Hello Bangkok, goodbye South East Asia.

Standard

We left Cambodia on the bus to Bangkok, it was quite an experience.

We’ve had an amazing time in South East Asia, and are really quite sad to be leaving what is probably our favourite part of the world. We have been lucky to experience some great things in the past weeks, and are looking forward to moving on; but with regret at skimming the surface of Cambodia, and not getting to Indonesia. We’re going to try to travel there as soon as we’ve replenished our funds.

We’ve had such wonderful experiences, indulged in food and culture, and met great people. We’re also excited for the next chapter and new challenges.

We planned to get back to Bangkok a day earlier than our flight, partly in case of any unforeseen problems, and partly to hang out in Bangkok again. We’ve both seen plenty of this city, so we’ decided to spend our day slightly differently and went shopping. I had pretty much worn my trainers out traipsing around Asia, and I left my baseball cap somewhere so I thought best to replace these in Asia, rather than Australia to preserve some funds.

We headed to the MBK centre, a shopping centre the size of a small city. The plan was a quick march around MBK, head home for a nap via Chinatown & then go across town to a food market the local students love. Easy?

We left MBK nine hours later.

MBK has eight floors, around two thousand retail outlets, and probably over one hundred restaurants and food areas. As well as this it has arcades and a cinema. It’s immense.

So after we casually wandered around two floors and around three hundred shops we decided to get something to eat. This is a pretty hard task for indecisive people like us.

We settled on Shabu Shi, a Japanese sushi train style restaurant with individual hot pots on your tables! The conveyor belt has little plates of meat, fish and vegetables which you grab and throw into your hotpot. Jess was particularly skilled at hotpot cooking, as she continually forgot she had squid or prawns in her stock and cooked them to resemble small rubber lumps.

They also had Sushi and Tempura, all for a set price ‘eat-what-you-can-in-ninety-minutes’ agreement. Particularly good for gluttonous eaters like us who skipped breakfast. It was fun to play ‘guess what i’m putting in my hotpot’, although the fish on the bone, wasn’t so enjoyable when it came to eating, and the plastic pork sheets still resembled cling film after they had been cooked.  All part of the fun, I guess…

We wandered around several hundred more shops, bought a few bits and pieces, haggled for the fun of it, and drank iced coffees until we ventured onto the seventh floor, and found the cinema.

We had a very memorable cinema experience in India, at the Raj Mandir and wanted to see what it was like here too.

We saw Skyfall, I know it’s not a Thai film, but I LOVE Bond films, and It came out a week after we left the UK, which was particularly annoying.  We got VIP tickets as it was the only showing that day, which bought us comfy chairs, blankets and a cinema that only sat around fifty. To be honest, it was mostly westerners at the showing, but rather bizarrely we had to stand for the Kings Anthem. The monarchy is a big deal here, and after Googling I’m astounded to find out people get arrested for not standing! (sorry, it’s the Daily Mail website..)

We finally ambled out of MBK and into another large market, there was so much food, but we were just so full of hotpot we couldn’t face eating any of it. We then wandered towards music, where we strangely found a girl singing the longest song possibly ever recorded (we left after fifteen minutes and she was still going..) several girating teenage girls on the stage and a handful of half naked Thai boys dancing in front. I love this country.

It was a good day, we bought loads of stuff we probably don’t need, ate like kings and most importantly I got some fantastic pictures for my freaky mannequins collection. Next stop Sydney.

cambodian street food : Amok (fish curry)

Standard

Amok is one of the most well-known dishes of Cambodia. It’s tradionally made using fish steamed in a coconut leaf, although it is available in meaty forms too. We tried amok with pork, as we had been spoilt with fish all up the Vietnamese coast. It’s a Khmer curry, made with coconut, ginger, lemongrass and garlic.

It could be comparable to a Green Thai Curry, although it’s quite a different dish, it doesn’t have the aggressively spicy chilli flavours or the fish sauce punch;  but it can be similar in texture and appearance.

On another note, Cambodia’s national beer ‘Angkor’ with the excellent strapline “My country, my beer” is, like most South East Asian beers, quite light and enjoyable. A beer always tastes better when it’s sunny though, right?

We didn’t really get the chance to try too much Cambodian food. We spent three nights in Siem Reap on the way to Bangkok to catch our onward flight, we ate a lot of barbecue after long days at Angkor. Next time, I’ll be coming back.

