A man, a podcast and meeting Ciaran McMeeken

I have always had a passion for story-telling, creative people and those wonderful books / movies / plays etc that transport you to a whole new magical world. I enjoy good films and music just like most people I know, but until I met my husband, I would never have swum deeper into the world of the creative arts, music, movies – i.e. I would enjoy them when I was there, but I wouldn’t feel a need to read up more about them or listen to commentary around them.

At my first date with Jarred, though, I learned towards the end of our leisurely coffee date that my date (too many dates in this sentence and none are the Medjool sort) was involved with a podcast on entertainment. I was intrigued and secretly glad that I had not known this before we met up, as I would have thought – with great error – that such a man must be superficial and love celebrities and be scarily extroverted and have nothing in common with me. (Okay – I was the shallow judge!)

He asked if I might like to join him at his podcast that afternoon. I looked at his kind face for a few seconds, considering. I got into his car.

Image from Bossfight

As it turns out, it was more than safe – it was great! That day I met his co-host Wal, and a couple of filmmakers who shared their experience and passion in a way that made me reflect on and appreciate films, filmmakers and the creative process more. It was like being backstage, getting to watch a performance from a closer and different vantage point, but better. I was also rather floored by the confidence they all had in front of the camera and mic!

Good surprises come sometimes when you least expect it. I had a lovely evening out with my husband last night, pretending we were in sunny Thailand at happy eatery Kiss Kiss and following up with a cozy coffee-and-slice and Circus Circus, before we headed in to the studio for a podcast session.

I found out that this evening’s guest was singer-songwriter Ciaran McMeeken. Born in Arrowtown and bred in the wild and beautiful South Island of NZ, he was due to launch his self-titled album and debut tour in NZ (both happening today). I was a little sleepy as the night was cold and it was ticking slowly towards my bedtime – but when he arrived and the conversation began, the magic happened. I was a transfixed fly on the wall.

Through lighthearted banter, spontaneous questions and honest answers between them all, I learned a little about Ciaran’s journey, feeling a simultaneous sense of respect and delight. When he sang his beautiful song “Spanish Steps” towards the end, it was like we were at our own private concert. I found myself paddling in memories of home, travels, sunshine, yearnings and writing poetry. (Did you know that one of the best ways you can encourage your own creativity to emerge is to be in the presence of someone who daringly creates and shares his own art?)

For someone who’s sung in front of thousands whilst opening for Ronan Keating, Ciaran was also humble enough to acknowledge the people he’s met who have helped propel him forward. He mentioned a farmer, John, who he once worked alongside. John cut his apprehension down to size (by $18K) with simple, grounded advice and helped him to see that his dream was not as out of reach as he thought. Ciaran left the farm a few days later and as the popular saying goes … the rest is history! (Thanks, John!)

Meeting people, the desire to create and sing, serendipity, home, travel, struggle, goals … the conversation was only around 20 minutes long but touched on many aspects of the creative and human journey (see below). In the end, I was reminded that while luck, budget, kind people, opportunities and things like that play a role in fostering success, it is the decision to step out and say YES that finally makes it all possible.

Personal courage and action have been hugely crucial in bringing Ciaran to this point in his journey and I am positive that for as long as he continues to say YES and express his shining heart, he will enjoy many future successes.

“Like anything, you need a team … you can’t do it by yourself. Like climbing a mountain – you need some sherpas”, said Ciaran. Wise words.

Humble words.

We won’t be surprised when he wins his Grammy.

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P.S. Of course I had to take a ‘we-fie’!

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Chance to Ignite

Spirited, raw, spontaneous.

With poetic prose and energetic dashes of boxing and jujitsu, seven young stars take turns in the spotlight, inviting us into their stories. Hunger for their ‘spark’ moves the narrative along and the cast takes the audience on a journey that explores emotions around their inner battles. Sitting in the front row [at Q Theatre] we look right into their eyes, the windows to their souls, as they wax lyrical on dating, death, loneliness, being alone in nature, being ‘good’, being afraid and more. At one point I notice the sudden tears that jump into one young lass’s eyes – as she relives her own story, right there on the stage. I am touched as I realise she is voicing her truth.

