Lovely Laos

20140502_091324Latimer: I continued my adventure through South East Asia by crossing from Thailand into Laos. I have to say it’s one of the loveliest, most laid back countries I’ve ever visited. I’ll put my hand up and say I really didn’t know anything about Laos before I went there. So, here’s a quick list of facts/interesting info, about Laos!

  • Laos is actually called; Lao People’s Democratic Republic
  • Hello is pronounced – SAA-BAI-DEE
  • Thank you is pronounced – KUP-JAI; Thank you very much – KUP JAI LAI LAI
  • Currency is called ‘kip’
  • Biggest export is coffee
  • New Year occurs in Mid-April
  • It’s the most bombed country; due to its proximity to Vietnam and Cambodia
  • 75% people are farmers
  • 67% Buddhist; 32% Phii (a jungle religion); 1% Christian

First stop on the journey through Laos was a trip down the might Mekong River. Which gave me some time to catch up on my note-taking from my trip, eat some traditional Laotian food and have my first taste of lychee! 20140502_092012 20140502_102145 20140502_112257 20140502_161101 20140502_17410520140502_103556 20140503_115759

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Thai Buddha art catch up on the Mekong River!

We then went to the lovely town of Luang Prabang. Where I found myself up at 5AM to go and offer alms to the Buddhist monks, along with a lot of other visitors. This was a pretty special moment. My offering was some sticky rice; but… it’s very sticky (go figure!) and it was really hard to dish the stuff out without being overwhelmed by the sea of orange clad monks descending upon the streets of Luang Prabang! In Luang Prabang, I met some elephants and had a misadventure kyakking in a boat that had a hole in it and ended up capsizing, with me onboard, in a river full of elephants and their poo… yeah. That’s happened. The elephants were pretty cool about it though, looking on nonchalant as I resurfaced full of rage.

5AM in Luang Prabang

5AM in Luang Prabang

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Monks collecting alms

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Poor children from the mountains come into town and the monks toss some of their food into the children’s baskets. The children then take these baskets home to their families.

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Sticky rice offering

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Elephant rider

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Beautiful elephants having a snack

The RIVER... yesh.... hmmm, I have mixed feeling about you river...

The RIVER… yesh…. hmmm, I have mixed feeling about you river…

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Views of Luang Prabang

No trip of mine would be complete without me waxing lyrical on the food! I had some good food in Laos… We managed to stop off at a local families house in Luang Prabang for some traditional food, that was so good. We were also given a Buddhist blessing by the family for luck on our travels. Then it was on to the next stop on our journey! Vang Vieng and the capital of Laos; Vientiane! But that’s another blog post!

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Food, home cooked foooooood

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Yummy fresh mango and….. a traditional dessert, kind of tasted like coconut…. sorta!

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Blessings and welcomes; I would loose these along with my Buddhist blessing from Thailand when I fell in the river… damnable RIVER!!

For other posts about South-East Asia check out: Laotian Living and Trekking through Thailand

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Trekking around Thailand

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Latimer: Lately I’ve been doing some globetrotting. Every time I hitch up my trusty wheelie bag and head off into the far blue yonder, I come back with lots of stories and lots of ideas. I think the most recent trip to South East Asia has me all inspired for writing!

Ridley and I are really excited to be working our way through our Keeping Secrets series, plotting and outlining all the books to come. We are back firmly on track now – and we’ll be releasing Book 2 by the end of August! So stay with us for updates!

In my recent travels I visited Thailand. It was a quick run through the north of the country from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, to a fly-by visit at Chiang Rai and then Chiang Khong (to cross into Laos). I didn’t see that much of Thailand really, but what I saw was stunning, beautiful, strange, inspiring and… stranger still!

Bangkok is a pretty cool place. There are lots of things to see there – when I was there I took a trip around the canals in the city and went to Wat Pho to see the huge golden reclining Buddha, which was amazing. Buddhism (and monks) feature strongly in my Asian travels; I sometimes think I’m starting to understand it, then I always get stuck and realise actually I don’t know much about Buddhism, but it’s really interesting.

