All posts filed under: Travel

Slow Boat on the Mekong River – Day 1

After watching and participating in the monks receiving alms, we returned to our guesthouse to pack and say goodbye to Luang Prabang. Our slow boat for the next 2 days on the Mekong (pronounced May-kong) River was one of these long wooden affairs. I would highly recommend a slow boat trip if you have 2 days to spare getting from Laos to Thailand. The boat had comfortable seating as well as tables and chairs, a toilet, beer and snacks. The open air also made the smokers happy. The smooth trip meant that I never felt sick (unlike windy bus trips). Run by the captain, his wife and 3 kids, it was a family affair and The Koala quickly impressed the kids with his drawing talents. We both did a lot of drawing while on the Mekong River. 20 hours of down time makes for good drawing time. Locals panning for gold at the edge of the Mekong River. The return isn’t very good, but during dry season, there isn’t a lot to do and panning …

We Freakin Love Elephants

The old name for Laos is Lan Xang which means the land of a million elephants. One of our fondest memories of Laos was meeting Mae San the elephant, her mahout (trainer) and her friends at the Elephant Village. “Elephant Village gives rescued elephants a new home where they are free from abusive work. Elephant Village provides local villagers a better livelihood, so they can stop their slash and burn tradition.” Many elephants in Laos were, and still are, used in the logging industry. They are mistreated, forced to pull loads that are too heavy for them, fed drugs to work longer and work in dangerous conditions. The sweet nature that elephants are know for are taken advantage of and some people use sharp hooks or knives to bend elephants to their will. It’s painful to learn about the lives these elephants suffered before being rescued. Elephants wear their hearts on their sleeves. It’s delightful to see them happy, but it’s also obvious when they suffer. How can people mistreat these animals? No one is that …

Hive Bar and Utopia, Luang Prabang, Laos

Hive Bar and Utopia are two bars that we loved in Luang Prabang. It wasn’t suprising that while we were at Utopia with New Zealand friends O and M, we bumped into some lovely ladies from our Intrepid Travel group. Utopia is one of those venues that has many little areas and while it’s all technically outdoors, there’s plenty of covered and cushioned spots that feel very cosy indeed. The food is pretty good, they great cocktails, they have shisha and best of all, they were playing Fat Freddy’s Drop while we were there. If you don’t feel like relaxing, eating and drinking, there are plenty of other activities to do at Utopia such as foos ball and volleyball. Yup, the have their own volleyball area away from spillable cocktails. The Koala was very happy with his burger and chips but I didn’t feel like a proper meal so got a couple of dishes to graze on. Luang Prabang sausage and grilled tofu with pesto complimented my Bloody Mary perfectly. After that we head to Hive for …

Cook with Squid Ink

In the novel The Snack Thief, Inspector Salvo Montalbano is invited for dinner by the police Superintendent. “My wife will prepare spaghetti in squid ink. An exquisiteness”.  Then the day before the dinner: “Superintendent? I am calling to say I am really mortified, but won’t be able to make it for dinner tomorrow.” “You are mortified because we cannot meet, or because of the squid ink pasta?” “Both Sir.” A few years ago, I read The Snack Thief by Andrea Camilleri. I’m not sure when my fascination with squid ink pasta began, but this novel could have been it. It’s a crime novel set in Sicily where the quirky main character, Inspector Salvo Montalbano solves murder mysteries but also tucks into lovely Sicilian feasts. Pasta dishes and seafood seem to be the gastronomic detective’s favourites and the feasts are described in enough detail to make you salivate. If you enjoy crime novels and you enjoy reading about food like I do, Andrea Camilleri is a name to remember. There is something remarkably cool about shiny black pasta. …

Eating Vang Vieng #2

The morning of the second day in Vang Vieng we get a breakfast of an omelette and an American breakfast around the corner from our guesthouse. The bread in Laos is amazing. I’m not a huge fan of bread, but I like this. It’s hard on the outside and beautifully fluffy on the inside. When you break it open, steam rises from it. Tubing in Vang Vieng is not to be missed. Think of it as a pub crawl in the sun, on the river, between limestone mountains. Everyone on our Intrepid Travel group are up for tubing and The Koala and I also meet up with an old friend O, and his girlfriend, M. It was M’s birthday and what better way to celebrate than by tubing. We begin at a shop in town where we hire a tube each and go by tuk tuk to the starting point on the river. Then it’s up to you to float down the river back into town or if you don’t make it by the time …

