Monday, September 1, 2014

The Hongsyok Family and the tradition of the BaBa Weddings of Phuket Island

A procession of men and women saunter down the streets of Phuket Town, all dressed in the finest clothing of 19th century Asia; the men clad in white western suites pressed to perfection, the women in immaculate silk dresses embroidered with floral patterns, cranes golden crests that shimmer in the mid day sunlight.  The procession, an annual parade known as the BaBa Wedding, snakes by, led by a marching band and flanked by spectators also dressed in immaculate suits and dresses.  

The annual parade is a celebration of matrimony by the Chinese community in Phuket, where children walk hand in hand with their parents, as their infectious smiles warm the hearts of all spectators, their free hands throw flower petals and confetti, or grip their favourite tattered stuffed toy.  The serpentine column passes the facade of the Hongsyok House, a residence with history as long and fascinating as the parade that passes by.

The Hongsyok house was built in the 1930’s by Chin Guan, a man of Chinese and Thai heritage.  His was one of six children, born on November 4, 1888.  At the age of 14, Guan’s family sent him to China to learn his father’s mother tongue.  Upon his return he worked in Phuket’s then thriving tin mining industry.  He eventually acquired enough skills and expertise to start his own mining company.  After several setbacks, his ingenuity and perseverance paid off and his mining business eventually amassed great wealth.  As his wealth increased, Guan embarked on several philanthropic endeavours, eventually gaining the attention of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who bestowed the Royal Thai Decoration of companion of the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant upon Guan in 1953.

Being a man of vision, Chin Guan built a family mansion – The Hongsyok House – to provide a home for all future generations of his family.  The mansion stands to this day, and is still inhabited by members of his family.  

The Hongsyok House serves as the site of the tea ceremony for the annual BaBa Weddings.  
Several newlywed couples sit within the European Colonial-style mansion, underneath the intricate tile mosaics, underneath the grand arch that stands over the entrance to the magnificent structure. 

The ceremony ends with the couples parading in front of revellers in the street, who have waited for the couples to emerge and rejoin the procession which ends at the Thai Hua Museum, a marvellous colonial building housing materials pertaining to the rich history of the tin mining industry in Phuket.

The BaBa Wedding is a beautiful ceremony not to be missed by anyone wanting to witness a view into the traditions of the inhabitants of Phuket.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ten phenomenal places to make photographs in Phuket

The Beach at Cape Panwa Hotel
There are dozens, if not hundreds of places in Phuket to make a memorable photo, but to make things easy on you we’ve created a general list of 10 amazing places to let your creativity run wild.   

One of the Temples at Wat Chalong

1. A Buddhist Wat 

In Thailand, the Buddhist Wat (or temple) is an ideal place to take a photograph.  These serene monuments to the divine are definitely both works of art and sacred places of worship. The candles in the dimly lit prayer rooms, the statues of various deities, the detail in the woodwork and tile mosaics, and even the monks, present a myriad of opportunities to make amazing photographs. 

Please remember to take your shoes off when you enter each temple and kindly leave a donation when you leave.

Cape Panwa Promenade
2. A Sunset

Close to the local village promenade near Cape Panwa Hotel is a view point named Khao Kad.  While standing at this viewpoint during the right time of day it is possible to make a glorious photographs of the sun as it sets over the large Buddha statue in the distance.  

Simply breathtaking.

3. A natural waterfall

There are three natural waterfalls in Phuket; Ao Yon, Bang Pae and Ton-Sa.  Each waterfall is a marvel of the natural world and will make for an amazing photo, granted that you have a tripod and a keen understanding of your camera.

4. A traditional market

An early morning jaunt to the traditional market in Phuket Town is a fantastic destination for making great photographs.  The mix of foods, fruit, clothes and the mosaic of Thai faces exuding various expressions provides you with multiple subjects to photograph.

5. Phuket Old Town

Phuket Old Town is a great place to take a lackadaisical afternoon stroll with camera in hand. The Sino-Portuguese buildings lend to great images because of their beautiful patterned doors, windows and detailed woodwork. 

Another place of interest in Old Town is the nearby Amulet Market, which runs alongside a small klong. While on your journey there are a number of photogenic places that you will likely find; Buddhist Wats, Chinese Shrines, Chinese medicine shops, traditional noodle shops and much more – definitely worth the day out.

After wandering through Phuket Old Town and photographing the exterior of antique colonial shop houses, it is wonderful to actually walk into one.  This exquisite colonial home - with its ivory columns, intricate woodwork and antique furniture - allows you to document the work and living quarters of the Chinese Tin Merchants that lived in Phuket.

This exotic spot on Phuket Island offers three ideal spots to take photographs. Monkey See is an area where the main road runs next to a mangrove swamp.  Here there is a small spot to throw food to the wild monkeys, and photograph them.

Located on top of the hill, Wat Koh Sirey (accessible only by foot) is home to a Golden Reclining Buddha and the most breathtaking views of the beach.

