Gibbon a Helping Hand

When thinking of Phuket the words ‘party’ and ‘tourist’ automatically come to mind, and rightly so. However, just 20 minutes outside of Phuket Town’s hustle and bustle lies the serene Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre. Stepping into the Rehabilitation Centre is like discovering a new world-a world where the trees buzz with siren-like howls and the branches shake and convulse as if with a mind of their own. Initially this may be confronting, but on closer inspection you will realise that these are howls of joy and belonging, and that you are not just being welcomed into a tourist attraction, but into a home.

Phuket’s Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre provides refuge to over sixty Gibbons at a time, most of whom have been abused from a young age and used as tourist attractions. In Thailand there are over 3,000 gibbons killed each year, as families are slaughtered trying to protect their young from hunters.

The biologists and volunteers who work here adopt these cheeky, acrobatic white-handed gibbons, and teach them the ABC’s of living in the wild. Unfortunately, upon release many of these lovable animals are once again caught or killed by hunters and may end up finding refuge in the rehabilitation centre once more.

Lulu finds refuge in Phuket’s Gibbon Rehabilitation Centre after her family was killed by hunters.

The Rehabilitation Centre aims to save as many Gibbons as they can, though statistics tell us that for every saved Gibbon there are two or three who have been killed. However, it is obvious that the members of this particular family care little for statistics. They swing in their large cages and sing to each other as if for the moment this is where they belong, hoping that one day they might just make it to freedom.

 Tip for the penny pinchers:

One of the great benefits of this project is that it is solely run by volunteers from across the globe and no entrance fee is charged. Therefore, the centre has positioned itself as an intriguing activity for not only those interested in Gibbon preservation, but also those who are looking for an enjoyable day with a restricted budget. It is also recommended to visit the Bang Pae Falls, which are located a short 10 minute walk from the Rehabilitation Centre.

Tourists and locals converge to cool off in the Bang Pae Waterfall

So, You Think You Can Cook?

Culturally, Chiang Mai offers much more than your usual tourist hotspots. With a huge variety of attractions and sites the city is guaranteed to please even the savviest of travellers. However, to fully understand the culture of this magical city you must immerse yourself in the Thai cuisine, and what better way to do this than by learning how to cook some special dishes for your friends and family back home.

Throughout the Western world it seems that Thai food is becoming extremely popular with an increasing number of restaurants opening their doors to a mass of expectant customers. These days (due to an increasingly competitive environment) food quality and presentation must be of the highest standards in order to survive. Because of this demand Chiang Mai now offer a number of cooking classes designed to teach customers not only how to cook traditional Thai dishes, but also how to choose the freshest ingredients.

Student cooked yellow curry in the Baan Thai kitchen

The recommended cooking class to take when visiting Chiang Mai is the Baan Thai home cooking class, which is situated on Rachadamnern Road and boasts a wholly traditional setting ensuring a memorable cultural experience. The cooking classes are very reasonably priced at around 900 baht (around $28) per person for the entire day (about 10:00 until 4:00), and this includes not only the cooking of 7 dishes but also a guided tour of the local food markets where you will buy your ingredients for the day.

Note: the price of these ingredients is included in your initial fee, though you will have to pay for any personal food purchases while in the markets.

The cooking begins at Baan Thai

The markets are a fantastic cultural opportunity which allow you to experience traditional Thai life, while enjoying a variety of spectacularly fresh produce. Within the market you will visit a number of small stalls selling fresh food at a cheap price; from vegetables and fruit to an impressive variety of nuts, rice and poultry. You will also be encouraged to let your guide, or any of the friendly shop owners, answer any questions you might have regarding Thai cooking. Once the shopping has been completed your guide will escort you back to the school where your first cooking challenge awaits.

Baan Thai cooking instructor, Salam Mahayat, chooses the freshest ingredients from local markets

Chiang Mai: The Rose of The North

Each February Chiang Mai hosts one of the most spectacular parades in Thailand-The Flower Festival. Keeping true to its title ‘Rose of the North’, The Flower Festival gives Chiang Mai the chance to truly swing into full bloom with an extravagant offering of intricate flower sculptures of animals, temples and scenes from traditional Thai stories, as well as food markets, local handicrafts and a sensational beauty pageant. Here, Thai culture is brought to the forefront and explodes in a traditional celebration of magnificent proportions.

