Summer Dreams 2014

coming soon

Granada Nicaragua

In Search or the Perfect Ceviche and other adventures out soon in my TravelOkcity column, Leisure+Adventure Magazine, and here.

Marshall Islands

Got Wasabi? (A deep sea fishing adventure in the Marshall Islands)

Prairie Dog Town

Adventures in the city of Oklahoma and beyond in my travel column, TravelOkcity.

Hefner Lake Park

Adventures in the city of Oklahoma and beyond in my travel column, TravelOkcity.

Huahin, Thailand

The warm hospitality of a boutique hotel in the beach resort town of royalty in the northern part of the Malay Peninsula.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Hanoi: A Beautiful Chaos, A Breathing History

Published by AsianTraveler Magazine, 2009

Hanoi is a contradiction of grandiosity and simplicity.

It was early evening, and at 14 degrees Celsius, the air nipped at my fingers. Still, I decided to venture out on my own. The streets appeared crowded, packed with little stores and narrow tall buildings, none of which had English signs on them. Whizzing by were motorcycles from every direction, oblivious to a petrified pedestrian like me. I was lost, a little bit daunted, but I was also excited by the idea of an adventure, out on my own in Hanoi, Vietnam. Since literacy had no use for me, I used my sense of smell, instead. With my nose, I followed the delicious smell of spices and herbs which eventually led me to an inner street, an obscure alley which opened to an inviting establishment awash with soft lights.

Alone in Hanoi, I rely on kind strangers to take my picture.

A serving of sunshine under a full moon

Entering Hai San Ngon, a Vietnamese seafood restaurant that served cuisine from the country areas, I decided to dine alfresco beside an infinity pool. Although the Hanoi traffic was visible from where I sat, it was a relief to be watching it from a distance, to be away from the delightful chaos of Hanoi.   Inside the restaurant, a big group cheered, celebrating a milestone perhaps. They laughed and chattered about over a table laden with food. Their room, visible through the glass doors, seemed warm compared to where I sat. Alone, I watched them with bitter sweet nostalgia.

Bicycles are recurring haunting images all around the villages.

With much difficulty, a Vietnamese waitress helped me with the menu. In halting English and a thick accent, she recommended the new dish of snails on a medley of vegetables. I always believed that a salad is a serving of sunshine.  I looked up at the cold silver moon, a perfect circle, and decided sunshine was exactly what I needed that night.

Dining alone in a strange place, out in the cold, can be a very enlightening experience.

I only had the moon and a few tea lights to give me light, not enough to take a good photo of the dish, but I hope my words would paint a more enticing picture. It was not only a delicious dish, it was also entertaining as the fish cracklings crackled and popped lightly when I topped them with a heap of tomatoes, peppers, nuts, and cilantro. If salad is a plateful of sunshine, cilantro for me is a burst of light. On some bites, I got a burst of flames. The salad was spicy, biting into my tongue. It took me about four waiters, most of them giggling, to figure out what I wanted: water.

With my tongue still smarting, I sat under the full Hanoi moon, thinking that my choice of seating would probably cause me pneumonia, but I didn’t care.  The theme of the Godfather movie (an odd musical backdrop in this little secluded place) floated through the sharp air as I stuffed my stiff fingers inside my coat (the fourth layer aside from the scarf I tied around my neck), and prayed that the butter prawns I ordered wouldn’t be as hot. 

This timid kitten needed a friend too.

The prawn platter was easy on the tongue. After a few creamy mouthfuls, the waitress insisted on ginger tea. Good to wash down the sea food, she said. I happily obliged. She looked much younger than me, yet she doted, reaching over with a fork and knife, cutting my prawns into bite sized pieces. After the meal, I walked home in the cold feeling nurtured and filled.

Living a millionaire’s life

I’ve never had a million in my pocket before, until I came to Vietnam. The currency is happily confusing. I’m still finding it difficult to get used to the fact that a bottle of water would cost 8,000 dongs or VND (Vietnamese dong) - too many zeros for a bottle of water. But I figured, water, after all, is a life essential. I am also tickled pink that a hand-embroidered  silk wallet is worth 10,000 dong.  That’s roughly 48 pesos. 

Shopping for trinkets in Hanoi is a joy, knowing that your currency can get you an army.

