Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Travelling Checklist

Most of us have experienced forgetting something when planning for a trip. It was a nightmare to forget some items. Once when travelling to Budapest, I forgot to bring sufficient underwears. Fine, I thought it was no big deal because I could always buy new ones in a foreign land. Unfortunately, after shopping around, new underwear cost a fortune for a budget traveller like me. The price of a pair of underwear in Budapest was equivalent to the price of a dozen pairs of underwears in Malaysia or Thailand.

Some people may have more items to bring. Some may be less. I personally love to travel light but I may return with a heavy luggage. Ever since the bad underwear experience in Budapest, I always feel a little bit of pressure when packing for any upcoming trips. Therefore, I have decided to create my own checklist below for reference:

  • T-shirts - I prefer old t-shirts that I feel comfortable wearing rather than new ones or precious ones that I may not feel very comfortable or scared of losing them (in case the luggage is lost).
  • Long pants - I normally only bring an extra long pants. I tend to avoid heavy jeans that is hard to dry, which tends to be a burden on the weight of a luggage. In a country with hot weather, sometimes I do not bring any extra long pants.
  • Shorts - Due to the fact that I travel more often to tropical countries in recent years. I normally bring 2-3 pairs of shorts unless in Thailand which I usually bought new ones.
  • Old rotten t-shirt - I normally bring along an old rotten old t-shirt that I could always throw away if my luggage is overweight. I use it as my pyjamas.
  • Old rotten short - Same reason as old rotten t-shirt.
  • Underwear - This is the most important item for me due to the past experience of lacking of them leading to recycling dirty ones. I would not like to do it again. So, I highlight it in red!
  • Sweater or jacket - if you are afraid of cold or sharing room with someone that turns the bedroom into winter, this will be handy.
  • Handkerchief - I usually pack about 2 extra ones.
  • Towel - Some budget hotel does not provide it. On the other hand, it is useful to wrap items that require additional protection.
  • Socks - I usually pack about 2 extra ones as well. Once I entered a jungle and got soaking wet full of mud in my socks. I was glad that I had extra pairs of socks.
  • MP3 player & earphone - As a music freak, I could not live without music. This is my sole entertainment if the I got bored during my journey especially when waiting for a flight or a train. Some may ask why MP3 player when a smartphone can be used for the same purpose. My answer is you ain't smart enough if you choose to depend on smartphone as it drains up the battery very fast. Don't forget an earphone, an MP3 player without an earphone is a white elephant.
  • MP3 player charging cable - I am glad that my old iPod does not require this but it serves as a reminder.
  • Smartphone - I use it mainly for communication as well as my tour guide. Yes, my tour guide is GPS.
  • Smartphone charger - You will be stupid without it if you own a smartphone.
  • Power bank -  This will be useful in case of any emergency when your device's battery is low.
  • Passport - You are basically doomed without it. Therefore, I highlight it in red.
  • Tickets - You are doomed without your flight tickets especially unless you wish to hit financial crisis at the airport. Don't forget any other tickets such as train tickets, concert tickets, etc.
  • Hotel booking vouchers -  You are not entirely doomed without these if you are willing to sleep on the street. It is not that pleasant if it rains or snows. So, I perceive this as very important too.
  • Basic language guide - I normally would learn some basic local language of the country I am travelling to. Words such as "thank you", "hello", "good bye", "toilet", "food", "water", etc are very handy. The problem is I may not remember everything, so I normally print out a list as reference.
  • Shampoo - Some budget hotels do not provide it. Therefore, I always have about 2 small bottles of shampoo (compliment of other hotels) with me.
  • Soap or body shampoo - Some budget hotels do not provide it as well. Sometimes I carry a bar of soap or 2 small bottles of body shampoo (compliment of other hotels again).
  • First aid kit - Not the entire first aid kit but I always carry some painkiller (i.e. Panadol), plasters and medication for diarrhoea.
  • Vitamin C - This is mainly for flu prevention for myself.
  • Pens - Always keep some pens with you especially at the immigration when you need to fill in a form. It is also useful as a communication tool when verbal communication fails - try drawing.
  • Paper - This is for taking notes as well as a communication tool - you need something to draw on with a pen. Even a three year-old kid knows it.
  • Tissue paper - For certain countries (i.e. Malaysia), the toilets do not have any toilet paper. This will be handy in case of any emergency.
  • Camera - Some people travel without a camera these days by replacing it with smartphone but I personally do not like to rely too much on one device in case it is stolen/lost.
  • Camera battery chargers - Don't forget your camera charger. It is obviously not cheap to buy a new one.
  • Extra camera battery - Always bring spare batteries when travelling. You definitely do not want to miss capturing a special moment or a beautiful scene when your camera battery runs out.
  • Multiplug or electrical extension cord -  This is to prevent fighting with your roommate for power supply.
  • Small backpack - This is useful as you walk around places. You will need somewhere to keep your bottle of water, sweater, pen, paper, etc.
  • Umbrella or raincoat - Always be prepared for rainy days.
  • Laptop - It could be handy sometimes. It depends on the purpose of my trip but I do not like to carry something expensive these days.
  • Comb - You are likely to need one unless you are bald.
  • Shaver - All guys need it I believe unless you intend to grow beard or you are a band member of ZZ Top.
  • Scissors - This is handy to cut anything. Example: Price tag of your new pants, your nose hair, etc.
  • Nail clipper - For cutting nails, removing skin that peels around fingernails and minor surgery (just kidding!)
  • Hair gel - I use this but some guys need hair cream. Some needs siliva! Some needs waxing!
  • Toothbrush - Some hotels do not provide it. I always feel more comfortable using the toothbrush I purchase rather than the one given by hotels anyway.
  • Toothpaste - Same as the case of toothbrush.
  • Clothes hangers - I prefer to bring about 2 hangers in case they are insufficient or not provided by the hotel.
  • Washing powder - I prefer to save cost by doing my own laundry. So, I need a small packet of washing powder. Depending on the country I am going, I can either buy it at the destination or bring it from home.
  • Plastic bags - This is for dirty laundry and wet towel. In some countries such as Malaysia and France, you need to purchase plastic bags at some shops/shopping complexes.
  • Store a photo of passport in smartphone - This is a precaution in case of losing the passport.
Here is a link containing some very useful tips for travelling: Useful Travelling Tips 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Trip To Hat Yai in 2016

