Sunday, August 31, 2014

Wat Saket (Phu Khao Thong or Golden Mount), Bangkok

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Visited Wat Saket one more time during my recent Thailand visit- on the last day when we were on our own

I've already written about Wat Saket, popularly known as Golden Mount and also known as Phu Khao Thong is a small Buddhist temple on a small hill, very close to where Grand Palace and other popular temples are located in Bangkok. It is a 13th century temple with annual celebrations held in November every year.

The entry fee seemed to be same as it was 2 years ago, 20 baht.

This time I would prefer my videos do the talking. Do watch the video below to get a good walkthrough of Golden Mount temple in Bangkok, Thailand. Video covers the entrance, interiors, rooftop, scenary and almost everything there is to see at Wat Saket.

Arvalem falls, Sanquelim, Goa

This little falls in Goa is located within the premises of a temple- very eye catching and inviting.

Aravalem falls is located near the campus of Rudreshwar temple in Sanquelim area, about 30kms from Panjim city. If you're heading to Belgaum or to Chorlea ghat, a small deviation at Sanquelim will take you to this falls.

Downstream is very shallow and is fairly safe and ideal for getting into. It wasn't deep enough for  swim in August when we went.

There're steps to go close to top of the falls and one can also view it from the river in front of the temple

 View of the temple

A view of the river, downstream

Aravalem falls is sometimes also referred to as Harvalem falls. There is also a cave nearby, which we couldn't explore.

The Rudreshwar temple is very popular with hindus, people come here from all over to perform 12th/13th day rituals for the dead.

Thanks to temple and vigilant villagers, this falls is free from regular tourists who drink near the falls and spoil the nature by throwing garbage.

Map to Arvalem Falls is embedded below

Similar: Mahadev Temple, Tambdi Surla

Univercell Sync- Smartphone Experience centres

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When I got invite for visiting Univercell Sync Store in Chennai to experience how Univercell can help enhance one's smartphone buying experience, I was also eager to find out how UniverCell is gearing itself up to take on the challenge from online retailers.

The process of buying a phone has changed dramatically over the decade. A decade ago, camera phone, colour screen, polyphonic ring tone made a phone desirable. Factors like how many contacts/SMS the phone can store, torch, type of games it came with etc were the factors that helped purchase decisions. Even the once super desirable 25k+ phones- like N73 had to be purchased just by reading the specs and without getting to touch and feel a live unit.

Things are different today. You first need to decide if you want Windows, Android or iOS. Only after that the brand and other specs are considered. Because everything is an App and is downloadable, its the hardware configuration and after-sales service that influences purchases heavily, along with price. Online retailers are able to sell phones 10-20% cheaper than brick and mortar stores, leveraging cost savings in logistics and economy of scale. Customers are more informed than ever and positive online feedbacks convince many to make purchase decisions even without seeing or feeling a phone.

But that does't mean physical stores are extinct. They are fighting back with innovations and offering something online retailers can't provide- personalized hands on experience with the phones and its accessories, to be able to make more informed purchased decisions and a host of after sale services not yet available online.

With that background, let us explore what Univercell Sync has in store for us.

Univercell Sync is an experience store where a visitor can gets hands on live experience on all latest models, take pictures with the phone, get it printed, try suitable accessories for the phone, get advise on apps to use and avail a host of after sales service.
Latest Phones counter
As customers walk in, first desk on the left has all the latest models. This is because everyone is usually interested in checking out the latest ones first. Next to that is a photobooth- a small platform with a green background and a few dummy frames to pose with. Since almost everyone wants to use the camera feature in their phone, this section lets them experience the camera capabilities of the phone they have in mind. A set of tips advises customers what to look for in a camera.

After having tried clicking pictures, should you wish to print them, there's a small LG portable printer, which costs Rs 10000 approx. This device talks to all phones using NFC/WiFi and can give a smaller than postcard size. I am not sure to what extent this printer is really useful, but the idea is that should you wish to print, you can buy suitable printers.

Next is the music booth, where a host of music accessories, starting from an earphone worth few hundred to super speciality speakers/headphones worth Rs 12000 are displayed. Prospective buyers can try out how music plays in each of these accessories, try out docking stations etc. You should note that most of the stores that sell music accessories (and in the online world) often need you to buy the gadget before it can be opened and experienced. Soumya Menon, VP Brand Strategy explained that customers often come with a budget in mind (say I need a phone in 20k range) but hardly plan for accessories.  Not having the right accessories can spoil the fun. Hence Univercell Sync staff can understand a prospect's usage/needs etc and then recommend right kind of accessories for the phone. With this information, customer may eventually opt to spend little less on the phone- say 15k and spend rest of his/her budget on the right kind of accessories- earphones, power banks, memory cards, printers etc.

