Tag - asia

Food and Drink in Laos

Food and Drink in Laos
Food and Drink in Laos
Food and Drink in Laos

Food in Laos is similar to northern Thai food, yet with its own unique twist. Rice is as popular here as in the rest of Asia, although in Laos sticky rice known as khao niaow is served instead of long grained rice. Sticky rice comes in bamboo containers and is eaten with your hands, usually dipped in a selection of spicy sauces.

The French influence in Laos can be found in the cuisine and baguettes filled with pâte known as khao jii pat-te are delicious at any time of the day, especially for breakfast served with kaafeh thung – rich and tasty Lao coffee. Lao coffee usually comes with a thick layer of condensed milk at the bottom, or black – kaafeh dam.

International food is widely available in tourist towns and in Vientiane, the country’s capital, where you will also find a great selection of gourmet French restaurants.

Here is a selection of popular Lao dishes to get your taste buds tingling.

Laap – the national dish, an extremely spicy salad made from minced meat, herbs, spices, lime juice and a LOT of chilli. This dish sometimes uses raw meat.

Tam maak hung – know as som tam in Thailand, this is fresh, spicy grated papaya salad, where the flavours are pounded with a mortar and pestle to combine them.

Foe – Vietnamese noodles, often served as a snack or at breakfast time.

Khai phaan – this Mekhong River weed is served in Luang Prabang as a delicious side dish.

Padeck – fish preserved with salt and stored for anything up to three years. Padeck is usually eaten with sticky rice.

Khong Island, Laos

Khong Island, Laos
Khong Island, Laos
Khong Island, Laos
Khong Island

Also known as Don Khong, Khong Island is located right in the south of Laos near the Cambodian border. Part of the 4000 islands that comprise the Sii Pan Don area, this is an area of intense natural beauty.

The pace of life is slow on Khong Island and this is a great place to relax and unwind. Although not a lot of travellers make it this far south there are still a good range of hotels and guesthouses here and many visitors are tempted to extend their stay as they become seduced by the gentle pace of life.

The 12 mile long island is home to a stunning collection of flora and fauna and for the patient it is possible to spot the rare Irrawaddy dolphins playing in the Mekong River. A good way to spend a day is trekking to the the Khonephapheng waterfall, which is one of the largest falls in Southeast Asia.

Another pleasant activity is to hire a boat and simply sail away. Many villages are located on the banks of the river such as Muang Saen village and this is a good way to visit these villages and meet the friendly people that live there.

There are a number of pretty temples and monasteries to explore on Khong Island, among them Wat Phu Khao Kaew, where the monks who stay there are welcoming and happy to answer questions.

Palm sugar production is big business on Khong Island due to the large number of palm trees. As you wander around the island you will be able to watch to sugar being harvested for the palm trees and women boiling it in huge metal pans. When the palm sugar is cool it hardens and tastes a lot like fudge. The palm sugar is delicious either eaten on its own or added to tea or coffee and makes a great souvenir.

The evenings are quiet on Khong Island. Sit by the river and watch the sun set through the palm trees. Many people gather at the night market, and this is a good place to swap gossip, do some shopping and find a good meal.

Champassak, Laos

Champassak, Laos
Champassak, Laos
Champassak, Laos

Situated in south-western Laos, The province of Champassak is stunningly beautiful and has a lot to offer visitors. The people who live here have a distinctly different language, culture and life style to people in the rest of Laos and this is an interesting place to explore.

Pakse is the capital of Champassak province and it is here you will find the enchanting irriwaddy dolphins. Take a boat trip on the Mekong River for a chance to spot these shy mammals as they play in the water and leap through the waves.

Situated on picturesque Done Khone Island, the Mekong Dolphin Conservation Centre is a good place to find out more about these interesting animals and how to protect them. Nearby you will find Wat Phou, which is located high atop a mountain and considered to be one of the most important sights in Laos. The temple dates back to the same period as Cambodia’s treasure Angkor Wat and offers spectacular views from the top.
Champassak is also home to the largest waterfalls in Southeast Asia. Known as Khone Pha Pheng, these pretty falls are easy to get to by boat or road and are a great place for a swim and a picnic, surrounded by dense jungle and a colourful array of wildlife.