The performance weaves together several narratives and incidents, with a certain sense of light and harmony. There is a unified, joyous energy that bursts from the cast throughout the performance – it is obvious that they have poured their hearts and souls into it. The cast members offer us a glimpse into their souls – paving the way for us to peer into our own.

Introspective, humorous, illuminating and relatable by turn, Chance to Ignite showcases the beauty of being both a young woman and ultimately a human being in the world.

Chance to Ignite

This post has also been published on NZ Entertainment Podcast.

Image © Massive Theatre Company / Eventfinda

 

Kuching, Sarawak: hidden treasures

Growing up in Southeast Asia, I used to take this part of the world for granted. Like some of my friends, my dream vacations involved faraway, ‘interesting’ places like France and Italy.

If I could turn back time, I’d change my perspective. Hot, sticky summers; amazing thunderstorms; delectable food; juicy tropical fruit … how much I overlooked the gifts of home :-)

Around two weeks ago, I popped over to Kuching, Sarawak to visit my friend Soo Sian. We met at university more than a decade ago (!) and I was excited that I was going to see her again … and visit her in her hometown! I didn’t really know what to expect; I had heard about Kuching’s famous orang utans and ‘food that was better than Singapore’s’ (a bold statement?) … aside from that, I went with an open mind.

Soo Sian came to pick me up at the airport and we dove right into easy, rapid conversation – as if the last time we caught up face to face properly was mere days ago, rather than years ago. My first thought about the city was that it was a cross between Singapore and Phuket in terms of pace, feel and cleanliness. It has the best of both cities :-) We headed straight to the heart of the city, into charming ‘old Kuching’ for lunch – sweet and smoky satay, noodles cooked in a gentle broth. I relaxed immediately.

So began six lovely days :-)

Old Kuching / Main Bazaar / Carpenter Street

Some parts of the area have been ‘touristified’, but it doesn’t take away the quiet beauty and charm of this area – loved both the cheerful, well-preserved buildings and the tranquil waterfront. Some really good food in the area too, which is great to enjoy in such surroundings.

The only downside for me was one public loo I walked into there, but I won’t say too much about that – just try not to need one if you are used to public toilets in Singapore or New Zealand.

At one of the jetties we caught a sampan across the river to Fort Margherita (where I got a quick introduction to the history of Kuching at the Brooke Gallery, recommended for first-time tourists).

Street art / heritage

One of the best things about Kuching for me was how you didn’t have to go far to step back in time, or admire the simple pleasures in life – and I mean that in the best way. Cities develop at such a rapid pace now, it was honestly such a joy to gaze at street art, see people doing things the ‘old (and best!) way’, walk past shops that brought back happy childhood memories …

Food

It goes without saying … diets don’t work well in Southeast Asia, and definitely not in Kuching :-) And yes – there were moments in which I thought the food was good enough to rival Singapore’s!

I fell in love at first bite with this crunchy, succulent jungle fern known as midin. We ate it cooked with red wine twice, and belachan (shrimp paste) once. Scrumptious. I could eat it every day.

Local kueh, zhong zi / bak zhang (glutinous rice dumplings) and other delights: my grandma used to make or buy these quite frequently when she was alive. Always makes me happy to see them. I feel they are getting more rare now in shops, as they are labour-intensive and their low prices hardly make up for it.

Kolo mee: affectionately known as one of Sarawak’s national dishes – it’s easy to see its appeal, especially at breakfast time! You can find it almost anywhere in Kuching where there is food sold, though Soo Sian did say there are a few places that do it better than others.

Kway chap: a robust dish with the potential to charm or offend. Flat rice sheets – a little like torn lasagne sheets – served in a herbal broth flavoured with hearty spices like star anise and five spice powder, with braised offal, tongue, belly, etc. It has to be cooked well in order for it to be enjoyable and not pungent; we ate this dish at two places and both were delicious.

Let’s not forget one of the most important meals: dessert! We had some mighty fine dessert … most notably Cocopuri (try their signature). Light and delightful. I don’t think I’ve ever had three scoops of ice cream in a single sitting, nor would I have welcomed the thought, but here it was easy! On the night we were there I loved the combination I got: coconut + lychee bandung + teh-c special. This was topped with what I think were toasted coconut flakes and gula apong.

