A Healthy Picnic Lunch

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DC and I went to check out St John’s Island over the weekend. We hopped over from Marina South Pier by ferry. The 45 minutes ferry ride was comfortable and painless compared to the earlier hassle of finding parking at the ferry terminal. It was one of those incredibly hot yet lovely days and it showed off the island beautifully.

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The sky was blue, the clouds fluffy white and the thick growth of trees a deep lively green.

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There wasn’t a great deal to the island, only a research centre for marine studies and a holiday camp. The rest of the island that was accessible to visitors was pretty much a little park, probably equivalent to a zone or two of East Coast beach.

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Still, it was a lovely walk and surprisingly not quite as hot as we expected as most of the way was pretty shady especially a bit further from the beach. It was a lovely little bit of Singapore that was a nicely contradictory combination of well-kept park and forgotten bucolism.

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There were some mangroves along the coast standing upright in the water that was so clean it was almost clear. Only the sand clouded it up slightly.

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We spent a while peering at the little fish darting amongst the stilt roots of the mangroves.

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While there obviously weren’t any roses here, coming here was a good opportunity to stop and smell and observe. And of course test out the macro feature of my new camera!

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There were also cats on the island. Here’s a pretty one watching out warily both for us…

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… and the spooky black cat with scary eyes.

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Then we adjourned to a shady park bench for a very refreshing Thai-inspired salad redolent of mint and lemongrass. The ever-enterprising DC whipped out cold drinks from a little styrofoam box and it completed our meal very nicely. All we needed to do next was head back to the ferry and home, wash up and have an afternoon nap. Bliss.

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Thai-inspired chicken pasta salad

Ingredients:
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp palm sugar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive or peanut oil (optional)
2 cooked chicken breasts, shredded
1 cup pasta, cooked
2 stalks lemongrass, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped (optional)
2 large handfuls mint leaves
2 heads baby butterhead lettuce
10 cherry tomatoes, halved

Method:

  1. Combine the fish sauce, soy sauce, lime juice and palm sugar, stirring to dissolve. I use pellets of palm sugar bought from Myanmar and leave it overnight in the fridge to give the sugar time to dissolve. Taste if you dare at this point to test for balance. It should be incredibly salty, fishy and sour all at the same time. Add more sugar to temper the sourness slightly and more fish sauce or soy sauce if it’s not fishy-salty enough. Don’t worry too much at this stage, you can tweak later too.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the oil, shredded chicken and pasta, then stir in a few spoonfuls of the dressing. Now toss in the lemongrass, chilli and shallot and keep stirring till well combined.
  3. Tear the mint and lettuce leaves into the salad and keep tossing. Taste and add more dressing if necessary. Spoon into a plastic box for storage and keep as cool as possible for your picnic.

Serves 2.

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June in Thailand: Si Satchanalai’s Main Complex

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We followed the track from Chaliang to the main complex at Si Satchanalai, passing by some private houses and a gate post that stuck to the theme of the area.

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Si Satchanalai was more park than ruin, with lovely paths leading here and there, plus some formidable flights of stairs that took so much out of us that we couldn’t do photos. At the top of one such hill was a temple ruin. The Buddha image looked like it used to be housed under a roof and still had pillars surrounding it. Even though there was a brick stairway leading up here, the trees growing thickly round made it feel like a chance finding.

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Again, the Buddha image was much venerated despite its age and exposure to the elements. The cloth draping seemed to have been recently changed.

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Further along from the first image, the trees thinned out somewhat and we came across a stupa and the forlorn remains of a littleĀ  temple.

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There were some very badly weathered Buddha images, some still venerated fairly recently as seen from the scraps of faded now dun-coloured cloth still clinging on to the image.

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Others were in even worse off shape and looked like they’d been in retirement for a hundred years at least.

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We stopped for a while to marvel how such a temple with two stupas could be built at the top of the steep hill. It must have taken lots of hard labour for the stones to be carted up and assembled to form such grand structures.

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Standing right at the top, we took in the lovely greenery below: of trees and the occasional stupa poking out in between. It was such a peaceful and serene sight.

