Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Winter" in Hua hin

As you may have noticed, there has been a lot said about Stockholm lately. That's fine, there is heaps to do in Stockhlm, hence a lot to recommend. But as I usually spend December/January in Hua hin in our house there, I'd like to give you a taste of what a winter without snow can be like.
When people think of Thailand they usually think of Phuket or one of the many wonderful islands around it. Some think of Koh Phi phi, Koh Samui or Koh Pa-nga with its full moon parties. Some think of amazing dive waters or secluded beaches. Me, I think of Thailand as my second home. I think of getting out of the taxi after a long flight and then drive, entering our house. I think of the getting there late at night, eloping 1m of snow in Sweden to arrive at 25 degrees and going for the first swim in the pool. I think of the first morning, waking up and taking a couple of seconds to realize that it's not a dream. I'm actually there, in paradise.
When it comes to Hua hin, I am simply at ease. It's a town that can make anyone feel comfortable, no matter what age you are. It just has something to offer everyone. I'll share some of my personal favorites with you here, making it a tad bit easier for you if you are heading over!
Where to stay?
Well for me it’s easy, I obviously stay in our house (you can to, if we're not there!). But I think you should consider the location of your stay carefully when you decide to go. First, what are your needs, wants and budget? Do you want  a private pool or hotel breakfast? Do you want to stay at the beach or do you want to be able to relaxed dinner on your private terrace? Do you want to stay in town or are you ok to pay a tuk tuk around 150baht to get there, just to be able to enjoy not having to listen to the 24h traffic?
Absoluteapartment offers a wide range of places to accommodate most tastes. But we have our priorities set straight, our guests want private swimming pools mostly. They want to be able to have maid service, massage, meals etc a phone call away. And they want the comfort of a home away from home. To me that is what we are offering. No matter if you choose to rent one of our places or to rent from someone else, we do think a house is the best way to experience Hua hin!

Fishing- Catch and release
This is an expensive trait in Hua hin, god knows why, but it’s also fun and if you love a good struggle, do it! There are 2 main locations, depending on budget but check out Fishing lodge and Greenfield.
4WD, paint ball, elephants and much more. This is where I head out if I'm staying for a long time and need some excitement; I especially recommend a game of paintball with your friends, much more exciting than a round of golf.

Main Hua hin beach: Big, lots of tourist and big hotels. Go horseback riding, relax, rent a kite board, and have fun!
Takiabi beach: More relaxed, less people and friendlier. This is where I'd go with children who aren't the youngest but not big enough to tackle the wind and waves at the main beach.
Military beach: Some Thais on vacation otherwise deserted. Private, cheaper, no hawking and no sun beds. Very nice!
Kao Tao (turtle beach): Small, clean secluded. A paradise if you are with small children!


Several different, most famous is the Night market, in the center of Hua hin where they sell clothes, food and jewelry. Most is fake but quite descent quality! Fruit markets are scattered around town at different days, one is up by soi 114 and has good prices on anything that you can eat!  
Elephant riding
Heaps of places around town, most include a quite boring elephant show however..

Restaurants in Hua hin
Ahw, well, by now, if you have followed us for a while, you know that I'm fond of food. Hua hin is as well, lucky me! As usual when it comes to Thailand we are very keen on empathizing that you shouldn't miss out on the local markets, the local hawkers, the fruit carvers and all the rest of them. The best local food is usually found in the smallest most modest places, but there are exceptions.

Local, cheap and good

Not being fluent in Thai, I will try to describe the locations instead..
On your way to monkey mountain, at the very end of the main beach in Hua hin, you find a small and simple sea food tavern. Actually you will find lots of them, but to get to this one, walk on the beach and pick the last possible place. I dare say they serve the best seafood in Hua hin! Don't miss the crab!

The market at Soi 114, serves anything basically, cooked fresh, and lots of other things to buy to in terms of fresh fruit, sea food and deserts.

The market outside Grand hotel has lots of good half restaurants (egg hawkers with a few tables and chairs), some of the best sweet corn in Hua hin and much more.

If you walk the night market street from the beach and upwards, you get a large restaurant at the second intersection to the right. It looks kind of shabby but the food is excellent!