*

Please join us on Facebook for more pictures, and other bits and pieces. You can also follow us via email & if you liked our posts please share them using the little social media buttons below.

Siem Reap and the Angkor temple complex : Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Banteay Shrei, Banteay Samre & Ta Som

Standard

Angkor Wat is a massive site, and the town of Siem Reap is almost entirely supported by the tourism generated from the Angkor complex. Tourism supports the hoteliers, bars, restaurants, guides, drivers; and those employed directly by the park as security, sweepers and ticket inspectors. It’s great for the local economy; and the economy of Cambodia as a whole.

In order to see the site properly you have several choices, drivers, tuk-tuks, moto taxis, and bicycles. Some people even attempt to hike around, but seeing as the site is three kilometres from Siem Reap, covering an area of over four hundred square kilometres and some sites are over twenty five kilometres from town, it makes it a hard slog, especially in thirty degree heat.

We hired a Tuk-tuk driver for our time in the city and he was great, he knew about the sites, spoke good English and recommended us things

I’ve already posted about Angkor Wat, and Angkor Thom which you can see here. This post focuses more on the temples further away, and generally not as popular, except Ta Prohm, which is incredibly popular.

Ta Prohm, is with the exception of Angkor Wat itself possibly the most recognisable site due to the Tomb Raider film series. It was left to ruin and the trees took over and turned it into the most enchanting, fantasy spectacle. This was the sort of place you wished you could play in as a kid. Unfortunately, due to the years of trees taking over and roots winning battles against buildings, it’s looking a bit unstable. Lots of support pillars and tension wires are holding very old bits of stone together.

Banteay Shrei and Banteay Sambre are both located further afield in the complex several kilometres from the main attractions. As such they are a bit smaller, but with the added bonus of being quieter and less tour groups.

Ta Som, like Ta Prohm and to an extent Preah khan, was left untouched. It features a beautifully overgrown doorway where a tree has snaked all around, giving it a fantastical atmosphere; another of the many highlights of nature overtaking the man-made structures.

Preah Khan, is without a doubt my absolute favourite place in the Angkor complex. Its vast, and has great big open spaces where you can imagine everyday life going on, but it also has little hidden away corners, where you can pretend you’ve stumble upon as yet undiscovered ruins.  It’s also pretty quiet compared with Bayon, Ta Prohm and Angkor wat. There’s a whole new level of amazingness at Preah Khan when all you can hear is the birds.

Siem Reap and the Angkor temple complex: Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom.

Standard

We flew from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap, as we had ended up spending too much time in Vietnam enjoying the middle areas of the country and its relaxed beach culture. It was a quick flight, and it ended up buying us an extra day in the Angkor temple complex; pretty much the only thing we felt we absolutely couldn’t miss out on in Cambodia. We’ve already decided we’re going to plan another trip to Vietnam as we decided to leave Ha Long Bay for another time (the weather was so grey, and I would have been so disappointed had it been overcast and not the beautiful blue images we’ve seen in magazines and photographs) so perhaps we can revisit Cambodia too.

Firstly, a little historical context. The Angkor temple complex dates from around about the ninth century, when the king of the time declared independence and created what was to become the Khmer empire. Over the passing of time, war, rebellion, and such like happened and inevitably there were conflicts, death and overthrowing of monarchies – standard historical stuff.

The changing of rulers meant new structures within the Angkor complex, and embellishments on existing ones. Jayavarman VII, is worth a mention. In his thirty odd year rule (from 1181) he was a hero prince who drove away the Cham forces (modern day southern Vietnam) from Angkor. He was also Buddhist, not Hindu like his predecessors and built much of the modern day Angkor site, including a lot of the well-known sites of Angkor such as Bayon, Ta Phrohm & Preah Khan.

In more recent history, the French colonised modern day Vietnam & Cambodia as French Indochina and spent many decades developing and clearing the Angkor sites until political instability and rise of the Khmer Rouge forced a stop. Since the 1990’s the popularity of the site as a tourist attraction has increased and as such, renovations and investments have increased.

That was brief and not very historical but you get the point, lots of groups had a part to play in creating what is the largest historical site in the world. Although it can never be verified some historians argue that up to one million people may have lived in the Angkor region during its peak.

