Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Bangkok for the first time? Here are a few tips from this frequent visitor...

Bangkok (BK) is one my my favourite places. It's an onslaught on the senses to which I'm so accustomed by now, but it can be very overwhelming for first timers and solo travellers, so I've put together a few tips to help ease you and my fellow SAfricans smoothly into BK.  May your experiences in this unique city be amazing at every turn...

At Suvarnabuhmi airport (don't even try pronounce that) ~ 
* Be aware that African and South American citizens have to fill out Ebola forms which must be signed by a doctor on site. The forms and the doc are at a booth near to where you disembark from the plane;
* NB the immigration queue is long, can take up to an hour to get your passport stamped;
* Make sure you fill out the arrival/departure forms on the plane or do so in the Q-there are helpful officials everywhere;
* Get a local sim card at the airport once you’re through immigration: AIS/DTAC networks etc, all offer amazing inexpensive packages - you'll have no need for 'roaming' and can negate those hidden expenses that tend to pop up no matter what.

The Q at the airport...people for days...

Greeting Thai people ~
* Be courteous- women greet saying 'Sawadee Kha' and guys say 'Sawadee khap'. It's also appreciated if you put the prayer hands together under your chin in response to the same. 

Transport to & in town ~
* If you’re worried about getting lost, book a shuttle through your hotel (pricey, up to 1,200 THB);
* Or take a taxi- and barter - the fare shouldn't cost you more than 400-500 THB;
* Or, my choice if I have a lot of luggage,  Uber (cashless) - rather use Uber Black in BK and make sure you have downloaded the app before you leave SA (if you're an Uber newbie, use my Uber code uberCTdiva for a once-off free ride in SA);
* If you’re confident re your directions (as I am by now) and only have 1 carry-on bag (one can really travel light in Thailand, even if you're a 'diva'), take the bus (30 THB) to the Mo Chit BTS station and then a skytrain to your hotel (cheap and fast).
* Re getting around in the city, Tuk Tuks are fun but impractical and way overpriced - cool for a once-off experience but that's about it;
* The BTS Skytrain is the easiest and so cheap. Buy day/week passes. Exchange bank notes for coins at the info booth and they will happily explain how the system works.
* You can also catch a ride with the licenced scooter guys (in lumo jackets) parked near the BTS stations...it's a lot of fun for short distances, and from 10 THB depending on where you're off to;
* Don't eat on the platform / station / train. Keep your grub out of site.
* Obey the arrow markings on the platform that tell you where to stand safely when Q'ing to get on the train

Typical BTS station below...the numbers encircled denote the cost to each destination...

Try a Tuk Tuk once for fun...but be prepared to bargain! Random leg hoists are optional :)

Blow your hair back a bit on a scooter... such FUN!

Hotel ~
* Choose accommodation close to a BTS stop. I can recommend the Galleria 10 in Soi 10, Sukhumvit, right between BTS Nana and Asok - it's stylish, well priced and has a fab rooftop pool, bar and deck. 

Mosquitoes ~
* Never leave your hotel, day or night, without generously spraying repellent (NB to use an eco friendly brand); leave no patch of skin unprotected-the blighters will find it and bite it! 
* To soothe itchy bites, use tiger balm (sold at 711’s) or Dermovate if you react badly to BK mozzie bites like I do (sold at Pharmacies / Boots that stay open late, like pretty much everything else in BK)

Street Food ~
* Totally safe, delicious, traditional and oh-so-cheap - sit and eat...it's a great experience and you have to try the incredible noodle dishes and the sweet sticky rice with coconut milk and mango (for the best, go to Mae Varee in Thong Lor , one of my fave areas as well);
* Those orange drinks you see on sale on the street in the small skinny bottles are loaded with extra sugar fyi; let them make it and also pomegranate juice in front of you- very refreshing when done right;
* Bottled water only people, even when rinsing after brushing your teeth

Mango, coconut cream and sticky rice...

Flat noodles etc...best!

Fresh pomegranate juice...

