Thai Food

Spices as rich as Indian food, spread as large as Chinese and taste as close to Japanese as possible – That’s Thai food for you. When you are backpacking there is little choice you get with respect to food. You stop where you can possibly get some grub and eat what is available. But that also guarantees you to get some true Thai food, without much of dilution to suit different palettes. Street food was what kept us alive when we were dying with hunger. The nameless street food stalls with skewers in the evenings was what we relished the most, the other times there was 7-11 with the ready to eat sandwiches and instant noodles to eat. It was really far from the Benjarong and the Baan Thai food and their red and green curries. Not that they are not original Thai, it does have the ginger and garlic base, but somehow they are a little altered to suit our taste than retain the original flavor. There were a few things that really I enjoyed eating and wanted to write about them –

Phad Thai Noodles – Thanks to my boss at office, I was told to definitely try it and if possible get the recipe from the best place I had it. So the first proper meal I got to have in Phuket, I tried the Phad Thai noodles. It was one of the best noodles I had. It is Flat noodles, boiled with a lot of flavor of ginger and thin noodles sautéed in hot garlic sauce with spring onions and bell pepper. The distinct flavor is unmistakable, called on the chef to ask him how it is made, he was more than happy to share his recipe with us in exchange for learning some pleasantries in Hindi – decent bargain I thought then. Then he said there is no ready to eat 2min Phad Thai noodles, all the ingredients had to be bought and made from scratch. Ok so much for teaching him Namaste and Dhanyavaad.

Grilled Grouper FishFried Grouper Fish – Well, the grouper fish as it is called is a large fish, which can be as big as our pomfret to half the size of a shark. Well, they don’t give you pieces as the fish needs to be grilled and so we need to choose the biggest piece we can possibly finish. Well, it’s the usual grilled fish, but then the stuffing of the ginger-turmeric paste in the slits to let it sink in while it’s simmering in the grill is a good idea to spread the taste.

Chicken in Basil Leaves – Have no words for this dish. Have never thought that these two could go together. One of the ingredients is considered holy, the other non-vegetarian and hence unclean for the majority population in India. But when you get the two together, it’s just out of this world.  The flavor and taste of Tulsi along with the well cooked and marinated chicken in ginger base was just too good. A little rice to go along with it and a full meal is just complete. The idea of letting the tulsi boil in the water in which the chicken is boiled and then mixing the ginger base is the secret behind the flavor. Somehow I still am not over it and longing to try it again.

Soupy Noodles and Sandwiches – Easily the breakfast we had on most days of the weeklong trip was this from 7-11. The soup noodle which was nice and spicy was our regular cup noodles we get. The good thing about 7-11 is they also provide hot water with which you can make the noodles in the shop as we bill it. Then the chicken sandwich and coffee to go with it is also very good. Not a completely wholesome breakfast but definitely good enough to keep you full for the time being. Anyhow, the 7-11 also had these chicken momos which tasted very good. It was filled with whole boiled chicken rather than the shredded chicken that you usual get here.

Skewers – Well, the food blog wouldn’t be complete without talking about this. Roadside stalls with the grills on the side, with marinated chicken, pork, shrimps, beef, fish hanging from the shade on top inviting everyone to try it. I guess more than the skewers, it’s the sauce they give along with it. Ginger, Garlic, Sweet, Sour the sauces are innumerable and they are stingy with it, they give you more than you ask. And a cool 5-6 pieces of meat for 10-15Baht is something that is great. Initially I did have my doubts on how clean and hygienic they will be, but given the rate at which they sell and that most shops complete their stock of meat within hours of setting shop ensured that they must be good. The chicken and shrimps were too good, well marinated and properly grilled. Sometimes this served as dinner for us after a good round of Singha beer.

Walk into the stores where you are going to buy some water and buy some homemade shrimp pakodas – ofcourse they are called something very different and most of the shops where we bought them couldn’t translate it in English- but its very tasty. Somehow they have a distinct banana flavor to most of these short eats be it fried yam or fried shrimps.

Ofcourse all the dishes I have mentioned above have a Thai name to it, which is what the Thai places out here prefer to call them to ensure “authenticity” but then I guess for the sake of familiarity and knowing the ingredients the English names are simple and best. So when you are in Thailand be in Bangkok, Phuket or one of the buri’s get out on the street and don’t be afraid to dig in. You will surely not repent it. The flavor is the specialty and the friendly Thai’s are more than happy to share their knowledge about their food with you for a small favour in return – teaching them to say Namaste and Dhanyavaad. Ofcourse don’t forget your Swadeekhap on meeting them and Khapun-Kaap at the end of the meal. They appreciate it a lot.