Another great day trip is the Dong Hua Sao Forest reserve, which is a great place to spot a wide variety of wildlife. There are a large number of waterfalls to explore here such as the Li Phi falls and it is possible to spend the night.
The town of Champassak itself was home to the royal family until about 30 years ago and you will still find a large number of grand buildings here, including a collection from the French colonial-era, which make an interesting contract beside the traditional wooden Laotian houses and shining temples. The town has a sleepy feel to it these days and there are few vehicles to clog the streets.

There are plenty of things to do in Champassak such as elephant riding, trekking and boat rides. Champassak’s rich and fertile land is perfect for growing crops and you will find large coffee, cardamom and bananas plantations here, which make the perfect backdrop for a scenic country walk.

Kep, Cambodia

Kep, Cambodia
Kep, Cambodia

Often overlooked by visitors to southern Cambodia, the sleepy town of Kep is a great place to spend a little time. The town is surrounded by the intense natural beauty of dense jungle, rolling hills and stretches of golden sand, and nature lovers are sure to be in their element here.
Known as the ‘Riviera of Asia’ when it was established at the turn of the 20th century by French colonists, Kep served as a vibrant beach destination for several decades, before the Khmer Rouge arrived in the area and turned things on their head. However, Kep is slowly and surely being restored, and this is the perfect time to visit the area.

Those who can bear to tear themselves away from the beach for an hour or two will want to take in the stunning views from the summit of Kep Hill. To get there, visitors simply need to wander along a gently looping trail through the jungle, perhaps pausing to gaze at wildlife such as playful monkeys along the way.

The pretty tropical Rabbit Island is situated five kilometres off the coast of Kep, and can be reached by hiring a boat. Those who want to escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life can spend the night in a tiny wooden hut on the island before returning to Kep the next day.

Water sports such as snorkelling and scuba diving are popular activities among those who visit Kep, and a large number of companies offer to rent out equipment, while those who like messing about on the water should rent a speedboat or a catamaran from the Sailing Club.  

Kep is a great place to eat, with fresh seafood being top of the menu. Fresh crab is particularly popular here and Kep to offer to tastiest crab in Cambodia. There are a good number of restaurants and bars here, most offering a variety of international dishes as well as traditional Khmer cuisine. Grab and good meal and a drink or two and watch as the sun slowly slips behind the horizon. Pure perfection.

Phuket, Thailand

Phuket, Thailand
Phuket, Thailand
Phuket, Thailand
Phuket, Thailand

Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, located approximately 862 kilometres south of Bangkok. Often referred to as the pearl of the Andaman, or the pearl of the south, Phuket is an island of limestone cliffs, white beaches, tranquil broad bays and tropical in-land forests, which make it one of Thailand’s most popular islands and provinces.

Phuket is easy to get to as there are frequent flights to and from Bangkok airport as well as direct flights to many other Asia and European airports. There are also regular buses and trains from around the country and Phuket can be reached by boat from many of the surrounding islands.

As well an the enormous main island, Phuket Province contains 39 other small islands, all perfect for exploring, whether via a snorkelling or scuba diving trip or a boat tour. Located just 25 kilometres from Phuket City, Ko Nakha Noi is a popular destination for a boat trip, as are Ko Si-re, Ko Lon, Ko Bon, Ko He and Ko Mai Thon, which is famous for its unique and very beautiful colourful coral.

Also known as Coral Island, Kho Hae is located to the Southeast of Phuket Island. Reachable in just 15 minutes by speedboat from Chalong Bay, this beautiful island is a great destination for a day trip, or visitors can choose to stay overnight at the resort.

Another popular day trip is the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, which is located near the beautiful Bang Pae waterfall. This is an amazing opportunity to meet the Gibbons in their natural environment and there is a visitor centre manned by Western volunteers and English speaking Thai staff who will tell you all about the project.