The extended site is absolutely massive, the superlatives are endless and you can easily spend a week here just exploring.  We spent three days here, and I’ve broken the temples down into two posts. This post covers Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom area. The other post is viewable here, and covers Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Banteay Shrei, Banteay Samre & Ta Som.  There are literally hundreds of other sites with the complex.

Angkor Wat, is the generalised name quite often used to refer to the entire site, but is in fact the centre piece of the Angkor temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world.

Angkor Thom, is the collected area including Bayon temple, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, and the terraces of the Elephant King, and Lepers respectively.

Tickets!

Gallery

Vietnamese street food : Chao ga (chicken congee)

Standard

 

Chao is basically meat porridge, also referred to as congee. It’s a fairly thick broth of chicken (ga) stock and rice. The rice is cooked out so that the starch is released and creates a thickened soup, which is enriched with the chicken meat and stock. It’s topped with fresh herbs.

It’s traditionally a bit of a winter food which is often made when feeling a bit under the weather, a comfort food and like a lot of other countries a go-to chicken soup to cure sickness. The flavour can be adjusted to personal preference using the vinegars and spices on the table.

A side that is popular with congees and other soups, such as Phở – banh gio chao quay, or just quay. A fried doughnut-like breadstick popular all over South-East Asia and also known as Chinese crullers & youtiao. They are a crispy crunchy, if a bit greasy addition to a soup or congee.

Some useful phrases 

Sin chow – hello
Mot – one
Hai – two
Gam urn – thank you
Tra da – iced tea, a popular and cheap drink to accompany meals and usually available at hole in the wall restaurants

*

Thanks for visiting! You can join us on Facebook, for more pictures, and other bits and pieces. You can also follow us via email & if you liked our posts please share them using the little social media buttons below.

Vietnamese street food : Banh xeo (stuffed rice flour pancake)

Standard

Bánh xèo, (pronounced banh say-ow) and bánh khoai are quite similar, but have differing regional names.

We really enjoyed eating the bánh khoai in Huế, so I wanted to see if there was any difference   between the two dishes. The bánh khoai were served with a peanut and liver sauce but here we had a simple chilli sauce dip. bánh xèo are also a bit smaller. Both were served with a side of leaves and herbs.

 

The name bánh xèo translates as ‘sizzling cake’ in reference to the noise of the batter hitting the hot pan. The batter is made up of rice flour, coconut milk and turmeric although variations will exist up and down the country and it’s a more southern thing to include the coconut milk. We took a cooking class in Vietnam and found these ridiculously easy to make, stuffed inside with beanspouts, fatty pork and prawns they are a great finger food. You wrap them up in lettuce and dip in Nước chấm. Delicious

Vietnamese pancakes are one of my favourite meals in Vietnam, it’s simple, quick and cheap with a nice crunch plenty of flavour and a hint of chilli – what’s not to love?

Some useful phrases 


Sin chow
 – hello
Mot – one
Hai – two
Gam urn – thank you

*

Thanks for visiting! You can join us on Facebook, for more pictures, and other bits and pieces. You can also follow us via email & if you liked our posts please share them using the little social media buttons below.

The things we learn’t about India, a retrospective.

Standard

We left Delhi over a month ago now and it’s been more than enough time to reflect on our time in India.

Firstly, we had an amazing time in India. It was a completely new experience for us. Everyday held something new to us. We were like children the first time they go abroad. What is this? What do I do with this? How does this work? It was a great learning curve, for us as individuals and as a couple. One thing that surprised me personally is the accessibility. I really expected India to be a lot more challenging to western travellers. I had thought people wouldn’t speak English so much, or; we would have to work things out for ourselves more. Turns out, India is much easier than I had envisaged. Perhaps if we go to China one day we will discover truly challenging travel.

One thing I can say is that India is intense. It’s a sensory overload, smells of rubbish are constantly being replaced by the scent of sweet chai, incense, street food, sewage, burning plastic, spices and it back to the beginning again. Aurally, Car horns, traffic and the wallahs shouting “chai, masala chai”. Then there’s the million sites fighting for your visual attention. Dogs, pigs, cows and children all rummaging in rubbish (we actually saw all of this whilst the rubbish was on fire and none of the above cared) men casually urinating wherever they felt like, including, but not limted to train stations (both off the platforms and from carriages onto the tracks) in the street, in the middle of the day and I’ve probably lost count of the amount of tuk-tuks we saw abandoned whilst men pissed on nearby walls.