Most of the gadgets in music section were from Sony and Phillips- apparently both these companies had some trouble and were seen closing down some of their portfolios. I am told they are fully committed to phones and music.

Next section of the store focuses on work-phones- for people who intend to get most of their work done over phone. Having full MS Office suite in the phone, extra power, printers and scanners etc are the focus in this section.

At the centre of the store is a large display area where phones that do not exactly fit into a category (Camera/Music/Work) are displayed. Adequate spacing has been ensured between the devices to ensure comfort to the guests checking them out.

Apart from display, demo and purchase assistance, UniverCell Sync also offers few additional services to its customers, something online stores don't.

Sync Squad: Sync These days, lots need to be done after buying the phone- such as installing right apps, loading it with your favorite music, pairing it with your car etc, in order to make the most of your smartphone experience. Sync Squad is a team of experts who will visit the homes of phone buyers, a week or two after they've bought the phone. This team can help the customer further customize the phone, clear any doubts or help with any issues customer may have in using/personalizing his/her phone. (I know Ford offers similar services to those who buy Ecosports). This is a great service where buyer doesn't have to scramble for help or search online for a problem he/she is facing.

Total Care: Total care is an after sales service package. For phones less than Rs 15000, customers can pay Rs 500 (Rs 800 for 15k+ phones) and avail following services:
- Zero travel: Free doorstep pickup and drop in case phone needs servicing (this is offered by a 3rd party- PickMe, who will coordinate movement of the phone between customer and service centre.)
- Insurance coverage for the phone

I asked how easy is the process of claiming insurance for phones- I was told that it is very simple and in about 80% of the cases, claim is honored and customers get money back. (Insurance covers 60% of purchase cost during first year, 40% during next year and so on). For phones priced upto 15k, FIR is not required to claim insurance, simple declaration/paperwork is adequate.

I asked if UniverCell will take care of activities like phone de-activation, remote wipe out etc. I was told they won't do it, but will guide the customer how to get it done.

I asked how's Lenovo's service- as this was a concern though their phones seemed to be rugged. I was told that Lenovo service is not a problem.

I asked how should one go about chosing the right OS- The answer was something like this "If you want to lots of office work on your phone, go for Windows, as it comes with full suite of office applications and email and other functions. For generic music, photography and other usage, Android is very popular. Go for Apple if you're very particular about it"

There's a feedback kiosk, which lets visitors vote in +ve or -ve, about their experience at the store (but has no provision to capture subsequent details  why someone is happy/not happy).

There're a few drawbacks yet at UniverCell Sync store. The price is not displayed next to the phone. I am told this is because "Prices change very dynamically and we didn't have the heart to put a hand written price tag in this smart store". Staff has to be approached for price information, which is little inconvenient if you're randomly browsing phones. Probably Univercell can have a display screen which shows latest prices for each model (Like how airports display departure time and gates)

Not all phones had a sim or connected to internet- this sort of hampers the experience (there're security concerns in leaving dozens of phones connected to net unattended). But if requested, staff should be able to help by doing the needful (add a sim card and connect a particular phone to net)

Phone purchase is not everyday activity. When you buy one, you always want to buy the right one. UniverCell Sync is fully geared up to help you with your phone purchase exercise, bringing together the latest phones, right accessories and expert help all under one roof. In other words, you can either spend lots of time researching a phone online, or simply walk into Univercell sync store and experience the smart phones live to make a much more confident purchase decision.

I am told UniverCell has about 14 Sync experience stores in India so far- covering Chennai, Bangalore, Mumbai and Pune.. More coming up soon.

Got to meet few other bloggers during the event- Subramaniam, Raj, Hansini.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mahadev Temple, TambdiSurla Goa

Tambdi Surla is a village in the interiors of Goa, which has a small but beautiful Mahadev temple. Tambdi surla is about 60kms from Panjim, but is closer while returning from Doodhsagar.

I've made a short less than 1 min video of Tambdi Surla Mahadev temple in Goa. Please watch it below. 

Temple campus is well maintained, a stream flows nearby and is worth a short visit. Wikipedia has more historic details, pls check here.