I took a train from KL Sentral to Butterworth on the 30th. of November, 2016. Please take note that for seats numbers 13A, 13B, 14A & 14B share a table in between. 13C,13D, 14C & 14D also share a table in between. Other numbers do not have any table. Try the numbers below 13 if you do not need any table. I had to share tables with strangers during my train journeys both ways because I picked 13A. The train's seating allocation map at the website during booking was completely inaccurate. The train journey took 4 hours and it was generally comfortable except the toilet was flooded.
 A view inside the train from KL Sentral to Butterworth:

On the 1st of December, I took a van from Penang to Hat Yai for a short 3 days trip. It cost RM75 for 2 ways trip (probably there was a discount when buying tickets for 2 ways trip). The journey took about 4 hours as the van would stop at various destinations within Penang to pick up passengers. The van would stop for toilet break once during the journey. At the border, the luggage was not required to be brought down from the van at both sides of the immigrations. However, luggage was required to be brought down from the van at Malaysian immigration. The rules may change, so it's best to check with the driver.
I am aware of one case that the passsenger's luggage was left at the roadside unattended by the driver when he drove off. There was a misunderstanding that food was not required to be brought down. The luggage full of food was still required to be brought down because it's a luggage.
During weekend, RM1 was required to be paid at Thai immigration. During weekday, RM1 was required to be paid only after 12pm (Thai time zone I suppose). I was told that RM1 was for overtime which sounded ridiculous to me. The queue at the immigration was longer during weekend. Therefore, it's highly recommended to avoid crossing the border during weekend and best to leave early during weekday to prevent paying for "overtime payment".
I stayed at Chudchada Place. It was a clean and comfortable hotel. It was slightly further from the town but it was worth it. We had 3 persons sharing a room. 300 baht per night was paid for the extra bed which was not that comfortable. The hotel is quiet. You can easily find food by walking to the market nearby, two branches of 7-Eleven and Tesco Lotus Extra. It cost 60 baht to travel by tuktuk to the town. We had 3 persons, so it only cost 20 baht per head. A hotel room in the town might cost us beyond 120 baht for sure. It was walking distance to Central Festival Mall and Diana Plaza. Honestly, we could have skipped Central Festival Mall because of the lousy food at the food court and it was a typical modern mall with nothing interesting in my eyes.
It was raining throughout my 3 days trip. So, it was impossible to visit the floating market which I heard was slightly pricey and mainly targeted tourists. Most of our time were spent at Big C, Tesco, Kim Yong Market and Santisuk Market. Generally, there was less language barrier in Hat Yai for Malaysians because the muslims normally could speak Malay and some Thai/Chinese could speak Hokkien, Mandarin or Hakka. 
 A view from water stained windows of the new Lee Garden after the rain:

Slippery when wet! Very wet road after the rain: 
Basically, Hat Yai is just a usual destination for Malaysians and Singaporeans to shop. The normal items shopped were soap, shampoo, tooth paste, tooth brush, junk food, cooking ingredients, Mama instant noodles, backpack, bag, clothes, etc. Without over spending, 300-400 baht should be sufficient for a 3 days trip in Hat Yai. There was nothing much interesting about Hat Yai based on my opinion. I enjoyed the street food though.

Some popular Thai chili paste:

Some popular Thai chili sauce:

Mostly black and white clothings were sold during my trip because the king of Thailand passed away recently:

Laksa at the buffet in the new Lee Garden (unfortunately 4 out of 5 of us had food poisoning. The person who did not have food poisoning did not eat an laksa):

Food court at Central Festival Mall. You can forget about eating here because the food are horrible for Thai standard:

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Trip to Bandung and Jakarta in 2016

On the 24th. of October, I flew to Bandung with the intention of meeting up with my music business counterparts (record labels, record shops and bands) in both Bandung and Jakarta. I took Malindo flight because it was overall cheaper than Air Asia with free 30kg luggage. The first thing upon landing was I noticed people walked from the plane to the airport like a herd of cows and sheeps. Nobody queued. I had to grab a form from an immigration officer who handed out the forms by standing at a corner blocked by the crowd. It's always better to have your own pen to fill up any forms at the immigration because there was no pen available sometimes. It was a mess at the immigration. The queue was long. I had no idea where were the queues and whether I was at the correct line. The airport in Bandung was small one but I think I spent almost an hour at the immigration.

Upon leaving the immigration to collect the luggage, there were porters trying to snatch your luggage. It was not a daytime robbery but they were just trying to earn some money by helping you to carry it. I just rejected their service politely. I could not find the Bluebird taxi service counter to call for a cab and I could not find the toilet, I made enquiry at the information counter. I was shocked that the toilet was located on the upper floor without any lift or escalator. Obviously, I could not carry the heavy luggage up just to pee. I also had to walk back inside the airport to call for a taxi when I was stopped by the security guard as I did not have a flight departure ticket/pass. I explained to him and he allowed me to re-enter directed me to the taxi counter. The Bluebird taxi counter issued me a coupon costing Rp60,000 but the payment was to be made to the taxi driver (not to be paid at the counter as in many airports). This would led to a rip-off eventually.

