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Let there be light

Posted by pakin On October - 9 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

The Shan community of Mae Sariang fetes the end of the Buddhist Lent with midnight alms giving and traditional dance

A unique Tai Yai festival that marks the end of Vassa, the Buddhist Lent, Ork Wa returns to the northern province of Mae Hong Son at the end of this month for a celebration that’s as old as time itself.

Honouring the return of the Lord Buddha to Earth after three months spent with his mother in heaven, the celebration is unique to the Shan-speaking community of Mae Sariang, where the people light fires to illuminate the Buddha’s path.

Dancers dressed as half-bird, half woman move in front of the burning firewood to percussive beats, transporting the visitor back some 100 years though thankfully still keeping one foot in the present, all the better to snap plenty of photos..

“The King Kala bird, a half-bird, half-woman, was the first to see the Lord Buddha returning,” explains Praphan Wiriyaphab, a Shan resident of this quiet riverside town.

“A bird of joy, she performed a beautiful dance for the Lord Buddha in order to show her respect.”

This year, the Ork Wa Festival is being celebrated from October 26 to 28 and coincides with one of the best times to visit the Northern Province.

The heavy rain is gone, and the winter is about to come. The villagers are full of hope and in the mood for celebration, as their rice paddies are bursting with flowers and young grains.

The first day of the Ork Wa Festival are mostly focused on preparation. Locals clean their homes and build small castles from bamboo sticks outside the fence, adorning the finished edifices with colourful paper and lights.

On the second day, the artisans get together at the temples to make traditional paper crafts. At night, as the full moon rises over the timeworn pagoda, the traditional Shan cultural shows get underway and authentic food is served. Incense, burning candles and the heady scent of jasmine and marigold bouquets waft through the night air.

Shan women – young and old – wear their best longyis and bright blouses as they make their personal contributions to the festivity.

But while the visual interpretation of the Ork Wa Festival is often flamboyant the spiritual meaning is profound.

Locals leave their fire sticks burning all night outside their fences while torches and oil lanterns illuminate the path for more than 400 monks who come in the night for almsgiving.

The midnight almsgiving is unique to Thailand’s North – where people are faithful believers in Phra Oppa Khud, a legendary monk. The monk in question, it’s said, is wise and powerful. He lives in his own place for most of the year, and only visits the people once – at Ork Wa – to receive alms.

Legend has it that Phra Oppa Khud always arrives in the middle of the night as a novice in disguise. Those giving him alms are rewarded with good karma. Visitors are encouraged to take part even if they are not believers and inevitably return from the walk along the river with full hearts if heavy eyes.

The festival culminates on the third night with a long and colourful procession into the heart of the Mae Sariang, which glows in darkness, a clear sign of its act of virtue.

The festival encompasses much more too from Lanna-styled drumming, kickboxing and outdoor cinema.

Let the beat and the lights guide you.

Italian night in Bangkok

Posted by pakin On October - 6 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

Both – Theo Mio and Tenute Silvio Nardi – are perfectly matched for a promising night in Bangkok.

Theo Mio, Italian restaurant at InterContinetal Bangkok, will be hosting the promising wine dinner to celebrate Tenute Silvio Nardi winery’s most celebrated wines on October 22.

To mark the Tenute Silvio Nardi’s most renowned wines, the gastronomic evening will see the guests feast on a sumptuous five-course dinner specially created by Chef Chris Beverley, and paired with carefully selected vintages straight from the brand’s 36 Italian vineyards. To complete the experience, guests will get the opportunity to chat with the owner of the winery, Emilia Nardi, to learn more about the vintages.

“It’s going to be an amazing evening,” says Chef Chris. “The Tenute Silvio Nardi label reflects the purity of the region in Italy, and the dishes have been chosen to create a harmonious series of tastes, textures and flavors.”

To be held at InterContinental Bangkok’s Theo Mio, the wine dinner (Bt1,800++/per person) will start with a delicious chicken liver crostini with mushroom arancini and ribollita, coupled with Tuscan vegetable soup. This will be complemented by the evening’s first vintage, the Prosecco Bottega DOC, an intense, dry sparkling wine.

