Tag Archives: food

Mini trip in Eastern Europe

This week I travelled from Berlin to Kathmandu the long way round – via Budapest and Belgrade. The past week has been a whirlwind, living out of my suitcase and catching sleep on trains and planes wherever possible. Not surprisingly, I’ve caught a cold. This combined with the fact that Mum and Dad have been delayed by two days, leaving me alone in Kathmandu for three nights, means I’m having a chilled out time in Nepal so far despite the constant noise and motion that is Kathmandu.

I left Berlin on Friday night with Bec and we caught a 14 hour train south-east through Germany, The Czech Republic, Slovakia to Budapest, Hungary. The train wasn’t too bad and we managed a few hours sleep although were awoken at 2 a.m. with a creepy man watching us sleep. He soon left us alone and the rest of our trip was much more relaxing. We kept the history to a minimum and spent most of our time swimming in the Szechenyi and Lucasz baths, eating great Hungarian food, drinking chilli coffee and champagne frappes in New York Cafe, and generally admiring the beauty of the city. After being so long in Berlin, which makes up for in cool what it lacks in beauty, we were both in awe of buildings such as Fisherman’s Bastion and St Stephen’s Basilica, especially lit up at night. We also went to the Szechenyi bath party (Sparty) on Saturday night – think thermal pool plus DJ plus 500 drunk backpackers. Crazy fun but crazy gross by the end of the night. The one museum we visited was Hospital in the Rock, which was an underground hospital and nuclear shelter kept secret from the Soviets until 2002.

On Tuesday Bec and I left Budapest headed in opposite directions – she home to Berlin and I on another train south, this one to Belgrade, Serbia. Figuring on a lack of bread in Asia, I left her with my jar of Vegemite but the airport security staff took it away from her! I guess they wanted it for themselves, they’re only human.

With less than 48 hours in Belgrade I had to be choosy about what to do. On the morning of my first day I took a walking tour which was a good way to see a lot and learn about the city in three hours. Then I walked the length of the main road of the city to the biggest Catholic cathedral in the Balkans, Saint Sava temple. The outside is white and majestic, but the inside isn’t finished – not even close. It’s all concrete but I found this interesting in itself. I also met an ancient Serbian woman and we had a broken conversation in which we somehow managed to exchange names, nationalities and the fact that Christianity is common in Australia but I’m not religious. Amazing!

Belgrade has been voted the best nightlife in Europe, so luckily I was staying in a social hostel called Hedonist where we soon had a group of about 10 people wanting to go out, including an American expat who wanted to take us to his favourite bars. So all of us – Aussies, Swedes, Yankees and Canadians had a beer in a bar along the Sava river and then crossed a bridge into Novi Beograd (New Belgrade) which has a bunch of boats and barges converted into bars and clubs. We went to one that played the strangest mix of music from the ’80s to now of every genre imaginable and in no logical atmospheric order. Prince would become Kings of Leon would become a South American dance song.

It was a late night and the next day I packed up on about three hours’ sleep and said goodbye to my new friends. I could easily have spent more time in Belgrade and the rest of Eastern Europe, but was due to meet Mum and Dad in Nepal. I flew to Kathmandu via a 10 hour stopover in Qatar bringing my travel time to almost 24 hours. As mentioned Mum and Dad’s flight was delayed so they are currently spending two nights in Kuala Lumpur.

As soon as I landed I recognised the familiar smells and heavy, humid air of Asia. Kathmandu is as chaotic as expected. Dumplings, curry, spices and chilli. Electricity blackouts every day. Incense, temples, hippie pants (regular clothing will be my biggest readjustment back in Sydney). Watching every step to avoid giant holes in the road. Endless car horns and motorcycle horns. Three months in Europe was awesome but Asia feels like coming home.

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The architecture of Belgrade: Communism meets early 19th Century meets modernity

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Looking over to Novi Beograd with the boat bars in the Sava river

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The Saint Sava temple

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Bec may call me the Map Queen but maps were no help to me here.