Live Grouper FishA live Grouper fish can get as large as this. Most shops outside have a display of a large Grouper fish head.

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FDI in India

FDI in India.

Well, my thought on FDI in India. I am not going to be judgemental and tell whether it’s good, bad or ugly. I leave that part of it to the media houses who are working overtime just to decide which side they want to take. On one side, politicians and political parties they support, on the other the much needed advertising revenues that will come from such large retailers.

Coming to the point, FDI in India I will start with the much talked about companies that first come to our mind – Wal-Mart, Tesco.  It is about these large retail chains which have bested the art of supplying daily needs to customers without even a need to have a store front with the lowest price guarantees. But if you ask me, will it work in India with the current business model they have. They are a success in US and UK primarily because of the hub and spoke model of the cities. You have the downtown and the suburbs. Downtown has the shops and Suburbs has the homes, so people come downtown to buy in the malls, or the super stores of the Wal-Mart’s and Tesco’s. But India is different in this aspect; we have one city which lives along the railway line running from north to south and splits itself into east and west depending on which side of the line they lie. Another which has developed concentrically around its heart and is now struggling to even connect two places without disrupting life. So it happens that there is no single place where a warehouse can be kept and the whole city serviced at one go. That’s where we have found so many millions of mom and pop stores, popularly called kirana’s, managing to stay in business and flourish with the competition and the increasing consumer base.

So looking at the retail scenario in India, we are looking at a market cap of close to $470billion and growing at a CAGR of 7.5% we are looking at quite a sizeable and large market. But what percentage of this is organized retail? According to latest studies it is just 5.5% i.e. $25billion share among Nilgiris, Spencers Daily, ABG More, Reliance Fresh, Godrej’s Nature Basket and around 4 other players. Now this is only the 15% population in Tier 1 cities, which in itself is 5 cities in India as A1 and 13 cities above 2million population. What I am trying to say here is that, going by numbers it doesn’t make sense for the large retail players to play alongside the existing retail chains. The largest losers will be the small retail chains and not the kirana’s actually. But then it’s India, the magical name in the current scenario in the world. With every company dreaming to setup something in India, retail chains are not far behind in following.

Look at the options that IKEA can give us. Knocked-down do it yourself furniture – but will that kill the livelihood of carpenters? I doubt it. Accountability, something which Indians are so averse to taking will be something that is uncomfortable for the Indian mindset to take.

Coming back to customer base in India, I still think that having more expats coming into India and more and more NRIs returning to home base, it is sure that they will get the customers they want. But then their modus operandi needs to be India specific, that’s something that needs to be done for anyone entering any business in India. Customization is key to our nation, it is what kept and keeps many away from coming here.

So moving to the other side of the retail spectrum – Supply. Wholesale agents will have a field day in procuring from the indebted farmer and selling it at higher margins to Wal-Mart instead of Reliance. But very soon Wal-Mart will want to absorb that wholesale function to itself to achieve the price arbitrage that it so fiercely tries to gain to provide the products at a lower price, rather lowest price. But small farmers, will remain small farmers, indebted to the landlords and loan sharks and just getting rid of the produce to whoever who can give them enough to feed the family the next meal. I think in a way, by having organized retail these farmers or producers will stand to gain, but only if they can stand up and defend themselves because like today they will still not have the upper hand in any transaction. The pricing power will lie with the hypermarts and large retailers and not with the wholesalers. It can never be with the farmer unless the government steps into do something about it. Private help is only available to little pockets and they cannot be there forever. Another power that these large retailers have is to regulate demand, they can increase the demand of some products that they sell and kill the demand for others who do not agree to their prices. So big or small, any product owner is at the mercy of these retailers when they step in.

Well, to sum up –

–          FDI will increase the number of super markets in India, but then kirana’s will continue to grow. Something like China.

–          Farmers will continue to be exploited, by bigger retailers and rich instead of the super rich wholesale dealer.

The success of retailing in India lies with changing the mindset of the masses. People want a touch and feel of the product before buying, they don’t want to risk getting substandard goods for the convenience they get (we are talking about people who use online to check availability of train tickets, but go to the counter to book). The convenience, personal touch and verbal guarantee that your neighborhood kirana gives beats the large AC showrooms and round off to the nearest paisa the hypermarts give. Co-Existence that we so very well know of, is what will prevail, so Wal-Mart’s and Karumariamman Stores will exist for the different target segments. As always leaving the middle class a confused lot.