Another place to make great photographs is the Sea Gypsy Village – inhabited by villagers adhering to a very traditional, pre-industrial way of life.

The Beach at Cape Panwa Hotel
8. A beach

There are plenty of beaches in Phuket to photograph, but in order to get an amazing shot of the waves rolling onto the coast, go out at either dawn or dusk to make your images.  The lower the sun is positioned in the sky, the more dramatic the image will.

Tha Rua Chinese Temple 
9. A Chinese Temple

There are a number of Chinese Temples throughout Phuket, and like the Buddhist Wats are a joy to visit and photograph. Many of the temples have been on Phuket for decades and are community hubs for the local population.

10. A festival

There are several festivals that take place in Phuket throughout the year, all of which  – the Por Tor Festival (held late August to early September), Chinese New Year Festival (February 19, 2015), Mooncake Festival (September 8),  and especially the Phuket Vegetarian Festival (September 23 to October 1) – will make great opportunities for capturing amazing moments with your camera.

And remember, always do research about each festival before you go and take a photograph.  Know the subtle cultural nuances that dictate proper behaviour at each festival can make the difference between blending in and making great photographs, or embarrassing yourself and insulting your hosts.


Friday, May 2, 2014

5 Thai Desserts to Try – and where to get them in Phuket

Thai Deserts are typically not the point of discussion when reading travel guides about visiting Phuket, but ordering a dessert you know little about may leave you with a sour taste at the end of a delicious meal. We’ve rounded up some of the tastiest treats of Thailand (in our opinion of course) so that you can try them fearlessly next time you see them on the streets!

Mango and Sticky Rice 
(Khao Niaow Ma Muang)

Mango and Sticky Rice is a classic Thai dessert, which is enjoyed both the locals and travellers. The dish is created by placing sliced mango and sticky rice (sometimes of a different colour) adjacent to each other on a plate. Usual toppings include coconut cream poured over the top and with toasted sesame seed scattered over everything. The local markets and street vendors will be selling Mango and Sticky rice mainly when the mango is in season, but many restaurants including Panwa House sell the treat all year around. 

One can stop by Rimtang’s restaurant on the outskirts of Phuket Town and try the famous Mango and Sticky Rice while in the area. It’s a very popular spot among the locals, especially school children from around the corner.  

Oh Aew

Oh Aew is a unique dessert dish favourite among Phuket locals. It’s the perfect treat to help you cool off the humid summer heat. It’s essentially a jelly dessert made with flour, banana and gelatine. Seaweed is sometimes added to give the dish a sticky texture – I know seaweed in a dessert might sound absurd, but trust me, it’s actually quite good! Different toppings like red bean paste, shaved ice, red syrup (flavoured liquid sugar) and condensed milk can be added creating a pyramid of icy dessert paradise.

Oh Aew is a relatively inexpensive dish costing between 10 and 20 Baht a bowl and can be found throughout local Phuket markets, but a popular place is on Soi Soon Thit, adjacent to Yaorawat Road. 

 Bua Loy Nam Khing 

Different from the previous two, Bua Loy Nam Khing is served at a number of locations throughout Phuket.  

This is a very simple dish of small flour dumplings filled with black lotus sesame butter and served in a ginger soup. The soup is quite ‘invigorating’ by itself – it packs a pretty powerful punch. Then when you bite into the small dumpling, the sweet flavour of the sesame bursts out into your mouth creating a perfect compliment. 

The dessert dish can be found in various locations, but the Local Food stalls opened from early afternoon until the evening behind Robinsons Department Store are known for their top-notch Bua Loy Nam Khing. 

 Tub Tim Krob 
(Mock Pomegranate in coconut milk - ทับทิมกรอบ)

One of the oldest recorded Thai desserts, Tub Tim Krob is believed to be a ‘cure-all’ in the hottest of weather.

The ‘pomegranate’ is actually water chestnuts that are covered with tapioca dough and served with iced coconut syrup. The nickname ‘Crunchy Ruby’ was given to the dessert, because vibrant colour of the little bite size ‘pomegranates’.

The place to try Tub Tim Krob is at a small roadside stall called ‘Down Town’ (ทับทิมกรอบ), which is a very popular spot among the local Thai people and seems to have a stream of customers. It can be found near the Phuket Town bus market opposite the Phuket Old-Time Square. 

Lod Chong Nam Ka Ti
(Pandanus noodles with coconut milk)

The last must-try Thai dessert is Lod Chong Nam Ka Ti. Lod Chong Nam Ka Ti is a rice flour pandan dessert that looks like short green noodles. The chewy noodles are then mixed with sweet palm sugar syrup, shaved ice and coconut milk that are meant to be eaten all together.

The best place for this is the local food stalls. There’s a wonderful local restaurant in Phuket Town, ก๋วยเตี๊ยวดู๋ดี๋, where there is usually a small stall outside where they will prepare this special dish for you.

While in Phuket, make it a goal to try some or all of these delicious dishes. If you can’t make it out to town, the buffet at Cape Panwa hotel also has these dishes and more each Monday evening if you wish to try.