If you are interested in the island’s wildlife, elephant trekking is a good way to support the remaining domesticated elephants of Thailand and offers a new way to explore the jungle. The Phuket Zoo has an interesting collection of animals, whilst Phuket Submarine takes visitors on daily tours of the underwater world.

Both Khao Rang (Phuket Hill) and Laem Promthep are great places to see the sunset and get an idea of the island’s size and beauty. Whilst in Phuket, pay a visit to the Khao Phra Thaew Forest Reserve, which protects a stunning area of lush rainforest.

Many visitors to Phuket like to plan their trip to coincide with one of the area’s vibrant festivals. The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is held for 10 days during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, which usually occurs in October. This is the time when local residents, especially those of Chinese ancestry, follow a vegetarian or vegan diet in order to cleanse their spirit and make merit. The festival features self-mortification rituals such as walking barefooted over hot coals and ascending ladders with bladed rungs, as well as much singing and dancing and of course delicious vegetarian food.Another long awaited festival is the Phuket Gay Pride Festival, which takes place in February and the Siam World Cup Windsurfing Championships on Ao Bang Thao are held in January.

If you are in the area between November and February, head to the pretty beach of Hat Mai Khao on the northwest coast. Here you will discover sea turtles laying their eggs, but be careful not to disturb them as the turtles are now quite rare.

Ayutthaya, Thailand

Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand
Ayutthaya, Thailand

Just one hour from Bangkok, the ancient city of Ayutthaya is a key destination for anyone interested in history, culture and architecture. This former capital of Thailand is steeped in history and is a great place to spend a couple of days.

Formerly known as Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, the city was founded by King U-Thong in 1350 and kept its status as the nation’s capital until it was sacked by the Burmese in 1767. Ayutthaya was once one of the richest cities in Asia by the 1600s, as its vast array of temples still testifies.

Most visitors come to explore The Ayutthaya historical park, which contains most of the magnificent ruins of the ancient city and was declared a UNESCO World heritage site in 1981. Over 400 hundred temples were originally built in Ayutthaya, and the fact that they were built by various rules means that they comprise an interesting range of designs and styles.

Many of the temples from Ayutthaya’s glory period still exist today, although in various states of preservation. Wat Mahathat is by far Ayutthaya’s most photographed temple, made famous by the head of a large Buddha statue which has become entangled in the roots of a giant banyan tree.

Other temples of note include Wat Lokayasutharam (also known as the temple of the Reclining Buddha), Wat Chaiwatthanaram, Wat Mongkhon Bophit and Wat Naphrameru.

Ayutthaya’s temples cover an area of several kilometres, and many people choose to explore the area by hiring a bicycle or a tuk-tuk for the day. You can learn more about Ayutthaya’s rich and interesting history at the Chantharakasem National Museum.

But there is much more to Ayutthaya than simply temples. The Ayutthaya Elephant Camp provides visitors with the perfect opportunity to find out more about these mighty beasts and rides can be arranged around the scenic area.

The nearby town of Bang Pa In, with its glorious Summer Palace provides an excellent site for a day trip. Another great day trip is the Bang Sai Royal Arts and Crafts Center, which aims is to train people with poor backgrounds and to try provide them with the skills to earn a descent income. The arts and crafts here are of a very high quality and make excellent souvenirs.

Hanoi by Foot

Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam
hanoi_vietnam_3
hanoi_vietnam_4
Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam
Hanoi, Vietnam

Further north than Bangkok, Hanoi is refreshingly cool and is a perfect blend of colonial French and Asia at its exotic best. I’d heard horror stories about this ancient city but couldn’t find an awful lot wrong with it. My only complaint was that I’d not bothered to visit sooner.

The taxi from the airport to Hanoi centre took about 45 mins and cost US$10. The fare each way is pretty much standard so ignore any driver trying for a higher price. I checked into the Old Darling Hotel in the Old Quarter. I’d found the place on the internet and it sounded reasonable at US$15 a night for a room with en-suite, fan and air-con and a TV.

Hanoi’s Old Quarter is something along the lines of a local Khao San Road, but bigger. It’s a network of narrow streets with guest houses, hotels, food outlets, cafes, art galleries and travel and tour companies. The French influence is strong. Caf? culture is alive and kicking, art galleries are two a penny and I saw at least half a dozen old Vietnamese decked out in waistcoats and berets.