Kopi-C / China House was a haven of relaxation and indulgence too, with their tempting selection of cakes, good coffee and tasteful decor :-) A great place to visit alone with a notebook and pen, or with friends.

Being in Kuching at the start of Ramadan meant we got to visit a pop-up Ramadan bazaar, a lovely and lively experience, and pick up some delicious ayam penyet, biryani and sugar cane juice.

Indian Temple Trail, Matang

Home to three Indian temples, the trail is also a lovely walk for nature lovers and introverts. Ideal for those looking to start exercising too ;-)

Serapi Virgin coconut shake

A delicious treat after our walk! It was busy but still felt like one of Kuching’s well-kept secrets :-) Also enjoyed the drive there as we got to enjoy lovely views and lush greenery en route.

So it feels like I’ve spent most of this post talking about food … and it is obvious that I missed some of the obvious places and activities most tourists head to Kuching for :-) It is home to many other treasures besides what I have listed here, guess another trip there in the future may be in order. From a fellow tourist-who-loves-exploring-great-places point of view I hope tourism there will grow, yet in another way I hope it doesn’t grow so much that it loses the quiet beauty it enjoys now.

For me I was very lucky to have a friend and travel companion who also hosted me and drove me around, as I do think it would be very hard to get around on my own otherwise. Attractions are spread out and signage and public transport options were not clear to me. That said … when there’s a will, there’s a way. :-)

Thanks Soo Sian and all the beautiful people I met there for a relaxing, restorative getaway!

Hands, flowers, inspiration

Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time. – Thomas Merton

There is nothing more healing for a weary soul than a true dose of inspiration. I don’t mean a feel-good buzz, groundless “be happy” optimism or pretty things. I mean something that connects you to fun, rest and purpose. Something that recharges your flat batteries. Something that reminds you that it is really a gift to be alive.

I woke up on Saturday morning feeling weary. I had arrived in Singapore just the day before, and I was happy that my aunt had signed herself, my cousin and I up for a treat, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect from a floral arrangement workshop. I like working with my hands in certain things – like cooking (and very occasionally, attempting to ‘garden’) – but I wasn’t sure about flowers. I thought it might be too complex / feminine / romantic for me …

We had a delicious breakfast at Kith before going to Marina Square for the workshop. Walking in to XTRA and seeing their new showroom reminded me of how wonderful it is to have our human senses.

To see, touch, listen to, smell, feel stuff – even furniture – provides an experience that digital platforms will never replace.

I was also reminded that though we get many great deals shopping online, we need to support our retailers where possible if we want to keep having wonderful shops to walk into!

The air was gloriously scented with the perfume of fresh flowers. And when I laid eyes on the workshop space and the tall, graceful blooms and leaves, I felt a little leap of excitement.

Ching (from Triceratops) made us feel at home immediately, with her warm, honest introduction to flowers and the art of floral arrangement. She was generous with her knowledge, and patient and gracious in answering our questions.

As promised in the brochure on this workshop: ‘ideal for beginners’, it was delivered at a great pace for this complete novice. In saying that, I am sure even seasoned florists would gain some insight and inspiration from it.

We learned where to buy materials at a good price, how to prepare and preserve flowers, and how to present them in a beautiful way. Details weren’t glossed over – we learned how to tie ‘the perfect bow’, even with a ribbon that was shiny on one side and not the other.

Ching gave us a few great ideas for delivering maximum impact with minimum effort – e.g. displaying a single sprig of mint fern in a vase. How’s that for easy?

Ching’s ‘demo’ arrangement came together rapidly, seamlessly and beautifully … that’s 16+ years of experience and passion for you ;-)

Before long, it was time for us to get our hands dirty (and perfumed).

It was fascinating to see how everyone else worked on their arrangement. Even people who selected a very similar combination of flowers and leaves put things together in such unique ways.

Though part of the work had been done for us (vase + sponge + bottom layers + water – check!) I realised it had looked WAY easier than it was (for me anyway!)

Fortunately, Ching and her team were on hand to give us lots of help and advice :-)

And we got there in the end.