I’ve always wanted to get an ao dai  or a traditional Vietnamese flowing tunic, and at the Old Quarter, they tailor dresses, most of the time, while you wait. The Old Quarter in Hanoi is a bargain shopper’s paradise and a historical vestige with a 1,000-year old history. With about 36 old streets, the Old Quarter is home to countless buildings that have kept their 15th century architecture intact. Each street specializes on a specific industry or product from silk to silver and powders to paper.

I was looking for the Old Quarter and found myself delightfully lost in this busy street of commerce instead.

At the silk street, I bought a flowing silk tunic. The almost diaphanous olive green material was embroidered with delicate gold tinged dragonflies.  The first asking price was 786,000 dong, about 45 American dollars. A veteran bargain shopper, I negotiated around the amount of 400,000, an amount I knew to be ridiculously low, but I was feeling lucky. Too cheap, she cried with a smile. “700,000,” she offered hopefully.  We played around with the numbers some more until I turned my back and shook my head, my fingers crossed under my scarf. As always, it worked like a charm as she ran after me with a very agreeable price. After a few minutes of waiting, I left with a tailored fit tunic for 560,000 dong. 

I ended up getting this beautifully tailored silk ao dai.(Image by Winston Baltasar)  

Haggling is difficult because the Vietnamese hardly speak English. Even the simplest terms like “How much” could elicit blank faces. Either that or they fire back with a barrage of unintelligible syllables and phrases. Other times, they simply turn their back on you. Sometimes, I swear they pretend they don’t understand, especially the word “discount.” It would help if you had a calculator with you. Most often they simply punch in the numbers. I find it amusing that for a non-English speaking country, they can understand the language of dollars. Yes, ask how much, and they’ll automatically throw out a price in green currency.

Vendors,  used to haggling tourists, always have a calculator ready to convert your dollar to theirs.

Asking around for directions can be just as frustrating. Nobody seemed to know where the Old Quarter was when the taxi mistakenly dropped me off at the local mall. I ended up asking a couple of Caucasians who looked at me sympathetically, understanding my predicament. Don’t even dare venturing without a map or a guide. Asking directions will more than likely lead you to the wrong destination and a few thousands less in your pocket. Taxi rates can be quite pricey. Avoid the small cabs, their meters run as fast as the racing motorbikes. The safe taxi liners to flag are Hanoi, Mai Lyn, ABC. I learned this the hard way, or more appropriately, the expensive way. 

Blissfully lost along the brick walls of the city.

Literary pilgrimage

After the frenetic energy of the city, the cramped crowded buildings choked by the crisscrossing electric and phone lines, the narrow streets clogged by a tangle of motorcycles, the Temple of Literature was a welcome retreat. I was on a literary pilgrimage, if there was such a thing, for my novel which I had just completed. I figured a blessing from the masters of the art would not do me any harm, especially since I was in the midst of shopping for the right publisher.

Entering the gates of the Temple of Literature.

Located at the heart of central Hanoi, the Temple of Literature housed the first university in the country where the administrative and warrior class were instructed. It was dedicated to Confucius and founded in 1070 by Emperor Ly Thanh Tong.

Taking a breather and just taking it all in.

The complex is sprawling with side passages between courtyards and open pavilions dotted with ancient trees and surrounded with manicured lawns where students could sit and study, paint, or meditate. Great halls contain stone turtles that represent the men of letters and scholarly artefacts from students who had passed between these walls. Following one of the locals, I ran my hand over one of the turtle’s smooth head for good luck. In one of the pavilions, I whispered a prayer to the statue of Confucius and his disciples. 

A student reveals  a secret garden, using charcoal to sketch out the map.

Outside, I found a couple of students on the grass, earnestly bent over watercolor paintings, copying the likeness of the temple’s ancient architecture in fine strokes and delicate colors. Inside the gift shop, I found several paintings for sale made by the students. I bought a picture of a couple in red tunics, harvesting an abundance of yellow bananas. It represents happiness and luck to a couple, said the madam in the shop. With my 15 US dollar painting, I left the gates of the temple with a twinge of regret.  I loathed going back to the beautiful mess of Hanoi.

Children are dressed colorfully in Hanoi.

Red brick road

A sampan ride along rice paddies reveals another side of Hanoi.