Eating in Vang Vieng #1

We left Vientiane in mid/late January and our group shared a large bus with another group of tourists. The 4 hours bus ride to Vang Vieng was pretty easy as the countryside is really picturesque. Rice paddies, cows, goats, children playing. At one point we drive past a long line of young monks. They are called novice monks when they are still learning and the procession was for a funeral. Vang Vieng is home for the next 2 and a half days. It can be lovely and peaceful and the surrounding limestone mountains can be seen from every part of town. This was the view from our guest house Kham Phone. One of the first sights we saw when we got to Vang Vieng was a herd of cows strolling through the town. They ate every potted plant in their path until they were chased away by unimpressed plant owners. Our first meal in Vang Vieng I had a yummy mango fruit shake and a chicken lao noodle soup and The Koala got a a bbq mix …

Vientiane: Buddhas and Temples

Vientiane Attractions We didn’t spend the whole time in Vientiane eating. Honestly, we didn’t. After sorting out our Thai visa at the embassy in the morning, The Koala and I spent the rest of the day apart from our group, touristing around on our own. Haw Phra Kaew or Temple of the Emerald Buddha have lovely grounds and is now a museum of buddha relics. A 45cm jade Buddha figurine was housed here for a time many, many years ago but now resides in a temple in Bangkok, Thailand. Wat Si Saket is just across the road. Come here to see buddha figurines and a temple. How cool is this leaning chair? Then we hopped onto a jumbo. A jumbo is like the Thailand tuk tuk but with 2 benches so that the passengers face each other. They can comfortably fit 6 although you could cram 8 or 9. Tuk tuk seats face forward and comfortably seat 2 adults, although you could cram in 4. Our driver didn’t speak a word of English, but he had …

Vientiane: Joy Restauant on the Mekong Promenade

In the city of Vientiane, the Mekong Promenade is wide, the river being very low during dry season and during the day the promenade is peaceful and quiet. You kind of wonder where is everyone? But come sunset, pop up bars and restaurants line the streets and finding a good spot to watch the changing sky is easy. Just before another pink sunset, we find ourselves at Joy Restaurant on the Mekong Promenade. The colourful display of food entices us and after a Beer Lao or two, we choose a few dishes by physicall pointing instead of choosing from the printed menu. It’s so much better to be able to select from a kitchen rather than trusting translated menus. This allows you to order dishes that look good on that day rather than picking your usual favourites. The wiggling bits coming out of the shells told me that the cockles are still alive. The prawns looked particularly plump. The Koala had never tried cockles before and it’s a novelty to get them at all let alone fresh …

Vientiane: Crickets, Mystery Meat and other Eats.

Our first dinner in Laos was in Vientiane at Khop Chai Deu. Our Intrepid Travel guide, Golf chose this large restuarant/bar not far from the Mekong River for our group dinner. Local dish of steamed fish with banana leaf sounded good to me and The Koala got a butter chicken masala. Some of the others got deep fried crickets. I gave it a whirl and to be honest, it just tasted like nachos. Especially when eaten with a salsa chili type sauce. Is anyone offended by the taste of nachos and a spicy salsa? So, if you can get over any mental or visual phobias of eating deep fried crickets, the taste isn’t something to worry about. As much as we loved eating local foods, we were really craving a standard New Zealand style flat white. We found these coffeeas at JoMa Bakery Cafe (across the road from Khop Chai Deu). These roast vege wraps were good too. The bill for 2 coffees and 2 wraps came to 86,000 kip / $13.70 NZ / $10.70US which is …

Eating laap in Laos

Laap, also spelled larb, larp or laab, was my absolute favourite dish during our epic South East Asia adventure. Laap is made with ground meat, ground sticky rice, fish sauce, lime juice, fresh chili and lots of herbs like mint, coriander and spring onion. The locals eat it with their hands and with sticky rice and raw vegetables. I totally fell in love with this fresh, zingy, savoury dish. Crossing into Laos On a cold mid January morning, we get up early, have a buffet breakfast at our hotel in Vinh, Vietnam and get on a 6am private bus to Laos. It is cold, grey and misty. We take Ho Chi Minh Trail which is a windy path through the mountains and you can see how it could have been used in war against a foreign enemy. The mist is so thick in places you can’t see across to the other side of the valley. Looking out into the heavy mist it’s easy to think that the mountains are on the edge of the world. …