The traffic is something else. There are traffic lights and directions painted on the roads but it’s not immediately clear why as no one seems to pay any attention to them. Motorbikes and mopeds rule the roads. Young Vietnamese girls glide through the streets on Vespas and their latest Japanese equivalent with a truly Parisian grace.

At intersections traffic moves in from all angles simultaneously. It seems impossible but it works. A friend who studied engineering once told me about some daft theory whereby if all the molecules of two solid objects were facing the same direction the objects could pass through one another. This is exactly as it seems to happen on the streets of Hanoi.

The best way to cross the road is slowly. Just position yourself on the pavement pointing in the direction you want to move and then slowly advance. Traffic will somehow move around you. It’s scary but it works. I’m convinced you could close your eyes and get across unscathed; but never did pluck up enough courage to test the theory. Try it back in Bangkok and you’ll get flattened.

The best place to observe Hanoi’s vehicular chaos from is the excellent Papa Joe’s caf?/restaurant on Cau Go, overlooking a ridiculously busy intersection and the scenic Hoan Kiem Lake. From the balcony you can watch Hanoi bustle by whilst sipping on a fresh juice or coffee.

Daytime the streets are alive and teeming with people. Street markets provide the familiar aromas so common with many Asian cities. Street vendors weave their way between pedestrians, carrying baskets of goods slung from poles across their shoulders. Everywhere you look someone is selling something and calling for your attention.

The streets were alive at night with foreigners and locals alike. Restaurants were generally busy and early in the evening gangs of people gathered for a gossip and some beer at street stalls selling the famous Bia Hoi.

Apparently the Czechs taught their knowledge of brewing to the Vietnamese and now there are micro-breweries everywhere. This un-preserved draft beer is available all over Hanoi. It’s dirt cheap at something like 13 baht a glass (half litre) and is so smooth you’ll want to keep them coming all night. 100 baht will get you almost 8 beers! These street-side beer stops are a very multi-cultural affair with locals mixing happily with backpackers and tourists.

By nine at night the streets had changed. Office workers and the night’s early shift had dined, supped and moved on home, leaving party goers and less desirable types to come out to play. The only annoyance I encountered was the continual attention from motorbike taxi guys who are everywhere and seem to think that every foreigner is in need of a lift somewhere. Oh, and a street hooker and her pimp tried coercing me into a quick sex session which, I felt, would have left me severely out of pocket one way or another.

Out by six the next morning in time to watch the sun rising. Traders were getting into their stride, cafes and restaurants preparing for the early morning trade and motorbike taxis still hawking for business. On the wide path at the top of Hoan Kiem Lake ladies were practicing Tai Chi with red fans. It’s therapeutic just watching.

Apart from art galleries and cafes the Vietnamese also inherited a love of fresh bread from their old colonial masters. Every few yards there were women with baskets of freshly baked crusty baguettes for sale. The smell is very inviting and hard to resist.

East of the Old Quarter on Pho Bien Dien Phu is the Army Museum. It’s worth a look. It’s basically a celebration of the most recent Vietnamese victories over first the French, then the US and finally China. There is a collection of captured and shot-down US and French hardware including a helicopter, rocket launchers, and numerous pieces of aircraft shot down and piled together as a piece of art. There are also weapons used by the Vietnamese in their military victories.

As expected the picture painted of the noble Vietnamese soldier is nothing short of saintly whilst the opposition are always evil, cloven hoofed and horned monsters hell bent on torture and destruction. One thing for sure, the Vietnamese are clearly a force to be reckoned with whatever they are armed with.
 
 
A long walk south from the Temple of Literature is Lenin Park. This is a huge recreational area set around Bay Mau Lake. This is where locals come to exercise, dance, eat, listen to live music, watch traditional dancing and generally chill. The entrance is lined with stalls selling local produce, ready to eat food, and gifts.
 