On the parallel street to petkhasem, next to the railroad, walk from the station towards the south and you'll find plenty of ok cheap restaurants filled with Europeans that spend the winter in Hua hin. One that stands out is Kim’s kitchen, they do excellent basic Thai food at outstanding prices and they deliver!

Up market but definitely worth it

Coco 51: At Soi 51, towards the beach, really really nice, good food, relaxing beautiful setting. Lie music during the evenings and good atmosphere.

Hilton: Roof top restaurant, very good, very pricy.

Brasserie de Paris: Naresdamri road, at the waterfront. Good food!!

Along Naresdamri road, towards Hilton you also have a little dock side restaurant, I wouldn't call it upmarket but it isn't cheap so it gets to be here anyway. However, it's really cozy, very relaxed, good place for children and the seafood is good!

Sofitel: Several restaurants, beautiful settings.

Marriott: Great for special occasions, their buffets at the beach for thanksgiving for example are stunning. Great service and so beautiful.

Above all of these I’d like to really stick my neck out and say Dusit. Their Monday all inclusive buffet could be the best in Thailand in terms of value for what you get. For 1200Baht you get not only the hotels selection of red, white and sparkling, but mainly a really good buffet that goes all the way and include anything from Fresh oysters and roe to different steaks and seafood. Do leave room for the large dessert section and then finish with a large cheese platter. A place that holds anything from a chocolate fountain to Oyster for 1200baht is excellent value!

Night life in Hua hin
In general one can say that Hua hin nightlife is quite calm and more focused on late night diners that continue until the wee hours but there are exceptions.

Sun set cocktails
Above all, literally, is Hilton. Take the elevator up to the sky bar, enjoy a cocktail while the sun sets over Hua hin. Great view in all directions, good service and perfect cocktails.

Sofitel, nice charming atmosphere, at the beach you can see the last of the sunbathers leave the beach while sipping a cool drink and having some nibbles of good Thai cuisine.

A bit later..
Depending on your type of scenery but Soi Binthabat is the definite bar mecka of Hua hin. Naturally there are lots of lady bars but this is simply the Thai scenery. A few places that are better than other according to us is the Irish bar O’Neil’s, good music, good atmosphere and descent food and beer selection. Hua hin Brewery has a relaxed outside seating area and a good nightclub inside. A must for the late crew but ok for the rest as well if you sit outside. El Murphy’s stand out when it comes to live music, their band is the best in town for sure, but come early they stop playing around midnight and tip heavily, they don't earn nearly as much as they should!

To get a good idea of where everything is, please use this Great map of Hua hin Bars that HHAD has created.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Stockholm as seen by others part 1

When we stumble upon something that we think is good, we would like to share it with you. Today I got to read this: 25 reasons to go to Stockholm and decided to put together some of the links that I find helpful and have come across the last couple of weeks. A webpage that is a really good start is Visit Stockholm, they have lots of good tips and ideas with a wide range of activities to choose from. My personal favorite amongst things to do in Stockholm is to walk around and just see the city. A place that most of you who come here will visit is Old town and a good read is found here.
I love to read travel guides and articles about Stockholm, foremost because it's an eye opener into things that are so much every day to me that I've stopped noticing them, things that I would photograph and pose in front of if I would have been abroad myself. One of those things is the metro system in Stockholm. I use it daily and don't even see it. Here it's been voted one of the coolest metro systems in the world!
A page that has a little bit of everything is Vacation rentals, their section on Highly recommended really quite sums it up for me.
Picture from Stockholm Gay and Lesbian network

Stockholm is also one of the most gay friendly cities in the world, something that we are very proud of! I usually don't like to make a statement about this since it divides people into groups and that is not something I do. I think it's like saying we are one of the most human friendly cities in the world. But I am truly happy that anyone, of any couloir, sexuality or age feel welcome in Stockholm and the Stockholm Gay and Lesbian network has an excellent webpage loaded with good ideas, not to mention the amazing pictures, just look at this one to the left!

