Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tango All Night

I attended a performance at the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas Concert Hall last night with my sister, her daughter Aliah and a few of my sister’s office friends. “Tango Fire” was a dancing and singing performance of by the group – Estampas Portenas.

The performance was accompanied by a four all guys band – QUATROTANGO. There was GABRIEL the piano player, HUGO the Bandoneon player, GERARDO the double bass player and MARCELO the violinist.

The show started with the Milonga. By the way, what is the Milonga??

According to Wikipedia, Milonga is an Argentinian and Uruguan form of music or dance. The term milonga comes from a similar expression that means lyrics. Milonga is also the term given to a tango party.

The dancers, so tall, so slim and pretty too, performed to various tango dances. There were splits and jumps and turns and surely looked somewhat acrobatic to me. They must have had hours and hours of practice to have their dancing so prefect.

At the end of the show, the audience showed their appreciation with a loud round of applause for the group for their overwhelming performance.

For me…well, who knows I’ll start up tango soon. But before doing so…I do need to shed off the extra pounds around the waist and perhaps grow a few inches taller..hah..hah…dream on huh!!!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Prelude to Chiangmai Trip

The need to unwind and recharge

A friend freaked out when I sms telling her that I’ll be off on a holiday. She said, “Didn’t you just come back from one?”

“Yes…I did.” I told her. “But Siem Reap was with my husband. This time I am going with friends!!” She said, “Ohh…tak sama eh??”

And the sms exchange ended there.

Ok….guilty as it may sound, I admit I am one of those who need to take off for a few days to unwind and get myself recharged again. Juggling schedules between work, home and the children can take a whole lot of you. Thus, this explains the absolute need of getting away.

Air Asia Promotional Tickets

Air Asia…ahhh…it’s a blessing for travelers like me who don’t really want to pay too much on air tickets. So obviously, these tickets that I got for this trip to Chiangmai were booked way back in September 2006. Air Asia had offers for RM39.99 to several of its destinations.

Traveling Companions

This is just my personal opinion. Husbands make great traveling companions. But there are times when girls wanna be girls and they just wanna have fun together.

I am glad that I have friends who share the same interest with regards to traveling and are able to get away from the family for short getaway trips.

The other common interest that we have is RETAIL THERAPY aka shopping.

So for this trip…my partners in crime were Muni, Jupe and Raha. Muni, Jupe and I studied in college together. We have children who are almost of the same age and what’s more interesting is ..our husbands also studied together in the same University and knew each one of us way back before we all got married.
Raha on the other hand first joined us during the trip to Bandung last year. She has gotten the hang of traveling with the three of us and hopefully she’ll be coming along on our trips to come.

Friday 20 April 2007 Chiangmai Day 1

We took off on Air Asia flight AK 896 from LCCT KL to Chiangmai at about 8.50am. The flight was fine and in about 2 ½ hours we landed in Chaingmai Airport.

After baggage collection and custom clearance, we were out at the airport lobby waiting for the pick up from the tour agent. I made tour arrangement via the Internet earlier. Being a new user on online bookings, I had my reservations. My number one fear was what if these companies don’t exist and they are just there setting traps to new users like me. Well, that was the risk I had to take. The tour package rate they were giving was way much cheaper from the ones I have surveyed in KL.

Like I said…that will be the risk I have to take.
And when the airport pick up was not at the airport lobby as promised in the email, I was worried. We have paid some money and what’s going to happen to us. After waiting for a few minutes, I decided to call the tour agent. A lady picked up the phone and she immediately replied…"Ooo…you must be Khalida…your pickup is on his way. He will be there in 10 minutes.”
Boy…was I relieved. Our pick up, Mr Tee arrived about 15 minutes later. Tee was a pleasant young chap who spoke reasonable amount of English.

Tee told us he will take us to the hotel to check in. Since it was almost noon we figured we had better get something to eat before we start our program for the day. I asked him if he could take us to lunch at a Muslim restaurant. He said ok and there was just one restaurant close to the hotel we were staying.

