Little India, Kuala Lumpur

Stopping in Kuala Lumpur seemed like a logical thing to do; we didn’t fancy the idea of many flights in a row and had to fly into somewhere as the starting point for getting back to Laos, so since we know our way around KL pretty well now, and have our regular hotel and restaurants, that’s what we did.  One of the main things we were looking forward to was eating our favourite Masala Dosai that we’ve found so far – in a little restaurant very near to our hotel.  We managed to do that once per day over the 3 days we were there.  We also found our new favourite Assam Laksa place, conveniently right next door to the Masala Dosai place, so we reckon we’ve got it completely sorted now!  We decided to do our usual KL activity and see a movie in the Petronas Towers, and also paid a visit to Little India, where we have been briefly before but have never explored so much as we did this time.  Overall it was nice to just chill out and do not much at all, which was exactly what we had wanted in KL.

Little India, Kuala Lumpur

Life in Luang Namtha

Luang Namtha

We’ve had a chilled out few weeks, mainly motorbiking around Luang Namtha.  We’ve also been renovating the kitchen with new larger benches, and also upstairs in the shop, putting bamboo on the walls up there as well and getting it ready for next high season.  There’s been lots of laughs again with the builders and lots of minor mishaps that have been worked out.  We had to wonder why the guy who made the new benches brought his tape measure along and measured everything, when the benches that turned up were completely different measurements to what we needed.  In the end though we managed with a bit of ingenuity to make it fit along with the other one so everything worked out fine!

Forest Retreat Laos, Luang NamthaOur friend Shahu who owns the Indian restaurant in town and his wife San had their baby and we attended the baby party.  Traditionally when a baby is one month old the parents have a baby party which is a Baci ceremony (string tying ceremony) where everyone wishes good luck to the parents and child and asks all parts of the child’s soul to come into his/her body for the best possible start and protection in life.

Luang Namtha Baci CeremonyBaci Ceremony Luang Namtha
The rice fields are now beginning to be planted so it’s really nice to see some green returning to the area.  We’ve spent a lot of time in rice paddy huts watching a lot of sunsets over the newly planted rice, it’s really cool to see the new fields filled with water and the sunset reflecting them. We’re now really looking forward to the return of the thousands of dragonflies that hover over the rice fields once the rice has grown some more.  Living here really is so interesting and so much fun for us – the diverse wildlife and views dependent on the time of year are constantly inspiring.  We even continue to discover new fruits – we thought that now we’ve been here over a year that we would have seen all the jungle fruit, but this month there have been two new ones that we didn’t see last year – and one of them is even a little bit like feijoa which is pretty cool!  Now that the shop is running itself, we’ve also started planning our next project for Luang Namtha – this one’s going to be even more exciting… we can’t wait!

Luang Namtha rice fields and sunset

Luang Prabang

We spent most of our time in Luang Prabang just chilling out and visiting a few things that we really loved last time, as well as visiting a few new temples. It was nice to spend time around the river, and just wandering around town.

Luang Prabang temple guard, Laos

We climbed Phou Si mountain again to watch the mist float off the mountains in the morning and it was still really cool to do it again a second time.

Early morning mist over the Nam Khan river and Luang Prabangs surrounding mountains, Laos

This time we were quite amazed at how much more touristy Luang Prabang has become – not surprised at the tourism numbers themselves because Laos is fast gaining it’s reputation as an amazing place to visit – just surprised at how it is being handled. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we were quite shocked to find that all of the temples now charge entrance fees, and have shops selling junk food and trinkets to tourists either inside the temple, or just outside. It seems somehow wrong to take these beautiful historical buildings and turn them into crass shop stalls to make another buck from falang. The idea of charging entrance fees for temple upkeep seems a good one, and in many parts of Laos this really does help towards maintaining and repairing the temples; it was sad to see that the temples with the highest entrance fees had rubbish in the grounds from the shop/stall vendors who were selling packaged products, and no rubbish bins around either, so fees are clearly just being pocketed and not used positively.