Google Maps is embedded below...

Similar: Big Foot Goa * Three Kings Church, Goa * Tree House, Goa * Doodhsagar Falls, Goa

Friday, August 29, 2014

Is Fortuner 4x2 worth 10 lakh premium over XUV500 W6?

This post was overdue since months, because of Thailand, Jaisalmer and Goa visits.
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In March this year, I drove an XUV500 W6 for 2 days/1200kms. In July this year, I got to drive a Fortuner 4x2 manual, for 1 day/540kms. In August, we were driven around for 2 days all around the desert at Jaisalmer in a fleet of 3 fortuners. Mahindra XUV500 W6 variant costs about 12 lakhs ex showroom Delhi, while Fortuner 4x2 MT is priced 22 lakhs Ex-showroom Delhi. On road price will be 20-25% higher, taking the net difference between the price of two cars in question to whopping 10-12 lakh rupees. While I was thinking about reviewing the Fortuner, it hit me that why should someone spend 10 lakhs more on a fortuner, while XUV W6 has most of the capabilities and features offered  by Fortuner. With that thought in mind, this post is an attempt to find out the differences between Mahindra XUV500 W6 and Toyota Fortuner 4x2. Objective is to find out if the fortuner is worth another 10 lakhs or is one better off buying an XUV500 which seem to be equally competent. Do go through and feel free to add your thoughts.

You may ask why I am comparing Fortuner with XUV, which is a category below. Reason is that I’ve driven these 2 cars and I’ve not driven other possible contenders like latest Endeavor, Captiva, Rexton etc to compare them against fortuner (somebody please offer them on self drive!)

Fortuner has more powerful engine, better brand recognition, higher ground clearance and better off-road abilities (even in 4x2 variant), all alloy wheels and better entertainment system. But for all practical purposes, these differences don’t appear good enough to justify a price difference of 10-12 lakh rupees compared to Mahindra's W6. For many instances, I feel XUV500 W6 is a better deal than Fortuner 4x2. Though Fortuner has some clear advantages and benefits, the advantage of being able to save about 10 lakh rupees outright, without any major compromise can easily tilt the situation in favor of XUV500 for the upper middle class, ‘Not so super rich’ buyers.  Besides paying more upfront, Fortuner owner pays more in fuel for every km, pays more for insurance and maintenance.

Mahindra XUV500 W6
Toyota Fortuner 4x2
Engine & Related
2.2 litre mEagle 140 bhp

6 gears
Front Wheel Drive
3 litre 163 bhp, better torque than W6

5 gears only

Rear Wheel Drive
Fortuner is heavy and most of the extra power goes in pulling this excess weight. Difference in pickup and top speed isn’t really worth 10 lakhs
Fuel Economy
15 (claimed) , we got about 10.5 kmpl 
 11.9 (claimed), we got 10.8
We drove XUV in March, when AC was used heavily. Fortuner was used in June when it was raining- I think this has contributed to Fortuner giving us better FE.
Ground Clearance
Fortuner’s massive ground clearance goes give it additional abilities during off road. This, coupled with some extra torque, Fortuner 4x2s could easily take us around the deserts during our Jaisalmer trip, where Fortuner 4x2 proved to be equally capable as its 4x4 version.

I am not very sure if an XUV500 W6 can beat a Fortuner when it comes to dune bashing.
Additional angled headlight for turns, conversation mirror,
No Alloy wheels, No rear disc brakes, lots of lights, charging points etc for all rows
Alloy wheels standard
No rear disc brake,
Gets better music system & touch screen
Some features like alloy wheels, reverse camera, music system etc can be had aftermarket or by buying W8 variant instead of W6
Seating Comfort
No complaints, fabric but driver gets lumbar support
Leather seats but no lumbar support. Last row is more comfortable
Alighting and getting down needs some effort due to high ground clearance

Luggage Space
XUV is wider, but shorter in length. Fortuner has more luggage space, while with a XUV, you will need roof top carrier if all 7 people have 1-2 bags each.
Service Cost
I do not have exact numbers, but prima facie, XUV500 will be cheaper to service/repair/maintain.

XUV W6 annual insurance premium will be about 60-65k, while for fortuner it may be close to 90-95k, you will need to pay 2k per month more in insurance alone for Fortuner
Looks, Road Presence,
Brand Image
XUVs looks are great, it has good road Presence, but not comparable to Fortuner
Fortuner undoubtedly commands more respect and admiration on the road, clear reason why many politicians prefer Fortuner even though they don’t use any of its premium features.

