Thursday, October 29, 2009

Revisiting Royal Flora

I just got back from a trip to Chiangmai, north of Thailand. I have many interesting things that have the touch of "Thainess" special in the north to share to you in a series of posts. For now, I'd like to bring you back to an exhibition that made a big bang - the Royal Flora 2006 in honor of the reigning king. Although its features are no longer the same as the ones you have (or might have) seen  in 2006 having many international floras such as rare tulips fresh from Europe, the place has been maintained for Thais and tourists. It's now offered for free though but you may want to ride on the roaming train  to take you around for only 20 baht. Here are some beautiful sights you may be interested in in case you have the chance to visit the north:

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Exploring Wat Phra Kaeo

The Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaeo) is one of the must-see temples in Thailand. It's located in Sanam Luang, at the heart of Bangkok where the Thai government buildings are. I used to take friends visiting Thailand there but unfortunately the gates had already been closed. So we went there yesterday with Thai friends before its closing time at 3:30. These photos I took there will speak themselves of this great place.

Our kids love eating vegetables at MK

Just like most kids, our JD and Josh don't usually love to eat vegetables. But take them to MK, a famous food chain here in Thailand, and they will devour just every kind of vegetables in the suki (hotpot). It's probably the psychological effect their involvement in cooking brings. They also enjoy using chopsticks which is not common in our own culture. All of us love the fish tofu dipped in MK-made spicy sauce.  

 Everybody's favorite at MK- fish tofu

MK roast duck

Many Thais usually eat this green noodles at MK instead of rice, and so do we.

Lotus in Thailand

Looking at the big pot of water planted with lotus in Thai gardens  not only in homes but also in establishments is very relaxing. For Thai people,  bua (in Thai) is not merely an ornamental plant but as well as a religious symbol of Buddhism (also Brahmanism).
Legend has it that the Lord Buddha was able to walk on his birth, and that when he took his first seven steps in this mortal world, lotus blooms opened up from underneath to support the tender soles of his feet. So you will see lotus blossoms (in the photo) used as offerings in any temple here in Thailand.
                                                    Lotus blossoms used for offering
All its parts are edible and its stems are sold ready-to-cook even in supermarkets. It tastes pretty much like gabi (taro) stalks famous in the Philippines for its nutritional value and great taste  especially with coconut cream (ginataan). Its flower and fruit  are used in cuisines as garnish. According to Wikipedia, lotus roots have been found to be rich in dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, copper, and manganese, while very low in saturated fat.
                                                                              Lotus flower and fruit

Balut in Thailand?

 Balut in Thailand, are you kidding?But why are these baluts refrigerated? No, they're not from the Philippines! They're from Aranya Pratit, in the border of Thailand and Cambodia. So we refrigerate them to preserve them longer as their source is quite far. So you may ask how much each costs? It used to be sold at only 20 baht (70 cents) for 3 pieces but now due to many Filipinos who have discovered it and hoarding it, the price has now been increased to 8 baht per piece.
Balut is 6-19 day-old chick in an incubated duck egg known for its nutritional value. It is said to be an energy-booster food and is good for those who have been sick of dengue to increase the blood platelets.
In Thailand, balut is called khai luuk.I wonder though why it's not produced and sold here in Bangkok where there are a lot of Filipinos as number one customers. Producers and sellers, anyone? A great business opportunity awaits as the number of Pinoys here is growing. However, most Bangkokians I've asked never heard about it. Probably, it's produced in Cambodia that's why it's sold in the border.

Why do Thais include raw herbs in their diet?

When I just arrived in Thailand five years back, Thai friends let me try the herbs they eat raw with their meals. As I'm not used to it, I just had to try a little bit of anything they introduced. Now I can eat just anything they serve with my orders except raw eggplants. I can now eat raw string beans and even the one that looks like "makahiya" in the Philippines. It's actually tasteless and is a good antioxidant according to Thai friends. Basil leaf (in the photo) as well as mint leaf is a very good protection and cure for food poisoning and is also an antioxidant. Thais believe that herbs like these are more effective when eaten raw. So now you understand why every Thai has this on their table?  Thais including the rich riding a BMW or Mercedez Benz can eat everywhere even on the food stalls set on the streets not getting any problem.
I'm becoming Thai now in terms of this healthy practice!

Mint herb is very famous in Thai cuisines. It is known not only for its aromatic smell and mint taste but also for its health benefits being an effective antioxidant and a cure for cough. 

This herb is also part of Thai diet being eaten raw. It is also made into juice as it is known for its body cooling effect. It's also considered a medicine eaten as raw or boiled for tea to lower high blood pressure. The photo below shows the juice from this raw herb.

Somtam Polamai: A great and nutritious appetizer

I love the creativity of Thais in about anything. Be it in landscapes, in fashions or food. As a food-lover who has developed a standard not only in terms of nutritional values and tastes but also in food presentation,  I always observe how Thai food is being garnished and presented on the table. If we talk about food, I want to combine aesthetics and health considerations. Take a look at this!

The color combination is inviting itself, isn't it? It's called "Somtam Polamai" or sweet and sour mixed fruits salad like the "papaya somtam" with manaw (lemon) juice, nam pla (fish sauce) and Thai caramel made from sugary palm. Fresh fruits include dragon fruit, guava, cantaloupe, papaya, tomato, etc. and sprinkled with broiled peanuts and shredded carrots. Great and nutritious appetizer!