Chiangmai city was just a few minutes from the airport. It was a hot day. I guessed the temperature must be around 39 degrees and we could definitely feel the heat as we got into the van.

Our hotel the Central Duangtawan Hotel is in town. One of the criteria in hotel selection was that it has to be close to the night market. When I read the online review of this hotel being just steps away from the night market..obviously…this was the hotel of our pick.

So we checked into the hotel and then off to lunch.

Tom Yam and Steamed Fish Lunch

There restaurant was just a few blocks away from our hotel. An elderly lady greeted us when we walked in. We placed our orders of Tom Yam soup, steamed fish, vegetables and another dish (goshh…for the life of me I can’t remember what it was).

It was a good lunch and we were hungry. There was nothing better than having fresh coconut drink to wash down the food. Surprisingly, the food was very cheap if compared to any Thai restaurants in KL.

Tee came to fetch us an hour later. He explained that we will visit the Chiangmai National Museum and the Tribal Museum after this.

First stop - Chiangmai National Museum.

Located in the north of the city the museum features a range of displays and exhibits providing details of Chiang Mai’s Lanna era. The museum documents northern Thailand’s pre-history to present times and includes examples of ancient jewellery, kilns from the 14th-century, ancient art and Buddha images alongside weapons of the era.

The second floor of the building is dedicated to the Lanna era crafts and also shows ancient farming equipment and an excellent exhibition of photographs.

The trip to this museum was a good introduction about Chiangmai and its people. The only thing that was not too nice about the visit was that the place was not air conditioned. There were stand fans but the heat was way to challenging for us. We spent almost a good 30 mins here and then we were back in Tee’s van heading to our next destination.

Second stop – Tribal Museum

This museum is a three storey building situated in Ratchamankla Park. There are costumes, tools and art from all of the major northern hill tribes on display here.

Again the heat was taking a toll on us. We spent even a shorter period here. Got some interesting pictures and then off we were to Tee’s van which was nice and cooling.

In the van Tee asked us if we wanted to visit the Handicraft village. Well, since we did the museums earlier than we were supposed to, we still had time. So we all agreed to go for the visit.

San Kampaeng Road.
The largest and most popular of the local handicraft factories are situated along this 13 km stretch of the Chiang Mai – San Kampaeng Road. Both sides of the road are lined with factories and showrooms where you have the opportunity to observe the craftsmen and women at work and purchase their fine products.

Here we visited the Thai Silk factory and the cotton and silk weaving village. Jupe bought a couple of cute handbags from the Silk Factory. This place had some very colourful Thai silk materials. However, the price was not favorable to our budget. They were selling Thai silks at THB600 per meter, which is approximately RM60/meter. Goshhh…the price sure is steep..even in KL you could get these silks for RM40/meter.

So it was a no buy for most of us. Jupe bought a few cute handbags for souvenir….such colourful pieces. I think Raha bought something from this place too…but wasn’t too sure what she got.

Tee our driver took us to a jewelry shop. The shop was a shop specializing in jade. I knew this was going to be a “hotspot” for me. “Hotspot” meaning..there could possibly be some “retail damage” here. In my shopping list for this trip, I had as item number 5 in the list “something jade”.

So..true enough, I did my first credit card damage in this jewelry shop. I got myself a jade bangle and Muni bought a jade bracelet. We were both very happy.

Our Mr Tee was smiling outside the building as he ushered us to his van. Why wouldn’t he be smiling...he too would have a small commission due for collection from the shop. Well, I guess that’s how it goes.

Tee then took us to another jewelry shop. This shop claims to be the Worlds Biggest Jewelry Factory in Chiang Mai. It showcased rubies, sapphires - green, yellow and blue, diamonds and all other gem stones.

I am a real “sucker” for sapphires and I think it is written all over my face. The sales girl showed me stones after stones of sapphires. I was trying so hard to resist the temptations. In the end…I surrendered to this beautiful sapphire ring which had a design like Lady Diana’s wedding ring. How could I have said “No” to that!!