International clients recognize and appreciate fortuner better than XUV
If spending 10 lakhs more means nothing to you (or when you’re wasting taxpayers money), then by all means go for Fortuner!

When in Jaisalmer early this month, we spent 2 days being driven all around the desert in 3 fortuners. Fortuners crossed sandy roads, roverbeds, non-existent roads with lots of ease and comfort. So fortuner’s ruggedness, ability to handle bad roads etc are not in question. Only question is, is it worth compromising a bit on these aspects if it could save you 10 lakhs upfront and few thousands every month.
Having said all these, one thing I am not able to comment is the durability. If used regularly for say 7-10 years, which of the two will be in better condition? Can Japanese build quality prove to be more stronger than Mahindras? I don’t know. Fortuner comes with 3 year/1lakh kms default warranty, while the Cheetah comes with only 2 year/65000 kms warranty. Use your judgment.  When launched, XUV had some build quality issues, which now is reportedly resolved. Toyota’s engines and car build quality is much respected in the industry, so Fortuner has higher quality benchmarks overall for M&M to meet.

Read detailed review of XUV500 W6 here and some photos of Fortuner here 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why Car manufacturers should support selfdrive agencies

Reasons why Automobile companies should support self drive agencies:

1.       Let potential customers test the cars at their convenience: A few kms short test drive around the showroom is not really adequate to understand the car fully and make a well informed purchase decision. If a car maker gives a units to self drive agency, potential customers can comfortably book these cars for a few days, explore them to their heart’s content and if the car is good, buy it from the showroom with lots of confidence in the brand.

2.       Lots of free publicity- self-drive customers often take lots of pics during their trip with the car and promote them online, talk to their office colleagues about the trip they had and the car used etc. This gets free eyeballs and publicity to the car brand. When a customer visits showroom, it is usually the prospect and his/her spouse. When on self drive, lots of friends/relatives will also be exposed to the car as the renter visits them or invites them to join the trip. 

3.       Certifies durability- Taxi companies or self drive companies usually do not induct cars that are high on maintenance, give poor fuel economy or in general can’t ensure lower overall cost of ownership. If a taxi company or self drive agency has decided to trust a model and induct it into its fleet, it sort of certifies that car is economical to operate overall. To a potential buyer of the model, it is a confidence boosting measure.

4.       More feedbacks per car: When a car is sold to an individual customer, only one customer gives feedback per car. When same car is rented out from a self drive agency, dozens of customers will be trying out the car each month and hence there’s a possibility that many of them will give their feedbacks/opinions (may not be directly to the car company, but on their social media channels), thus by monitoring the usage or by tieing up with self drive agency, car manufacturer can get more feedbacks per car.

5.       Abilities to get usage statistics and insights: Asking a private customer how exactly he/she is using the car may not get proper response, as it may violate the individual’s privacy or end customer may not be willing to disclose all details. However, self-drive agencies track their cars with GPS, maintain statistics on kms used, fuel and other vital information. Car manufacturers can tie up with self-drive agencies to gather car usage statistics, which can be used for future improvements of the car model. Some of the data that can be collected and used are:
a.       How many kms people are driving the car per day
b.      Avg fuel economy
c.       What are the destinations the car is often driven to?
d.      Is this car being used more for city usage or outstation trips?
e.      Compared to another similar car from competitor, how is the demand for this car? Is this car being booked weeks in advance or only when the other model is not available?

6.       Try push the cars that have flopped in the market: When a particular model is not selling well in the market, car manufacturers can try giving them at discounted rate to self-drive agencies.  Let us take example of Tata Aria- since its showroom sales is not good, if Tata can give few Aria’s to an agency like Zoom or Carzonrent and probably encourage them to upgrade their customers (say those who’ve booked an Innova) to Aria, customers seldom complain and this will get some good road presence for Aria brand. Similarly if Nanos are not selling in good numbers, if positioned well, self drive agencies can rent it out at an hourly rate so cheap, it might make more sense to rent a nano for few hours than hiring an auto. This is a win win situation for all the 3 parties- Tata can push more Nanos to the road, rental agencies earn income which could have otherwise gone to auto drivers, customers get the comfort of an AC car, for the price of renting an auto…

7.       Let Non owners participate in adventure events: There’re lots of automobile events- such as Mahindra Great Escape, Tata Motors Full Throttle, Himalayan Odyssey etc, to participate in which one should own a car of specific brand. There’re many enthusiasts who wish to participate in these events, but they don’t own/can’t afford to buy an SUV of a specific brand. If some cars can be made available through self-drive agencies for use in such events (risks and other terms can be worked out), more and more fans will get an opportunity to participate in these events. (but car companies need to check if this upset regular car owners)

8.       Keep fan base happy: Some of us will never be able to afford a 30-40 lakh car and even if we had the money we won't spend it on cars. Having luxury cars on self drive will enable more and more people experience the car and stay loyal to the brand.