Also now there are signs up around LP saying that the morning alms giving for the monks has become such a huge tourist attraction that now they are trying to discourage tourists from purchasing sticky rice from the morning vendors – apparently now instead of locals giving to the monks, they prefer to sell products to the tourists to give to them; a strange paradox – the monks are still getting fed which has to be a good thing, but some locals are worried that the religious significance of the alms has gone. Very interesting to see the progress (if you can call it that?) of this town.

One of Luang Prabangs many temples, Laos

Anyway, we had a pleasant few days checking out Luang Prabang again, it was really nice to be back and we’re sure we’ll return again at some point! Our photos are here.

One year in Asia

One year ago today, 10th June 2010, we landed in Bali and began our Asian Adventure.  In the past year, we have seen and experienced more than we could have imagined before we left home.

The year has been filled with contrasts – both highlights and lowlights, too many to mention, but here are a few that come to mind:

Well, obviously, the connections we’ve made with the amazing people of Luang Namtha.  Thong, Paet, Mona, Kumbai, Pon, Bunmee, Alack, Udon, Un, Enic, Moneylen, Lai, Shahu, Deng, we love you all.  And of course the Forest Retreat Laos project.

Bukit Lawang – seeing Orang Utans face to face was amazing.

Halong Bay – thoroughly impressed even though Vietnam did not.

Seeing some of the most disgusting toilets on earth.

Watching someone die in a motorbike accident, with no helmet, and brains on the road.

Sunrise on Phou Si mountain in Luang Prabang – amazing.

Enduring many hours on public transport – discovering amazing first class buses, and not so amazing buses.

The kids.  Everywhere the kids are beautiful.  Especially Laos.  And Indonesia.

Emma, Eric, Tricia, Louise, Deniss, Fafa, Ying, Ben, Bo, you guys touched our hearts and we look forward to meeting again.

Food, glorious food.  We love the amazing food in Asia.

Unexpectedly falling in love with a country and town…. who would’ve thought?

We have put together some photos of the year, as well as a video.  The majority of the photos have never been on this site before, and the video is very ametuer but should provide some light entertainment.  Enjoy!

Our photos of our first year in Asia are here.

Our video can be viewed below.

Boppin’ around Luang Namtha

We have spent a week or so riding around again, we decided we should try to see the old stupa, the Lao Lao distillery, and the local handicraft village.  So far, we only managed the first one, because we rode around for an entire day trying to find the other 2 places (with a map!) and couldn’t find them ;) partly because many roads were impassable due to mud (it’s now rainy season), and partly because reading Lao maps takes a special skill that we haven’t yet aquired.  Lao maps are hand-drawn and depict an alternate reality to the one the appears before us.  Oh well.  Next time we will take Thong with us to show us where they are.  We also rode on the road to Boten, the other Chinese border, which was also really beautiful in a different way to the Muang Sing road.  Every time we ride somewhere around here it reminds us why we’re here – apart from the amazing people – this place is just stunning.  The scenery is like nothing else and we feel on top of the world when we’re here.

In addition to that, we’ve had many more delectable meals with Thong and Paet (including with many of their friends who met us at the funeral and have now invited us for dinner).  Paet still amazes us with her cooking prowess – she cooks at least 5 or 6 dishes for each meal (including lunch, where she comes home from work, gets changed into her cooking clothes, proceeds to cook all of the dishes as well as rice, presents it all beautifully, sits down to eat with us and then rushes back to work in her army nurse uniform!) and all of them are always delicious.  We love it how all of the food changes seasonally depending on what you can get from the jungle that day/week/month.  Lao imports (and exports) almost nothing and eats solely what is available from the land in the local area.  It’s a pretty cool way to live!  Especially when there are about a million different kinds of herbs and vegetables and fruits so there is always plentiful choice of ingredients.  It’s awesome being able to eat tropical fruits as well as temperate species in the same area such as mangoes and lychees as well as nectarines and brocolli.  Frogs are also currently in season, the entire body is eaten, not just the legs.  Ant eggs are very popular now too.