The sales girl was more than happy to swipe my credit card for me. Boy…am I glad that this is my OWN credit card and not those supplementary ones..where the other half also takes a look at the bill when it comes at the end of the month.
When we walked to Tee’s van, he was again smiling and we knew very well what the smile meant to him.

He then took us to the hotel. Tonight’s program was a dinner cruise on a boat on the Mae Ping river.

Mae Ping River Cruise

We were picked up by a driver from the cruise company. He made his rounds to several other places to pick up other guests who will join the cruise. We arrived at a nice restaurant by the river. There was a long boat and we figured that will be the “cruise” which we will take. Well…my expectation was different. I had expected a bigger boat and there would be music and others. Haa..haa…this ain’t no love boat lah!! I guess for the price we paid we are not complaining.
We were served with a few dishes. There was tomyam (again!!), a fish dish and some fried vegetables. Food was not too bad.

While we ate, the boat moved slowly upstream and we saw huts and local folks living the river bank. I was hoping the boat would move faster… Why?? Well, our eyes were almost closing already and we still haven’t hit the streets to SHOP!!!

After sometime on the agonizing boat ride, we finally made it back to the riverside restaurant. Boy…aren’t we glad!!!

The driver then drove us back to our hotel. Jupe was almost asleep when we got back to our hotel. She couldn’t take it any more…just wanted to hit the sack.

First Night Market Trip

I was sleepy and tired too. But the neon lights from the night market were too inviting. So..the three of us, Muni, Raha & I..we headed for the market right away.

And this was the mark of the beginning of our holiday. Wasn’t much of the food, or the sight seeing…it was the SHOPPING.

I guess it would be “obscene” to describe here that we literally canvassed the entire block of the night market in front of our hotel. There was just too much to look at… clothes, bags, embroidery stuffs, jewelry and others.

There was obviously “damage” done for the night. Silk materials, hand made vases, 2 new games for my girl’s Gameboy and others. By the time we finished we could hardly walk and it was almost midnight. The traders were ready to call it for the day and so were we!!!

Saturday 21 April 2007 Chiangmai Day 2

We were up early this morning. Program for today would be visits to Orchid farm and the elephant ride and everyone was excited.

We met with Yu Pin our tour guide at the lobby. A very sweet lady who comes from Chiangmai itself. These Thai girls are very pretty I must say... smooth complexion and very soft spoken. When she first introduced herself, I thought of YouTube. "Yu Pin" and You Tube...they sound almost the same.

Yu Pin told us that the trip to the elephant farm would take about 1 hour. But we will first make a quick stop at the orchid farm.

Tee was our driver again for today. Since it was still morning the drive was ok. The sun had started to blaze its heat but it was still bareable. In a few minutes we arrived at the orchid farm.

There were lines and lines of blooming orchid flowers in bright and vibrant colours of purple, orange, red and yellow. They were so beautiful. We were snapping pictures at almost every corner that had flowers.

Yu Pin mentioned that we were to spend about 20 minutes here. But as usual we got stucked at the souviner area choosing orchid broaches for ourselves.

Of course, once we have made our purchases...the big smiles were so distinct. "Hai...kat ladang orkid pun boleh shopping tu." That was my remark to everyone and I was one of the culprits myself!!

When we met Yu Pin at the van...she smiled. Ha..ha...she now knew that if there's one thing that would make us would be SHOPPING!!!

It was getting hotter and we were gald to be in Tee's van heading towards the elephant camp.

Elephant - National Symbol of Thailand

We arrived at the elephant camp in about 45 minutes. The sharp smell from the elephant dung poked our nostrils the very moment we stepped out of the van. Ok...I guess that's how it goes...getting up close and personal with these animals.
Yu Pin got us tickets for the show and then showed us to the viewing gallery and the place was almost packed with people. We climbed up to the middle area hoping to get a good view of the elephants later.

