Historic Hiking in Gibraltar: On the surface, Gibraltar appears to be little more than a boozy, sun kissed British overseas territory. Best known for its status as a tax haven, the tiny 2 square mile town consists of a myriad of crumbling housing estates and cobbled roads lined with shops hawking duty-free alcohol sprinkled in with a few British high street brands. However, few of us tourists make the trek down here for just the town. The towering Rock of Gibraltar is the territory’s main attraction and in addition to some of the best hiking I’ve ever experienced, it’s home to (in my opinion) a treasure trove of grossly underappreciated historic artifacts and features.
Singapore as a Budget-Friendly Luxury Destination: Luxury travel is not something the majority of us can indulge in too often, and when we do, it can deal a pretty big blow to our savings accounts. That being said, I’m always on the hunt for great travel destinations where you can get a lot of bang for your buck. Southeast Asia is a well-known destination for travelers hoping to stretch their budget, but Singapore never seems to make anyone’s travel list. Perhaps it’s its image as a stiff, strict society or the fact that it doesn’t advertise its tourism industry much abroad, but Singapore does not get its due as a holiday destination.
A Day on the Danube: In celebration of our last weekend in Vienna, we decided to hop on a riverboat cruise down the Danube, towards the famed Wachau Valley. Meandering down one of Europe’s mightiest and most storied rivers, we passed by small town vineyards, rooftop fortresses and the obligatory nuclear power plant or two before reaching the fairytale town of Dürnstein. After hiking up a mountain in flip flops and trying out the local apricot ice cream, we returned to Vienna on a beautiful Sunday night.
A Photo Tour of Lower Normandy: The moment I first arrived in Lower Normandy following a lengthy ferry ride across the English Channel, my first instinct was to exhale. After spending months cooped up in the choking density of central London I felt a sense of relief from being in the presence of open fields and grazing land.
When people ask me about the foods they should try in Thailand, the first thing that pops into my mind is somtam (green papaya salad). There’s something very uniquely Thai about the dish; it, almost like Thailand itself, cobbled together from a myriad of ingredients. These include green papaya, halved peanuts, Thai fish sauce (nam bpla) tomatoes and dried shrimp. While the ingredient list admittedly looks less than appetizing, they’re transformed into a flavor sensation in the hands of a good cook. (For a good traditional somtam recipe, try these directions from Thai food blogger SheSimmers)
Because the papaya is green, it’s not sweet, but instead has a really “fresh” and “crisp” flavour. Saltiness comes from the fish sauce and dried shrimp, while peppers, beans and peanuts add depth and texture to the dish.
On a recent trip to Baan Somtum (House of Somtam) in Bangkok, I had the opportunity to sample a wide array of different somtams. Amidst the traditional styles and versions incorporating apples (this didn’t quite cut the mustard with me) and coconut, I tried “fried somtam”. By my great powers of deduction, I presume that the green papaya shavings are deep fried to the point where they resemble shoe string onion rings. Served on the side of the heaping pile of fried deliciousness was a bowl full of traditional somtam “sauce”.
Fried Somtam from Baan Somtum
I’ve concluded that this is Thailand’s version of ketchup and fries, except fried somtam is much more delicious. The fried papaya strips were crispy perfection and I think the heat brought out a subtle sweetness in the fruit. Dipping one delicate fry into the somtam sauce resulted in pure cuilinary bliss in my mouth. Crispy, sweet, salty and textured, it had all the contrasting dimensions so prevalent in Thai cooking and was totally compatible with my western palette. After trying it I immediately proclaimed that this was the greatest food ever and proceeded to consume many hundreds of calories worth of crispy goodness.
I imagine that fried somtam can be made from an adapted traditional somtam recipe, but I’m no cooking expert. Instead, I would recommend trying this dish if you ever find yourself in Bangkok.
To view more images, check out my flickr set here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wanderbliss/sets/72157627838784131/
It just so happens that my 3-month trip to Thailand has overlapped with the worst floods in the country for 50 years. The northern provinces of Ayutthaya and Nakhon Sawan (the country’s rice-growing region) have already been devastated by water. Around October 20th, 2011, a swell of water began to knock on the door of Thailand’s capital Bangkok.