A Tuscan Salumi platter follows, paired with a Turan Sant’ Antimo Rosso 2013, a well balanced clean, complex and spicy vintage, enriched by mature red fruit. Up next, especially for pasta fans is the quail tortellini with rosemary brown butter, made all the more delicious with a glass of glorious fresh Rosso di Montalcino 2013. Continuing with the more satisfying dishes is the succulent ox cheek, braised in Tuscan red wine with soft polenta, carrot and salsa verde. Accompanying this is one of Italy’s best known and most expensive wines, and the first winner of the Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita award, the Brunello di Montalcino 2010.

The meal ends on a sweet, light note with a sumptuous panacotta with Marsala-roasted guava, served with a selection of the luxurious Bottega Liqueurs – a great ending to this evening of distinction.

Theo Mio restaurant is located on the ground level of InterContinental Bangkok. This Italian restaurant opened in August by Theo Randall – English-born professional chef who specialises in Italian cuisine.

The vineyards of Tenute Silvio Nardi extend east and west of Montalcino in a primarily hilly area in Tuscany, Italy.

Both – Theo Mio and Tenute Silvio Nardi – are perfectedly matched for a promising night in Bangkok.

For more information, call 02 656 0444 ext 6273. Visit www.icbangkok.com.

So delicious

Posted by pakin On September - 29 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

“So Amazing Chefs 2015”, the fourth edition of gastronomic festival, returns to Sofitel So Bangkok hotel from October 6 to 11.

So delicious

“So Amazing Chefs 2015”, the fourth edition of gastronomic festival, returns to Sofitel So Bangkok hotel from October 6 to 11. Some of the famous chefs are Stephane Bonnat, Laurent Peugeot, Alain Caron and Paul Smart. As in previous years, the So Amazing Chefs programme is packed with dinners and cooking classes. The highlight – the Culinary Showdown competition and gala dinner – takes place on October 9.

Journey through the vineyards

L’Appart, the rooftop bar and restaurant at Sofitel Bangkok Sukhumvit, has been awarded the prestigious “Wine Spectator Award of Excellence 2015”. This is the third consecutive year that the restaurant has won the award, which is organised annually by the respected Wine Inspector magazine. The bar’s story began with “Voyage du Vin” concept in 2012 that would take the wine buffs on a journey through the world of wine – old and new. L’Appart also won the awards for “Wine by the Glass” in the “Wine List of the Year Thailand Awards 2013” and “Wine Spectator Award of Excellence” in 2013 and 2014.

We have a winner!

Thailand has just welcomed the 21 millionth visitor, meaning the country is on track to exceed the projection of 28.8 million visitors for 2015. Mcgahern Joshua James is the lucky 21 millionth, as he was randomised at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. James is rewarded with two economy-class return tickets from Thai Airways International, from his airport of origin back to Thailand, valid for one year, and a voucher for top-end accommodation for five nights.

New Dusit property to open

Dusit Thani Sandalwoods Resort Huizhou Shuangyue Bay will be opened in 2019 in Guangdong Province, southern China. Owned by local investors in China and managed by Thailand’s hotel and hospitality group the Dusit Thani has 350 guestrooms overlooking the South China Sea. A 30-storey tower with 350 well-appointed rooms and suites, this beachfront international resort will also comprise a 1,150-square-metre ballroom and nine multi-function rooms with the latest audio-visual facilities, suitable for all events and meetings.

View from the top of Europe

Posted by pakin On September - 17 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

Switzerland’s steeply climbing Jungfrau railway affords unforgettable views of Interlaken and the Alps

The Airport in Zurich, Switzerland, is as posh and modern as you’d expect in a country famous for its banks, but the sound you hear upon boarding the train into the city is the clanking of cowbells. Admittedly this is just a recording but the rustic chimes of the pasture continue in the valley as travellers gawk at cattle idling among the spectacular scenery of the Alps.

This is the Jungfrau region, so named for one of the three great snow-clad peaks towering over it – Mounts Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. As if the mountain range weren’t impressive enough, there are the gorgeous Lakes Thun and Brienz and, nestled in the toes of the Alps, the beautiful resort town of Interlaken.

We are headed for “the top of Europe” – Jungfraujoch, at 3,454 metres above sea level Europe’s highest-altitude railway station. Everything up here is rock, ice and snow.

The reason for this particular trek is that the famous cog railway celebrated its 103th birthday last month. Hauling millions of passengers each year, it was a pioneering achievement of Swiss engineering, and it still astonishes.