About the elephants.

There is a strong bond between the Thai people and elephants. Elephants hold a revered place in society, because of their symbolic importance to monarchs, religion, and the nation as a whole.

Thai tradition abounds with examples of the elephant playing an important role in the workings of the Kingdom.

The show started not long after that. The elephants showed their skills and talents in maneuvering logs, playing soccer and basketball. They even danced to an upbeat music.

One elephant known as Mr Orachai, the resident painter, did a flower painting and received a round of applause from the visitors. That was pretty interesting!!!

Let's Go for a Ride!!

After the show, Yu Pin showed us to the place for us to take a ride on an ox cart. All four of us climbed into the ox cart. There was a driver manning two oxen.

The ride passed by small plots of rice farming area and villages of the local folks. It was kind of a slow and relaxing ride.
Halfway through out the journey, the driver suddenly asked Muni to come forward and man the oxen!! Huh..he must be out of his mind!! Then he asked for our camera and he went down and snap our pictures. accomodating of him and of course we were impressed!!
The ride didn't take too long and our stop was local tribal village.

Ride of My Life

We got down from the ox cart at a tribal village. There were not many folks around. My guess was most of them were out at work. Only the women folks and children were walking around.

While waiting for our elephant ride, we walked around and looked at the makeshift handicraft stalls the locals have put up. There were lots of intricate and colourful handicrafts. They make and then sell these handicraft to the tourists.

I got a myself a small toiletries bag. I had my eyes on a sling bag which was hanging in one of the stalls. I thought I would look around in all the stalls first and then come back to the stall where I first saw it.

Just when I was about to turn back, the elephant handler called for us. Ooooo....there was not enough time to go back to the first stall where I saw the bag. It was just too bad for me. I do hope to find the bag later at another place.

All on board the elephant.

Muni and I sat on one elephant. It was so tall!! And the moment it whole body swayed with the movement of the elephant. was some experience of a life time!! I laughed and laughed and laughed. It was funny and yet overwhelming. Jupe and Raha were on the elephant in front of us. It was almost impossible to snap pictures as the swaying of the animal was so strong. Each time we tried, we would end up snapping either pictures on the tree or someone else's head.

The ride did take a while. We went passed the hills and even crossed the river. At one point the animal just stopped. Both Muni and I wondered why it didn't move. Later the animal turned and the handler showed us this mountain like dung. "pooped" while carrying us. Could it be that we were too heavy for him???

The ride finally came to an end at the place where we saw the show. We climbed out the seat and was met up by Yu Pin. She informed us that lunch was ready. Oh at last. The ride had made us so famished.

Ride on the Bamboo Raft

It was almost noon when we finished our elephant ride. Yu Pin met up with us and guided us to the nearby restaurant where we were having lunch. We were obviously very hungry.

The food spread looked good but we were not sure if it was halal. There was vege...well...of course that we could eat. There was also a dish which looked like "masak lemak". But we were not sure what meat was it. Looking around, we saw the "Bismillah" phrase on one of the walls. Our next question was...could the operator be a muslim??

One of us went to ask if the food was halal..and wallahh....the guy behind the kitchen counter said "Yes". Good for that our conscience is clear...we were free to try out the food.

I guess when you are hungry...whatever that's served would be good.

We had a good lunch that day.

After to another ride. This time it was the bamboo raft ride. All four of us sat on this raft made of bamboo and followed the river to its downstream.

Our raft was paddled by a father and son team. The old man in front had no front teeth while the son had his hair coloured blonde!! Highly fashionable for a hillbilly eh??

Muni and I then took turns to paddle the raft. wasn't that difficult. Kind of enjoyable..if only the sun was not blazing down directly.

Check out our gaya...nampak macam best je kan??? Action je...

Interesting finds along the river bank.

A tree house

Roots all over

Longan trees

Small waterfall

This is how you cool off!!

Crane is used to carry rafts back upstream