Although I extremely enjoyed the frenetic energy of the city, I needed to get out even for a few hours, so I took the few hours ride to the outskirts of Hanoi, to the former capital of Hoa Lu. At the Thung Nang-Ninh Binh province, I took a sampan ride along the stream to enjoy the breathtaking view of limestone mountains. While the small boat glided through the still stream, I watched the vista of the mountains mirrored on the flat water surface, lined by green rice paddies. The boatwoman behind me paddled silently, allowing me the quiet that I needed. At the end of the stream the boatwoman motioned for me to duck my head as we entered a limestone cave. She must have gone through the same path a hundred times because she deftly led the sampan through the dark narrow path, limestone jutting low over our heads, leading us safely through the other end of the cave.

The ride through the narrow caves can be scary and exciting at the same time.

After the rejuvenating ride, I was treated to a simple Vietnamese lunch at a local restaurant nearby, a treat of steamed vegetables, pork, and beef, blanketed by a thick creamy serving of pumpkin soup.

Edible art

The last stop was the Viet ancient Village tour at the Duong Lam, the homeland of two national heroes in Vietnamese history. The village is characterized by houses of ancient architecture made of lateritic brick built three or four centuries ago.  Laterite is made of red clay weathered basalt found in northern Vietnam.

Why, hello, Hanoi!

Although a national relic, the village is alive, where farmers open their homes and welcome you with a steaming hot kettle of green tea. Children, bundled up in brightly colored coats, their small faces smudged with dirt, play by the door. Their squeals of laughter are music to the ears. Along the ancient narrow alleys, locals ride quietly through on their bicycles, vegetables and flowers tied snugly at the back. You could hear the ghosts of the temples and pagodas, whispering nuggets of wisdom from a simple but honorable life lived. Here, two kings once lived; they had long past but their memory still reigns. This is what Hanoi is all about, a confusing but charming medley of culture, history and lifestyle.

Another adventure awaits at the corner.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Confessions of a Shopaholic: Old Ghosts, Great Bargains, and the Process of Embracing the True Self (Manila, Philippines)

Published by Pilmap, Travel and Leisure, 2007

(Watch out for my brands for less article in Lifestyle Asia - Travel where I will show you where to find designer trends for a steal. Photos by Cherie M. Del Rio)

Tries on a hundred pairs of shoes and ends up taking home a sheer black tunic. Guilty. Devotes one entire day for Christmas bazaar shopping  with quick breaks for meals only. Guilty. Gets lost in a trance inside a night market. Guilty. Considers shopping a sport. Guilty.

Caught in the act by Don Oco

My name is Ana; I am a recovering shopaholic, and this is my story. 

I haven’t bought a bag, a pair of pumps or a dress in 6 months, 14 days and 3 hours until that fateful day when I was introduced to Tutuban Mall. When the assignment of shopping in the Philippines was dangled in front of me like a carrot stick to rabbit, I didn’t bite. The first stop was at Tutuban Mall in Divisoria.  I’ve never been to Tutuban, and the idea of exploring a new place made my nose twitch. I got more interested when I found out that Tutuban sits in the middle of old Manila, a place steeped with history. Before my mind could wander on the delicious possibilities, I stopped myself. I would not open myself to temptation.  

Fabric shopping (by Don Oco)

But isn’t Tutuban famous for its wholesale market and dirt cheap prices? My mind anguished over the dilemma. The old shopper’s blood running through my veins started to stir, responding to the familiar calling: Bargain! Bargain!

I reasoned and argued. I’ve been working too hard these past few days. Retail therapy could do some good. I deserved a reward. I mulled over the pros and cons for a few more seconds. In the end, a shopper will always be a shopper at heart and breaking the last thread of resistance, I heeded the call of the mall. Wearing comfortable shoes and with just enough money in my pocket to get to the Mall and back, I braved the traffic of Taft Avenue and headed to Tutuban Mall, silently swearing that I would not buy anything. Not hail or sleet or 50% off would make me succumb to my weakness. 

From Tutuban to the streets of HK, you'll find me trying on clothes.
Image by Nana Arellano Aoyong.

Past and Present                   

Armed with a solemn pledge, I sought out history immersion instead. Located along C.M. Recto in Tondo, Tutuban Mall consists of three fully air conditioned buildings situated around a cobbled rotunda called the Loop Road. The Center Mall, named so because it is flanked by the Cluster Mall and the Prime Block, is hard to miss from the main road with its old architectural design. Its Spanish architecture hints of ghosts of calesas galloping lazily along the cobbled streets, Chinese merchants rushing to the market to trade their wares, and early risers shuffling in their tsinelas, bayong in hand. The building’s facade though can be very deceiving. Tutuban’s nostalgic exterior houses modern boutiques and stores, home to popular names and trendy brands.