The biggest takeaways for me personally were the fantastic tips – and the wider principles to apply in life and art: practice, patience, and remaining connected in what you do :-)

Thank you Ching, Triceratops, XTRA and my aunt for this wonderful and uplifting experience.

A reason to love

This post was written as an assignment for a writing course I am currently doing (and enjoying): 15 Days of Writing True.

Category: A reason to love

This photo of my husband and I was a ‘selfie’ snapped on a recent trip to Thailand, on a khlong boat en route to Pratunam in Bangkok.

I hadn’t wanted to travel by boat. It was hot, muggy, and I wished my husband would just hop into a cab with me. I resented our different views around money and convenience in that moment.

We were in Bangkok, where I’d spent some time in previously. It was my husband’s first visit to the city. I hadn’t seen *everything*, but I thought I knew something about getting around.

On this day we had just checked in to this apartment, with a few hours to go before we were due to go for dinner on a boat. I had made a reservation online and was anxious that we get there on time. At the apartment, I realised the BTS (train) station was further away than I’d thought it would be. I sent a message to the guy who owned the Airbnb apartment we were staying at to ask him what the best way to get to our destination was. He made a few suggestions, including catching a ‘ferry’ behind our condo.

I’d never heard of any other boat service which operated outside of the ones on the Chao Phraya River, and looking around it seemed unlikely to me that there would be boats of any sort around where we were.

But we walked out to find it, and we found it quicker than I expected us to. It was a little dirty and confusing. I saw no clear signs, certainly not for English speakers. No staff. No foreigners. No ticketing system. I looked online for answers which I did not find. A boat arrived, and then another … from the opposite direction. The boats were so speedy, the people who got on and off so nimble. A lady we approached told us in halting English the direction that we should take and that it would take roughly 40 minutes to get to where we wanted to go (after which we would still have to transit to other mediums of transport).

It felt too hard and unnecessary – so I suggested trying out the boat another time. (Secretly, I didn’t mind if we didn’t).

We took a taxi to the BTS station that night.

The next day, my husband suggested a walk by the water. So after breakfast we walked back there, passing a live fire drill (complete with real fire and extinguishers) on the way. This time we crossed the bridge to the other side and kept walking alongside the canal.

My ears felt strange. Then I realised it was quiet and peaceful. Just across the road were tall skyscrapers, luxurious condos, the sound of traffic … here, life by the river followed an entirely different rhythm. We walked past a few street hawkers, who didn’t interact with us as hawkers in more touristy areas do – they simply stood by their stalls without trying to sell us anything. We saw men working with electrical equipment, efficiently but seemingly totally relaxed – some had no safety goggles on. Every few steps we experienced something else. A plant garden which took me by surprise. Beautiful graffiti. Rubbish floating in the canal. Little eateries, with delicious aromas. Makeshift homes.

I think now of the best word to describe it all, and unexpectedly the word that emerges is ‘harmony’, which is not to say that I don’t think people there struggle or face challenges. But somehow, the air carried no feeling of tension or strife.

I saw people who lived and worked peacefully, quietly, hidden away in a corner of this huge metropolis. I wondered about them, and I wondered about what I’d do, how I’d live, in their shoes. I gazed at the lovely bunches of pink bougainvillea which someone had thought to line the sides of the smelly canal with.

Beauty in the midst of imperfection.

I walked on, next to my husband. I was enjoying the walk by this stage, but I knew that if I’d come alone, I wouldn’t have had the courage to keep walking on.

Eventually, we got to the next jetty, diagonally across the road from the one we’d walked to the day before. When our boat arrived, it was surprisingly easy to get on. It was entirely fuss-free, despite the clear fact that no one here spoke fluent English, and neither of us spoke Thai beyond a few very basic phrases. The boat was fast, yet calming. Most on the boat appeared to be locals, and accepting of us as foreigners. Whenever the water level got high, people at the sides pulled on ropes to raise plastic sheets on both sides of the boat up, keeping us all dry. I marvelled yet again at the resourcefulness and simplicity in this city. We got to the central area in 15 minutes. The ride had cost us, in our local currency, 50 cents.