Halong Bay: The Beauty & The Eats

On our second day in Vietnam, we spend the morning on a bus to Halong Bay. We didn’t think were would go to Halong Bay as we only had 2 and half free days in Hanoi, but after 1 full day in The Old Quarter, we decided we’d had enough of the hustle and bustle and booked ourselves onto a Halong Bay tour. Halong translates to Descending Dragon and thousands of limestone peaks jut out from the green sea in an area of about 1500km2. Two million years in the tropical climate have created these unique formations. It is a tourist destination, but for good reason: it really is beautiful. Pick up from our hotel is early and every seat on the bus is accounted for. They have those aisle seats that fold down so that when all bums are on seats, there are no aisles at all. If someone in the back row needs to get out, all 4 aisle row seats need to get up, fold their chair up and get out in order …

Eating a snake and drinking cat poo coffee

Friends of snakes, look away now. Killing and eating a snake was always going to be an interesting experience. I’d read about it online and I had a fair idea of what to expect. We talked to our hotel owner and receptionist about it and they called a taxi for us. Unfortunately the taxi driver hadn’t been briefed and “Le Mat” which was the snake village didn’t seem to ring any bells. It was only after I drew and showed him a picture of snake while we gestured eating motions that he got it. “Ahhhh La Maaaat!”. All good. He drove us to a restaurant and he communicated to us that he would wait outside while we ate. It’s quite normal in SE Asia countries for taxi drivers to wait outside for you. Something that is unheard of in New Zealand unless you’re using an ATM or something super quick. Taxis are very cheap in Vietnam and our return trip including the hour wait while we ate,  cost only 94,000VND / $6NZ / $4.50US. I’d read about …

Delicious Vietnam: Eating In The Old Quarter, Hanoi

Before our epic SE Asia holiday, I had read a few  blogs to inspire my appetite. One of the best was A Food Lover’s Journey by Ahn in Melbourne. Mouthwatering and easily relatable, Ahn is a Vietnamese expat and reading her blog is enough to make anyone crave Vietnamese food. The monthly Delicious Vietnam blogging event conspired by A Food Lover’s Journey and Ravenous Couple was never something I thought I would participate in. When I saw their reminder this month, I realised that it was just about time I wrote about Vietnamese food and our time in Hanoi. Vietnamese food in Auckland There is a lack of Vietnamese restaurants in Auckland, but one of my favourites is Hansan Vietnamese Restaurant. One of those places with cheap, fresh and delicious food, but severely no frills service, my review can be found here. The other Vietnamese place worth mentioning in Auckland is Banh Mi. Who do great filled rolls and all the classic Vietnamese dishes as well. Anticipation “”Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best — ” …

Batu Caves, Monkeys and street art in Kuala Lumpur

We were only in Kuala Lumpur for a day and we only had 1 destination on our itinerary. Everything else was just spontaneous, unplanned, getting lost in a new city. Batu Caves was worth a visit and the KL train system is really good. The return trip from KL Sentral to Batu Caves was 3RM or about $1.30NZ. There is no entrance fee to the caves and the food out there is cheap too so it makes or a cheap way to spend a morning. Perhaps on of the cheapest activities you can do in KL. We arrived a few days shy of the big Hindu festival called Thaipusam so there was a bit of preparatory work going on. The Long-tailed Macaques weren’t aggressive when we were there, but they are quick and love people food. A monkey made off with someone’s drink. We had a curry while were out there. Vegetarian and quite spicy but look how it’s presented on a pretty leaf. I’d seen a food programme where they folded the leaf over when …

Eating Borneo #7 – Christmas in the Jungle

Paganakan Dii A short drive from Sandakan airport we found ourselves at the incredible Paganakan Dii. This accommodation set in the jungle of Sepilok is rated number 1 by both Trip Advisor and Travellers Point reviews. This high rating is well deserved and it is considered to be budget accommodation but don’t let the price tag fool you. Discreetly hidden inside a nature park, this place features 3 long houses with dorm style sleeping as well as private duplexes. The food is good, the beers are reasonable and breakfast is included every day. There is a great common area as well as lots of good spots to just hang out. Discreet driveway leading up to Paganakan Dii. Being tourists at the nature park. This bird loved The Koala to bits. View from a sunbathing deck. A lovely morning in the jungle. Dorms. Basic, but clean and comfortable. Windows and doors beside every bunk. View of the jungle from bed. No glass windows, just mosquito netting and slat shutters. Dorm balcony. My sister Joey brushes her teeth …