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Birthday, lady boys and other highlights of Pai, second time around

Happy birthday me! Such a strange birthday this year as I’m in transit between Pai and China. Left Pai yesterday after 3.5 weeks and caught a bus with a friend all the way down to Bangkok. Slept really well thanks to a Sangsom (Thai rum) nightcap! When I woke up in Bangkok this morning it took about 15 minutes for me to remember that it was my birthday. I’m killing time in Bangkok today and flying to China tonight.

Reflecting on a few of the funny things that have happened over the past few weeks and thought I’d consolidate it into one post, because I’ve been a bit lazy with the blog lately.

1. Ladyboy massage
I love ladyboys, they’re so fabulous, but I never thought I’d spend an hour being rubbed intimately by one. Still, not a bad massage!

2. Meditation
A cafe in town does a free 30-minute guided massage three times a week and I wanted to give it a try. I’d never done meditation before but thought it would be good for me. I went four times and while I’m not very good at turning my brain off, I’d like to try it some more.

3. Being the longest-serving student during my last training session
I knew it was time to move on when, in my last Muay Thai session, I was the person who had been training at Charn Chai the longest (eight weeks). I got to lead the abdominal session at the end, which was a dream come true haha. Power trip…

4. Eating chicken blood, chicken tendons, raw pork…
I think I mentioned earlier that this time in Pai I ate my meals at the gym. It’s all local market or home cooked food, a lot of it rather mysterious. Coagulated chicken blood in soup broth, raw minced pork, deep fried chicken tendons – and I didn’t even get sick!

5. Valentine’s Day rose
I should have realised in advance, judging by the overly dramatic Thai soapies and music video clips, that the Thais would be nuts for Valentine’s Day. As I mentioned in my last post, I woke up on the 14th to find a rose from the guy who managed my guest house (who has a girlfriend and a new baby). Not such a welcome gift, actually.

6. Thai honesty
I was told twice in 24 hours by Thai men that I should do more exercise because I’m ‘too big’. One of them followed up the next day by asking if I’d weighed myself yet. When I explained that Western women don’t like men commenting on their weight, he said ‘I know, that’s why I’m telling you, so that you know’. I think he might have missed the point.

7. Hello Kitty wheels
As I was staying a few kilometres out of town, my guest house provided a bike for me to use. Best part was that it was a hot pink, Hello Kitty, double seater bicycle and it was my constant companion for three weeks. I went everywhere on it, gave people lifts on the back, and actually crashed it one Saturday night trying to ride down the main street with a friend on the back (no major injuries though!). Sangsom strikes again…

My time ended with a three-day birthday celebration – a barbeque at the gym on Saturday night, ice cream sundaes on Sunday and tonight, I’m staying in a nice hotel when I land in Guangzhou, China. Here’s to 24 being as fun as 23.

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Birthday girls Tai and I – note the kilos of icing on those cakes

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Andre and I leaving Pai for our 13-hour bus trip to Bangkok

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Pad work with Turbo

Life in Pai – again

I’m back in Pai to regroup, settle and plan for a few weeks. Having been on the move for the best part of three months through Cambodia, Laos and the south of Thailand I was in need of a familiar and easy place to call home before heading to China on the 25th of Feb.

I’ve had a lot of downtime and exercise, both of which I’d been craving. I’m training only once a day unlike last time, meaning I have a lot of free time. I’ve finally shaken a chest cough I’d had for about a month, I’m feeling fit and healthy again and I’m only eating out once a day. My other meal is at the gym – straight after each training session we gorge ourselves on food from the markets. It’s mostly chicken, pork, vegetables, soups and white rice but I’ve tried a lot of new dishes which has been great! Eg: pork that may or may not be raw, deep-fried boiled eggs and bamboo soup.