My husband grinned quite a lot. He loved it. And I realised what we had almost missed out on when I was focusing on convenience, what I thought was best, pride, etc. I realised I had enjoyed the boat experience too … a little adventure I would never have discovered and experienced without him.

Our week in Phuket: highlights

Sawasdee-ka! Here is part two of our trip (click here for part one).

We had enjoyed a week of urban living and shopping in Bangkok – and were now ready for a week of winding down in Phuket. Cleaner air, slower pace, greener landscape!

Well … there’s just one thing you have to get through before you can relax in Phuket, in my opinion. It’s slightly chaotic (by NZ standards) when you exit the airport in search of a cab. In my experience people seemed gruff, and I was sharply reminded that here I was, foremost, a paying tourist. :-$

That said, once we located a suitable cabbie and arrived at our base for the week, those stressful minutes were forgotten :-) We stayed at Mangosteen Resort for the duration of our visit.

Our room and en suite bathroom were spacious yet cosy and relaxing – and there was a jacuzzi area attached.

Dinner at Rawai Beach

Our top highlight would be having dinner at Rawai Beach while the sun set behind us. It was absolutely beautiful (and personally I think it is a great spot for romance ♥). We ordered our dishes from a restaurant named ‘Nong Pla’, sharing sticky rice, som tum (papaya salad), some gorgeous fried scallops, chips, pineapple rice, tom-yum-goong (spicy soup with lemongrass and shrimp, one of my all-time favourites). Everything arrived hot and promptly, and we enjoyed our delicious dinner.

I rather like the unique system the restaurants on this stretch of the beach use – running their kitchens and restaurants on one side of the road, and setting up an ‘al fresco’ extension of their dining area across the road right next to the beach. Staff take your orders at your table, then whiz them over from the kitchen across the road when they are ready. Genius! All you need to take along is your appetite and a can of mozzie repellent :-)

After this we took our full bellies across the road to Baan Kanom to get cold drinks before heading back (highly recommend their chocolate frappe).

Songkran

Songkran is Thai New Year, and takes place in April each year. This year we both experienced it for the first time. Google “Songkran” and you will find many great photos and write-ups about it and its origins online. Basically we were quite blessed indeed as we rode through the local area on our little rental scooter and got thoroughly soaked by both locals and tourists standing on both sides of the road fully equipped with buckets and hoses. We were both glad to have experienced this, and also to have experienced a ‘tamer’ version of it than we might have at a more ‘touristy’ location.

Altogether a novel experience, one that will have you laughing and shrieking and, indeed, letting go of ‘bad luck’ to embrace the harvest of the present moment.

Breakfast

We ventured out most mornings on our rental scooter to eat. Most places cater both to the Thai and Western palate, which I love.

Amongst our favourites: Arlecchino, Boulangerie Chez Nous, Rawai Beach (right corner when you are facing the row of eateries), Baan Kanom. A very decent breakfast (along the lines of fresh juice, coffee / tea, a main dish such as muesli or eggs and bacon on toast, and fresh fruit) costs approximately NZD$10. A Thai-style breakfast (e.g. rice or congee with condiments) is approximately NZD$4-5 – worth every savoury, flavourful bite.

If you aren’t an early riser in Thailand it doesn’t matter either, for there is never a shortage of food and restaurants seem to be ever open for business. And if a big breakfast ain’t your thing – you can always opt for a fresh coconut instead (swoon!)

Massage

You’ll find it hard to escape massage places in Thailand – we had mostly positive experiences, bar one where I drifted off to sleep in the gentle hands of my masseuse while Jarred reported feeling like he had been “mauled by a toothless bear” … maybe what you get when you look too strong ;-)

While a full body massage feels and is luxurious, and a good cure for heavy shoulders and a stressed mind, I think targeted massages are often underrated. A foot massage in particular is quite rejuvenating and works wonders for tired feet, and is much more convenient!

It pays to (1) check for cleanliness and respectability, if those things are important to you; (2) decide if you wish to receive a Thai massage – including contorting and twisting; (3) tell your masseuse if you’d like your massage to be strong, medium or soft. And of course don’t forget to give a little tip directly to your masseuse before you go :-)

Phuket Fantasea

See, eat, watch, and experience it for yourself. Reviewers online seem to love it or hate it, and having visited (we got the buffet, show and pick up package) I understand why. Definitely an Experience!