The journey to my hotel, Elenor's Home, which was located in Jalan Boscha II was expected to be a short journey as it was less than 5km from Husein Sastranegara International Airport. However, it took us about 2 hours because of a massive traffic congestion in additional to the fact that the driver did not know his way to Jalan Boscha II, which was a small lane in between a row of houses behind a petrol station. Initially, I thought I wanted to pay the taxi driver Rp70,000 because of the hassle of traffic congestion. I was stunned when he asked for Rp100,000. I paid without arguing but I was obviously not happy with it. Even the locals thought it was a rip-off as Rp100,000 was the price of a train ticket from Bandung to Jakarta.

There was nothing to shout about regarding Elenor's Home that I stayed. It was a low budget hotel. The staff are friendly and helpful. However, the floor mat provided was filthy as I could obviously see all the black stains. The toilet/bathroom was old and the drainage was smelly without any basin. No shampoo and soap were provided but there was a towel. The breakfast was simple. There was no air conditioner but you do not need it in Bandung.

The room at Elenor's Home (Sorry for the mess):

Breakfast provided on the first morning at Elenor's Home:

Breakfast provided on the second morning of Elenor's Home:

The sky turned dark faster than Peninsular Malaysia in Bandung. The sky was always cloudy and grey just like England anyway. I walked out of the hotel based on the direction of my badly printed map which was not detailed enough. My first destination was the nearby petrol station as I wanted to buy a local SIM card called Simpati. Unfortunately, the petrol station did not have it but the staff directed me to a nearby stall. I went to the stall but the salesperson did not seem helpful, so I walked away. I was trying to search for Rumah Mode and FFWD Records as well as my dinner using the map. I made the wrong turning but I didn't mind exploring. I saw another roadside stall selling Simpati SIM card. I made enquiry and the guy seemed helpful and friendly, so I bought it from him. He helped to configure everything and the SIM card was ready to use instantly with data plan (I realised I could not make any local phone call later in Jakarta when I was in desperation). His customer and himself gave me the correct direction to Rumah Mode.

I had my dinner at the food court of Rumah Mode. Food was pricey but I would not complain about the taste of the food. The staff were helpful and friendly too when I asked about Indonesian country code that I needed to register an account in Uber, and, food recommendation. I did my quick survey at Rumah Mode to find out what they had. I was not there to shop anyway. I failed to find FFWD Records that night. I walked back to the hotel which took me about 15 minutes by foot. The walking path was very bad at certain places. So, I had to walk very carefully to avoid tripping and getting myself injured on the first day. In fact all the walking paths in Bandung and Jakarta were equally bad. If you want to walk, you need to walk carefully. I found it pretty safe to walk in Bandung as I didn't encounter any criminals.

Fried rice from Rumah Mode for dinner:

Next day, I used the service of Uber to go to the railway station to buy a train ticket but found out that I could actually buy train tickets at the nearby shops such as Indomaret & Alfamart. Passport was required to buy a train ticket. The queue at the train station was very long. When I discovered that I could buy my 2 ways tickets from a machine, I decided to do so with the help of their staff. Honestly the user interface of the machine was not very user friendly. At one point, I was stuck because I could not key in my passport number. The error message did not help at all. Then the staff told me that I needed to ignore the alphabet of my passport number because only numeric was permitted. I was also surprised to notice that I needed to check in 1 hour in advance. If I didn't go to the railway station, I might not be aware of it. I walked out of the railway station to use Uber service again but I noticed Kartikasari which sold excellent bagelen behind Alfamart at Jalan H. Akbar (another small lane). So, I decided to check it out and bought some Bagelen that my sister recommended before calling for Uber to return to the hotel. After reaching the hotel, I walked to search for FFWD Records again. This time with SIM card, I could use Google Map for direction. It led me to the destination but I could not see any building with FFWD signboard. I called my counterpart from FFWD Records and he came out to meet me. There was no signboard in fact. FFWD Records was located behind a shoes shop. I stocked up everything I needed from FFWD Records.

I had my lunch at The Kiosk on the upper floor of Setiabudhi Supermarket. For the next few days, most of my meals were in either Rumah Mode and The Kiosk unless my friends brought me somewhere else.

A local exotic food I tried at The Kiosk. Sorry that I do not remember the name. I did not like the sambal at all but the rest were ok but not something I fancied:

One of my Indonesian friends, Vando, took me to Omuniuum that I spent a fortune obtaining my music stocks later that evening. Omuniuum also took some of my Malaysian stocks. It was a pleasure dealing with Omuniuum. It was a highly recommended store to obtain indie music. The staffs were good in recommendation. We also went for a gig consisting of 4 obscure local indie bands that I could not even remember some of the bands' names. There was a shoegaze band, Fuzz Oh, and a Bjork wannabe band, Lunar Lunar, that I liked. Even the venue was new according to the locals. I met Marin of FFWD Records for the first time unplanned here. I also met Eky from Sorge Records and obtained some stocks from him.