On a large stage by the top of the lake local girls were demonstrating traditional dance, similar to Thai dancing. Another stage had a modern singer belting out local favourites at deafening volume. Many people are simply using the park for exercise, a past-time that seems to be taken quite seriously here.
 
Back up to Hoan Kiem Lake and it seemed that the Vietnamese who weren’t exercising in Lenin Park were here. Hundreds of locals were marching anti-clockwise around the lake in a grand display of communal fitness. Early evening has a very Chinese feel to it with families coming together for exercise and general interaction.
 
On the last morning I head out on foot again, after an excellent breakfast at the Paris Deli, for the Vietnam Revolutionary Museum and the Vietnam History Museum. Both are interesting and well worth the hike, despite the formers somewhat one-sided view of things.
 
This was my first visit to Vietnam and will certainly not be the last. The people are surprisingly welcoming and at the same time don’t smother you with attention (with the exception of book sellers and motorbike taxis).
 
The level of English is lower than Thailand but there is more chance of a stranger trying to strike a conversation even if they can’t speak a word of English. On several occasions I was invited to join people on the street for tea and a chat. No catch, no con and no payment, they just wanted buy me a tea, chat and try to learn a few words of English.
 
Hanoi can be a cheap destination. There are cheaper places than the hotel I stayed in and to be honest, it wasn’t really worth the money. Food is very affordable and even the classier restaurants aren’t prohibitively priced. As for beer, I doubt anywhere in this region can compete on that front.
 
With Air Asia offering return flights for around 5,000 THB all in it is no more expensive to get to than Singapore, Vientiane or KL.
 
There are many things to see in Hanoi alone even before venturing up country and I only touched on what the city has to offer. The leading tourist attraction is Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum. As much as I wanted to see it the queue was too much just to see another jaundiced communist leader stiff as a board in a glass case so Uncle Ho will have to wait until next time. 

Water Water Everywhere – the Songkran Festival Explained

thailand_festivals_1
Songkran Festival Thailand
Songkran Festival Thailand

If you’re traveling in Thailand during April, brace yourself for one of Southeast Asia’s most raucous holidays. For one joyful week, Thai people take to the streets for the Songkran festival, a waterlogged celebration of the Thai new year.

In the midst of parades and street parties, people customarily douse each other with buckets of water and handfuls of baby powder. In Thailand, this is the festival that people spends months looking forward to, and it’s a celebration that visitors are lucky to witness. Social decorum is thrown to the wayside, public revelry/drunkenness becomes a norm, and those conspicuous sweat stains on your T-shirts will no longer be a cause for embarrassment once the water start flying.

Celebrants take no exception, whether you’re a businessman or backpacker, every person on the street is a target for buckets of water or high-tech waterguns wielded by children. In most of Thailand, this holiday lasts for three or four days, but Chiang Mai becomes the Bourbon Street of the country, with festivities lasting up to nine days.

The custom of throwing water originated as a sign of respect. Traditionally, communities would pay respect to elders and children to parents by sprinkling water on their hands as a cleansing of bad fortune and gesture of good luck. However, people may sometimes bypass the traditions of the ritual as they get caught up in the fun. After all, Songkran takes place during the peak of Thailand’s dry season; the hottest time of the year. Though Songkran has fast become a nonstop party of Animal House proportion, the origins of the festival are rooted in the home. Traditionally, the holiday was about honouring parents and elders, with children coming home to see their families and offer gifts to them.

People also go to temples on this holiday, often bringing handfuls of sand to compensate for the dirt they carried away on their feet throughout the year. Visitors pray, offer food to monks, and help clean Buddha images in the wats. If you’re in a city like Chiang Mai for Songktran, don’t be surprised to see Buddha statues paraded through the streets. This allows people to throw water on the statues as they pass by, cleaning them in the middle of the festivities.

Despite the debaucherous atmosphere, one should bear in mind that as a visitor to Thailand, enthusiasm for local festivals is widely appreciated. Friendly, festive Thai people will encourage you to take part in the revelry, but remember that despite the free-flowing water (and whiskey), Songkran is still a family event, and the street parties should remain PG, at least during the daytime. Among Thai people, it goes without saying that daily drenchings are to be expected.