Nonthaburi is a city of several million that sits on the northern edge of Bangkok and was the first to receive the floodwaters. The neighborhoods of Bang Bua Thong and Bang Yai, located only kilometres from the Bangkok border were inundated with water.
I’m currently staying in Nonthaburi and commute 6 days a week into Bangkok. I stay mostly around the regions of Bang Sue and Chattuchak and have taken photos of flooding in these areas as well as Nonthaburi over the past few days. Currently, the flooding ebbs and flows with the tide which peaks at around 4:20pm each day. Local news reports indiciate that the flooding will continue until Oct. 30th and I will add pictures to this post until then.
31-OCT-2011: I spent the weekend travelling around Bangkok and I ran into flooding in Bang Po and around the Rama V Bridge. The bridge closed to normal traffic a few days ago and military trucks now take residents back and forth for free. I went under the bridge to investigate what was going on and I saw a steady stream of water, lumber, sandbags and provisions headed across the bridge to Bang Yai and Bang Bua Thong. It was an encouraging sign. Elsewhere, Don Muang, Rangsit and parts of Ramintra are underwater. It looks as though metropolitan Bangkok will be spared from flooding. 28-OCT-2011: Added images and a video from the commute home last night. The northern edge of Bangkok and Muang Nonthaburi were flooded and traffic, despite being much lighter than usual, was very slow. Motorcycles, which are probably the most common form of transportation in the city, are have a difficult time trudging through the water.
27-OCT-2011: Added images from my condo complex this morning as well as some pictures of flood preparation in Bang Sue (Northern district in Bangkok). The news reports about high tide peaking between 27-31 OCT must be true as I woke up to find no trace of dry gound below me. The entire complex has been flooded and is spilling out into the streets. I suspect if this keeps up for another 2-3 days Muang Nonthaburi (downtown/main Nonthaburi) will be underwater, which includes the areas around the Rama V bridge (the “Rama” bridges all cross the Chao Praya River). Don Muang Airport was closed yesterday because of flooding and the area of Rangsit in Bangkok remains underwater.
26-OCT-2011: Added images of Thai newspaper headlines. Many riverside businesses and restaurants have been forced to closed to due persistent (but not heavy) flooding. Water from the Chao Praya does not seem to ebb as much during low tide and is staying on roads longer. Greatly effected areas include Bang Bua Thong (in Nonthaburi – just north of Bangkok), Rangsit and Don Muang (where Don Muang Airport is located).
30-OCT-2011: A child plays in a flooded street.
30-OCT-2011: Residents finally reach dry land after a ride across flood waters.
30-OCT-2011: Stray dog looks back from flooding street.
30-OCT-2011: Motorcycle plows its way through water.
A sandbag wall nearly 2 meters hold water that is pumped from the adjacent street. The sound you hear is that of the water pump, which burned out later on in the night.
Driving through the streets of Northern Bangkok on the night of 27-OCT-2011. (Apologies for the appalling videography)
27-OCT-2011: Water fills the streets of Northern Bangkok.
27-OCT-2011: Volunteers in Northern Bangkok ride on a truck through some of the worst effected areas.
27-OCT-2011: Workers desperately try to move water towards a pump in order to divert it back into the Chao Praya River.
27-OCT-2011: Thailand’s iconic tuk tuks are used to deliver sandbags throughout local communities
27-OCT-2011: Many shopowners take no chances and build sealed concrete walls to protect themselves from the water
27-OCT-2011: Chao Praya river levels have clearly gone up overnight, indicating that the worst may be to come
Communities along the Chao Praya are struggling to keep the water at bay. Sandbags are becoming no match for the wall of water that is encroaching
Roads are becoming hard to spot under the water.
Thai newspaper from 25-OCT-11 states: “Disaster of this Scale Unexpected” (rough translation).
Thai newspaper from 25-OCT-11 states: “Frightened women and children rush to board a Thai Military Truck in the suburb of Bang Bua Thong” (rough translation).
Thai newspaper from 24-OCT-11 states: “Bangkok due to be Bombarded by Water” (rough translation).
25-10-11: A popular riverside restaurant is forced to close due to flooding.