The 1,400-metre climb from Kleine Scheidegg station to the Jungfraujoch – on a 25-per-cent vertical grade – is almost entirely within tunnels, every centimetre cut through granite with precision, in often extreme weather conditions. Today we can only imagine what a thrill this must have been for the first passengers a century ago, reaching altitudes that had previously admitted only the hardiest of mountaineers. Swiss industrialist Adolf Guyer-Zeller’s resolution in 1883 to build the railway has made the breathtaking panoramas atop Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau accessible to everyone.

Urs Kessler, chief executive of the Jungfrau railway, is fond of pointing out that Europe was awash with pioneering spirit in the 19th century, when invention and innovation boomed. “For Swiss companies, it’s a matter of the efficiency and high quality that people have come to trust,” he says. “And Swiss trains are always punctual.”

Guyer-Zeller “made the impossible possible” in the face of enormous challenges, Kessler says.

“At first they planned to build the railway right to the summit of the Jungfrau, but that’s 4,158 metres and the weather conditions are bad, so they decided to stop midway.

“In 1899, just three years after construction began, Guyer-Zeller died of pneumonia, but his family carried on his work. Never before has a railway been built at this altitude, under such extreme conditions. The labourers had to work long shifts among the glaciers at 2,320 metres. They used explosives to cut into the rock and there was an accident, an explosion that took the lives of 17 Italian workers.

“The construction period more than doubled, from seven to 16 years, as did the cost, eventually reaching 16 million francs. But they pushed on from station to station, completing Eigerwand in 1903 and Eismeer in 1905, and on August 1, 1912, the Swiss National Day, the Jungfraujoch station finally opened.”

Kessler characterises the railway as “very simple, very primitive engineering, but efficient”, and it’s an assessment that King Rama V would have no doubt have confirmed when he rode to Kleine Scheidegg station at 2,061 metres on May 29, 1897 (before Jungfraujoch was built). It was one of many marvels he saw on the first visit to Europe by a Siamese monarch.

The entire trip to Jungfraujoch takes about 90 minutes. Once at “the top of Europe”, there’s a wide range of activities available – though skiing back down is not one of them.

You can watch a four-minute film called “The Jungfrau Panorama”, which offers a 360-degree experience of the station. You can ride Switzerland’s fastest lift to the Sphinx Observatory in a lightning 27 seconds. It’s been conducting astronomical research since 1931 and, from the outdoor terrace added in 1996, you get to gaze down like gods 3,571 metres, taking in sights such as the Aletsch Glacier.

Climate change threatens to reduce Switzerland’s alpine glaciers from 75 cubic kilometres to just 25 in the next 50 years, so there’ll be plenty of fresh melt-water – and that’s about the only good thing you can say about it.

Sphinx Hall is the starting point for a light-and-sound walking tour titled “Alpine Sensation”, which touches on tourism past and present and recounts Guyer-Zeller’s noble undertaking before ending at the Ice Palace, a huge cavern carved out by mountain guides in the 1930s. Crystalline sculptures of eagles, penguins and other things are kept artificially chilled so that visitors’ body heat doesn’t thaw them.

Most of the year there are opportunities to ski and ride sledges, snow tubes and snowboards, but the more thrilling experience is a two-hour hike to the Monchsjoch Hut, which depends utterly on the use of ropes and crampons but is entirely safe.

Interlaken is an amazing one-day train journey from Jungfraujoch railway. Even more exciting excursions can be arranged, but don’t bypass an evening meal atop Harder Kulm, the local high peak famed for its sunset views of the lakes and the taller trio of mountains that turn pink in the day’s yielding light.

Romance is also in abundance aboard another historic cogwheel railway, this one climbing to Schynige Platte on a narrow-gauge track, passengers bunched together on wooden benches from a bygone era as the magnificent mountain landscape rolls past. The fresh air at the summit station is wonderful, the high triplets waiting in the distance for their photos to be taken.

The Botanical Alpine Garden opened in 1929, 8,000 square metres abloom with 600 native species of flowering plants and, at lunchtime, there’s a performance of the traditional alphorn.

Your schedule should also make time for a hike around Grindelwald First, 2,200 metres up and with an aerial cableway to coast through the wind. The views of the Alps and valleys are again spectacular, the cowbells ringing clear as a – well, a bell. Your fitness-tracking wristwatch will count more than 10,000 steps to deep-blue Lake Bachalpsee, “the Pearl of the Alps”, the appearance of which makes any fatigue evaporate. On the way back you can ride the thrilling First Flyer zip-line or a scooter-bike known as the Trotti bike.

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