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Back on lower ground, there were much more extensive structures, this time more of a holy city than simple temple. This one below had a Buddha image flanked by great serpents, which I liked a lot. There was something somewhat contradictory about the serenity of Buddha and the venomous snake juxtaposed that appealed to me.

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In these ruins, we noticed that new inhabitants had replaced the ancient humans. These brothers were rather shy.

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But one of them was braver than the other…

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… and came right up to check us out. He allowed Tom just one quick pat.

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And one pat was all. They allowed us a celebrity photo of them posing nicely.

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And then we were left to ponder the ancients on our own.

Diving the Similans: The Villa After

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After all that hard work diving, a couple of days at a nice villa was definitely in order. DC found the Vijitt Resort online based on its reputation. It didn’t hurt that the place appears in Francis Ford Coppola’s list of top resorts in the world. and what a beautiful place it was! The resort only has individual villas, there aren’t any rooms in a building. Each had a private entrance and a little garden filled with aromatics. I especially liked how they grew a lot of pandan outside our villa. When we emerged for breakfast in the morning, the fragrance was such an uplifting start to the walk to the restaurant. What was even better is that the resort recognises that the grounds are quite big, so there’s a buggy service that takes you wherever you like in the compound. It was great how cheery staff would come up on the buggy and ask if we needed a lift. Most times we waved them off so we could enjoy the walk and the view, but having one at beck and call and also for when the sun was beating down was just fantastic.

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There were excellent views from the villa. Here’s what we saw from the balcony and bath tub. It overlooks the southern shore of Phuket and what passes as its beach. It was incredibly lovely to see the old coconut trees towering majestically over the villas. The resort claims that they built the villas round the trees and not a single one was cut down to build the resort.

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I shall be coy about the room itself, go have a look at the resort website to have an idea of the layout. But what was really nice was the pseudo-outdoor shower. It’s actually sheltered so you’d still need to turn on the shower if it rains. The shower is built in a kind of lean-to bamboo shack with a window that opens out to the lovely view.

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It was really nice having a shower and enjoying the view at the same time. I liked how thoughtful they were in planning the villas. It’s really hard for someone to peek at you while in the shower, so no worries about privacy.

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After all that rave review, would I stay there again? Unfortunately, no. It’s mainly because they had a major mosquito problem. The resort is located in a rather swampy area and despite their efforts to fumigate and place mosquito coils (upon request) in the villa, there was no way of keeping them out. Didn’t we close the verandah door and windows? Yes. We had both airconditioning and fan on at full blast at night but still got bitten. Puzzled by the mystery, DC looked at the finishings carefully and realised that there was a large gap in the sliding verandah doors, so mosquitoes could get in anyway. I was kept up all night scratching, it was that bad.

The other problem with the Vijitt is that the maintenance isn’t that great. I think they chose cheap finishings and didn’t do it up properly. For instance, the metal hand grip of one of the sliding doors in the bathroom came off. We realised that even though there were holes for the screws, the panel was simply glued on. Nonetheless, that didn’t affect our stay at all, just that I wonder if the place has longevity. The resort is currently just over a year old and while definitely not run down, it looks like it could do with moreTLC. Please go if you’re immune to mosquitoes, and go soon!

August in China: Amazing Views of Guizhou

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Guizhou is one of the poorest and most undeveloped provinces in China. It is a mountainous inland area populated by minority groups. Its underdevelopment is mainly due to the difficult transport lines. Good roads are only now being constructed and there are very few major highways passing through the province. What makes development difficult makes the scenery uncommonly beautiful. Throughout the winding journey, we got used to the lovely views of the many shades of green, from the pine trees to the rice paddies.

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Each turn gave us another great view. Why bother with TV and National Geographic when you can look out at this all afternoon?

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I envied the villagers their houses with the amazing views. It looked almost Swiss alpine and was all incredibly idyllic.

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Soon we spied a dark patch in the valley below. This had to be the biggest town in the area, Zhaoxing.

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After an unexpectedly long journey that was half the distance we’d last travelled yet took twice the time of our last journey, we finally arrived at the last Dong village on our itinerary.