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Kollywood in 2011 – Part 2

It’s time for the next post on the movies in Kollywood as almost all the movies listed as the ones I am awaiting in my previous post ( have been released barring Nanban. So here it goes.

Vaanam – Disappointed totally. Bharath, Simbu just couldn’t rescue the movie. The one song that rocked the youth of Tamilnadu was the only thing that remained to be spoken about. As Simbu often says in the movie. Enna Vazhkai da ithu I guess was added after seeing a rush of the movie.

Deivathirumagal – Wow! Just Wow! Just for the emotions that the little girl brought on screen was amazing. I’m sure everyone would have left the movie hall wiping away that little tear drop in the corner of their eye. I’m not a big fan of such artsy movies but this is just an exception. The classroom window, the courtroom and each and every frame in the movie was brilliant. Vikram may be the national award winner, but the little girl just stole the frame, every one of them, from him.

Engeyum Kadhal – Terrible. The movie opened very well with Prabhu Deva dancing (after a pretty long time) to a brilliantly composed song. But the whole plot was lost there. I think Prabhu Deva is a one film wonder when it comes to direction or is very distracted by Nayan at the moment.

Avan Ivan – I went to the movie 15 minutes late. Never have I been so thankful in my life to the traffic, to the lazy parking attendant taking time to let me park my bike. I think those 15mins were the best part of the film. Bala – where was the comedy you promised? Arya’s naturalness definitely couldn’t save the movie and Vishal should stick to the police officer or village head’s son roles that he plays with utmost ease.

180 or Nootrenbathu (well there is no tax exemption on blogs) – Well I did have some expectations about the film. I am terribly sorry I did. The only thing that worked was cinematography. Everything else in the movie was below average, including Siddharth that is. Worst ever plot I have seen in a movie, absolutely no premise. But making that long a movie with such a wafer thin premise needs guts.

Mankatha – Never before has a movie been promised to deliver so much and never before has something failed so much to meet the expectation. It didn’t have even a small bit of what was promised. A totally unbelievable script and an amazingly stupid plot, never before have I seen so many good actors wasted in a single movie. Only thing I related to in the movie was – Ajith says each time he drinks – Sathyama innime sarakku adikka maaten and everytime I see a bad movie I decide – Sathyama innime intha maathiri hype padatha theatre la paaka maaten.

Vengai – Nothing much to write about. Village head, son, enemy, yeah you get the plot. Only twist heroine also wants to be negative character but isn’t allowed to in the end. Tamil cinema – please learn.

Engeyum Eppothum – Now, I am not a fan of movies with a negative ending. The very fact that I watch movies is because it has a larger than life element in it. That’s where the kick is, Hero saving the world, winning the fight against the politician or the 10times larger than him lamb leg eating villain’s henchman, I guess you get the hang of what I am saying. The movie had a lot of potential, tying together so many things that happen on that day and even 6 months earlier. Enjoyed the freshness and the whole experience of the characters as they had portrayed in the movie but the last 15minutes ruined the whole thing for me. If you have a sad ending, have a strong message in the movie. The only message I could get out of the movie was a message to all those cleaner boys in the Lorries – please tie the plastic sheet properly!

Elaam Arivu – As I read in facebook, it should be said as Elaam Aruvai! Well it isn’t that bad. But then what else do you expect. Now imagine the tags to the post are – DNA, Tamil History, Pallava Dynasty, China, Bodhidharma, Virus and then the post has something unrelated in terms of beautiful girl falling for a circus clown riding a elephant in the hot sun, clown singing in Perambur railway yard, duet in some nice beautiful beach and then one Chinese guy with a killer attitude, how cheated will you feel. A serious hangover from Dasavatharam, it follows on a similar screenplay. The director though has confused himself on whether to give a science fiction with some sermonizing or give a commercial masala movie. In his attempt to please A,B,C centers he has lost the plot. One question – Chimps and Humans have a >95% DNA compatibility (in some casesmore) so Mr. Murugadoss how come our fore fathers DNA just matches 85%? I think you should have preached about researching more about our past like you did about corruption in Ramanaa or should’ve made an entertainer like Ghajini, being caught up between the two is not a good excuse.

Velayudham – My god! Entertainer of the year should go for this. It takes guts to actually show the whole movie in the trailer and then expect audiences to come to theatres to watch the movie. I haven’t seen the Telegu version of it and if I ask my Telegu friends they will swear that the original was zillion times better, so didn’t bother asking. It has all the elements of a Vijay movie plus has Genelia in it. Need I write anymore?