When we first arrived in Delhi, we couldn’t believe how many people stared. I mean a lot. It wasn’t in an aggressive sense, but neither was it inquisitive, it’s a little unusual coming from a country where people actively avoid eye contact. Also, especially in Delhi people would walk along side you and chat to us. We thought this was more underhand behaviour to begin with, like in Bangkok when people say things like ‘hey man! cool t-shirt, where are you from?’  Before you know it they are trying to sell you a suit or take you to a ping pong show. Actually, we worked out mostly people in India just wanted to practise their English on us. It’s quite nice really, and it’s an openness of people you don’t see often enough in England. We felt a little guilty, to think the worst of people.

I could go on and on about the experiences with people we met, and people we chatted to but none will explain India, and Indian people as well as I now know it as much as the border security police we shared a berth with on the train from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur.

We happened to be sharing a cabin with some border patrol officers, who had been on exercise in the Thar Desert. They were a mixed bunch of twenty and thirty somethings who all wanted to practise their limited English on us, except for one. He was from Manipur, a small state in the very east of India close to the Myanmar border and looked far more Chinese or Mongolian than Indian. Turns out, the area he was from doesn’t speak Hindi, but tribal dialects and English. Basically, he had joined the Border security team without being able to speak to his colleagues, he explained to us that he was learning Hindi, but wasn’t so good yet. It’s unbelievable to me to think you could join the police without being able to speak the national language! Only in India could this happen.

They were such friendly people, and enjoyable company, we spent the entire five or six hour journey talking with them. They played us Hindi music, and I in turn got my MP3 player out for them. Immeadiatley one asked ‘Do you have Justin Beiber?!’ He couldn’t believe that only twelve year old girls listen to Justin Beiber in England. Western culture is starting to percolate through to India and only the most commercialised pop music is heard here (In the less developed corners of Rajasthan at least, this may not be the case for Goa, for example) Interestingly, our hostel in Delhi played Rhianna’s ‘Rude Boy’ a lot. Risqué I thought.

When we arrived in Jodhpur we said our goodbyes and got off the train. We waited around outside the train to read up about transport and how much we should pay, and then they all came marching out and harangued a tuk tuk driver into taking us to our hotel, for a locals price!

This mostly sums India up for us. Friendly people who have gone out of their way to help us and unfamiliarity in almost everything.

There is also  the contradiction between beauty and ugliness.

One thing that illustrates this point is the Jaisalmer fort. A resplendent golden castle seemingly growing out of the desert, when we look closer you see it’s covered with rubbish on the steep slopes where people have thrown their waste from the converted havelis. I can’t work out why this is accepted, Jaisalmer is a town almost ran entirely on tourism and the fort is the focal point, so it seems counter-productive to allow it’s decline. India it seems can sometimes be a little short-sighted, in this regard. education is blamed for most things in India; and the lack of sanitation, or recycling is again generally attributed to this. Surely it can’t be hard to articulate to people that if you continue to treat historical sites, areas of natural beauty and tourist attractions like shit, people will cease to visit and you will not earn any money!?

The country is growing at such an amazing pace and in such a rush to catch up with the western world that I hope it can retain the qualities that make it so different, and fascinating.

I’ve read online from countless people saying they couldn’t decide if they loved or hated India until they left, and realised they absolutely loved it, and it’s entirely true. From mint flavoured crisps, to tuk tuk’s carrying goats and trying to buy metro tickets at one of the busiest stations, in rush hour and being barged out of the way by every octogenarian in Delhi. It’s complete madness, but a massively rewarding country.

*

If you liked this, please share it with your Facebook friends, or via Twitter. You can also ‘follow us’ using box at the top of the page or join us on Facebook.

Nha Trang, Vietnam.

Standard

We headed down to Nha Trang for two reasons, firstly to meet a friend who was headed back up north to Hanoi, and secondly to get in some beach time. We’ve spent almost all of our travels inland and being excellent visitors, taking in museums and culture. Now is the time to lounge around and eat toasted sandwiches, at least for a couple of days.

Nha Trang was scorching hot the entire time we visited. It’s a pretty standard beach town, great waves and sea provided you can get past the break which crashes into you as soon as you set foot into the juice.