None of the photos below are touched up – it really is as cool and lovely to look at in real life :-)

Phuket Walking Street / Lardyai

On our last trip we really enjoyed visiting Phuket Walking Street / Lardyai so we went there again on our last night (a Saturday) in Phuket. Alas the market was a Sunday market, not a weekend market, so we were slightly disappointed. However we still enjoyed a brief stroll through the very quaint and charming street.

We went to another market after this, on the recommendation of a shopkeeper – Naka Market. A loud, sprawling market which for this introvert woman is stimulating enough to keep one up for hours without a sip of caffeine, so Lardyai remains my (and our) favourite so far :-)

Below are some pictures taken on our last trip:

Travel by scooter

There are many places which offer scooter rental in Phuket, most we’ve seen price them at approximately 250-300 baht (NZD $10-12) per day. We opted to hire one through our hotel as other places wanted to hold on to our passports while we had the scooter. They likely have good reasons for this but I wouldn’t recommend handing over your passport!

Phuket has its potholes and quirky driving antics but all in all we enjoyed exploring the place via scooter and would recommend this over taxi, especially in the neck of the woods we were in.

Beach time

I’m sure no one needs to be told to spend some time at the beach! Warm, lovely water and plenty of Vit D are gifts for the soul :-)

Two other places we visited on our last trip (but not on this one) are:

Pum’s Cooking School

When looking up cooking classes last year I came across a recommendation for Pum’s Cooking School on the popular travel website Nomadic Matt (which by the way is an excellent resource for travellers).

We did “Pum’s Little Wok” class last year and were not disappointed – Pum made cooking easy and fun, introduced us to the basic principles of Thai flavours, and we had a little tour through a nearby market and a delicious shared lunch of our creations afterwards.

Market visit:

Yes, I almost lost my appetite for a moment there …

Jarred gets top marks from me for presentation and taste.

Wat Chalong

There is a strong Buddhist culture and influence in Thailand, and their many temples are testament to that. A few I’ve seen are exquisite in their attention to detail and design, including the well-known Wat Chalong

If you’re lucky you might get to witness the firecrackers:

And that sums up our highlights … hope you enjoyed reading it and that it gives you some inspiration to visit amazing Thailand!

Our week in Bangkok: highlights

Sawasdee-ka! Recently we spent two weeks in Amazing Thailand – spending a week each in Bangkok and Phuket. Thailand is a popular tourist destination for so many reasons … my personal favourite things about Thailand are its tropical weather, exciting food, unpredictability and zany style. I’ve spent a few months in Bangkok previously so it was nice to return and show my husband Jarred a few spots I knew – and also explore a few new ones with him.

Since we’ve been asked more than a few times by family & friends what to do / eat / see in Thailand – I thought I’d compile a few of our highlights:

Chatuchak / JJ Market

Someone told me Chatuchak is home to 4,000 stalls – the official website though claims it hosts 15,000 stalls. Who knows how many there really are, but one thing is for certain: it is huge. You can spend hours here and not run out of new stalls to peruse. We came here by tuk-tuk on our first morning in Bangkok (you can also catch the MRT to Kamphaeng Phet MRT Station). One gets a little hot and dizzy exploring Chatuchak but you can always get a cold drink and explore the sheltered bits when you get tired of walking in the outdoor area. It is well known for being a market in which pickpockets operate – so ladies, wear a bag with a thick strap and which you can keep very close to you at all times; men, no wallets in back pockets! No thick wads of cash! Leave your passport and valuables in the safe at your hotel if you can.

If you’d rather visit a night market – try Asiatique The Riverfront (free shuttle boat service provided from Saphan Taksin BTS Station). There are many options there for stylish souvenirs, dinner and more. You can also enjoy a view of the city from their ferris wheel (which we didn’t take on this occasion).

Malls

If you’re not looking forward to having to trawl through the malls with your wife who’s eager to shop (not that I imposed such a thing on Jarred) – you may change your mind when you’re in Bangkok because they are good places to escape the heat and also to grab a bite in air-conditioned and clean surroundings. Bangkok is full of comprehensive and well-designed malls – the most beautiful ones are to be found in the city centre in the vicinity of the Siam BTS station.