Oh. This year also brought out a new trend – movies being screened on television almost the same time it was released. Kandaen was one of them – My god! I think that movie should’ve been released in TV directly. Anyone who watched the movie in the theatre deserves their money back with interest. Ditto with Ayanaar, Kulla Nari Kootam and any new movie shown on Vijay TV I guess.

There were some movies I did miss and think I need to see them – Vaagai Sooda Vaa is one of them. The one song “Saara Saara” was enough to get me interested in the movie, Veppam, Rowthiram, Vanthaan Vendraan, Yuvan Yuvathi, Kanchana are some that I want to watch but am against downloading and wasting bandwidth on.

So coming to the end of the year, what is left is Osthi – Dabaang’s remake on which I have zero expectation as that movie was hit because of Salman and for Simbu to pull it off is equivalent to my grandma scaling Mt.Everest. Mayakkam Enna – I guess its time to get back to Kadhal Kondein for Dhanush. Aravaan which promises to be a period film, Rajapattai for Vikram and I guess the only low budget director to have hit the chord everytime Sasikumar’s Poraali.

Let’s see if they can end the year on a good note.

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Thai Travelogue – 5

Bangkok, Thailand

It was the last day of our stay in Thailand. We reached our hotel in Bangkok after losing our way more than once after entering the city thanks to the maze of flyovers. It was a decent hotel in the heart of town at Sukhumvit. Checked in, stretched our legs and had a much needed shower and wanted to check out Bangkok’s much touted night life but had to return our rental car before 11AM the next day. Knowing our condition after the day long journey back, we decided not to risk leaving it for the next day and instead return it the same night. So we headed out for dinner and then 3 of us stepped out to return the car. It was smooth and we returned back to the hotel by 1AM and hit the sack.

The next morning, we decided to check out the town, so headed out to the metro station which was 10 minutes from our hotel and punched in tickets to the station closest to the palace. We went to the palace and as expected some touts told us that the palace was closed and only opened by 3PM. Thanks to all the blogs and travel sites we read, we ensured that we didn’t listen to them and walked to the other side to check out the Emerald Buddha. We then went ahead and visited another temple or Wat as they call it in Thai. This Wat housed one of the largest idols of a reclining Budha that extended over a 100feet. Once done with this, we stepped out and had a tender coconut to refresh ourselves and headed to the pier.

At the pier we enquired about the floating market and bargained for a price of 1000baht for a long tailed boat for the 4 of us. It was pretty disappointing to see only 2 boats that were selling stuff and that too at a very high premium. Plus we were all very tired and hence weren’t all that enthusiastic. We had a very nice boatman who was very slow and didn’t speak English, but then understood what we wanted to see and slowed down when something interesting came up. It was around 4PM when we got back to the pier. Once back at the pier, we headed straight back to the road and hired a cab to the nearest metro station to take us to Sukhumvit to our hotel. Got down at Asok station and then enquired about the airport line and how long it takes. Then went back to the hotel to get our bags, my friend took his bag and went on his way to the airport. I decided to walk down Sukhumvit to check the market. It was a good market with a lot of things on sale. But then I wasn’t sure of what to buy or what not to so kept myself from doing any unwanted shopping and wasted 40minutes walking around. Once I collected my bag from the hotel I headed to the station when it started pouring. It was really torrential rain and thankfully it started only after I got to the train, then reached the station with Airport transfer, was told that there is a direct non-stop train which I readily took as it took a whole 20-25mins lesser than the other train and anyways the next regular train was 15mins after this direct train. Reached the Suvarnabhoomi airport and was amazed at the convenience of reaching the airport from the city. It was pouring outside, but thanks to the metro reaching inside the airport, I could get out dry.

I need to make a point here, please ensure that you are early to the airport as the economy class queues are serpentine and never ending. Thanks to the confusion some people cause knowingly/unknowingly the wait time in the queue is huge. Though there is no cut off time for reporting, it doesn’t unnerve you if you are still in the queue when your flight is just an hour away. Also another very interesting thing I noticed was the number of passengers carrying back 42″ LCD TVs. It was almost like every other person in the check-in line had one. Anyhow, checked in without much hassle and was all set to return back to office and work. It was a good and well deserved vacation.

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Thai Travelogue – 4

7 Step Waterfall(Erawon), Tiger Temple & Bridge on the river Kwai, Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Once we had completed all our banking needs at Sanghklaburi, we headed out to the 7 step waterfall at Erawon which is a small detour on the Sangkhla Buri – Kanchanaburi highway. The idea was to finish this as soon as possible and head to the tiger temple. The first 2 steps were pretty disappointing to say the least.