Paet also decided it was time Karen become an honorary Lao woman and made her an awesome Lao skirt with handwoven fabric.  Since then all of the women come up to talk about the skirt and they all think it’s very exciting that a falang has a Lao skirt.

Next we are off to Thailand again, to buy some supplies for ‘Project Laos’ (more information to follow) and to expand Thong’s  horizons – he has never left Lao before and we are taking him and Paet with us (Paet has been to Chiang Rai before for one night).  It should be an interesting adventure!  Our photos are here.

A beachy life

The past few weeks on Lanta have been pretty similar to the first, although we had a crazy storm which saw the beach have waves for the first time ever according to the locals.  We have spent a lot of time with Ben and Fafa, our French friends, and Ben’s wife Bo and Fafa’s girlfriend Ying.

We have also spent lots of time on the beach, riding around and visiting many different beaches.  We have now been on all the roads in the entire island so have a pretty good lay of the land.  Our favourite beaches remain the ones from 2 beaches north of where we live, our main beach across the road, and the many pristine deserted beaches of the south.

We have seen a huge number of elephants lately too.  On the beach, on the side of the road, walking down the street, swimming, it has been great.  They seem to be everywhere on this island and it has become really normal to see them around the place.  We also have an Eagle that visits our house almost daily and have had tree frogs and huge praying mantis’s visit us as well.

Because the rainy season is coming we have also had a lot of insanely beautiful sunsets which has been really awesome.  By the end of this week, we will be able to officially say we have spent 2 months on a Thai beach, which was actually something we said we wanted to do before we came on this trip, so mission accomplished!  With all the people we have met and things we’ve done here, we really feel like we were meant to come here and it was a good thing that we didn’t make it into Cambodia just yet.  Plenty of time for that!  Our photos are here.

Insights after travelling in SE Asia for 10 months…

Just a few insights after travelling in south-east Asia for ten months:

You know when you have been in Asia a long time when….

1. It seems completely normal to have chilli on your breakfast.

2. You don’t bat an eyelid when you see someone washing his or her elephant in the ocean.

3. You are most attracted to restaurants that don’t have any English signage as this is where you get the best local foods.

4. You have been bitten by at least 7 identifiably different species of mosquito and 6 species of ants.

5. Your normal state while doing any outdoor daytime activity is profuse sweating.

6. Huge insects no longer grab your attention like they used to, now you are looking for super-huge insects!

7. Gecko shit is a part of everyday life.

8. You have tried ALL the crazy ass fruits and vegetables!

9. You have a favourite local food place for each local delicacy.

10. Sticky rice becomes your bread replacement.

11. You are amused by other tourists taking photos of shops and streets, which now appear completely normal to you.

12. Meals without copious amounts of various types of chilli just don’t seem right.

13. You can tell when food doesn’t come with MSG by taste alone.

14. At the start you wouldn’t eat fish with bones, now you not only sift through sharp bones, you happily chow down on fish head like the locals do.

15. You can correctly identify all the European accents of your fellow travellers, and feel well aquainted enough with Asian countries to spot the Asian tourists from “out of town” and know which country they come from based on sight.

16. You realise that you can recognise many of the different Asian languages and often understand enough to know which language you are hearing.

17. You know which type of chilli (dried, fresh, in fish sauce, in oil, pickled) goes best with what dish.

18. Crazy Asian hair-raising public transport becomes pretty normal.

19. You know the locals will quickly realise you are not just a farang (foreigner) you are a local!

20. You have seen every conceivable spelling mistake known to man.

21. You know all the train, bus and flight timetables around Asia off by heart.

22. You can predict which dessert snacks are going to be salty!

23. Things like toast, mashed potato, peas, hummous, salmon and western herbs are elevated to such a celebrated status you engage in hour long conversations with other long term travellers in their honour.