There’s some really nice people training at the moment with whom I’ve been having some meals and drinks. So all in all, it feels very homely and simple. It’s high season in Pai at the moment and I’m really noticing the influx of tourists! As much as I’m loving being here, I’ll be glad to move out of SE Asia for a few weeks and have a change of scenery in China.

In my free time I’ve been putting together a rough itinerary for China and trying to plan my next few months. I’ve booked a flight to Russia but not sure if I’m going to be able to get a visa, so Vietnam may be on the cards instead.

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My cute bungalow – I’m staying a short bike ride from town. I’m loving how quiet it is out here in the paddocks.

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On my first day back in Pai I ran into Annette and Christine from Sydney! Such a weird coincidence. We had an awesome week hanging out before they moved on to Laos.

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This was sitting on my doorstep this morning. A not so welcome gift from my overly attentive landlord (who has a girlfriend who gave birth to his first child three days ago. Seriously Thai men, WTF?).

Post-apocalyptic Vang Vieng and Christmas in Luang Prabang

ImageAimee and I going crazy from too much time on buses. Facial expression unplanned.Image

 

 

I’m back in Vientiane after a circuit of the north of Laos and it feels like I’ve been gone much longer than one week. We survived the end of the world in Vang Vieng on 21st December then celebrated Christmas in Luang Prabang.

Vang Vieng was an interesting one. The town is famous for tubing on the Nam Song river, infamous for the bars, ziplines and swings that caused 22 deaths in 2011. As a result of an Australian woman’s campaigning, all the bars have been closed recently and the ziplines removed – meaning fewer tourists and many businesses closing down in the town. Vang Vieng is now eerily quiet, the tourism-oriented main part of town a ghost of what I imagine it was like six months ago.
During the day the streets are empty as the few remaining tourists explore the river and the caves and waterfalls in the beautiful mountains surrounding the town. I’m not trying to discourage people from visiting, it’s still a stunning town and a great place to chill out. If you’ve been travelling for a while you’ll be glad to buy Aussie burgers, Tim Tams, even Vegemite. At night everyone drinks in one bar, and when that closes at 11pm due to the Laos curfew, some head to a local club called The Moon. This was a highlight – it seems to be a prerequisite of the job of a Lao DJ to stop the music every thirty seconds, start yelling random things at the crowd and/or sing along over the microphone. The locals were lots of fun to dance with, it was popular with lady boys and gay guys as well.
The tubing itself is still fun, provided you’re prepared to bring the fun yourself. Aimee and I were lucky to find some people to go down the river with, we took our own beers and just enjoyed the river for the stunning scenery, cool water and laughs with new friends. We saw only two other groups of people.
The bus trip to Luang Prabang was the most beautiful one I’ve done – a narrow dirt road winding through untouched mountains, just amazing. Christmas in Luang Prabang was a bit different to the usual one for me but we had lots of delicious food, champagne breakfast and presents. Slow cooked buffalo for lunch wasn’t my traditional feast but still delicious. And we managed to find Lindt chocolate, the best chocolate I’ve had since leaving Australia, so we smashed about four blocks.
We caught a night bus from Luang Prabang back to Vientiane last night and have made a vow today not to do any more. We always end up sleeping the whole next day anyway. The only activity we had the energy for today was to get a haircut. My first visit to an Asian hair salon went well, the $6 shampoo, cut and blow dry was better than some haircuts I’ve had back in Oz that cost me a lot more! Now I have a lovely Asia-style blow dry.
Laos has been a blast, and we managed to do it pretty well given our limited time of two weeks. We’re off to the south of Thailand tomorrow for New Year’s and two weeks of sun, cocktails and hammocks.

Life on the Cambodian seaside

The past few days since leaving Otres have been a bit of a whirlwind with limited internet (which was refreshing in itself). The crew split up on Monday with Beccy hopping a bus to Bangkok, Cass to Phnom Penh, Matt to Vietnam and Ruby, Aimee and I to Kampot. It was hard to leave Otres (we had been trying to do so for about five days, unsuccessfully) but I think we were all finally ready to hit the road after a week of lying on the beach.