A guerrilla shopper won't mind trying clothes on even on the streets,
as told by Nana Arellano Aoyong.

Beyond the bargain items, Tutuban Mall sets itself  apart from competition through its area of great historical significance, proving that a historical landmark doesn’t have to share the fate of hardly visited museums inhabited by floating motes of dust and restless spirits. On the contrary, Tutuban is a vibrant place of commerce, melding the old with the new.  Bustling businesses take place under the watchful but quiet eyes of old ghosts.   Gazing at the shoppers with their shopping bags in tow is Andres Bonifacio, founder of the Katipunan. His monument stands proud in the middle of the Loop Road where he was said to have been born.

I got my shopper's genes from my Nanay.
Woodbury Premium Outlet Mall, NY

In the 1800s, Tondo, where Tutuban was built, was considered the center of commerce. It was a short distance away from the piers and could be reached from almost every major district in Manila and other outlying towns and cities. In 1887, the former Manila Railroad Company was built, making nearby provinces and towns more accessible. The former  Manila Railroad Company, now called the  Philippine National Railways, still stands behind the mall. In fact, Tutuban was built right at the heart of the century-old Philippine National Railways building.
According to many, the name “Tutuban” originated from the sounds that came from the locomotives parked at the central station. Others say Tutuban was the center for the production of tuba, a local alcoholic drink made from coconut.

Caught in the act by Lisa Cruz

Today, Tutuban still remains to be at the hub of Manila’s trading and commerce, offering more than just the local alcoholic drink. Aside from the affordable wares, Tutuban claims to be a one stop shop housed in a place rich in history.

Restraint VS retail therapy

People go to Tutuban Mall with one purpose – to shop. If they wanted to relax or share intimate conversations over a warm cup of coffee, they would go to the quieter, posh malls in the city. At Tutuban, no one stands still. The aisles are packed with frenzied people on a mission – to look for great bargains.  

The best kind of therapy is the retail kind at the night market of Hua Hin, Thailand.

Pioneering the tiangge concept in the mall, Tutuban is the biggest wholesale & retail shopping complex in the country. It houses over 1,700 tenants  selling local goods and merchandize from all over the world. Anything from food, RTW, accessories, toys and house wares to handicrafts and souvenirs are available at any of the Tutuban Mall’s buildings.

Caught in the streets of Hanoi, spending some VND.

Since the Center Mall is home to the branded boutiques and stores found in almost every mall in the country, I decided to venture out to the Cluster Mall and the Prime Block.  I heard that’s where the wrangling and the quibbling happen, and I was out for some adventure.

Set much like a typical tiangge or bazaar, the cluster buildings are crowded with stalls, each one claiming to offer the best bargains. Tinderas cry out “pili na!” like vendors in a fish market.  

            Got lost in Hanoi looking for the Old Quarter. I found this ao dai instead.
                                               Photo by Winston Baltasar.                                      

 Going through the rows upon rows of Victorian inspired blouses, psychedelic printed 60s Mod dresses, and dainty ballet flats, my self control was continuously tested.  

Takashimaya in Singapore is one of the largest in the region.

I found a pair of tailored short-shorts in beige sold at P100 a pair. How could I let that pass? I questioned my  pesky conscience. Conscience could never be the best shopping partner. Brushing the nagging voice away, I reasoned. Surely, it would be a wise investment?  A peek in my wallet told me that I still had more than enough money to get me home after the purchase. Besides, several ATMs nearby were blinking their approval. A few stores later, I felt my resolution dissolve some more. I got to the point of no return when I saw a Victorian inspired blouse on a rack. It had a baby doll collar, puffy sleeves, and delicate buttons nestled on lacy frills.  “P150,” the sign screamed in bold fonts and a bright yellow background. Who could resist that? As soon as my find was stuffed in a plastic bag, I knew I was back in business, and after being just opened, so was the stall. “Buena mano,” said the saleslady. “Our first sale of the day” And with that, all 6 months of temperance went down the drain.

The great Singapore shopping swing. These girls can shop from sun up to sun down.