Tourists, however, may need reminding, and should take care to protect cameras, ipods, important tickets, and other non-soakables.
 
While the whole country participates in Songkran, you might find that the most active celebrations take place inland, where Thai people endure the most heat. Cities like Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and Bangkok will all offer good parties day and night. Tourists should be extra-cautious on the roads at this time, as many whiskey-loving celebrants might be driving trucks or motorbikes.
 
Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.

Ready, Set, Go-kart!

Ready, Set, Go-kart!
Ready, Set, Go-kart!
Ready, Set, Go-kart!
Ready, Set, Go-kart!

The smell of petrol fills the air, the sound of revving engines mixing with the rock music that filters out from the speakers. Tension mounts as I glance at my opponent and catch his steely stare. A large bet has been placed on the outcome of this race, so the stakes are high. Also, a large group of friends have come to watch, so I am determined not to lose.

The flag is lowered and we pull away with a loud screeching of tyres. Controlling the car is much easier than I had thought, although it takes a while to accelerate and gain speed after manoeuvring around the many tight corners as the track twists and turns its way around the floor.

I am enjoying the feeling of driving the kart so much that I have almost forgotten about the race. Suddenly, I look up and notice that my opponent is miles ahead! Although all the karts actually have the same speed, my kart just doesn’t want to go as fast as his for some reason. It’s nothing to do with me, I’m sure of that!

Situated in the RCA Plaza, the PTT Speed Way was opened in March 2004. The track covers 7000 square meters, making it the biggest indoor go-kart track in Asia. The track receives around 100,000 visitors each year, with most people turning up to race on weekends.

The PTT Speed Way has also been graced by visits from several celebrities. Thai super stars Byron Bishop and Ray Mcdonald are exclusive members, and international celebrities include Formula One racer Nico Roseberg.

The great thing about go-karting is that anyone can do it. You don’t have to be good at sports, or even particularly good at driving. Everyone between the ages of 7 and 60 can join in the fun, and you don’t even need a driving licence! This is the perfect place to live out your Grand Prize fantasies and discover whether you have what it takes to be the next Michael Schumacher or Rubens Barrichello.

As we race, we are watched over by three guardian angels, ready to be on hand should anything go wrong. But this is very unlikely, and I feel safe and confident as I speed around the track.

I look back and see my opponent just behind me. Somehow, I’ve overtaken him without even realising it! My chest swells with pride as I realise that in a few minutes I will be the winner of the race. I look up at my friends, who are intently watching the race from high above us, and give them a triumphant wave.

But no. It suddenly occurs to me that my friend is still the leader, now nearly a full lap ahead and virtually unreachable! I curse myself for being heavier than my opponent, realising that it is the difference in our weight that has given him the edge. Try as I might, there is nothing I can do to catch up now, and I can already here the sound of his boasts as he tells people how easily he outraced me.

My sense of defeat soon passes as we reach the finishing line. My opponent’s grin of triumph, combined with my shaking hands and feeling of elation as I climb from the kart more than make up for losing. All that’s left now is to settle the bet, and we head back to Khaosan Road for a slap up meal and drinks – all on me!

Information:

An 8 minute race costs just 390 baht, including all equipment. Special prices are available for large groups. Facilities include a large air conditioned pool room and bar, where you can relax with a drink and watch others zoom around the track.

Opening times are 16:00-24:00 Monday-Thursday (closed Wednesday), Friday 16:00-03:00, Saturday, Sunday and public holidays 13:00-24:00.

The Karting Stadium is located near Sukhumvit at RCA Plaza, Soi Soonvijai, just off the Rama 9 Road. There are several ways to get there; you can catch air-con bus number 12, take the BTS to Ekkamai and a short taxi ride from there, or simply get a taxi straight to RCA.

For more information, email pr (at) easykart (dot) net or phone 081 9177 564.

About the author:

Kirsty Turner (Kay) is a freelance writer currently living in Bangkok. She has kindly agreed to write for KhaoSanRoad.com and share her love of all things Thai and, especially, all things Khao San Road!