 On this trip we spent most of our shopping time at Platinum Mall which you can access via BTS or by taking the khlong boat to Pratunam. Hubby bought more than me … haha! I didn’t take photographs at Platinum but it’s basically a fashion-focused mall where you can get anything from wigs to belts, cosmetic jewellery, handbags and elaborate gowns … some for close to wholesale prices. Vendors are accustomed to interacting with tourists. I find it best to just enjoy the experience of bargaining and try to strike a deal which is fair for both, or be willing to walk away as the next good buy is never far away!

Pictured below: Central Embassy mall

While we’re on the subject of malls … Siam Paragon (right next to Siam BTS Station) is a luxe mall, where you can enjoy delicious food and window shop for cars (check out Coffee Beans by Dao on G. Floor – relatively upmarket by Thai standards but always reliably great food, along with the luxury cars upstairs … )

We came here with my friend Håvard – good to catch up again :-)

Embassy Diplomat Screens by AIS

I wanted to surprise my movie-buff husband – and I was in luck, as Bangkok is home to the Embassy Diplomat Screens … a cinema which doubles as a pampering experience. You can book your tickets online as we did. Located on level 6 of the Central Embassy mall (close to Phloen Chit BTS Station) – arrive at least 30 minutes before your movie is scheduled to start if you can, so you can enjoy the lounge experience before you snuggle up in your cocoon seat or daybed for the movie. Best to pick a engaging movie to watch or you may find yourself waking up at the end with drool trailing off the edge of your open mouth ;-)

This is not the cheapest cinema ticket you’ll ever get – but in my opinion it is worth experiencing at least once, and preferably on a date with someone you like!

Waterways

Bangkok is the Venice of Asia, and one can easily forget it when catching the comfortable BTS train, feeling stuck in horrendous traffic or attempting to bargain with a tuk-tuk driver … but don’t miss the chance to explore the city via its waterways. Not only is it picturesque and refreshing, it is also a very inexpensive way to get around.

Khlong Saen Saep

For part of our trip we stayed at an Airbnb apartment in the Thong Lo area which was conveniently located right next to the Thong Lo pier. We loved it that we were able to catch a khlong boat to Pratunam (city centre) each day for 15 baht (approximately NZD$0.50), and arrive in 15 minutes!

Some find the smell and occasional splash of canal water offensive (though they have a good system in place to deal with sprays) less than appealing, but if you can get past that it is well worth it!

Chao Phraya Express Boat

One thing about the boats: they are speedy and great, but the system can be a little hard to figure out when you first get there. The easiest option is to purchase an all-day pass for the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat from Sathorn pier (close to Shangri-La Hotel / Saphan Taksin BTS Station). It costs just 150 baht (approximately NZD$6) and you can hop on and off as you wish at piers located very close to a few of Bangkok’s key attractions including Yaowaraj (Chinatown), Khao San Road, Grand Palace and Wat Pho.

If you do hop on this for a day … don’t miss …

Farm to Table

Get off at Pak Khlong Talad pier and take a look at ICP Flower Market en route to Farm to Table Organic Cafe, a 5-minute walk from the pier (use Google Maps). This little treasure serving delicious fare and handmade gelato is well worth a stop for lunch (and leave room for dessert).

Supanniga Cruise

Still on the subject of water and food (two of the best things in the world, no?) – there is a yummy way to enjoy the Chao Phraya River at a leisurely pace. I signed us up for dinner on a Supanniga Cruise … where we got to enjoy some Thai delicacies over a 2.5 hour cruise along the river. We got a perfect sunset and evening – and as a bonus, albeit to my embarrassment as well, we were the only passengers on board that evening with about 9 crew members attending to us! We had more than enough to eat (and the food was swoon-worthy!), the boat was nice and new, the crew took photos of us all evening on my camera, and we enjoyed our evening with them.