The band at the gig in Bandung that I cannot remember the name:

The crowd at the gig:

Another band I do not remember the name:

A band named Lunar Lunar:

I believe this is the band, Fuzz Oh (if I remember correctly):

On the 3rd. day, I walked to Jalan Cihampelas in the morning to check out Ciwalk and some shops along Jalan Cihampelas. I found all the shops boring and uninteresting. The shops along the road basically sold counterfeit branded jeans. Ciwalk was just another typical shopping mall. No record shop and anything interesting for me. I could not even find local non-counterfeit branded jeans there. It was a waste of time! I spent a lot of time at FFWD Records talking about music and the scene later that day. I bought Burberry jeans for my wife and myself at Rumah Mode. My jeans were torn actually. Rp264,900 for men and Rp349.900 for ladies. There were more choices for men. There was only one choice for ladies.

On the 27th. of October, I went to Jakarta by train. Checking in was no hassle at all. I was shocked to find out that there was a 20kg weight limit for luggage. I think the restriction was ridiculous for a travelling foreigner because Malindo flight allowed 30kg for the luggage. This regulation was not written on the ticket. You needed  passport to board the train just like when you bought the ticket using your passport. Right before entering the train, the porter snatched my luggage after I showed him my ticket. He showed me the way and placed by luggage on the top luggage compartment. Then asked for Rp10,000. I told myself not to talk to any porter or ask them for any direction on the way back. The train journey took about 2 hours plus. It was a comfortable trip. The train had 2 slots of power sockets for 2 seats, so you could charge your mobile phones. Food and drinks were served and the prices were not too costly comparing with the prices at the food court in Rumah Mode.
I called for Uber service after walking out from Gambir railway station in Jakarta. It was quite a distance to walk. From the 3rd floor I took a lift to the first floor (ground floor), then walked for quite a distance to get out of the railway station. Honestly, I looked like a mad man dragging the heavy luggage. It was about 1 hour journey from the railway station to Reddoorz of Panglima Polim (near Blok M Square). I was advised by the driver to turn on Waze whenever I take Uber, Grabcar or taxi in Indonesia to avoid being cheated. His advice would be handy at later stage of my bad experince with another Uber driver in Jakarta.

Reddoorz where I stayed was pretty inconvenient for someone with heavy luggage like myself because there was a staircase to climb. I left for Blok M Square to survey record stores shortly after reaching the hotel. Upon reaching home, I found myself locked outside the hotel. I tried to call the hotel but realised that my SIM card was a data plan SIM card and I could not make any local phone call. Luckily a friend in Jakarta was online. So, I asked him to call the hotel for me. Unfortunately, nobody answered the call. I was stranded for about 30 minutes until I heard some noise from the hotel. I knocked on the door to find their staff opening the door for me. Eventually, I found out that there was a trick to open their main door and the card detector was slow. You basically needed to hold on to the card on the card detector for several seconds before it could read. At the room, again I failed to open the door. It was another tricky door to open. Luckily the staff was around. The main problem of this Reddoorz was their staff always went missing and it was not easy to find them. Later that evening I went to meet my former colleague who happened to be in Jakarta.

The next day, I went to Blok M in the morning and had my lunch there. Checked whether any stores wanted to stock Malaysian indie music but it was frustrating as I got "no" answers without them checking out what I had. Later that day, I went for Synchronize Fest with Jodi. We were caught in 2 hours traffic jam and had to miss Sore's performance. I got my Demajors stocks at the music festival. There were some great bands performing that day (first day of the festival), such as Heals, Goodnight Electric, Teenage Death Star, Scaller, etc. I noticed that there were a lot of good drummers in Indonesia especially from rock and metal bands. The third day (30th. of Oct) of the festival was interesting too. Unfortunately, I had to leave Jakarta.

On the 3rd day in Jakarta, I spent time in Blok M by trying to convince a store to take up my Malaysian indie stocks by providing them my sample CD to listen. The store owner liked the music but did not dare to stock up anything. It was a waste of time and frustrating day for me. That evening, Jodi took me to High Fidelity at Pasar Santa. The owner took up some of my Malaysian stock and I was very thankful for his willingness to try out something new.

On the 30th. of October, I departed Jakarta for Bandung. I called for Uber service a few hours earlier because the traffic in Jakarta was bad. This time I met a crook Uber driver. He kept asking me for directions instead of following the directions of Waze that he was using. I could hardly understand his language too (my friends said probably he spoke in Javanese instead of Bahasa Indonesia). He actually annoyed me. Upon reaching the railway station, he overshot and I had to forced him to stop. During payment, he tried not to give me back my change but I insisted on having my change back. He was the only Uber driver in Indonesia that received bad rating from me. My luggage was heavier than the train's permitted luggage weight of 20kg this time. Luckily, nobody weighed my luggage. I might not escape if the train was crowded with passengers. I took the escalators to the top floor while being annoyed by a porter. I managed to refused him from taking my ticket or snatching my luggage this time. However, I actually needed his service to carry the heavy luggage to the top luggage compartment inside the train. Unfortunatly, no porter was to be seen. My attempt to place the luggage failed. A helpful Indonesian lady tried to help but as a lady her strength was limited too. She called a staff of the train for help and the guy allowed me to place my luggage behind a seat at the back of the cabin. In Bandung railway station, I walked out of the railway station to call Uber service again. This time I stayed at Pulas Inn in Jl. Hegar Asih, Cipaganti. The hotel was easier to find than Elenor's Home. The staff were helpful and friendly. The breakfast of nasi uduk was very nice. It was hard to adjust the hot water. The room was colder than the one in Elenor's Home. The toilet was old and no basin. No soap and shampoo provided but there was a towel. It's best to stay at the ground floor if you have a heavy luggage. That evening I went for another gig called No Problem by Teenage Death Star. The opening act was Collapse. I preferred this gig of Teenage Death Star over the one in Sychronize Fest because the festival one was too crowded.