Lots of people, crowded. So we quickly finished that and headed to the higher steps. With each higher step, we can see the crowd dwindling  and a steeper and more challenging climb.

We then decided to do all 7 steps and then return. So when we did reach the 7th Step, it was half past noon and we decided to step into the falls for half hour as then we would be back to the car by 1:45 and would be in time for the tiger temple. We just did that and it was rewarding. Cold water falling from a height and giving that soothing reward to a body after the tiring trek to the 7th step is something to be experienced. By the way if I have not mentioned in my earlier posts, the fishes nibble at your skin when you are in water. Not one or two, around 20-30 of them come and nibble at your feet. At first it is pretty weird, but then apparently its therapy as someone told us there and all the scrapes and small wounds I had from the trekking we had done for the past week were cleanly nibbled and dry skin cleared in no time. After the nice bath we literally ran down the trail to reach the car and head out to reach the tiger temple.

At the tiger temple we paid the entry fee, signed the declaration and headed into the temple. Went directly to the caves to play and pose with the tigers. Walked the tigers back to the caves and headed straight out to see the other animals they had there and took loads of pictures. A small note of the tiger temple – there are some monks who rear tigers as pets and from the time they are small cubs are taken care by one of the monks. So they are said to be docile and friendly specially just after they had taken lunch with a full stomach the would prefer to sit and relax than attack. Inspite of this, they try to keep us behind the tiger as the tiger always hunts or attacks straight ahead and not on the sides. But then we did feel that they were more like drugged and kept docile by artificial methods. Mostly run by Australians and foreigners who happen to be there by choice as volunteers. There are very few Thai volunteers except the monks. Also we couldn’t see any Thai tourists at the tiger temple. Anyhow, being so close to the big cats was definitely an experience and it was well worth it.

By 4:30PM we headed back to the highway towards Kanchanaburi. On the way we spotted the detour to the Black Railway or the Bridge on the River Kwai (pronounced KH+WAY and not KH+WAI which means water buffalo). We were out there walking along the tracks and then enjoying skewers and looking at tshirts available there as souvenirs when unexpectedly a train came by on the tracks. It was amazing except for the fact that over enthusiastic tourists tend to almost fall in front of the train attempting to take pictures. I really pity that fact. It was again very crowded and touristy place so we didn’t spend too much time there. There were a host of Harley’s parked at the place which suggested they were police vehicles. Anyhow, soon we were on our way to Bangkok back on the highway.

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Thai Travelogue – 2

Road Trip – Phuket, Thailand to Sangkhla Buri, Thailand

Well it surely was supposed to be a long drive all the way to Sangkhla Buri which was almost 1000kms from Phuket, but then it promised to be very scenic. Sangkhla Buri was the north western border town in Thailand sharing the border with Burma. The famous three pagodas pass is here. Well I will tell more about Sangkhla Buri in the Travelogue -3 and focus now on the drive. The route was Phang Nga – Ranong – Prachuap Kiri Khan – Phetchaburi – Ratchaburi – Kanchanaburi – Sangkhla Buri. It was simple head down Highway 402, turn into Highway 4 till Ratchaburi where 4 branches off towards Bangkok and we need to join 323 and then it was a straight drive on it all the way to Sangkhla BuriRoute to Sangkhla buri

So we did leave early. Around 8AM. Headed straight out of Phuket on highway – (). Having had a hearty breakfast, we decided to drive all the way not stopping for anything. But that plan was shortlived as my friend immediately felt the pressure and needed to stop! So stop we did at a road side restaurant which promised to have a restroom. Quickly took some quick bites and juice and soon headed back on the road towards Sangkhla Buri. Well little did we know that this would prove to be a really long drive, thanks to all the detours the route had to offer. We headed to the first signboard pointing to a waterfall. It was a detour for sure. After a short bit, there was no proper road and was just a mud track. But not to be discouraged, we continued and headed to the clearing which seemed to be where we can park and head to the waterfall. We just did that, headed towards a path which we thought headed to the waterfall and it indeed did. But not anything to be greatly impressed by, also it was the stream which lead to the waterfall rather than the waterfall itself, which didn’t interest us much, but we did stick around for a while just to enjoy the nice feeling of feeling one with nature. We then headed back to the highway only to take another detour when we spotted another beach signage! Again it was a beautiful beach and we enjoyed thoroughly being the only ones at the beach. We quickly ate some biscuits and chips we had packed as lunch and headed back out on the highway.Beach