Above are hypothetical cases. Car manufacturers and self drive company executives and discuss to figure out exact benefits etc. While a few car companies don’t want their car to get a taxi appeal, as they fear it might turn private customers away. But self-drive companies are few and number of self-drive cars are very less, hence having few cars in self-drive fleet won’t get a car Taxi badge. So I don’t think car companies should worry about this aspect.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My video channel and recent gopro videos

Since I last wrote this post about video editing experience, I’ve made a few more videos. I’ve now learnt somewhat effective usage of still photos in a video- using movie maker, I am able to generate small video clips out of still photos, by inducing simple animations like panning, zoom etc into them. (Go Pro studio didn’t seem to have effective functions for this, or at least I couldn’t figure out).

Creating a video project results in generating another 5-10 GB of data on the hard disc- once video is produced, I have a tough choice- either to retain the project and delete source video files, or delete the project and retain the source video files (this is purely to reclaim disc space, not required if you have TBs of free space). I’ve currently opted to delete the project and retain the source files- this means if I have to make some changes to the video, I will have recreate everything- which is fine, because it gives me lots of flexibility.

Generating the output file from GoPro studio and then uploading them to youtube are the two activities that take maximum time- one minute video takes 1 hour on an average for these 2 activities combined. Because of this, even when I find small errors/possible improvements, I don’t find like reworking on the project, given the time and effort it takes. If there’re lots of viewers or some other motive, this spending more effort makes sense.

Below are some of my recent videos- you might have already seen them in some of the recent posts or in my social media channels. I invite you to subscribe to my youtube channel, where you can view my newly added videos as soon as they are live.

1. Dusit Thani Hua Hin resort preview (Blog post here)


2. Crab Release activity in Thailand's Sirinath Rajini Centre for Mangrove studies [Blogpost here]

3. Suryagarh video preview [Review of Suryagarh here]

Visit to the wine yard

Bangkok Dinner Cruise. [Blogpost here]

Doodhsagar falls visit by train [Blogpost here]

Subscribe to my channel on youtube here

Appreciate any comments/suggestions on these videos

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Historic Hua Hin Railway Station, Thailand

Hua Hin Railway station is probably one of the most beautiful railway stations in Thailand. It is also the oldest in Thailand. Its beautiful red and white design, wooden structure makes it very eye catching. We visited Hua Hin station during night time and some photos below for your reference.

Station is open 24 hours, but trains operate between 6.30AM and 11.20PM.

Hua Hin station also has a King's waiting room- which is believed to be the key attraction here- we couldn't see that in the night.

Related: Dusit Thani resort, Hua Hin * 3D Art Gallery Hua Hin

Monday, August 25, 2014

Uber Chennai Taxi Ride Experience

I finally managed to try Uber’s services successfully. I had written my initial thoughts about Uber India here. After that I tried a few times to hail Uber cab, failed twice and got lucky the third time…

Below is what happened on the three occasions

Attempt 1: While returning from Jaisalmer, Aug 4th: 9.20 PM, I book the cab at airport, with pickup location in the app pointed next to Tirusulam railway station. An Innova was assigned to my booking. I didn’t bother calling the driver. ETA kept varying between 8 mins to 33 mins, I waited for 20 mins, cab doesn’t show up and suddenly I get an Uber Invoice for Rs 0, followed by an email from Uber community manager thanking me for using Uber’s services. I had no clue what happened, I gave low rating, shot a short mail and reached home after spending just Rs 26 on public transport (Train+ Bus+share auto).
I was later told that this was a mistake from driver, who clicked “End trip” button instead of sending “Arriving Now” msg, prompting the system to terminate the booking. Uber community manager explained me that they’re taking steps to correct the issue and train the drivers better.