On the 31st. of October, I went to FFWD Records again to pick up the stuff I left there with Rama. I walked down the street from FFWD Records where I had never walked before and I found a roadside stall selling mixed rice. I took 3 dishes (including a piece of chicken) and free tea costing me only Rp12,000. It was my cheapest meal in Indonesia. A lot of people warned me about having food poisoning but luckily nothing happened to me. The stall was generally clean when I was there. The flies came only when I started eating. I was trying to be more relax on my final day before departing and spent some time packing.

The haul from Bandung & Jakarta:

On the 1st. of November, I took Uber to the airport a bit too early. I was told that I didn't need to arrive 3 hours in advance as I did.  2 hours in advance will do I suppose. Again I was cursing when I had to wait outside before I could check in when nature called. The toilet was upstairs and there was no way I could carry the heavy luggage with me. I think the airport building architech needs a big slap for the bad design.

Useful Tips:
Currency exchange rate for MYR to IDR was 0.000356

Rp100,000 = MYR32.60
Rp50,000 = MYR16.30
Rp20,000 = MYR6.52
Rp10,000 = MYR3.26
Rp5,000 = MYR1.63
Rp2,000 = MYR0.652
Rp1,000 = MYR0.326

Average meal: Rp20,000 - Rp50,000
Synchronize Fest ticket: Rp200,000
Train ticket from Jakarta to Bandung: Rp100,000 - Rp120,000
Train ticket from Bandung to Jakarta: Rp100,000 - Rp120,000
Taxi from Bandung airport to hotel: Rp60,000
Uber from hotel to Bandung airport: Rp23,500
Uber from Bandung railway station to hotel: Rp29,000
Uber from Blok M to Jakarta (Gambir) railway station: Rp36,000
Hotel: MYR50 per night
Simpati SIM card (12GB data only lasting 1 month, 4G) - Rp50,000 but charged Rp70,000

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Volunteering at Ayui Foundation in 2016

I decided to volunteer at Ayui Foundation for the second time in 2016. On the 22nd June, I departed for Chiang Mai with my sister and her friend.

The most unpleasant part of the trip was taking Skybus to KLIA2. I purchased the bus ticket online via Air Asia. There was a change of procedure by Skybus comparing with last year which the ticket holder just needed to show the bus ticket collector the printout of the Air Asia's boarding pass. This time, I showed the printout to the ticket collector but I was shooed away to proceed to the counter without any explanation. I thought it was a mistake and approached the conductor to enquired. Again I was shooed away to proceed to the counter with an annoying facial expression in a rude way. I had no choice but to proceed to the counter which had a long queue. Those who bought the tickets on the spot seemed to be able to board the bus faster than those who bought the tickets online. Those who bought the tickets online had to step aside for those who purchased on the spot to be issued tickets first. 2 sets of tickets were issued to online purchasers - one with pre-printed purple wordings without any price and one with printed price, date, ticket number and counter. The flaw of Skybus system was ridiculous because it caused inconvenience to online  ticket purchasers since they also needed to queue. Furthermore, it delayed online ticket purchasers in boarding the bus. Wasn't the intention of purchasing something online meant to speed up the process? The duplicate tickets of Skybus was a wastage. Wasn't the purpose of letting online purchasers printed their own tickets supposed to reduce paper wastage? I have no idea what was Skybus up to recently. I will not recommend anyone to take Skybus due to the horrible, inconvenience and rude service. I will try the train, KLIA Express, next.

Luckily, the journey in Thailand was trouble free except for cough virus spreading among us. Yes, I was happy to escape from the stressful city of Kuala Lumpur temporarily. We took a taxi from Chiang Mai airport to Star Hotel costing 150 baht. We stayed for one night in Chiang Mai before departing for Chiang Rai the next morning. The taxi from Star Hotel to the bus terminal of Green Bus costing 250 baht. It was very convenient to take a bus from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. The road was not as winding as I expected based on articles found online. The journey was comfortable. We took 9.30am bus which we purchased the tickets on the spot. Each A class bus ticket cost 129 baht. We did not purchase V class ticket which is slightly more costly. I suppose V class is VIP. The bus journey took about 3 hours or slightly more.

We reported for duty at Ayui Foundation on the 23rd of June at 4.30pm. I was glad to see some of the kids that I met last year but a bit sad to see some of them had already left. I missed Busor, Meelea, Nongkran, Gigi, M, Bew, Dow, etc. Next year, if I were to return, more of the kids such as Ploy, May and Ahmer would leave after graduation. It was good to notice some of the kids growing taller this year. The schedule at Ayui remained the same as last year. The kids arrived back from school at around 4.30pm. At 5pm, the teaching started. 6pm was dinner time. 9.30pm was bedtime. Just as last year, the Saturday and Sunday schedule were different (actually Friday's schedule was supposed to be different too but we continued to teach although the kids expected playtime). We were not supposed to be on duty on Sunday but we still dropped by in the afternoon. I only played with the kids once at the school field because of the rain. The activities we conducted were mainly English lessons and art & handcraft lessons. Actually I was not even teaching any art. I just started by drawing and colouring and the kids naturally followed.

Most of the stationery as part of the donation, we purchased from an English speaking stationery shop called Deli Stationery near Clock Tower (turn right at the Clock Tower). I think it was the second stationery shop on that row of shops. The owner was a UK graduate who spoke fluent English. He gave us discount upon knowing that we purchased for charity.