P.S. If you don't like it spicy, tell the waiter/waitress when ordering "mai sai phet" or don't put any chili. If you just tell them "not spicy", it may be served with a chili or two as it is not usually spicy to them. For them it's "tasteless".

Halo-halo version of Thailand

Who said I miss halo-halo (mixed sweetened fruits with crushed ice and milk) in the Philippines? It's also available here in Thailand. But it's in a different style. This one in the photo is buffet Ice-cream toppings. You buy ice-cream for 20 baht (about $0.70) and choose whatever toppings you want. You may have sweetened banana, kidney beans, sweet potato, pineapple, cassava, peanuts and many more.  This is rare, however, as we can have it only at Queen Sirikit International Convention Center. I haven't seen it anywhere else.

Thailand Colorful Banks' Extraordinary Services

I am so amazed not only of the stunning branding colors of ATMs and banks here in Thailand but also of their extraordinary services. Our university has affiliation with three top banks- green and blue (for payroll) and yellow (for check issuance). Can you guess which banks are these below? Each bank offers different services according to the needs of the clients. These convenient and efficient services include money transfers  to the same or other banks any time, some with free SMS notification, bill payments, cash and check deposits and passbook update. In the fast-paced and crowded world, these services are must-haves.You don't have to queue at the banks during banking hours for ages just to pay your bills or transfer money especially if it's urgent. Most banks here have 24/7 services as they have provided Cash/Check Deposit Machines (CDMs), Passbook Update Machines (PUMs or UPMs) aside from ATMs. So if you need to deposit fund for your check  issuanceon that day and the bank has already closed, you can run to the nearest CDM of your bank to avoid penalty.

Most banks here also offer Internet services so you can do transactions at the comfort of your home - anytime. Even if RP's leader Metrobank has e-services,  we can't transfer money  from home except for bill payments and the leading credit cards there don't have online balance inquiries. So I really wish that Filipinos will enjoy these convenient bank services very soon. Check out below which color of bank your choice is.

                                 Bank of Ayudhya  has ATM, ADM (Automated Deposit Machine) and UPD or Passbook  Update as well as Western Union so OFWs love it. It also automatically notices its clients of any deposits and withdrawals made in their account through SMS. Its Visa Electron card does not charge the user for withdrawals made abroad.
Kasikorn Bank has similar features as Ayudhya's as it also has UPM and CDM. In terms of payrolls, it is more efficient than Bangkok Bank. Its ATMs are everywhere.
Thai Military Bank is still trying to keep up with the top banks in terms of UPD and CDM.
Very colorful GH Bank
The bright pink Government Savings Bank
Bangkok Bank is one of the top Thai banks. It has CDM, UPD and e-banking services, too. Its ATMs are all around even in the provinces. BB has recently opened Western Union in some of its branches following Bank of Ayudhaya and Siam City Bank (red).
Siam Commercial Bank's customer service including its call center is one of the best in the country.Its ATMs, passbook update and cash/check deposit machines can be seen everywhere. SCB's ATM language shift to English though should be pressed three times while others only once.
Extraordinary bank services make our life more convenient and more productive as we can use our time doing other things instead of long queuing and traveling just to pay our bills or to transfer money. Thanks to technology advancement.

Far but awesome new Thai Immigration Office

The tomo (Thai term for immigration office) has  moved to its new location at the Government Complex on Soi 7, Chaeng Wattana, Nonthaburi Province on September 28, 2009. It opens 8:30-4:30 Mondays through Fridays and lunch break is from 12:00-1:00 PM.
Many  "farangs" (foreigners)  have aired out their complaints about the distance and the travel cost involved in getting there from the capital, Bangkok where most expats and tourists stay. The worst thing is, there is no other mode of transportation except taxi as there are no buses that go there. From the main road, it is still a few kilometers away. So if you process your visa, re-entry or 90 days reporting there, you need to have your own ride or to hire a taxi to wait as there are just a few in there. I got there today (for over an hour with all the traffic jams) through our university's pick-up for my re-entry permit.
The processing took about 1.5 hours as there was a lunch break. Unlike at the old office where there was no lunch break probably because it was too crowded so you could get a re-entry for only 30 minutes because they didn't want to keep people longer. I experienced sweating out in the fully-airconditioned old immigration office in Bangkok located on Suan Phlu. It was sooooo crowded then that the transfer was really necessary.
So while waiting for my passport to be stamped with my re-entry, we looked for a place to eat our lunch and there my negative feeling of this rather far immigration office got replaced with excitement. The sight itself of the vast magnificent building awed me with all its TIT's (This is Thailand) uniqueness especially at the various shops on the basement.
Even if I was in a hurry to get back to my office, I could not stop myself from wandering, wondering and taking photos around. The place is really awesome.   It's more than just a government complex. It's also a shopping mall and a great place to hang out. It has everything you need - clothes, food, coffee shops, souvenirs even organic products and fruits and all kinds of banks with extraordinary services. So while waiting for your queue, you can go to the basement to have a cup of coffee or cappuccino, to shop some goodies for yourself or even to pay your bills at any of the bank of your choice or at 7-11 counter.

Welcome to Exploring Amazing Thailand!

Sawatdeekha, dear readers! Wai! Wai is clasping both hands to greet others as shown in the photo here. I love this gesture of showing respect and friendliness to others. 

Welcome to my blog about living in amazing Thailand! Follow me as I share to you my experiences and observations here in the "land of smiles". Why it is called as such will be discussed in the later posts.