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Bangkok canal views

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Reclining Buddha… massive!!

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He looks like he’s pretty comfortable here!

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Wat Pho outside views

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More of the Pho

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Yet more Pho!

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Another Buddha inside another temple in Wat Pho – I ear-wigged as this guy was explaining Buddhism to these people!

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Lot’s of monks – notice how young some of them are! All men in Thailand must serve a year (at least) as a monk before they get married, to be considered ‘a good man’ for marriage

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Thai green Curry… because… it’s Thailand!

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From the back of a tuc-tuc… the only way to travel in Thailand… I love tuc-tucs!

From Bangkok, I got an overnight train to Chiang Mai. Lots of people on the tour were worried about the overnight train, but having experienced the Chinese ones, I was no longer afraid. The ones in Thailand are actually brilliant; and compared to the Chinese ones, they are very spacious and comfortable – this coming from someone with extreme ‘creature comfort’ problems!

Chiang Mai was a fun place; we had a walk around in the blistering heat, went to see beautiful Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple ate some lovely Thai food and went for a cool bike-ride around the city. While on our bike ride we stopped at an orphanage for Hill tribe children, for dinner. I bought some lovely artwork by the children – it was Naruto inspired 🙂

During my time in Chiang Mai, I was coming to terms with the heat, I won’t say I ever ‘got used to it’, just learned to accept I would always be dripping sweat and needing to drink water and isotonic drinks.

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Train station catching my ride to Chiang Mai

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These trains are fantastic! So clean and comfortable. There’s a bunk that comes down from over these seats and the seats themselves are transformed into another bed – big and very comfy.

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I had the top bunk, which was fine… but not as big. I had some pocky for the trip!

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Some cool outside dining in Chiang Mai

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Artwork on the streets

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Beautiful, random temple

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More temple action

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Buddha outside the temple

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A very cool dragon vomiting snakes… well, maybe not but that’s what it looks like!! Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Walking up to the temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep bells

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Getting my fortune at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Monks visting Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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I got this white blessing bracelet from a monk in Wat Phra That Doi Suthep; he said a prayer over it, for luck and safety in travel.

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A delicious vegetable spicy soup…. it was feckin hot though!

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Buddha overlooking the river on my bike ride around Chiang Mai

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Handle bar views in Chiang Mai

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Buddhas in Chiang Mai

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More views from my bike in Chiang Mai

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Chiang Mai temple

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Chiang Mai temple

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Chiang Mai temple

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Cool artwork done by the Hill tribe orphans

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More temples from my bike ride Chiang Mai

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Buddha and candle wax – from bike ride Chiang Mai

From Chiang Mai, we stopped off briefly in Chiang Rai to see the White Temple, which is a bit like Sangrada Familia in Barcelona, in that it’s unfinished at the moment and being built by the artist that designed it. It’s full of demons and cultural references – though I never got to go inside, as we were late getting there and it was closed! It’s supposed to have like cartoony stuff inside and be really strange and interesting. This temple was badly damaged after we had seen in, in the earthquake that hit Thailand – so I feel lucky to have seen it before that happened!

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Batman and Pinhead… heads.. .weird!!

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Freddie, Pinhead and Hellboy… retro weirdness!

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Yummy food in Chiang Khong

Yummy food in Chiang Khong

Then from Thailand, I took a bus into Laos! But that’s a post for another day!

For other posts about South-East Asia check out: Lovely Laos and Laotian Living

What’s for Dinner?

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Latimer: I’ve said this before (a lot!!), but honestly one of the best things about going to a different country is getting to eat their food! And I’m the sort of person who takes photos of the food they eat and Instagrams them – hence this post is photo heavy!

I love Asia food but I wouldn’t have ever said I particularly liked Chinese food. As with most countries, we have Chinese takeaways in Ireland and they’re fine. But having been in China, I don’t think they are making proper Chinese food (I think it’s Westernized to suit our palettes). But, I wish they weren’t, because as it turns out, proper Chinese food is so freckin’ good!