24. A ten hour bus trip is not much of a drama.

25. Stones, wood and bugs in your food are an expected weekly feature and no longer surprise you like they used to.

It’s funny cos it’s true…

This one’s for you, Bobbo

A couple of weeks back Dre’s sister Kate asked us if we would post some photos of the food we have been eating on Koh Lanta along with ingredients so that she could make similar dishes at home.  There are several dishes that we regularly eat here (some of them almost every day) that we haven’t actually found anywhere else in Thailand.  Our favourite one is Kao Yum.

Kao Yum:  (amounts are approximate – change as you like!)
1 cup of cooked rice
6 kaffir lime leaves, very finely sliced with stems removed
2 stalks lemongrass, only the white parts, very finely sliced (remove the outer tough bits)
3 tablespoons shredded dried fish
2 tablespoons lighly cooked fresh coconut scrapings (kind of like desiccated coconut, but fresh)
1-3 teaspoons of dried chilli flakes
juice of 1/2 lime
optional:  3 tablespoons rice bubbles
4-5 tablespoons of sweetened thick soy sauce (ours is freshly made with lots of soy bean chunks)
Mix all of these together and this is the main part of the dish, which is always accompanied by copious amounts of garnishes / veges which you can either mix into the dish or have on the side, such as:
green baby mango
green or red papaya
young green jackfruit
green beans
raw eggplant (seriously you can’t survive SEA without learning to love raw eggplant!)
herbs – the common one looks like flat parsley/coriander and tastes lemony and spicy or there is another one similar to chives
and one vegetable which we still can’t identify

Another really popular dish that you can get almost everywhere here is ‘Bun Noodles’ (Khanom jiin naam yaa).  We think that the English translation to bun noodles might be because when served at a restaurant (usually only at a bun noodle restaurant!  Usually this is the only dish that you can get at the place) the freshly made noodles are in a round ‘bun’ and the sauce is spooned on top.  We have both accidentally become complete noodle snobs – after watching fresh noodles being made in front of us most of the time in Laos before we ate them, and now also getting fresh noodles made for us in Koh Lanta, now when we order noodles at another place we always know if they are a few days old / older than this is almost not worth eating – and the thought of instant noodles is just bad.  Don’t go there.  Anyway…

Khanom jiin naam yaa:
Freshly made ball of rice noodles about the size of a cup
1/2 cup of spicy yellow coconut curry sauce, made with fish, tumeric and tamarind.  No actual fish pieces make it into the dish, smaller bits basically dissolve and larger bits of flesh are not put into the sauce in the first place.  You can also sometimes get a vegetable jungle curry sauce.
If you get this at a restaurant, it comes with a huge (say 60cm across) round tray of vegetables, pretty much a mixture of the garnish veges mentioned above but also including loads of leaves – which are young shoots off trees.  Many unidentified tree leaves have been consumed while eating this dish!  If you get a takeaway version, then a mixture of the veges just comes in your bag.

Another dish we eat slightly less regularly than the above two is a version of Pad Thai ‘noodles and egg’ .  What makes this dish nicer than average is the sauce.

Noodles and Egg:
2 cups of fresh rice noodles – pad thai width – fried in soy sauce
a beaten egg, cooked and sliced
a handful of sprouts
a handful of herbs (usually the lemon spicy one or the chives-like one)
sometimes some veges, or not, depending on your luck
Then add 3-4 tablespoons sauce:
chopped fresh chilli
lime juice
lots of finely chopped ginger
tiny bit of vinegar
liquid or dissolved sugar
The main taste in the sauce is sweet limey ginger.  Yum.

Finally, when the other 3 dishes are sold out, we get rice soup.  Rice soup is actually really awesome from restaurants and usually contains heaps of veges (although nowhere in Thailand even comes close to how good it is in northern Laos!), but from our roadside stall ladies near our house, it is good, but usually lacking veges and not quite as amazing as the other dishes.