This time the detour was indeed a long and winding one. The approach to the place was short and we had park and take to our feet. We crossed a stream which we found to be coming from the roaring waterfall ahead. We headed out on foot, not even faintly equipped for a trek – what with one of my friends wearing crocs for footwear. We headed uphill and found at one spot, what we were pursuing – the large waterfall a great distance away. It was marked as 700m from where we saw it. We continued to steep uphill trek to reach our chosen destination. In some 200-300m we saw that the path had been blocked out by a stone wall and fencing but then it was for a short distance and we could go around it. So that’s what we did went around it, found an abandoned loo (as what we thought it to be), plantations to one side, people spraying pesticides there and none of them even faintly acknowledging our presence there. From there all we could see was the forest becoming denser a small and growingly sparingly used trail with some faint yellow arrows pointing in some general direction we wanted it to point. Feeling a bit lost, we were contemplating turning around back to the car when we found 2 dogs who had been sometimes following us and sometimes leading us all this while leap up and lead us deeper into the forest. We did follow them a good distance before 2 of us felt that it was just a futile attempt as we were just going further and further deep in the forest and the sound of the roaring waterfall was almost not anymore present telling us we were headed the wrong way and just exhausting ourselves in a new country and unpopulated jungle. The other two coaxed us to head deeper, and we did do that till better sense prevailed and we reluctantly made our way back to the car.

The steep climb to the falls

The steep climb to the falls

On the way back we were back in our elements building up stories about how the place was a mica extraction zone and why they shut it for public access and all that bullshit. In retrospect, it was fun and maybe we should have had the guts to go a bit deeper and check it out. But we neither had the time or the equipment to do that. Maybe the next time we hit the road and are able to spot the same place, which has a slightly better probability than falling debris from a satellite hitting us, we decided to surely try it. Got back to the car and headed back to the highway. This time we just didn’t want to stop anymore at any waterfall, but then one just captivated us, it was a really big one, the waterfall big enough to be spotted from the highway itself. We then decided to take the quick detour, but this time not waste anytime. It was a national park and we did go in, enquired and was told the place closes by 6:30PM so we need to be back in an hour and half. So we headed out and were disappointed when we found that the waterfall broke off somewhere between the height we saw it at from the highway and the ground and was a far more relaxed one inside the national park. While a couple of us decided to take a dip, we just sat and wasted time, spotted a huge spider and had a photo op with our new found eight legged model and headed back to the highway.

Along the way there is a part where the road almost runs parallel to the border with Myanmar and it is hardly 2kms to the border from this highway at places like KraBuri, Nam Chuet. It was soon dark and it was late when we headed out and decided to stop by Kanchanaburi for the night, but we were around Prachuap Kiri Khan and it was about 3 hours away. Thailand’s smaller towns, pretty much like India, shuts down 10PM and there will be no one out on streets, not even cops. So we didn’t want to be stranded and decided to stop at the next bigger town we hit around 10PM. It was Cha Am as Pran Buri was missed somehow. We found a nice little place there and crashed for the night. We headed out at 8AM to Kanchanaburi and then to Sangkhla Buri. We didn’t stop anywhere except for a quick breakfast at a 7-11 along the way to Kanchanaburi the next big town. After we hit Kanchanburi and got some currency exchanged we headed off on the new highway to Sangkhla Buri.

WW II Engine

WW II Engine

We did stop at a couple of waterfalls at Sai Yok and saw an engine used in WWII at the same place. But made far fewer stops and made steady progress towards Sangkhla Buri. We had to reach the other side of the valley to reach our destination and it was just 4PM and hardly 60+kms to go, but we did underestimate the tough terrain and the rains that welcomed us to this border town. We drove the general direction to road went in and depended on the on-off GPS signals we were getting. We got to a dark and small town, much smaller than we had expected it to be. It was dark as it had no power. Even the streetlights were out.

It was two days, 1000kms but still the view and the experience made it feel like it was not such a big deal.

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Thai Travelogue – 3

Sangkhla Buri, Thailand

It was around 8PM but we headed straight out into a already asleep town with no power and a steady drizzle. The only place to stay which was suggested by many bloggers as well as the lonely planet travel guide we had was P guest house. So we headed in search of it in the dark. We stopped by a small house which had a few travelers waiting for their food, they had put up there in a bed and breakfast but did vouch for P Guest House’s comfort. They directed us there and we did eventually find the place. It was a nice place. There were 2 types of places to put up, the AC suites which all the amenities or small stone huts which had a nice ethnic feel to it. Obviously we chose the latter, set ourselves up and realized it was common bathrooms and toilets but it was ok. We sat together in the warmth of our new home for the next 2 days and chatted up all the lost stories in a year that we needed to, planned an early start the next day and went to bed tired after 2 days of being in the car.