Beaded tops from Thailand were a bit expensive starting at P400, but the apparel for men was surprisingly cheap. We came upon a store that sold vintage inspired T-shirts and linen collared shirts for men. The linen shirt would look great with khakis or a pair of jeans even on these dreary wet days, and at P250, it would bring a lot of sunshine. But still, I haggled just for the fun of it and didn’t expect the store attendant to give it at P150. It was almost too good to be true. Apparently, haggling was a staple at Tutuban, and if you have the patience, persistence, and the confidence to bargain, you could get a really good deal. If you’re buying in bulk or whole sale (which usually starts at half a dozen), you can get up to 30% off on your purchase.

Best buy of the day: Audrey Hepburn-esque coat from Mango at almost half off.
Bargain bridals

One of my best friends got married several weeks ago.  As one of the bridesmaids, I wasn’t too happy with the gown that was tailor made for me at P7,500. Little did I know that for the same amount at Tutuban’s Cluster Mall, we could have gotten gowns for the bride and the entourage plus all the accessories and a little change for the bridal shower’s sexy dancer perhaps.   Of course, these gowns are far from couture. If Vera Wang or Monique Lhuillier’s presence is not important in your wedding, then  the bargain dresses at the Cluster Mall will make you a blushing bride out of the money you will be saving.

Starting at P1,500, the wedding gown comes complete with the pieces of accessories -  the cord, gloves, headdress, 2 pillows, garter, 1st veil, 2nd veil, petticoat and bouquet base. At that amount, don’t expect luxurious fabrics of silk and lace.  The floor length bridal satin dresses are simply embellished in inexpensive beads. The more elaborate gowns made of Taiwan georgette  and Japanese beads are tagged a bit higher from 6,000 pesos. Made to order dresses will cost as low as P1,500 as long as the design is chosen from the store’s catalogue.  

Known as the Paris of the Pacific, Guam is a tax free port. Do I hear "cha-ching!"?

Flower girl dresses start at P300 with an additional P30 per size increment. Bridesmaid dresses, prom gowns and debutante’s gowns start from P1,400. Taffeta cocktail dresses are a steal at P900 a piece. I made sure I got the dressmaker’s business card who enthusiastically informed me that made to order pieces can be picked up two weeks after placing the order.

Curtains and colorful banderitas

After the wedding, comes the home building. Tutuban stays true to its claim of being a one stop shop. Appliances, home furnishings and accessories are available at the Prime Mall. The curtain shops in particular caught my attention. Luxurious swags with crystals, valance window treatments and elaborate curtain sets are sold at a bargain. I was told that five star hotels and prominent political figures get their curtains and window treatments here.

Warming up at the Duty Free shop in Guam.

After the home furnishings and interiors have been put into place, it’s time to make some additions to the family. If kids are part of your family planning, Tutuban Mall keeps the tiny customers in mind. Toy stores are a brim with bargain toys mostly made in China. For children’s parties, the selection of party favours, decor and giveaways are delightful. It almost made me want to throw a party. This freedom from restraint, from months of temperance, is more than enough reason to celebrate. 

Watch out for my brands for less shopping article in Lifestyle Asia - Travel soon.

I went through the rows of cheap plastic toys with the heart of a child and marvelled at the colourful banderitas that go from P10 to 50 at 3 meters. Paper roundabout decors floated overhead, a joy not only for kids but for grownups too. They come in colourful designs that would look great hanging from the ceiling in any room. It’s a quirky alternative to the old and boring Japanese lanterns and at P35 to P66 a piece, I figured it wouldn’t hurt my pocket. Besides, with all my finds, the only things that hurt were my legs. As I exited the doors of the Prime Block,   both hands full of stuffed plastic bags, Bonifacio greeted me with what seemed like an approving smile. With my heart and my wallet lighter, my feet a little bit sore, I thought this was the best place to welcome back and embrace my truest self.

My name is Ana, and yes, I am a shopaholic.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Yai Ya, Why Do I love Thee? (Hua Hin, Thailand)

Published by AsianTraveler Magazine 2009
Images by Lisa Cruz

Let me count the ways. Do I love you for your welcoming embrace or your soothing laughter? Do I love you for offering me respite from the madness of the city or for rejuvenating my spirit through your healing hands?  Days after I left your property, I still wonder over the pree-da (or the delight  - as you have taught me in your native tongue) that you have generously shared.  As I sit within the four walls of my room, the dark corners absent of your light, I dream of the remains of the summer sun still warm on my skin. Today I write you this letter, listing down the many joys I had experienced in your bosom as my way of gratitude.