The Flower Festival is held each February as this is when the Thai climate is at its coolest, and also because during this month more than 3000 species of orchid-whether the calming purplish orchirds or the enticing red roses-come to bloom and reveal their dazzling beauty. It is a parade that attracts not only locals but also crowds of visitors from around the world, witnessing the old city come alive with colourful displays of floral delight.

Streets come alive at Chiang Mai Flower Festival

Streets come alive at Chiang Mai Flower Festival

The parade takes place for the majority of the day and slowly winds through the streets of Chiang Mai, altering the normally rushed pace of the city to a state of calmness. If you find that you need a break from the constant floats and dazzling colours, salvation can be found in one of the many streets surrounding the parade. These streets play host to an array of small shopfronts from fresh Thai cuisine, handicrafts, fruit markets and clothing.

For those adventurous spirits who are bored of the traditional Thai food, fear not, as you have the opportunity to try some unique Thai delicacies that will be difficult to find on a restaurant menu. From deep-fried cockroaches, spiders and worms to steamed piranha your tastebuds will be treated to a range of foreign tastes and flavours.

The alternate flavours of Chiang Mai

The alternate flavours of Chiang Mai

A cabaret a day keeps the cultural ignorance away…

In our conservative Western culture ladyboys (known in Thailand as katoeys) are often viewed with a somewhat curious nature, however in Thailand they are mostly accepted and embraced by a highly tolerant society. Because of this foreign curiosity lady-boys have gained an element of prestige in the Thai entertainment business, with shows and cabarets proving to be one of the most successful tourist attractions offered. However it is not just the bright lights and dazzling costumes-or the obvious curiosity of seeing a real-life gender switch-but the unique cultural immersion that comes from witnessing a show like this. Lady-boys are a unique and accepted part of day to day life for the Thai people and, in my opinion, witnessing a show such as this is an important part of understanding the Thai culture.

Calypso Cabaret

When it comes to lady-boy shows Bangkok has a buffet of options; from the cheap and often quite confronting street shows, to the upper class spectacles of dazzling costumes, music and choreography. It is generally recommended by Bangkok locals to steer well clear of those lower class street shows, which often attract unpleasant crowds and can result in theft (or merely a waste of your money). However, by doing some easy research you can ensure that you will be rewarded with a value for money show and an enriching cultural experience.

One of the most renowned cabaret’s in Bangkok is the world famous Calypso Cabaret. There are two shows held each night at the spectacular Asia Hotel (a fitting venue for such an extravagant production).  The shows run for approximately 90 minutes each and audiences can expect dazzling lights, breathless set designs, glamorous costumes, an ensemble of seamless gender-straddling performers and, most importantly, a guaranteed bang for your buck. Audiences are also given the chance to meet the performers at the end of each production, providing a great photo opportunity to show friends and family.

Lady Boy at Calypso (believe it or not)

Tips for the penny pinchers:

When it comes to lady-boy shows it is important to note that saving money may not necessarily be the best option. Granted, the Calypso is one of the more expensive shows in Bangkok and there are cheaper options out there. However these cheap imitations will often be a waste of your money, and we recommend doing your research before agreeing to one of the many lady boys hustling the streets for business. It is also highly recommended to book your tickets before arriving at the venue (depending on which show you are attending) as the prices may differ quite substantially.

Shop ‘Til You Drop at the Chatuchak Weekend Markets

So, you think you’re a shopping pro? If bargain hunting is your thing then look no further than Bangkok’s world famous Chatuchak Weekend Markets. Here you will find the term ‘shop ‘til you drop’ to be taken quite literally. The Chatuchak Weekend Markets are an expansive 35-acre area which houses over 8,000 unique shopping stalls and, on a typical weekend, attracts over 200,000 visitors. Any local will tell you that this is the mecca for Thai bargain hunting and that there is only one negative to these brilliant markets-you will most definitely be buying another suitcase.

What’s on offer?

These markets are considered unique not just because of sheer size but because of the variety of products that are on offer. In one section you will find a range of clothing from handmade knitted products, handbags, singlets, shirts, hats, Levi jeans, shoes and shorts. In another you will be greeted by the aromas of home cooked Thai Cuisine and sweets, or perhaps a fresh fruit shake to quench your thirst. You also have the opportunity to delve into the more exotic side of Bangkok, with a large selection of unique animals on display. Ever wanted to own a Monkey or a Python?