CNN had an interesting piece with the title "What's wrong with Stockholm?" well worth reading if you are heading our way. If you plan to go out drinking, bring the big bucks! 
Let call this part one, then I'll dig up some more links for you for the second part. Enjoy!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Winter in Sweden

Winter in Annefors, last years view from my kitchen window..
Yes, I know, you think of eternal darkness and suicide stats. Even though I'm more of a summer-beach-sun-person myself, I'd like to challenge that view.
Yes, Swedish winters are colder than winters are for most of you. Yes it's also darker then in many other countries. The suicide stats are well... Kind of true but not entirely so. We are 30th in the world per capita according to Wikipedia (not a great source, I know). Anyhow, sad as that is, today, with minus 5 degrees Celsius, snow covered grounds, glistening treetops and a bright winter sun; I was reminded on why I love the Swedish winter!
I walked to the train at around 6.30am this morning, still completely dark outside. All the cozy streetlights with an air of early 1900 about them gave a nice glow to the deserted streets where I was plowing forward with the snow crunching underneath my shoes. 
On the train between Uppsala where I study and Stockholm the sun started to rise and I got to see a bright white landscape, wrapped in an enormous coating of snow passing by outside my window. Getting off and hustling to Uppsala University I caught a ride on a friends bike. The bicycle lanes had been brushed with sand, and despite the cold it was a nice ride. During lunch we took our coffee outside, sat down and let the early winter sun warm our faces. Back home, right now, there are candles lit all over the apartment. A large casserole of Kalopps (Swedish meat stew) based on moose is puttering away on the stove. A glass of red in hand, my favorite possum socks from NZ on my feet I'm planning away for a winter wonderland weekend. Tomorrow we are going for a long walk out to Djurgården with the rest of Stockholm. We're going for “Afterpulka” (pulka means toboggan) at Djurgårdsbrunns värdshus. We'll be in skiwear in their lovely laid back chairs, enjoying the music, sun and good food. Simply embracing the Swedish winter, the way it should be embraced.

So don't be afraid of the Swedish winter, it's actually kind of great!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A love letter to our hosts!

Without our hosts, we would be nothing. Simple as that.
We tell them as often as we can what an amazing job they are doing and how important they are to us, but we can't say it often enough so let’s publish a love letter here as well!

You put up your private apartments for rent to make some extra money. Some of you are students trying to get by University without being forever in debt, some are travelers that want to give back to other travelers and some are single parents. Actually, a bit surprisingly, a lot of you are single parents, our biggest group of hosts! You simply let your apartment the week that you don't have the kids to afford to keep the apartment after a divorce, now that's just great! Some of you hosts let your apartments during the summers to afford your own vacation. And all of you are unique, responsible wonderful persons who complete strangers into your homes!

What makes up a great host is a hospitable attitude. That is the base, the fundament on which we stand. You need to like travelers. You need to be confident enough to open up your own home to stranger. You need to make them feel at home in a new city with basically no knowledge about it or the country for that matter. You need to have laid out some ground rules for the apartment, what needs to be done prior to departure and what may not occur while they stay there. You need to point them to the closest metro, grocery store and bus. And you need to like travelers of all kinds from the smallest babies that arrive sleeping to the elderly couple that need help with their luggage because they might all like to stay in your apartment

But you our wonderful hosts go beyond that. You check arrival times, help with travel advice and book taxis for your guests. You greet them at all hours of the day and night, smile in place, keys in hand. You have left coffee & tea for your guest to when they arrive, made dinner reservations, booked ferries, arranged for baby cots and strollers. You have planned anniversaries, bought roses and decorated. 

Truly amazing things that trickle back to us via our guests. That is what we call above and beyond. So again, thank you to all the hosts at Absoluteapartment, you are what we are made of!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How we got started