Thank you for taking me back in my wawa's arms.

I remember stepping into the wide bungalow of your abode, a cool welcome under the starkly hot sun of Hua Hin. It reminded me of my grandmother’s home, of the cool shade of trees by the porch on summer days. 

This path seems to lead me back to my wawa's garden.

In your receiving area, I saw a stuffed doll on the table. Its crinkly eyes smiled, hidden under ridiculously large spectacles balanced under a button nose.  “It’s YaiYa’s mascot, “ one of your staff members whispered beside me as I played with the doll’s salt and pepper gray yarn hair tied neatly in a bun.  Yai means maternal grandmother in Thai, she continued to explain.  Ya means paternal grandmother. Perhaps it wasn’t an accident that Yaiyai in Greek also means grandmother. How very appropriate, I thought, as I surveyed the spaciousness about me, the tiny cookies on a platter by the coffee table, the unpretentious artwork on the walls,  the native woven fan on the chair, and a handful of smiling staff welcoming our arrival. Nothing seemed calculated or snobbish. Everything appeared natural, real, inviting. These are just some of the many things I love about you, YaiYa.

Yaya, lola, wawa, grandma = love and a warm embrace.

YaiYa, I love your cheerful spirit.

I see it on the faces of your staff, and most of all, your daughter. Duangruedee has your smile. 
She laughs with an easy and graceful manner. Her face, framed with short greying hair, is a younger reflection of you. She ushered us in with a twinkle in her eyes, laughing at her absentmindedness. She handed me an invitation written on thin recycled paper. “We request the pleasure of your company for dinner tonight,“  it read in carefully written script.   

I love your kindness

You surround yourself with beautiful things, not only because they are appealing to the eye, but mostly because they honor Mother Nature and care for the community’s wellbeing. “Everything is naturally and locally made,” said Duangruedee, from the custom made cotton bed covers to the earth-friendly tote bag.  She takes her responsibility to the community seriously, it seemed, by returning to the community through YaiYa. The body lotion, foot cream, and hand cream, all lined up on the pristinely white bathroom sink, are made of longan seed, a natural antioxidant. The formula had been made by the students of the nearby university, Mae Fah Luang. The subtle smell of jasmine and tropical flowers is bottled in recycled plastic containers.

At Yaiya's lobby lounge. Definitely not your typical hotel.

In each of the 23 deluxe rooms, six suites, and 11 pool villas are light silk blankets made from Hua Hin’s renowned cotton house, Khomapastr. It reminded me of my grandmother’s embrace when the air conditioning would get chilly in the middle of the night.

I appreciate your thoughtfulness

Today, I await the coming of the full moon of May with a little bit of trepidation mixed with excitement. Under the full moon, I would celebrate another year of my life that had just passed. Two of your attendants came in with a little chocolate cake topped with a lighted candle.  They sang me a happy birthday song, a little awkwardly at first, their voices soft and shy with the Petch accent. I closed my eyes, listened to their musical voices, made a wish, and blew out the candle.

I was blessed by the full moon of Hua Hin on my birthday.

 I love your healing touch

It was high noon when we walked in to your spa, Aka Spa. We were greeted by Noppamas, her soft features smiling, promising an afternoon of rediscovery and rebirth. She offered me a cool drink, slightly tinged in pink, its scent giving off a hint of flowers. It went down my throat easily, giving me a taste of what was about to come.

Waiting for the healing treatment at the Aka Spa.

Noppamas explained that the YaiYa Combination Massage would start with a Thai reflexology massage. It was a dry treatment that revealed much of Thai’s revered traditions to me. As my therapist’s  gentle but confident hands worked on my body, reawakening the tissues and joints through temperate stretching and pressing, I began to understand the deep reverence the Thai’s have for the human body. My blood rushed in the direction that the hands of my therapist took on my skin, reminding it of its ability to heal itself. 

Sharing drinks with our beautiful gracious host, the owner of Aka Spa.

