Sunday, November 30, 2014

Bad wine, good roads and great local food in Khao Yai

Last week we took two days off and went to Khao Yai for a bike trip. Khao Yai is about 2 hours from Bangkok, has a huge National Park and is also famous for it's wineries, dairy farms and cool weather in the winter. We booked the tour with Spiceroads, a well known company offering all kind of bicycle tours in Thailand. We did one already in Chiang Mai with them and enjoyed it a lot.

We got picked up at 7.30 am at Ploenchit, and although we booked a group tour it was only us. It took 2 hours to go by minivan (unfortunately no seat belts provided) to go to the drop off point at a temple. From there, we wen up and down hill, usually on small and empty street, sometimes on dirt roads. Spiceroads provided us really good equipment, brand new Trek mountain bikes with sophisticated brakes and helmets. No complains.

The ride itself was about 30 kilometer for the first day - way more than advertised in the program. Also, it was advertised as "This tour has been designed for the discerning traveler; someone that enjoys the countryside, likes to ride a bike and has a penchant for good wine and good food. It is also a really good tour for families."

You actually need a good condition, mainly because of the heat. Although we thought it might be cooler already, it was quite hot. That doesn't make it easier to climb the hills. They weren't steep, but it was enough for my wife to call the van quite a few times. I can't imagine doing this with children.

We then made a stop at PBValley, the oldest winery in Khao Yai. They are open for tourists, but that doesn't mean they provide a good service. The restaurant is old, the set menu was awful (western food), and the they didn't even tell us what kind of wine they were serving. 

We then made a tour through the vineyard and the production facility. That was well done, well organised and well explained. The wine tasting was a disappointing: only three wines (red, white and rose), and the cheapest ones. No wonder the taste was not up to any standard you expect for wine. They sell this crap for 600 baht, and that is cheating. They got awards for some wines they sell for 1500 baht, but you can't try it and we didn't take the risk to buy it.

Biking in Khao Yai is a real pleasure. Despite the hot weather, we had a lot of fun, passing by dairy farms, small villages, riding along Marigold flower fields and Tapioka farms. Our overnight stop was the Cabbage and Condoms resort. It has seen it best days, we were the only guests, but the room was clean, the food was really good and they have a nice pool. 

The second day starts with a steep ride uphill, we opted for the van to have enough energy for the remaining 20 kilometer. We stopped again at a small winery, where the wine wasn't good, but they make nice juice and candies from the grapes. And they were really nice people to chat with (there is a white Buddha statue behind, you can climb up 1000 steps to enjoy the view. We did that 12 years ago, so we had a good excuse).

From there we went back to Bangkok, arriving before the rush hour and were dropped off at a BTS station. Yo, our Spice roads guide, did a really good job, explained a lot, took care of us all the time, was watching traffic and pointing out every pothole that was in front of us. No complains at all. Virot, the driver, is a bit old style: slightly to fast and risky, but a nice and very polite guy too.

The downside is that the tour is quite expensive: 9000 Baht is a lot, even with guide, transport and accommodation provided. But you basically pay for the guides knowledge of a nice track. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Viddsee: The virtual place to go for Asian short movies

Good news for those who love to watch movies on Viddsee, but struggled with the website on a mobile device: The platform for Asian short movies just released it's first iPhone app (it runs on Ipads as well, just not optimised).

Of course I immediately  downloaded it and watched "Sunflower", a beautiful 30 minute movie from Malaysia. Strongly recommended to watch: The story of a young make up artist who got a very different job from what she expected.

The app seems flawless: Open it and start watching. I think you have to create an account (although I was miraculously logged in already) , and sharing is easy (although it didn't include the link on twitter, or at least it wasn't visible). Also, when you want to watch on Airplay, you have to use the iOS slider on the bottom of your device - for some reason they didn't include the Airplay button.

For some reasons you cannot search by text input, just browse categories. But you also can search by tags - I guess they force you to explore, and that might be even a good thing.

You can also watch movies offline (just add them to the Queue) what is a big plus since youtube is going after downloads apps. Viddsee seems to understand users, and those in Asia particular, where high speed internet isn't available everywhere. Would be nice to get a notification once a video is downloaded.

Three buttons on the bottom let you like a movie, share it or
In case you haven't been there and you are interested in Filmmaking, please give it a try. Viddsee is different from Youtube and Vimeo, because it is focussed on Asian films and it is curated.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The obsession with brands in Thailand

When I did PR back in Germany, one of our products was helping companies in re-branding and brand development. One reason why it was so important was that it gives the company an identity from what it can develop further. It was to a large extend an internal process rather than just marketing.

It turns out those who did this well get most pieces of the cake, in particular in Asia. Thailand seems to be obsessed with brands. People waiting hours in line to get donuts or popcorn (even when the streets outside are filled with protesters), and spending fortunes in fashion brand products. You will quite often see a writing like "Famous brand from USA" even if its not.

One thing that is quite obvious is the bag issue, in particular with females. Usually the handbag isn't big enough to carry everything (although most men would be surprised about that), but there is always something needs to be carried extra: Shoes, a shirt, lunch boxes.

Walking around with a plastic bags carrying those seems to be a No-No. It has to be a Harrods bag or some fashion designer brands. It can be even a paper bag if it has the appropriate branding. The cheapest, yet accepted form is a paper Starbucks bag, although people will less look down on you if you have the fabric one (the latter requires you making a purchase of at least 30 USD I think. But hey, you get a bag). I was told once that Starbucks tumblers and cups are selling like sliced bread in Thailand.

Of course this is all show off. The urban middle class needs to make a difference between the environment they live in (many in not so well designed apartments or in the same room in the family house since they were born). Public appearance and private matters are totally different. And it is always a surprise to see the same people in their well selected office outfit and wearing a sleeping dress style outfit at home.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Nam Prik, what else do you need?

There are a lot of snacks in Thailand which are delicious but also high in calories and fat (Hello fried bananas!). But there is a healthier option available: boiled vegetables with Nam Prik. I am getting addicted to the Thai Chili Paste, and since we discovered a vegetarian version of it, I am eating even more.

You should try the mushroom Nam Prik Je that is available at Big C (at least at Mega Bagna), it is awesome. Just boil some beans, broccoli, cauliflower or use carrots and cucumbers, dip in Nam Prik and that's it.

And yes, the white stuff on the right is MSG. I use it mainly for chicken dishes, and no, it is not dangerous. You can eat it and it does no harm (and those who say they are allergic to MSG may tell me if they can eat tomatoes and broccoli)