Rice Soup:
1 cup red or white rice
Cook rice in stock of your choice, usually fish stock
herbs of your choice
add as many veges and seafood as you like
Sprinkle pepper and chilli on top or mix in
2 tablespoons dried fried onion on top
freshly grated/finely sliced ginger on top
coriander on top
Optional:  dried salted fish on top or mixed in (think: saltiest fish in the world)

So there you have it, 4 mostly-easy-to-make dishes that we eat on pretty much a daily basis.  We hope you enjoy making and eating these!!

Visa run veterans

This time we decided to do our visa run to Malaysia on our terms.  Last time if you recall our minibus off the island to Trang was 2 hours late, the seats we had paid for had been given away by the driver to his friends and we missed connections because of it!  Originally we were going to spend this month in Malaysia, but life on Koh Lanta is too good so we have decided to stay here a bit longer.

So we took our motorbike to Trang, a few hours south of here.  It was going to be way too hard core even for us to ride all the way to Malaysia (especially on our little, old, crappy scooter), so we got the bus from Trang and then the train from Hat Yai to KL.

We didn’t actually take any photos in Malaysia, instead we went to the movies.  3 times in one day!  (Since the Petronas towers in KL are now our official movie viewing place in all of SE asia!)  And then came back, riding the bike back from Trang.  We were exceptionally lucky that on the way there, it was mainly cloudy so we didn’t fry in the sun, and then on the way back we rode into the sunset for most of the way, then we got hit by a tropical storm that seem to have become pretty common in the last week or so, lucky we brought our raincoats!  After the rain stopped and we figured out we weren’t lost it was pretty fun winding the little Mio up to max speed in the swirling mist.  After last time, we learned a lot about how not to do visa runs, so this time was comparitively a breeze. :-)

So if anyone wants to do a visa run to Malaysia from the south of Thailand, just ask us we are now self proclaimed experts….just dont ask us for directions out of Trang city, not even Google maps could help us there!

Life on Lanta

Firstly, we just want to say thanks to all the people who have contacted us out of concern or impatience because we haven’t updated the site for so long.  It’s nice to know that some people actually read this!  :-) Basically we have just been being lazy, or having fun, or spending time at the beach, rather than on the internet.

The past month we have been living in a little house on Koh Lanta, in south western Thailand.  It has been heavenly!  We have a huge room, all the mod cons such as a fridge, kettle, (Yay!!  Cups of tea and coffee in our own room, without having to go out!  The only other place we can do that is Luang Namtha.) cable TV, (with 3 movie channels!  OMG, it’s been 10 months since we’ve watched TV!), air con and a huge balcony overlooking heaps of trees including palm trees.  There are lots of birds and squirrels always in the trees so it’s quite entertaining to sit on the balcony for hours.  We are also a few minutes walk to the beach, (about 30 seconds on our motorbike) and our French friends Ben and Fafa live just across the road and we have spent a lot of time with them.

A typical day pretty much consists of:  get up and go for a run on the beach and then a swim, come home, Dre take scooter to fruit and food stall – Thai’s laugh at Dre for eating like a local, have the nicest mango and pineapple in the world for breakfast (seriously!) plus other fruits, sit on the balcony/read for a while, go to the gym at the resort across the road, go for a swim at the resort, laze by the pool at the resort, have lunch, visit Ben and Fafa for some out of this world homemade icecream/sorbet/talking/chilling, watch sunset and swim again, have a lazy evening at one of our favourite restaurants, watch a movie.  So, very domesticated!

We have visited the annual Lanta festival, been to many deserted beaches, and went to the most fun party of our lives (even better than Shapeshifter!!) hosted by DJ Fafa, we danced for about 8 hours and then showed our age the next day by pretty much not being able to do anything other than eat, sleep and swim.

We are starting to appreciate why many regions in south-east Asia so many people celebrate the coming of the rainy season, April is meant to be the hottest month and the past week has been SO hot.  High 30’s every day and then the  past few days this has been broken by rain for an hour or so in the late afternoon which is such a welcome relief.  It has made for some amazing sunsets and is awesome because it cools everything down for the evening and night.  Tomorrow we are off to Malaysia again because our 1 month visa is up already!  Our photos are here.