 
Kampot was an easy two hour trip in a mini bus from Sihanookville. Every seat was full and all fifteen backpacks had to be squeezed and tied into the tiny bootspace, with the door to the boot tied closed. We were sitting in the backseat so the hot air coming in kind of defeated the purpose of the air conditioning, but can’t complain when it was such a short trip.
 
Kampot is a pretty French colonial town, wide, quiet streets, river running through the middle and lovely old buildings. We had a health kick and went running and did Pilates sessions both mornings we were there, getting up early to beat the heat – I think the local fishermen bringing in the catch were pretty amused by us whities running along the broadwalk by the river.
 
We visited an abandoned French town called Bakor Hill Station but the highlight was visiting the new casino built up there. They have plans to turn the National Park into a ritzy gambling town of 2,000 houses with some huge hotels and the casino. At the moment though, there is only the casino with about two guests and one hundred staff standing around wondering what to do with themselves. No idea how they are keeping it open.

We also went on a river ‘cruise’ on a little wooden boat with the loudest putt putt motor, and saw the best sunset of my life. The entire sky kept changing colours, red, pink, just amazing.

 
After two nights in Kampot we had an even shorter bus trip to Kep, which we pretty much visited for the Kampot pepper crab (Kampot pepper is actually grown in Kep). We treated ourselves to a stay in an eco-resort in the mountains. It had a pool with nibbling fish, we spent about two hours having the dry skin eaten off our feet!
 
And yes the crab was to die for – the three of us had a seafood extravaganza with cocktails in the most famous seafood restaurant in Kep, right on the water, for $14 each. Our most expensive meal so far by a long shot but still so cheap.
 
The next afternoon we hired a boat to take us 4.5 kms offshore to Rabbit Island, which has thirty bungalows and a handful of restaurants selling beer and seafood dinner. We arrived just in time to rent a bungalow for the night (very basic, two double beds, four hours of power a day, cold shower, $4 each), walk along the beach and swim while the sun went down.
 
That night after more delicious seafood and splitting a bottle of rum with two new friends, two Australian girls, we went swimming to see some bioluminescence – the algae that glows at night with movement of the water. There was SO MUCH! We only had to go a few metres out and it was all around us, you could see it in the breaking waves and could make out where nearby fish were by the glowing circles. You could even catch it and put it on your body where it would glow for a minute or so before dying (sorry algae). Because it was so dark there were also heaps of stars and we saw some shooting ones – just a beautiful, beautiful night. Sometimes I really can’t believe where I am!
 
The next morning we were off the island early at 7.30am to catch two buses all the way to the opposite side of the country, arriving in Battambang last night.

Otres and Phnom Penh

Well, look at that, a week has passed and I haven’t written anything… That pretty much sums up life on Otres Beach. 
 
After three nights in Phnom Penh the crew (Aimee, Beccy, Matt and myself) headed south to Otres, a tiny beach town near the better known Sihanookville. It had been recommended by some friends as a less busy, cleaner and nicer beach to chill out.
 
After the first day and night we liked the place but thought we’d stay just one more night…but obviously we had yet to truly embrace the Otres lifestyle, and each day we grew to meet more people, chill out more and delay our departure. Here I am on my sixth and final night!
 
It’s been a fairly uneventful but really fun week, hours spent lying on the beach taking in the occasional massage or pedicure from the passing hawkers, eating amazingly fresh and cheap seafood, downing Angkor beers and relaxing in hammocks.
 
One highlight was two days ago when one of the local bar owners hired a boat and driver and invited us to an island called Koh Te Kiev. Thirteen of us piled our swimmers, sunscreen and beers into the rickety wooden boat (about three safety vests between us!) and sailed out to an all but deserted tropical island paradise. I say all but deserted because we found our way to one of the two camp sites there and enjoyed an afternoon in the hammocks, swimming, snorkelling and even had a fresh fish curry and a beer for lunch.
 