The following photo is the stationery shop:

On the 25th of June (Saturday), Sue, Somchai and some of the boys took us to an Akha village near Huay Maesai Waterfall. One of the villagers was so friendly that she dressed up in Akha traditional costume for us when I suggested taking a photo with her. She refused to take any photo without dressing up properly. On the way back, the boys suggested dropping by at the waterfall. It was a short visit at the waterfall. The boys rushed all the way to the waterfall without waiting. This time the water was murky. So, I didn't even dip myself into the water.

Mae Sai Waterfall:

On the 1st of July (Friday), I followed Wit to the school to meet Gigi. I passed her some fish muruku and sweets the kids liked. Every Friday, the students wore their own traditional clothes to the school. It was a fascinating sight. Gigi dropped by at Ayui the next day as well but we had communication breakdown without any translator around.

This trip I found myself quite attached to one of the new youngest girl named One, and of course, my favourite girl, Angkana. There are some new girls such as Aphisara, Buyoo (which I only met once), Wanphen and Nat. The new boys were Arthit, Manop, Panakorn, Chan, Anurak and Golf. We spent less time with the boys because they had to leave earlier for the boys home which was in a separate location.

On the 3rd of July, my sister and I took a trip to Mae Salong using the service of Easy 2 Chiang Rai. The journey one way took about 3 hours. The driver was very careful. Although his English skill is limited, overall we appreciated his service. We could not visit the hilltribe's village due to the muddy road on a hill which looked too dangerous for us to proceed. We decided to turn back due to the risk.

The following is the address of the tour agency.

Easy 2 Chiang Rai,
111/7, Santi Road,
Muang Chiang Rai.
090-893-2981, 053-718-289

The following photo is the town of Mae Salong:

The following photo is Princess Mother Temple:

The following photo is Chinese Martyrs' Memorial Museum:

The following is the tea platation in Mae Salong:

We met a Chinese restaurant owner in Mae Salong who was very friendly. I bought two packets of tea costing 250 baht each after being given 50% discount. I promised to help promoting her restaurant. Generally the food was delicious. She provided us free tea. She even showed us her kitchen. She spoke fluent Mandarin. I wish my own country folks could be as friendly as her.

The following photo is the Chinese restaurant in Mae Salong:

During this journey, I found the prices of everything in Chiang Mai had increased. The food had increased rapidly all the way to 50 - 60 baht per meal at the food court. Luckily, the prices had not changed much in Chiang Rai. My favourite noodle at the market near Wilacha Hotel remained at 350 baht. We found a very good restaurant (picture below) that I could not pronounce the name on the right side of the road by walking straight ahead from Wilacha Hotel passing the traffic light before another traffic light going towards Big C. 3 of us ordered a fish and two other dishes with rice. It cost 450 baht totally which was dirt cheap for Malaysian rate.  I highly recommended the fried fish with sweet and sour sauce. It was so delicious that even the bones could be consumed.

The following photo is the restaurant serving excellent sweet and sour fish:

We didn't hire any vehicle in this trip. We either walked or took a taxi/tuktuk. The cost of taxi from Wilacha Hotel to Chiang Rai town/Big C/Central was between 60 - 100 baht. Same price range for a return trip. Any prices beyond 100 baht was a rip-off. Sometimes you have to negotiate the price in Chiang Rai.

On the 5th of July, we departed from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai by Green Bus again. I was glad that there was no crying by the children a night before unlike my previous trip. What a relief!

Here are some prices for cost estimation:

  • T-shirts at Chiang Mai's food court - 200 baht
  • Rock t-shirt at Chiang Rai night bazaar - 250 baht
  • Camouflage shorts - 200 - 250 baht
  • Fried rice - 50 baht
  • Noodle at the market near Wilacha Hotel - 35 baht
  • Overall simple hawker's food - 35 - 60 baht (depending on what you eat)
  • Fruits at the market in Rim Kok (near Wilacha Hotel) - 20 - 30 baht
  • Lychee - 40 - 60 baht (higher quality ones are 60 baht)
  • 4 bars of Lux soap - 45 baht
  • 2 tubes of Colgate with salt - 79 baht

The prices of hotel room and air ticket will be higher at peak season from November to January. On average 20,000 baht should be more than enough for a 2-week trip in Chiang Rai including a bit of shopping but excluding accomodation and air ticket. You may need to bring a bit more money if you travel a lot by hiring a driver

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Volunteering At Baan Ayui In Chiang Rai, Thailand - June - July 2015

I discovered Baan Ayui's website by accident in a travel forum when I was searching for information about Chiang Rai. There was no turning back the moment I started to read their newsletters. Initially I just wished to visit Baan Ayui for a few hours. I changed my mind by the time I finished reading all of the newsletters - I decided to be a volunteer for 2 weeks.
On the first day of arrival at the hotel, Wilacha Hotel, I was caught by surprise that the staff of the hotel didn’t know the location of Baan Ayui which was nearby. My friend and I had to search for the location ourselves. We got so lost in front a school that a boy on a bicycle spotted us and offered to help. He told us that he could guide us to Baan Ayui. He walked us to Baan Ayui. Eventually we found out that he was a new boy staying in Baan Ayui and his name was M (unrelated to any character from James Bond movies).