The rejuvenating massage was followed by an ayuverdic treatment. Expert hands glided on my skin under the Jojoba oil.  Rich in liquid wax ester, the oil was supposed to unclog the pores on my skin while penetrating and locking in moisture. Finally, the Shirodhara massage was a deliciously nourishing treatment that profoundly coordinated and calmed every part of my being. And for a moment, I forgot. I forgot who and where I was. I forgot what I was here for. All that mattered was the here and now, my body rejoicing its sweet reunion with my mind and spirit.

I adore you for your home cooked meals

No pretention. No fusion. Just plain old-fashioned home recipes, handed down from generation to generation. Everything is honest, unapologetic, simple, but unforgettable; definitely enriching.
At Thaipas, your restaurant, I love your tapas. It’s enough of a meal for me. The deep-fried squids, the clams in wine sauce, the sautéed mushrooms in garlic and olive oil, all boast of Hua Hin’s abundance.  But just like my grandmother, you would not let me leave the table until I’ve polished off my plate and stuffed myself with the dishes you pride yourself most with.

I enjoyed the Som Tam, the spicy papaya salad, to start. It’s a street fare favourite, but your chef, Anusri, put a twist to it by lightly coating the fresh shredded unripened papaya and carrots in flour before frying, to give it a crispy texture. The dish is a perfect merging of the Thai taste with the sour lime, the hot chilli, the salty fish sauce, and the subtle sweetness of the palm sugar. All the flavours were brought together in one crispy bite.

Duangruedee Rochanakorn built YaiYa to honor her mother, her son’s grandmother.  Laughing over a tall glass of lychee shake, she revealed to us the heart of YaiYa.

Anusri also presented another personal childhood favourite, the stuffed chicken wing she called Gai Sod Sai.  Stuffed with a mixture of minced pork and scallions, the flavors were intensified by the richness of root coriander. I washed it all down with fresh lychee smoothie.  

Tall colorful drinks to start off the feast.

Fresh from the seafood market was the fried fillet sea bass.  The sea bass had a faint flavour awakened by the sweet and sour sauce. Somehow my palate had never warmed to the taste of curry, but you urged me to try your pride and joy, the Pa Nang Goong, jumbo prawns in curry cream sauce.  The curry didn’t sound too appetizing, but the huge prawns looked too gorgeous to resist. They lay on a bed of curry and coconut sauce, painstakingly sautéed until it became creamy.  Each bite was thick and rich. The flavor was both alien and familiar. It was a confusing taste that made me want to take another spoon and a bite, and another, and another. It was the same experience with every dish you brought to the table. The tastes were somewhat exotic yet oddly comforting. It was like finding home in a strange place.  

I shall always remember your quiet grace

Our bedroom pool villa, which you call Sasala, sits in the middle of a scented garden, no doubt tended by your caring hands. Wooden doors by our private garden leads to a curvy pathway to the beach, lined by Plumeria and century old nutmeg trees, protecting me from Hua Hin’s potent and jealous sun.  

If there's a beach, you will never see me by the pool. But not in this case.
Inside our room, the stylish woodwork, the spacious way the furniture was arranged, and the spare trimmings suggested nostalgia without turning its back to the modern. The diaphanous curtains soften the bed’s wooden frame, offering privacy without making me feel boxed in.

Getting my tan on at the roof deck of our villa.

As much as I enjoyed shuffling around barefoot, relishing the cleanness and airiness of the room, I often found myself lounging by the veranda on the second floor of our villa. I love the white washed carved stairs that led to our infinity pool where I would soak, looking out at your green abundance, listening to the call of seabirds nearby. Plumeria buds would fall from the tree, lending the water a subtle fragrance.

At the roofdeck, the mosquito nets remind me of my wawa's bedroom.

Down at the beach, I listened to your silence. At low tide, the ebb and flow of the waves left 
patterns on the sand, telling stories of their adventures and the creatures they’ve encountered in the deep blue. It made me long to understand the language of the tides. Failing to comprehend, I laid down on the sand and let the water ripples wash over me.  Lying on my chest, I watched as tiny hermit crabs, housed in flat circular shells, tumbled about like tiny space crafts, their pink pearlized surface gleaming under the water. From a distance, fishermen quietly worked for the day’s catch.

Recalling these images, I think to myself that this process is not only my way of appreciation. Not only is it a way of giving ode to my grandmothers that I miss dearly (they call you YaiYa while I call them “wawa”). This gratitude journal is also my way of reminding myself of life’s little pleasures and the wonders of a gracious heart.