It’s awesome having Aimee here, she flew in from Sydney last Sunday and within about ten minutes it was like we’d never been separated. Already loving having her here, and I’m sure there’s lots of adventures ahead, she’s here for two months.
 
Phnom Penh was good – it’s a bit of a gangster city, grungy, dirty but a great culture. There’s a growing alternative music scene. The Khmer also have a great family culture in the evenings of going out to public parks and waterfront areas for activities like soccer and these group dance classes – very funny. 
 
We went to S-21 and the Killing Fields which were both intense – possibly more so than when I went to Dachau Concentration camp in Munich because these were less sanitised and the events more recent. Walking through the killing fields there were still fragments of clothing and bone at the sites of the mass graves. It was confronting to think that it all took place in the 1970s and the rest of the world didn’t even know what was happening.
 
On a much lighter note, the best meal of Phnom Penh was a local beer garden/restaurant with local specialities including ‘aquatic plant with ant eggs’ and ‘roti with chicken breath’. Thought some things had been lost in translation but we were actually served ants and their eggs in a garlic sauce with a spinach type vegetable, and chicken necks (roti apparently meaning rotisserie/BBQd and breath = throat/neck). Both surprisingly delicious! We also had some great fish and noodles and other yummies.
 
Anyway, it’s 3am here and we have a bus to Kampot in the morning, but I’m having trouble sleeping due to the party currently going on downstairs at our hostel, and the generator powering that party right next to our room! The real price of a $5 bed in paradise I think…

 

On the road again

It’s eight weeks today since I left Australia and I’m on the move again for the first time in over five weeks.

 
I left Pai on Monday after a final training session in the morning. Five weeks of Muay Thai complete – I absolutely loved it and I know I’ll miss it so much. I’m already planning to check out some of the other gyms when I’m in the south of Thailand in January with Aimee, I’ve heard about good ones in Krabi and Koh Lanta.
 
It was time to leave Pai though – most of my closest friends had left, apart from those who will always be there if I want to go back to visit, also, my body couldn’t take much more of the training. I’m really glad I was able to be flexible about when I was leaving, because it would have been terrible to have had to leave before I was ready.
 
I left Pai with a crew of people heading to Chiang Mai because an Aussie guy was fighting that night. It was an awesome night with Guy winning by knock out in the third round. We had a big night afterwards and one of the boys ended up taking a lady boy home by accident! I don’t think he really minded though, making it even funnier.
 
The next day (yesterday) was a bit of a downer for me, with the others heading back home to Pai and me staying in Chiang Mai. I cheered myself up with a night at Bunchun, a hostel I stayed in for three nights, five weeks ago before I went to Pai. It was really good to catch up with the guy who runs it, who is a very camp Thai artist. He runs the hostel out of a tiny apartment, so there’s just eight mattresses which are spread over his living room floor. A couple are inside tents, and the whole place is painted bright green and decorated with a papier-mache tree, games and stuffed toys, and pets including a teacup chihuahua and two tiny squirrels.
 
Luckily for me, given my hangover and my functioning on three hours’ sleep, he didn’t try to take me gay clubbing (that happened last time I stayed) and I caught up on some sleep before today’s bus trip to Sukhothai. Sukhothai is five hours south and I arrived at 7.30pm tonight. Just returned from a little bike ride around the city and I’m getting good vibes despite the fact that I just had a particularly strange meal of very watery rice, tofu and ‘pork’ (read: mystery meat) in gravy. Nothing that a chocolate milk and some dragon fruit for dessert can’t cure though!
 
So, here I am on the road again, my life on my back and making like a turtle down south to Bangkok. I’m taking my time and checking out some of the smaller cities ahead of my flight to Cambodia on Saturday afternoon. Feels nice to be back in civilisation and back in the real Thailand after spending so long in the little oasis of Pai.