Emergency dentist ~
* Dental Hospital. 88/88 Sukhamvit 49

Street dogs & cats ~
* Don’t assume they’re all friendly-they're not all used to being petted; those with collars are usually ok but be cautious and check first with the person/owner nearest to the animal. I want to love them all but need to approach carefully...(collared) cats on the other hand...

Cat love...

Coffee & Beer ~
* There is superb coffee in very stylish coffee shops in Bangkok, as good and sometimes even better as what's on offer in Cape Town. Try Rocket in Central Embassy, Hello Strangers, Blue Dye Cafe, Library ;
* Beer is nothing like what I am used in Cape Town ie our fabulous home grown craft beer, but go for Singha when in BK...and make it even more refreshing by adding ice. Yes, trust me, with eish.

Singha, with ice...

Coffee at Blue Dye Cafe...

And iced coffee from Hello Strangers...

Shopping ~
* There are tons of shopping centre monoliths in BK but I prefer the slick environment and the best movie house in town at Siam Paragon , and right next door is Siam Centre an ode to emerging designers, and of course Central Embassy showcases it's winning design and architecture, although shopping here is mostly for those with black plastic;
* Shopping at street stalls (try the ones across from Siam Centre where there’s also a fabulous little mall) is fantastic, if you’re after those floppy pants and vintage style voile shirts and quirky frocks. Stalls are set up from around 5pm every day;
* Fake watches, and all other labels, at the markets…rather not. They only last around 6 months. And they look cheap.  

Massages off street ~
* Amazing and cheap but take care to suss out how clean they are before laying your tired bod down on a grubby towel

Laundry ~
* Drop it off at any street laundry service - it comes back beautifully packaged, ironed and ready to wear. Way more reasonable than at your hotel. Prices start at 30 THB per kilo. (Leave your Prada shirts for the pro laundromats at home)

Other ~
* Bring extra Ziploc bags and 100ml empty plastic bottles. You can't find those easily in BK.
* Re tipping, it's not expected but why not show some love and do it anyway. 
* Be respectful of the King of Thailand and his family. 
* Leave your shoes outside establishments where it's required. Never fear, they'll be there when you go back for the them. This is a country where stealing isn't a national pastime. 

Bon voyage! การเดินทางที่ปลอดภัย !

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Thursday, 22 October 2015

Spontaneity...living life a little less scripted.

I’m becoming more spontaneous as I get older.  Over-planning, schedules, routines, meetings - they're not as important to me as they used to be.  

Last week Tuesday I discovered I had a gap to go to TBEX Asia, in Bangkok, happening the very next week. In 2 hours I’d booked flights, accommodation, tours and voila, here I sit typing from Akha Ama coffee shop in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. 

I've figured out that spontaneity is my antidote against monotony. Spontaneity of course means different things to different people, but for me, a working woman with a dynamic career as a theatre publicist, it’s been the game changer. 

My company, DIVA PR, recently turned ten. A decade of doing any job could end up being mundane right, but I’ve found a formula: I work on the move, at stylish places that serve an excellent cappuccino and a delish menu, because life is too short for bad decor, bleh coffee and mediocre food. Well designed spaces tend to attract interesting creatives and it's an opportunity to connect with others. New faces and a change of scenery is refreshing and invigorating. I'm all about chasing down inspiration.

This nomadic meandering happens in my ‘hood at home in Cape Town and further afield, anywhere on the planet. Have gadgets and 3G, and it becomes almost impossible to miss a trick..focus kicks in…you get things done faster, with satisfaction, because you’re mixing it up a little and enjoying it way more. Discipline and liberty, a winning combination.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done my time. I've spent the better part of 9 years in my orthopaedic office chair, firing up my pc as soon as the boys had been dropped at school, hammering away at campaigns until their pick-up time, and then working afterwards, often late at night and into the wee hours. There's a season for everything for sure, but now, I refuse to do any of that. 

Everything changed after I hit my mid century last year. Friends already in the Kingdom of the Last Half warned me about it, about 'the shift' that would occur. Well, true story because suddenly I found that I resented being burdened by truly unimportant things and sweating the small stuff, and I started to find my way around tension by giving excessive routine and anxiety a slap in the face. I've become more flexible now, I have way more fun, at work and play, than ever before and being open to newness and opportunity has been rejuvenating. It's working for me. 