The verdict is also that I will probably not ever opt to privately charter a boat with a substantial crew as I simply feel too embarrassed ;-)

Street food

Bangkok’s street food is truly an attraction in itself. Hygiene isn’t always on the top of the list at some of these places, so choose carefully (or be willing to put up with the consequences) – on this trip I took us to Convent Road (a stone’s throw away from Sala Daeng BTS Station). Incidentally it is also very close to BNH Hospital should you require quality medical attention for anything.

We had some delicious chicken rice, a delectable banana and nutella crêpe (so crisp, sweet and hot!) and spicy chicken (not pictured).

Moon Bar

If you’re still in the vicinity of Sala Daeng BTS Station in the evening and it’s fine weather, enjoy a 10-minute stroll to Moon Bar at the Banyan Tree for a drink 61 storeys above ground level. There is an option to dine too at Vertigo (the adjoining restaurant). Dress code is smart casual – in our case we were unprepared, but they graciously provided a perfectly fitting pair of trousers for Jarred and a wraparound skirt for me. Seats are limited but it didn’t take us long to find a cosy spot. The view was breathtaking and our drinks were delicious (I recommend the Thai Sabai!)

Soi Thonglor / Sukhumvit Soi 55

Our Airbnb apartment was located very close to Sukhumvit Soi 55, which seemed like a very vibrant street from what I read about it through my Google research. We certainly enjoyed walking down it one night, taking in the sight of all the colours and exciting-looking restaurants, though we had unfortunately already had dinner that night. We did, however, take our time to explore a few gems …

theCOMMONS

We had our morning drinks at Roast – I can wholeheartedly recommend their iced espresso latte, a very creative and delicious way to enjoy iced coffee! We hung out for a little while afterwards downstairs in the common area, just people-watching and chatting. Enjoyed the concept and visual layout of this place – a thoughtfully designed community hub.

It also turned out to be a ‘beauty day’ for both of us … Jarred went to a hairdresser then chilled in the nail parlour while I had my nails done :-D

Later still after a dinner interlude, we returned to Thong Lo to visit the much talked about Iron Fairies bar. It was too dark to take good photos, but we liked the design and creativity in the place, the calm atmosphere, the great live music and how it felt like we had disappeared down a rabbit hole into another world :-) I hear the food and cocktails are good – perhaps something to try next time (this time we just had beer for him and Perrier for her, after a huge dinner!)

Sorabol

The aforementioned big dinner we had was at Sorabol with my friend from uni, Nam, and her boyfriend Trust. We took a cab there from where we were staying (if catching a cab and your cabbie needs more details around where it is, say it is close to K-Village). We had a great time catching up over Korean BBQ … seriously there are few better ways to feed a hungry tummy!

Thai fruit

Obviously eating out lots can leave one hungering for simpler, home cooked fare. For our days spent at our Airbnb Jarred made us delicious oatmeal in the morning which we enjoyed with fresh mangoes bought from a street vendor. Seems we had arrived in good time for the annual mango season … mmmmm … they were so ripe and juicy, almost sexy!

Uma

When we were planning our trip we were faced with a somewhat pleasant problem: WHERE to stay with the plethora of options available online! In the end we decided to pick a place each in Bangkok, where we would spend half the week. Jarred’s pick was Uma Residence which was very affordable at NZD$162.40 for 4 nights including a daily breakfast at the time we booked. Our room wasn’t huge, but it was very tidy, comfortable, well ventilated (something which we really appreciated when we got to our Airbnb apartment), and we really enjoyed hanging out by the pool before we headed out each day and when we got back in the evenings. They also had a complimentary cookie and coffee station which was a very lovely touch for guests.

In terms of location it is situated in the older Dusit area of Bangkok, very lovely and local, tuk-tuks and taxis easily available a few minutes’ walk from the front door, 9 minutes’ walk from a boat pier (which we only discovered towards the end of our stay). We’d love to stay at Uma again on a future trip to Bangkok.

It’s easy to spend a week or more in Bangkok with so much to explore – next time I’d love to take a cooking or massage class, visit the Floating Markets, Wat Pho, islands and other attractions in the vicinity of Bangkok, and re-visit Dasa Books, Lumphini Park and Talad Rot Fai … :-)

Have you been to Bangkok? What are your favourite spots / activities?