When I had made it around the world, worked for a few years abroad and at home, learnt Spanish where it is supposed to be learnt (Madrid and Malaga), trained to become a chef, worked as a manager for a Swedish softball club and travelled some more, I got accepted to Med. school. That came as a surprise, especially to me. I was so sure that I would never get accepted that I had kind of given up that dream. This also meant that I had to start staying in Sweden for longer periods. I did however sneak away as often as I could. By the end of the second semester I knew that I had to find some other way to make money but to work night shifts at restaurants. I could barely stay awake during the days and my studies were suffering. My only asset was my apartment so I decided to advertise it via some agencies. It worked alright, but it still took so much time and energy going through the requests that mostly didn't generate any rental, endless phone calls with the agencies about anything and everything plus the fact that they took more than 30% of my income. I decided that this wasn't going to do it. Things were just too complicated. 
One night over quite a lot of wine, I spelled out everything that was wrong with the situation. What I would do better. What was missing and what was dumb. I went quite far and on the metro on my way back home, I wrote it all down. If none of the agencies would provide me with what I wanted then I was going to do this myself. Next morning I called up a friend and set up several meetings with programmers and signed all the registration forms to start up my own business. This was in October 2008. It should have taken 2 months to set everything up and build the website. It took almost 2 years. But when I launched in July 2010, one month ahead of the medical conference, and the bookings started to accumulate I knew I had made the right choice. We were up and running. Actually we hit the ground running. And we haven't stopped yet!

Monday, February 13, 2012

From then to today, the short version..

I grew up and started to accept the fact that eventually I would have to go home, I was still screaming silently though. With my family I got to see many countries, 1000 of beaches and met so many amazing people along the way. I loved every single day of it, but it was first when I started to travel by myself that I really became mesmerized by it.
I and 2 friends decided to go around the world when we finished our school. We worked every weekend, ever single afternoon, between final exams and school we managed to save up what we needed for tickets, insurance, all kinds of vaccinations and 6months abroad. 
Just the planning was endless hours of dreams, assumptions and hope entwined and brought down to earth by a tight budget. Even though we were well aware that millions had done the trip before us we felt like pioneers. 18, ready to concur the world!
Can't stop laughing when I think back at that first long 6 month trip. God the rookie mistakes we did! The ridiculous budget we had that made us sleep 3 in one bed most of the time, just to be able to stay away for a while longer. I was appalled that one of the girls ordered orange juice for breakfast. Budget people, budget! I may also mention that we booked our plane tickets so stupidly that we had to go on a bus for 60 hours to the airport because we decided to fly in and out from the same airport. We did this twice, first from Bangkok (had to head back from Bali to Bangkok to fly to Australia.. ) then from Sydney (yes, we made it to the far north just to get on the bus all the way back..). We also booked a month in California, in February, but only backed for sun and beaches. Walking around Beverly Hills, freezing equipped with every piece of clothing we had made up for a fun picture. Same in Mexico where we ventured in hopes that it would be warmer. It wasn't.. 
But we had fun, we were in a sense brand new, shiny and happy. We met so many people that I will never forget, some I'm still in contact with today, 12 years later. 
Coming back home after that trip I knew 3 things. I was in no way as grown up as I had thought, Stockholm was always going to be home and I would never stop traveling. 

To start us of, some history..

It all started out when I was 5 years old. My family were on their yearly vacation, this time at Grand Canaria. After a week of warm weather, friendly people, horrible attempts at communicating in Spanish and overall just being charter tourists it was time to go back home. When my parents packed one last time, removed all the sand from the towels and got ready to head back to the hotel that we already checked out of to shower by the pool before getting on the bus to the airport, I refused to leave. I was furious, I ran towards the water outside of Mas palomas where we had been tanning all day (yes, this was during the 80s, one could do that then!) and screamed that I wasn't coming with them. I caused quite the scene then and there at the beach and then when I finally surrendered, probably due to some vague promises of ice cream, I filled my pockets with as much sand as I could fit. I'm sure my father was very happy with me at that moment.. I sulked all the way back home to a snowy and cold Stockholm, refused to put hand over my sand filled shorts and just kept on saying I didn't want to go home. 
Back in Sweden, being February, it was cold and snowy. When we finally got back to the apartment, I asked for a jar, pored all the sand into it. I placed the jar on my bedside table so that I could always dream of the endless sand and sun..
Apparently I don't remember any of this, but I've been told that this is what happened. True or not? Who cares, it makes up a good story to understand my want, no that's not a strong enough word, my need is more like it, to travel and travel. That is what has driven me around the world all these years, that made me meet all the fantastic people I've met during my trips, that always makes me long for the next airport. That is also what has driven me to start my own business in the tourist sector. I want to give something back and obviously still be able to make a living out of it. But hey, we are just at the beginning, so let’s see where this will take us!
I still have the jar by the way, it's just now filled with sand from all over the world, to keep the dream alive...