Eating Borneo #6 – Sepilok

In Sepilok, we stopped off at a random food court on the side of the road for lunch. I liked the fact that we seemed to be the only tourists here. I ordered a Meehoon Goreng Singapore. It was way too spicy. I suffered through this one and didn’t even get a quarter of the way through before I gave up. The soup it came with was good though. Chicken and mayo with rice. This was nice and mild for The Koala. A’s fried noodles with an egg on top. This is a ubiquitous dish and for good reason. It’s yum, cheap and filling. Cruising in Sandakan On Christmas morning, Mr Aji dropped us back at Sandakan airport where we had a rental car waiting. I’d been a bit worried about renting a car in Borneo. I was worried that we might end up with a clunker on dodgy jungle roads. Instead, the roads were smooth and the car turned out to be a super sweet ride. Because we arrived in Sandakan on Christmas Eve, …

Eating Borneo #5 – Sukau

Mr Aji Tours http://www.mrajiexpeditions.blogspot.com On Christmas Eve, Me, The Koala and A met up with my sister Joey and her boyfriend D at Sandakan airport in the Sabah area of Borneo. Our first day in the area, we met with Mr Aji who chauffeured us in style to Sukau and then onto the Kinabatangan River for an early afternoon river cruise. Mr Aji is a passionate wildlife photographer and had one of the biggest zoom lenses I’ve seen up close. It was incredible to see all the animals in the wild and Mr Aji has a hell of a keen eye. We saw proboscis monkeys leaping from tree to tree, An orangutan mother with her baby, a troop of curious macaques, lots of birds like the rhinoceros hornbill, snake bird, egret, black and white hornbill, eagle, Stockbill and common kingfishers. Because we were on the river earlier and longer than other tours, we had the river to ourselves. The boat driver turned off the engine and we just floated down the river and listen to …

Foodie Treasures from the South East

Some of the foodie treasures I picked up from south east asia. I’ve always wanted a mortar and pestle and making my own green curry from scratch in a cooking school in Chiang Mai made the want a need. Weasel coffee from Vietnam, table cloth, coconut wood salad servers and serving spoon from Thailand I also gifted a package to my work because they were fantastic about letting me holiday for 10 weeks. In their package there was the same chili sauce, weasel coffee, Sabah Tea (from Borneo) and coconut salad servers. I coveted this Thai/Laos style BBQ cooker, a chopping board and a cleaver, but alas, these were not to be found in the usual tourist markets. If anyone knows of a Thai BBQ restaurant in Auckland or where to buy a cooker from, let me know.

Congee. Jook. Rice Soup. Rice Porridge.

I love congee! I love Jook! Chinese congee is usually very mild. Bland even. Even the chicken and scallop version I had for breakfast not long ago in Hong Kong could have done with a little more seasoning. So it was a delight for me to try versions of this dish that other asian countries had to offer. Congee is not something that is found easily in Auckland city. Kiwis don’t really dig it and it’s considered poor people food by those who love it. Not something you would order when you eat out. What’s the difference? The easiest way to differentiate between rice soup and rice porridge is that rice soup is cooked rice in a flavoured broth. In rice soup, the rice and the soup are separate layers. You can have a spoonful of soup and then a spoonful of rice if you please or you can have both at once. Much like noodle soup. Rice porridge has the consistency of porridge because the rice granules are cooked until they break and thicken the soup. …

Eating Brunei

Arriving in Brunei at 7am after a 10 hour flight from Auckland, we were exhausted. We should have given into a few hours nap but with only a day in the tiny sultanate, we foolishly stayed up to be tourists. Nothing was open that early anyway so we hung about the hotel for a couple of hours and had a swim in the pool etc. Really should have taken that nap! Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque. Big, white, gold, in the centre of town. Truly dazzling in the summer sun. Don’t visit without your sunnies! Our first meal was at Food Zone in the shopping complex by the big white mosque in town. Chinese Cuisine can be found here at a fair price. We ordered a Steamed Chicken Set, a Roast Chicken Set (both sets include chicken, chicken rice, pickles, sauces and soup), Sweet & Sour Prawns, Siu Mai (pork dumplings), Ha Gaw (prawn dumplings) and drinks. A measly $24 ($19US) for the lot. Brunei dollar and New Zealand dollar are pretty dollar for dollar, meaning …