

T-shirts, beach shorts, sunglasses, leather and cloth handbags, wallets, phone cases, silk and pashmina shawls, button-down dress shirts with pirated logos, alleged hill tribe crafts, underwear, jewelry, wooden and plastic toys, fake Rolexes, real cheap watches, pirated DVDs, artwork ... nearly all these souvenirs are sold during the day at sidewalk stalls wherever foreign tourists congregate. 

The main virtue of night markets is that so much of this merchandise can be found all in one place. There’s more space and less stress. In the case of  Siam Paradise Night Bazaar and, to some extent, the Onnuj, Ratchada and Weekend Train markets, permanent structures mean there are also bigger, bulkier and more expensive items, such as sculpture, dinnerware and fine jewelry.

As for the sleazy Patpong bazaar, nobody normal likes shopping there. The temporary tables and stalls are crammed into the already crowded lane and spill onto the broken sidewalks of Silom Road. Vendors are pushy. Shoppers are constantly jostled by schlubby old sex tourists, drunker middle-aged ones, aggressive transsexual prostitutes, sex show touts, pickpockets,

Friday, January 20, 2012

World Film Festival Bangkok - Best Annual Events Thailand

Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3D
 30,000-year-old cave drawings at 9th Festival

The annual World Film Festival of Bangkok usually runs for a week in October or November. 

The 11th edition will run from November 15-24, 2013.

There's not much yet about which films will be featured, though one will be "Return to Burma". There will be a Q and A with director Midi Z.

You can get a taste of the range from last year's line-up. The movies came from Latin America, United States, Europe, Iran,  India, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, among other countries. There is always on strong focus on the indie and art end of the spectrum.

The festival will be screened once again at Major's cineplex at the Esplanade shopping mall. That's in the north of the city but it directly on the subway line (directions below). The quality of the screens and sound are first rate--but then, that's true of all the cineplexes in Bangkok.

All Airlines Flying to/from Myanmar (Burma) - International Routes

All Airlines Flying to/from Myanmar (Burma) - International Routes

Here are the 25 airlines that fly to Myanmar (Burma) and their air routes. These airlines fly directly on  regularly scheduled flig...