Wilacha Hotel was about 10 minutes walking distance from Baan Ayui. There was a market nearby which was opened entire day including at night. The goods sold at this market is cheaper than those sold in Chiang Rai town. Example: Camouflage shorts I wanted to purchase cost around 200 baht or more in town but I could get it for 150 baht without bargaining in this market. I could get cheaper one at a shop opposite the market at 100 baht but the stock was limited. The fruits/food in this market were cheaper too. Near the market was a noodle stall that the price was reasonable at 35 baht. The stall was often packed during lunch hour. I spotted the stall by observing the crowd. There was Tesco Express Lotus outlet that you can shop. If you are a simple person that does not have to do a lot of shopping, Wilacha Hotel is a nice place to stay because the location has almost all the basic stuff. Clock Tower is about 30-45 minutes away on foot. The shopping complexes Big C and Central Plaza are probably too far to walk there under the hot sun. Steamed Pork Leg With Rice at the food court of Central Plaza is probably the delicious meal you do not want to miss in Chiang Rai.
At the Chiang Rai town’s night bazaar, try to avoid the food court. The food is more expensive. Try the stalls outside the night bazaar for better cheaper food such as Khao Soi. I fell in love with a shop selling rock t-shirts costing 770 baht for 3 t-shirts. At the street, you may find another stall selling lower quality Heavy Metal t-shirts at about 200 baht (I forgot the exact price).
At King Meng Rai Monument, free tour tram is available daily from 9.30am till 1.30pm. I didn’t have time for this during my trip.
A trip from Wilacha Hotel to Clock Tower would cost around 80 baht by taxi. A trip from the hotel to Big C or Central Plaza would cost around 100 baht (Found out from the staff of the hotel that I was over charged for 150 baht by a tuktuk).
Drivers in Chiang Rai were not as crazy as Malaysian drivers. A car rental shop worth checking out is Chiang Rai Car Rental located at the left lane of Clock Tower. Mazda 2 or Honda Jazz cost 1000 baht per day. A manual Isuzu truck cost around 700 baht per day (good for fetching the kids – they loved sitting at the back of the truck under the sun). Website:
Being a volunteer was a decision I would not regret as the experience is beyond the expression of words. Without any experience in teaching, initially I was a bit sceptical of myself but it went on smoothly. I still remember on the first day of stepping into Baan Ayui, the first question popped up in my brain was, "How will I remember the names of 26 children?" (The number dropped to 25 when one of them left) and "What if the kids throw rotten tomatoes at me for being a lousy teacher?" Of course, the tomatoes throwing incident did not occur as they were very well behaved kids.
Most of the time, I spent time teaching the children English and art, as well as playing various indoor and outdoor games such as Jenga, card games, throwing/catching water balloons, takraw, soccer, badminton, cycling and chasing & catching games. I almost created a “riot” when playing card games with the kids – they seemed to enjoy it so much that they got over excited by yelling the names of animals I showed them in the cards competition. I felt like a child again whenever I played with the children in the field and I could run around chasing the children. It was a wonderful experience.

During the last weekend in Baan Ayui, we went to the beautiful Huay Maesai Waterfall that the children loved. As I walked towards the waterfall and returning from the waterfall, I realised some of the children were very caring and helpful. Some of them often checked whether I was too tired of walking and some offered to carry my bag. The boys caught some small fishes with their nets. I didn’t expect anyone would eat those small fishes that Malaysians normally kept as pets but I was told that they ate them.
With the donation money contributed by my friends and family members, I managed to shop for various items required by Baan Ayui such as art materials, writing materials, a fan, fruits, computer keyboard and a battery replacement required to get a PC fixed.
Based on my experience in Baan Ayui, it was good that I could make use of some simple Thai language that I learned from watching Thai television programmes when I was a boy (I used to live near the Southern border of Thailand). In addition, I managed to learn some extra Thai words from the children that will be handy whenever I travel in Thailand.
By the way, I got a new nickname, Nongkran Soong (Nongkran Number 2), from the children because I imitated one of the girls, Nongkran, for bouncing the takraw ball with hands illegally during the outdoor games. Despite not following the official takraw rules, the games often drew laughter and it was always fun.
In my English class, I unofficially made one of the girls as my assistant. Her name was Angkana. She was always the curious and helpful one in the class. Sometimes she helped to translate to the rest of the children in the class after reading the English-Thai dictionary for words I had difficulties making them understand.
Gigi was another interesting girl in my class. She was always a happy-go-lucky type of girl. She seemed to enjoy laughing and having fun. A very cheerful girl indeed. She enjoyed posing for the camera too. I consider her as the “model” of my photography sessions.
I had been told that Nongkran cried easily. I didn’t see this as her weakness. In fact I considered that she was a very kind person with compassion. She often tried to help in the class too. I have a gut feeling that she will grow up to be a very good kind hearted person.
Amy was an adorable girl. She was a little bit quiet but she was always ready to help. I really appreciate her that she offered to help many times on simple chores. Whenever she sensed that I was a bit bored, she would offer me something to keep me busy. I jokingly told my wife that she was the “daughter” I always wanted.
Ameerat was another happy-go-lucky girl. She could be poured with water till she was soaking wet and being targeted by everyone, but she did not shed her tears, showed her anger or complained. Sometimes I felt bad for her but she seemed to be having fun. I salute her attitude.
The boys in my class were rather quiet. They seemed to stay away from the limelight. Unlike some boys in Malaysia that I called “monsters”, these boys were better behaved than those “monsters”. Asong seemed to enjoy our “kung fu fighting games”. Apichart was a good soccer player and he seemed to be interested in technical stuff – proven when he observed me fixing the PC and I taught him to connect the wires of the PC.
Unfortunately, all the good time had to come to an end. I had to leave Baan Ayui to return to Malaysia. It was very heartbroken to leave the children on my last day.
As I have promised, I will be returning to Baan Ayui again next year. Possibly I will be bringing in another group of volunteers. I definitely miss all of the children at Baan Ayui. Thanks to Sue for accepting me as a volunteer. A big THANK YOU goes to the children of Baan Ayui for making my life wonderful in Baan Ayui. Meanwhile, I would also like to thank the house parents, Wit and Tam, for the guidance in terms of Akha culture and talked about their lives as well as their help in language translation. The sound of “Pi Siang” (older brother Siang) with children voice will always be remembered because that’s how the kids called me. 