"The essence of spontaneity is pleasure" ~ Germaine Greer. 

Try it! Carpe Diem.

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Monday, 5 October 2015

Heritage & hospitality in Greyton...another Staycation discovery...

I was invited to celebrate the first ever Heritage Festival with the good people of Greyton this past weekend. It was a fabulous community event with all sorts of happenings… an outdoor market with arts, crafts, milktarts and more, horse and carriage rides, a street parade with amazing performances by local drum majorettes, gumboot and reel dancers, and afterwards, the cutting of the ribbon at the new Heritage Museum, by Mayor De Bruin.  

Greyton is a small town in the beautiful Overberg region, a breathtaking  area that stretches from Grabouw to Heidelberg, originally occupied by a Khoi tribe called the Hassequas. The village, named after Sir George Grey, Governor of the Cape at the time, was established in 1854 but in fact dates back to 1791 when the first farm called Weltevreden (meaning "well satisfied") was built and, some time later, subdivided into plots. 
Many of the town’s original buildings and features have survived, including the original leiwater (irrigation) system of street furrows, a blacksmith's house and forge and the first school's boarding house. There are also two very old churches (one is Moravian) and some of the earliest cottages that were built between 1854 and 1860 can be found in Vigne Lane (named after Herbert Vigne) and at the end of Vlei Street. There’s heritage everywhere you look, as I discovered on a short drive around the village, courtesy of Derek from Searle's.

Greyton is only 90 minutes from Cape Town and the journey is as amazing as the destination...the drive, partly via Route 406, is one of the most stunning in the Western Cape. Greyton is a perfect destination away from the city madness, an enchanting Staycation option to add to your list, and mine. There's a lot to do and see as well... the museum, mountain biking, canoeing or swimming for starters. Klaus Wehrlin does guided walks and hikes through trails lined with aromatic fynbos, and overlooking the most spectacular scenery….peaks, valleys, ravines, streams and waterfalls…it’s a truly gorgeous landscape, and is a must-do activity if, like me, you find being in nature therapeutic. Of course there's good food and wine to be had, and have it we did. To begin with, you simply can't do Greyton without spending some time at Searle's Trading Post where owner Naomi Herselman will make you feel like long lost family. She is the quintessential hostess with an incredible team... Netta, Nicolene and Fredwina, take a bow. Naomi is also one of the key people behind the Heritage Festival that is set to become an annual event around this time of the year.

 I had such a divine time in the village & really didn't want to go back to the city on Sunday. The tranquil atmosphere had really relaxed me and Lateral Paul, and the warmth and hospitality we received made us so reluctant to leave. I get the feeling we'll be returning soon.

So if you need a break and the holidays still feel so far away, then go have yourself a Greyton Staycation why don't you? Experience a change of scenery, where one night away will feel like many more, and where you can soak up a good dose of heritage until next year's festival comes around.  The Greyton Rose Fair is coming up soon...sounds like incentive to me. 

I can also recommend a few other fabulous places we experienced this time around, although believe me, there are many wonderful spots to enjoy, where you can indulge in great food and vino: Scarlet Pimpernel for accommodation where no two rooms are alike; The Hungry Monk for drinks and tapas in a gorgeous setting under the trees; Via's for a good coffee by Soa and of course Searle's where you should try the delish fennel and mango salad and thin based pizzas, enjoy a show in their cabaret theatre venue (check their Facebook page for details), and of course get loads of TLC.

First, the Heritage Parade...

A festive vibe...

Looking through the gate to the Heritage Museum...

Get your history game on...

The old Moravian Church...

The eclectic Scarlet Pimpernel were we stayed...

and Searle's...

where the mango & fennel salad is a must...

chased with a cider...

and then, walk it all off with Klaus Wehrlin...

such beauty...

quaint houses & lush greenery...

drinks at the Hungry Monk...a beautiful setting

Me checking my pics...I hope you liked them and that this blog post 
has inspired you to visit Greyton..

Thank you to Kathy Kelly for extending the invitation to myself and Lateral Paul to attend the Heritage Festival and for making us feel so welcome!

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