Attempt 2: Two weeks later, while returning from Goa, I tried again. This time also an Innova was assigned, I lose half my interest. Despite having marked my location next to Tirusalam subway, I could see that cab is going inside the airport, traveling around randomly. I got the ‘Arriving Now’ message but cab is nowhere close. I called the driver, he said he couldn’t reach me, so was searching for me randomly inside Airport pickup area. I told him that I am not inside airport area, but on the main road.  He said he will come.

I realized now that the phone number I’d used while signing up for Uber and phone number I have now are different. Because of this driver couldn’t call me. I tried updating my mobile number in the app, but this field was non editable. Probably it is a security measure, while I was under the impression that App is smart enough to figure out the correct contact number. I could update the mobile number later in the website.

I waited for few more minutes, I again got a msg that my booking is complete. This annoyed me, because Uber doesn’t seem to have an option like “Terminated by driver” or “cancelled by Uber” for requests that couldn’t be fulfilled for whatever reason. Why should customer be charged Min fare of Rs 150 for such cases and forced to make another booking for no apparent reason?
I opted to hail a fast track taxi and reach home by spending about Rs 400 (This worked out about Rs 200 cheaper than booking a cab inside airport,  as airport parking fee and other expenses are transferred to the customer.

Attempt 3: Last Friday, booked an Uber ride from Leela Palace till home, a distance of about 12.5 kms. This time I got a Honda City, I promptly called the driver to inform him of my correct number, location etc. Cab arrived within 6-8 minutes, which was super cool. The brand new 2014 Honda city was nice, 12 kms were covered in about 20 mins flat, as it was close to midnight sans much traffic. The bill came to about Rs 340. (My home to Airport, which is 17kms, costs Rs 340- 350 in fast track)

Few observations:
1. Toll had to be paid in cash. This part is not automated
2. Driver drove in a modest speed of 40-50kmph despite empty roads. (Not complaining, just saying)
3. In my 3 attempts I didn’t get lucky to have a high end car like BMW. So it reconfirms my thought that Uber has just a few high end cars for publicity/promotional purpose and most of the fleet are regular cars- Innova, city, corolla etc. This is the reason car type is not shown before booking (say while showing ETA) and probability of getting a BMW/Merc will be very low. (At 18 Rs per km, a BMW owner will take long time to recover his investments)
4. A few phone calls might still be required, since Indian address system is not perfect
5. Fast Track's minimum fare (Rs 100) includes a few free kms, while Uber's base fare includes none.
6. While there're a few promo codes that can be used, I find it a pain to remember the code, type it in during booking etc. Will be nice if the app automatically applies best of the discount possible, without user having to remember, key in the code etc.
7. Three days since the ride, I am still waiting for the transaction to reflect in my credit card statement. Waiting to see if I will incur any extra expense since Uber transactions are routed internationally.

Will I try Uber again? If I am in good mood, Yes. But not super excited about Uber, as I realize that probability of getting high end car is very low and few drawbacks like not able to book in advance, know/specify car type etc might out-weight the convenience.

Once they launch UberX in Chennai I will be more keen to use UberX often- there my expectations are set right and I will be paying less. 

Uber has run into a regulatory issue with RBI accepting competition’s complaint that Uber is not following a 2 step authentication process while accepting automated card payments. Need to see how Uber responds to this and adapts itself.

If you're signing up at, please use my referal code 'uberenidhi' 

Crab Release and Mangrove plantation at Sirinath Rajini Center for Mangrove Forest Studies, Thailand

On the we left Hua Hin to head for Bangkok, we had a CSR activity on the way. We stopped at Sirinath Rajini Centre for Mangrove Forest Studies in Pran Buri District of Thailand.

10 years ago, this place reportedly was an abandoned shrimp area. Today it has been converted into a learning centre for Mangrove Forest Studies.

As we arrived, we were greeted by a bucket full of crabs, their claws tied with ropes. Tourists visiting the centre are briefed about the crabs and given an opportunity to release them into the mangrove forest, as a method of preserving marine creatures.The right method of how to hold, where to cut the ropes etc are demonstrated by the staff.

While many visitors were scared of the crabs and their tentacles, few brave ones picked them up, cut the ropes tied to their arms and legs and released them into the forest. I assume these crabs were grown in the campus to be released once they mature, not captured ones.

Below is a video of crab release activity I've made during our visit there...

Apart from the crab release, a walk in the woods is equally exciting. A raised platform ensures basic safety from crabs and other reptiles below.

Once done with crab release, next activity was to plant some saplings in the open areas of mangrove forest.