The next morning we checked on what all we should be seeing at Sanghklaburi. It was the Three Pagodas Pass, Nam Thong Falls, the Wooden Brige, the nearby Buddhist Monastery. Since we had already seen a view of the monastery from our rooms, we decided to head there first. It was a nice place, lots of monks minding their own business. We went in saw the place, headed to the Monk’s palace and had a tour of it and on the way out saw a Burma market and bought some souvenirs to take back home.

At the border with a Burmese Soldier

At the border with a Burmese Soldier

From there we headed to the Burma border or the Three Pagodas Pass as it is more famously known. The border though was closed and we weren’t allowed to enter into Myanmar, we did speak to the border security there and stepped in for a photo with them and did set foot in Myanmar for a few minutes. An interesting sight we saw there was that for the local people, there was little restriction and they could walk in and out pretty freely as they had what was called a day pass. We saw children come into Thailand for school and walking back. The physical appearance of the Burmese is starkly different and thanks to their culture of smearing sandalwood on their cheeks, we can make no mistake in identifying them from the Thai’s. There was not many to ask, all the talking we did was with people who spoke broken English and had to depend a lot on hand signs to communicate. Calculators did the bargaining part of the trade and touch and feel of the goods were on offer when asked what it was made of. Most of the shops had this trait. They opened into the Thai side of town to sell their stuff, but had small doors which opened into Myanmar. Thanks to lack of language, we couldn’t talk them into allowing us into one of their shops and have a sneak peek into Myanmar. The three pagodas have not much of significance by themselves, but when clubbed with the border, it is a place that must be seen.

We then headed back to the guest house, had a late and light lunch and headed to the wooden bridge which was walkable distance from our guesthouse. As we walked there, the

Monks on the wooden bridge

Monks on the wooden bridge

rain was easing up and the climate was very pleasant. We headed to walk the wooden bridge. The construction of some houses there were interesting, made completely of bamboo shoots and leaves. It was getting dark so we just had a cup of tea there and headed back to the guest house. There we had to decide on whether to head to the waterfalls the next day or visit the the 7 step waterfall and tiger temple on the way to Bangkok. So we did decide to try the 7 step waterfall first and then head to tiger temple if we had time.

We went about dinner at P Guest House as little other choices were there. One of the dishes that one must taste is the Chicken Curry in Basil Leaves and Rice. I must say the combination was amazing and the taste is unforgettable. As I am planning a complete writeup on food separately will tell you more about Thai food in that.

The next morning, we had American breakfast(yes, P guest house does serve that). Thanked the warm owner of the place and one of the guys who worked there who was ever helpful in finding us the right spots to visit and tried to arrange a jungle trek for us, but unfortunately couldn’t as the explorer was already in the jungle with another tourist. We did promise him to come back for it one day.P Guest House

One thing I must point out is that being a small town, this place has no ATMs and banks function only from 8:30AM till 3:00PM. So be sure that you have enough dough before hand say in Kanchanaburi or a bigger town before you come here.

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Thai Travelogue -1

Phuket, Thailand

Well, the first stop (apart from a short layover at Bangkok airport) was Phuket, the beautiful beach town of Thailand. Maybe because it was the end of the tourist season and the rains setting in, the crowd was sparse unlike in Pattaya or other beach towns. Anyhow, that was the reason we chose Phuket over Pattaya which was closer to all the other places we wanted to visit. But it was well worth it. There are many districts in Phuket and you can choose where to stay depending on how you want to spend your holiday. There is the central district which is closer to the piers, which have boat services to all the neighbouring islands including Phi-Phi. There is the district in Patong beach which is the happening commercial district and has most of the night entertainment. There are good accommodations available close to the beach for the morning walks and sun bathing and the Bangla street famous for its night life which is alive all the way into the wee hours of the morning.

Phuket Beach

Phuket Beach

Phuket Beach

Kho Kai Beach

Snorkelling on Koh Kai beaches, lazing on the beaches of Koh Bon, Koh Kaew islands all just a half hour ride by long tail boat or motor boats. Phi Phi island is a good distance away and needs to be done on a boat and has places to stay overnight. Unfortunately we couldn’t make it as the boat left the pier at 9AM and we had to start from where we stayed atleast by 7:30 which was too early for the 5 of us to get ready. But then its again and again snorkeling and lazing in the beach around different islands, but then trust me it’s a thing not to be missed. Post the boat ride, we headed back to the place we were staying where one of my friends had to leave back to KL to work. So dropped him off at the airport, parked the car and headed straight out into Bangla street for dinner. There is no dearth for live music out there, every other bar had good bands playing. It was a welcome break from the Chennai club rules and covered footwear policies as we could walk around in shorts and slippers just like everyone else around.