25-10-11: With a pool 1.5 metres high, sandbag barriers begin to leak heavily.
Taken a few days before major flooding began: Water begins to creep into a riverside home.
First signs of flooding begin in Bangkok: Motorists navigate their way through wet streets.
The Chao Praya’s muddy water continues to converge on the streets.
Northern Bangkok: The streets of Northern Bangkok flood near a popular University area. The road ahead is closed and the government is providing sandbags to local residents.
Northern Bangkok: Two boys sit on rails to avoid getting wet on a popular shopping street in Bang Sue. This is the first time they have seen flooding here in their lives
Nonthaburi: This roadblock is a pre-emptive measure to keep streets in danger of flooding from getting too crowded. Only residents are allowed beyond this point.
Bangkok Mega Mart Big C is inundated with customers.
Store shelves empty quickly.
Nonthaburi: Rama V bridge is full of parked cars seeking refuge from flood waters.
Nonthaburi: Reinforced sandbag walls struggle to contain water from the neighboring Chao Praya River in a condo development.
High Tide: The Chao Praya River levels creep over the land.
Nonthaburi: A picnik table is nearly consumed by flood waters.
When I was 9 and living in California, I took a trip with my Dad to Thailand. It was his first trip back in 3 years and he was eager to meet with relatives and get some business done. Unfortunately, his plans were thwarted by Northwest Airlines. The flight was not cancelled, nor was it delayed. That would be too obvious. Northwest ruined his vacation in a very unusual way. They fed his 9 year old salmonella-laden pink chicken which led to intense (and I mean INTENSE) vomiting.
I landed at Don Muang airport in a rough state. I was a trooper though, and did my best to stay the course. As the days slipped by, it became evident that I could not keep anything down. My Aunt, concerned for my health, told my Dad to take me to the hospital.
“No”, he said. “They’ll put an IV in her. That’s not safe”. Instead, he booked us on the next flight back to San Francisco. Needless to say this did not inspire a lot of confidence in me about the Thai Healthcare system.
So, almost 15 years later (God, I’m old!) I found myself again in Thailand and in need of some medical assistance. Granted, there was no salmonella involved this time. In fact, all I really needed was an eye exam and some glasses. I had scheduled an appointment in London at Specsavers, but it was ages away and my Dad said that he was friends with a German-trained opthamologist. It sounded promising but I was still weary. Luckily for me, the Thai healthcare system has improved vastly over the past 15 years.
On a lovely Sunday morning we drove out to the Eye, Ear, Nose, Throat hospital in Nonthaburi, Bangkok. I didn’t know what to expect. In my mind I had visions of the hospital from M*A*S*H, complete with wounded Korean War soldiers, Hot Lips and Alan Alda. Alas, my imagination is a bit, well, ridiculous and I suppose I didn’t really have anything to worry about. When we entered the hospital it turned out to be a little more Grey’s Anatomy than M*A*S*H.
Was it a state-of-the-art glimmering building filed with Dr. McDreamys? No, but it was a clean and modern hospital that would certainly be on par with NHS hospitals in the UK and US military hospitals. The lighting was slightly dim (but energy saving!) and the walls could have used a new coat of paint, but there was nothing glaring to complain about.
The eye exam itself was surprisingly thorough and put my Dad back a whole $10 USD. The eye chart is made up completely of numbers so you don’t need to speak Thai in order to get your eyes examed. After the chart, a test for glaucoma and an examination by the opthamologist it was determined that I had astigmatism. Luckily, my doctor spoke fluent English and explained my condition to me very clearly. He then wrote up a prescription and I went back onto the main floor to choose my glasses.
The range of frames available wasn’t the greates, but included Versace, Levis, Espirit (I didn’t know half of these companies even made glasses), etc. Eventually I chose a suitable pair of frames and they were ready in about 15 minutes. So, after an hour, $30 USD and some unwarranted trepidation I was rewarded with the gift of sight.
In the future, I don’t think I will have any issues with going to a hospital in Thailand. I am realising more and more that even as someone who is familiar with Thailand and Thai culture (I’m half Thai), I still hold Western stigmas and I need to start reforming the way I think about the unknown.