I would have preferred to go in with bare foot, but staff recommended that we wear thick stockings provided by them while we enter marshland to plant saplings. "It will be very difficult to clean later" was the explanation.

Sirinath Rajini centre for Mangrove Forest studies did win 2010 award of Excellence as one of the best tourist attractions in the country. It is the only mangrove reforestation study centre in Thailand.

Sirinath Rajini centre for Mangrove Forest studies is located at Tambon Pak, Nam Pran Amphoe, Pran Buri, Prachuap Khiri Khan Province. This place is about 100kms from capital city Bangkok.

The centre seemed very close to the ocean. We didn't have time to explore more.

Similar: Pichavaram mangrove, Tamil Nadu 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Dusit Thani Resort, Hua Hin, Thailand

We had a surprise welcome at Dusit Thani, a great resort in the town of Hua Hin, Thailand, where we spent 2 nights. As we got down from the bus, the resort staff gave us a warn welcome, in the form of a dance and a welcome rose each. This was a pleasant surprise. Do watch the video below.

Video preview of our Dusit Thani Hua Hin Experence

Dusit Thani is a vast resort. It takes couple of days just to explore this resort fully. Below are the details on what I found at Dusit Thani, Hua Hin, during my 2 night stay last month.

Key highlights at Dusit Thani Hua Hin:
  1. An Olympic size swimming pool and a secondary pool
  2. A separate building for wedding/conference/parties so that main guests aresn't disturbed- this conference room can seat a max of 800 people.
  3. Option of All Vegetarian Menu
  4. Close to 300 rooms suiting different budget ranges, from superior rooms to presidential suites.
  5. Four tennis courts and a golf course nearby
  6. All other standard facilities
All Vegetarian dinner: On the evening we checked in, we had an all vegetarian menu for lunch. This was a great surprise, as vegetarian food is not very common in Thailand. 

A pianist played soothing music.
Nice chandelier in the dining area attracts lots of attention.

Dining area is adjacent to their Olympic size swimming pool, hence the view is great in the day time. 
They also served nice tender coconuts with dinner, which I savored twice. Keeping all 5-star etiquette  aside, I asked them to cut open the coconut so that I can eat the malai (meat) inside, which they facilitated. However, next morning when I asked for coconut, I was told they are not part of breakfast and will cost THB 165 each. With normal price of 25-30 baht, I was prepared to pay 2-3 times given that it is a 5 star hotel, but 165 baht forced me to keep quiet.

Pool Area: The Olympic size swimming pool is pretty large, coupled with small pools and another secondary pool. 

But on the downside, beach was not the best- had some dirty mud (watch the video above). If you need clean beach, you will have to walk a bit.

Rooms: My room had view of secondary swimming pool. Other rooms have view of the main swimming pool. Few premium rooms open to ocean view (shown below).
Dusit Thani's suits cost about THB 10000 a night during peak season and are cheaper at 7000-8000 baht a night during off peak season/for those who book long term. 
My room had an open able window into the bathroom, which could be opened or closed from the room side, not from bathroom. Not a good option when on twin sharing with strangers. (Person in the room can open it and see what's happening in the bath room). All hotels in Thailand seem to have a practice opposite to other countries- if you wish to keep the bed-sheets changed, then you need to keep a card on the bed... whereas elsewhere, the practice is that if you Don't want the sheets to be changed, then you keep the card on the bed.

Wake up call service is automated- manual would have been nice. Couldn't figure out how to tell the system that I am wide awake and ready and no need for a follow up call.

Dusit Thani entrance:

Dusit Thani lobby has a place where the King and other VVIPs would sit when they visit and write their feedback.

There's lots of greenery in the campus. Due to tight schedule, we couldn't check out the spa, tennis court and many other facilities.

Lots of space: open area in our floor- in this much area, a Bangkok hotel would fit a restaurant, bar and a spa...

Wedding Destination: Thailand is actively promoting itself as a perfect wedding destination. Many super rich families now plan the grand weddings outside of their country, even if it includes several crores in expenses- to fly hundreds of guests, booking rooms for them and conducting various rituals. Hotels like Dusit Thani are perfectly geared up for such a demand, with a separate conference room/wedding hall building that can accommodate max 800 pax. This building is slightly away from main campus, so as not to disturb the regular guests.

Dusit Thani Hua Hin official website

Also see: Northern Thailand hotel reviews * Dream Hotel Bangkok *