The next day we wanted to just roam around Phuket, stay on land and do nothing in particular. We just drove around the city and hit the zoo which was too expensive at 500Baht, then moved to the aquarium.

Gold Fish at Phuket Aquarium

Gold Fish at Phuket Aquarium

I think it was a worthwhile thing we did, the aquarium was very good and was pretty big. We then lazed around some other beaches and headed to watch the sunset from sunset point we had spotted on the map called Promthep Cape. But as all unplanned trips have, we made an unplanned stop at some beach which was not marked in the map but was a beautiful rocky beach. We decided to stop there and watch the sunset from there itself. It was a good decision in the end as we had our own sunset point rather than having a hundred others around.

Sunset at our own viewpoint

Sunset at our own viewpoint

Not to be left out, we still drove all the way up to the sunset point to see what exactly was there. We spent some time exploring the closed badly lit area around the sunset point as everyone else seemed to be hurriedly leaving. It was my friend’s birthday so we decided to celebrate and headed back to the hotel to Bangla street, were up till midnight, spent some time there but then headed back to the hotel as we were to check out and head out as early as possible to hit the 16hr long drive to our next destination.

For more pictures, you can check out my flickr link on the left side panel.

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Over the next few posts, I will be describing my week long trip to Thailand. Well, as advertised it truly is Amazing Thailand. I guess this is one of the very few trips which we planned well in advance and actually executed, but then we planned to go there, hire a car and that’s it, the rest of the trip was as random as it could get. For me, it did start off on a bad note, with my flight getting grounded due to technical issues (the steering of the plane not working) and actually pushed back my schedule by a whole day. But I guess we’ll skip that part and continue with the better part of the story, which is the vacation itself. I hope to make this series a travel experience and a guide for those who want to visit lesser known places in Thailand. The travel experience, followed by food reviews and then finally a review of the places we stayed.

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The Blue Mug – The Company Theatre

The starcast it boasted of itself was more than enough to draw crowds to the theatre. It has been running for 8 years now. Its in the waning phase – as put by the director, Atul. They may not continue staging this for much longer in its current format to be precise. With names like Konkana Sen Sharma (a pity she couldn’t make it for the play this time around), Rajat Kapoor, Ranvir Shorey, Vinay Pathak starring in it, the play couldn’t be that bad, could it? And it was the first show to be sold out. People running around to find a seat for themselves showed that Chennai had taken notice and turned out in large numbers to bid adieu to this edition of the theatre fest. With this play for a fitting finale, I guess there will be more expectations for the next years edition for sure.

Loosely and I would say very very loosely baed on the book by psychiatrist Oliver Sacks, the play in itself, has no script! It’s based on memories. Plain human memories, memories of the cast, memories of friends, memories of holidays, memories of festivals, memories of celebration, memories of love, memories of death. Plain old memories – something we take for granted many times. On the sidelines is something to emphasize why memory is important. Interesting takes. Was wondering how an empty stage – sans any props be the ideal setting for a play and the same stage was transformed into so many different things and many living and non-living things were brought to life for the audience through the descriptions of the narrators(the actors in this case). The only thing that remains at the end of the play are abstract things written on the boards and memories of the memories of the narrators! It is the kind of play that has a hangover long after you have left the theatre. Hitting you with what happened there when you think of the play. For a play on memory, that is something great to achieve.

I had one major problem with the play though. A lot of the script or whatever there was of it was in Hindi. Not that it was hard to understand, but when you stage a play in Chennai where majority of the population don’t speak the language and when the play is being staged in a theatre fest by a Leading English Daily, you just don’t expect a non-English play unless forewarned. I know some people will come up with an argument that there was an Korean play right at the beginning of the seven days, but may I remind that it was a mime and puppet play, which is language agnostic. I think there could be a small level of customization they can do when they stage the play in non-Hindi speaking regions. The director sure did feign ignorance and oversight for this when asked, I guess when the production house is not new to Chennai and this is their 6th performance for the city some things need to be kept in mind. You need to explain to the person sitting next to you what exactly the dialogue meant as they don’t speak the language which kind of ruins the whole theatre going experience for the people around.

Given all that, it truly was a fitting finale. An overall review of the fest and the general things I liked and didn’t like about it comes up in the next post.

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