Boy busking at markets

How to find what you’re looking for

At first, conquering the Chatuchak Markets will be daunting to even the more savvy shoppers. But thankfully there is a method to the madness. Once you have made your way into the markets you will find yourself on the main walkway which surrounds the entire market. This walkway then branches off into a series of alleyways which are grouped into sections. There are 27 sections in all, and it will require some navigational skills to remember where you have already visited. But fear not, with the help of this brief guide and the friendly market volunteers you will find exactly what you’re looking for.

Market Directory (sections guide originally published by Chatuchak.org. http://www.chatuchak.org/)

  • Clothing & Accessories (sections 2-6, 10-26)
  • Handicrafts (sections 8-11)
  • Ceramics (sections 11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 25)
  • Furniture and Home Decoration (sections 1,3,4,7,8)
  • Food and Beverage (sections 2, 3, 4, 23, 24, 26, 27)
  • Plants and Gardening tools (sections 3, 4)
  • Art and Gallery (section 7)
  • Pets and Pet Accessories (sections 8, 9, 11, 13)
  • Books (sections 1, 27)
  • Antiques and Collectibles (sections 1, 26)
  • Miscellaneous and Used Clothing (sections 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 22, 25, 26)

The weekend markets are open on Saturdays and Sundays, 09:00 – 18:00, and Fridays 18:00 – 24:00.

Tips for the penny pinchers:

Getting to the Chatuchak Weekend Markets can be a stressful exercise, though there are a number of different options available that can make this a relaxing and affordable experience.

SkyTrain

Bangkok’s SkyTrain is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to see Bangkok and has become a great alternative to the congested Bangkok traffic. There are SkyTrain stations spread throughout Bangkok (most likely within a walking distance from your hotel) and once aboard you will be taking a short trip to Mo Chit station. Upon arrival you will join the crowd of eager shoppers for a short 10 minute walk to the markets.

TukTuk

For the more adventurous travellers, it can be quite beneficial to hail a TukTuk (Thailand’s answer to a Western taxi), which will drop you at the front gate of the markets. TukTuk’s can prove quite cheap depending on how skilled you are at bargaining, though be warned that this is not the safest of travelling options. While there are few TukTuk related accidents, the bustling roads of Bangkok can prove quite daunting for some travellers. However, this can be an exciting way to see the streets of Bangkok and for a small tip can prove a convenient ride home. After a day at the markets you and your feet will be searching for all the convenience you can find.

Riding in a Tuk Tuk

Introducing Bangkok: The ‘City of Angels’

 

bangkok

When first arriving in Thailand’s industrious capital, Bangkok, one cannot help but be confronted by the hustle and bustle of this frantic urban sprawl. Bangkok (known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon), meaning “city of angels”, has grown considerably over the years and is now Thailand’s commercial, creative, economic and consumer centre.

Demographics collide in this concrete jungle as Bangkok attracts a range of people from rural villagers looking to start a new life, hip teenagers with a pocket full of cash, high society types and tourists taking full advantage of the pulsing night life and cheap lifestyle. “City of angels” is adhered to wholeheartedly by the people of Bangkok, and it is rare not to be greeted with a welcoming smile. For travellers Bangkok provides not only an exciting night life, delicious food, a continuous flow of alcohol and cheap shopping but also a unique cultural experience created by the city’s “angels” themselves.

Streets of Bangkok

For those interested in embracing the history of Bangkok, Old Bangkok, situated alongside Ko Ratanakosin, is the original royal district filled with historic monuments. If you follow the river North you will find the charming Banglamphu, a residential neighbourhood of friendly shophouses offering cheap Thai delicacies and crafts. If your historic taste buds are yet to be satisfied Dusit, straddling the banks of Banglamphu, is home to the Vimanmek Teak Mansion and the spectacular royal residence, Chitlada Palace.

If you follow the river South you can experience an entirely different riverside view of Bangkok, picturesque with crumbling buildings, grand churches and water-side residences. Nestled along the Riverside is the bustling Chinatown, which offers an array of exciting shopping options that will challenge your tastebuds and give a whole new meaning to impulse buying.

China Town view from ferry

Modern Bangkok is based around Silom, Sukhumvit and Siam Square and provides homesick tourists with all the comforts of their respective country. Shop-a-holics will celebrate in Siam Square’s vast shopping centres surrounding The Phra Ram, while foreigners craving their favourite home-cooked dish will find refuge at Th Sukhumvit, offering a range of restaurants specialising in international dishes and cuisine.

Bangkok comes alive at night