Useful Information For Volunteers

When to Volunteer:


The children are likely to return to their our villages during school holidays. Therefore, you need to plan for your volunteering service at Baan Ayui. Their long summer holidays start around in the middle of March (include Songkran in April) until first week of May. They also have almost all the month of Oct off for term holidays, and 2 weeks off in Dec-Jan around Christmas/New Year. The nicest time to go is Nov-Dec because the weather is nice and cool/cold at night, and so they can do outdoor activities like campfires and camping at the boys' land.

Summary of When to Avoid Volunteering:

- Middle of March till May
- October
- 2 weeks around Christmas/New Year in between Dec and January

What Can You Help?

Baan Ayui is one of the least fussy NGOs I have come across. Any help you can contribute is useful. You can teach the children English (They can teach you Thai/Akha in return). You can also teach them art, handcraft, cooking, playing guitar, singing, sewing, carpentry, gardening, fixing PC, etc. You can play indoor games (i.e. Jenga, card games, etc) and outdoor games (takraw, soccer, badminton, cycling, hide & seek, etc) with them. You can even invent your own games. Spend some time chit chatting with them. You can create a discussion topic about teenagers, culture, education, etc (but you may need the house parents or Sue as translators). You just need some creativity to suggest something which is fun/useful for you and the children.

Daily Schedule:

During weekdays, the children return from school around 4.30pm to 5pm. Volunteers usually arrive around 4 to 4.30pm. At 5pm, normally volunteers can conduct English class till 6pm. Those in charge of cooking will leave the class earlier. 6pm will be their dinner time. The children will be having their shower after dinner. At 7pm those with homework will be doing their homework. Those without homework will be playing games. Volunteers can help them with their homework or play games with them. 9pm is their bedtime.

On Friday and Saturday, the schedule is slightly different. No English class but the children are allowed to go to the nearby school field to play. Volunteers can spend time playing takraw, soccer, volleyball, badminton, cycling or simply running around with them . Trust me, this is the fun time. On Saturday morning, you may opt to visit Huay Maesai Waterfall which the children enjoy swimming, splashing and catching fishes.

On Sunday, volunteers will be having a break. If you insist to go on duty, I am sure that nobody will oppose. There is sewing activity between 1.30pm to 2.30pm that you need to be aware though. I am not sure whether I was interrupting them or not but I personally find that when they were sewing, it was a very good time to have casual chit-chat with the house mother, Tam, as well as the children about their lives in general. It's good to learn about their lives and volunteers could share theirs in return too. At about 4.30pm till 6pm, you can spend time with outdoor activities with the children at the school field.

Summary of the Daily Timetable:

4.30pm: Children return from school. Some will be doing house chores
5pm: English class
6pm: Dinner followed by shower
7pm: Homework/Playing games
9pm: Bedtime

4.30pm: Outdoor activities at the nearby school field
6pm: Dinner followed by shower
7pm: Art, handcraft or any activity you can think of
9pm: Bedtime

Sunday (An officially off day for volunteers):
1.30pm - 2.30pm: Sewing activity
7pm: Hostel meeting
9pm: Bedtime

Sample of things you can donate:

It's best to discuss with the houseparents or Sue to find out what they need before purchasing. You should also keep an eye to observe what they need. So, that you won't waste money purchasing something unnecessary.

- Clothes (children, adults and baby's clothing will do as they are donated to the villagers, not just for the kids)
- Fruits (watermelon, honey dew, papaya, rambutan, durian, etc)
- Food (ice cream, snacks, candy, rice, etc)
- Stationery (pen, pencils, paper, dictionary, etc)
- Art material (art paper, glue, water/pastel colour, colour pencils, etc)
- Balloons (the kids are crazy about them)
- PC/laptop
- Household items
- Small guitar amplifier

To check out more details of Baan Ayui, please visit:

Note: Check out their newsletters especially because it has plenty of information

Useful Information For Shoppers:

I am not a hardcore shoppers but here are some tips of what are worth checking out in Chiang Rai.

At Chiang Rai town's night bazaar:

- Hilltribes' handcraft such as bags, purses, etc
- A shop selling Rock Music t-shirts (3 for 770 baht) and a street stall selling Heavy Metal t-shirts (1 for 200 baht I think)
- Look for a rather nice Khao soi (special noodle of Chiang Mai) stall beside the bus station

At Chiang Rai town's market:

- Local homemade junk food 
- Fried insects/worms (if you dare to try) 
- Cheap socks (3 pairs for 50 baht) 

Shops near Clock Tower:

- Near the Clock Tower, there are some shops you can purchase art supply, balloons & stationery for the children 
- Chiang Rai Car Rental 

At Big C:

- Small unbranded pouch costing 100 baht

At Central Plaza:

- Steamed pork leg at the food court is yummy
- You can find dictionaries for the kids 

At the market near Baan Ayui:

- Cheap camouflage shorts (between 100 baht to 150 baht) & pants (2 for 500 baht)
- Fruits are cheaper than town area (the children love fruits)
- Cheap household utensils

At Tesco Express Lotus near Baan Ayui:

- Soap
- Tooth paste
- Mineral water 
- Soap powder
- Snacks at 150 to 200 baht (snacks in Thailand are not as salty as the ones in Malaysia)