I was asked a lot about the food when I came home – people would grimace, ‘what did you eat?!’ Well, okay, to be honest in Chinese food, they use everything and the food is always fresh (i.e. the fish is alive in the tank then cooked and put on your plate). It’s harsh to look at, but you have to respect that Chinese people know where their food is coming from; we eat the steak and the pork and we don’t think about how it got there.

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Weighing the fish

And here the fish is cooked moments later (it's called Beer Fish a dish from Yangshuo)

And here the fish is cooked moments later (it’s called Beer Fish a dish from Yangshuo)

And they have some amazing food markets! The Muslim Quarter in Xi’an was one pretty cool food spot…

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Muslim Quarter Xi’an

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The yellow stuff is rice cake

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They are making this sticky bar type stuff from peanuts and honey… beating the crap out of it with mallets!

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A prune, fungus drink… wasn’t nice! 😦

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Roasted walnuts

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Kitchen in the Muslim Quarter

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A kitchen in the Muslim Quarter

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Making fried wraps

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Yummy fried wraps

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Squid on a stick!

From hotpots to noodles, to taro chips… I ate well in China!

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Meet in a bun… sooo good… and spicy cauliflower

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Noodles in Xi’an (they’re known for their noodles – this was the only time I had noodles actually! wow)

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Spicy beef

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Yummy spicy cabbage

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Sweet and sour fish in Beijing

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Dumplings in Xi’an

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Some seriously spicy hotpot in Chengdu (they have the best hotpots apparently!)

Do you see the brains? Yup... I did not try that! ah... ha... nooo...

Do you see the brains? Yup… I did not try that! ah… ha… nooo…

Spicy potato... Love me some spuds!

Spicy potato… Love me some spuds!

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We stopped off at a local woman’s house for lunch in Yangshuo. This green stuff (a type of lettuce I think?!) was soooo tasty… I could have ate the whole plate!

These were homegrown in the above woman's garden... yummy!

These were homegrown in the above woman’s garden… yummy!

Taro chips.... They could give potatoes a run for their money!!

Taro chips…. They could give potatoes a run for their money!!

I went to a cooking class and this was my end result.... not too bad?!

I went to a cooking class and this was my end result…. not too bad?!

If you ever go to China know that you are going to eat well!

And to round things off you’ll find some nice drinks too!!

This beers quite nice... and bloody massive - I could hardly hold it for this photo!

This beers quite nice… and bloody massive – I could hardly hold it for this photo!

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Strawberry soda

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coffee art… how can you drink it now!!

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More coffee art… so cute!!

 

Food, glorious Food!

When lunchtime rolls around in Ireland, Latimer and Ridley find themselves getting hungry, but roast dinners and stews aren’t what occupy their thoughts; no, they’re reminded of their culinary adventures in Tokyo!

Latimer: whenever I get hungry, I think back on food I had in the past. And for me, it can be the very distant past.

For example, my sister went to college in London when I was 6yrs old; when she moved there, myself and my mother went with her, to help her settle into her dorm for a few days. One night we were very hungry so we decided to get chips. I can remember it vividly, how dark and cold it was (my sister tells me now that it wasn’t a good area to be in at night time!), the roads were black, wet with rain, and the chippy was a little suspect.

We got three bags of chips wrapped tightly in newspaper (old school!). They were massive bundles and the chips were delicious!

There were so many that we could only manage to eat a few.So the majority of those chips were tossed in the bin.

That was a lifetime ago, but to this day, I remember those chips when I get really hungry. I think back and always say to myself ‘oh why did I toss them! I wish I could eat them now!’

It’s such a strong memory. We always remember a good meal, as if our body is saying ‘yes, remember how much you like to eat! How tasty food is! REMEMBER!’ Somehow it seems like the body is afraid one day we might not like food anymore!

When we went to Tokyo, it was one of our aims to eat well everyday. When we were in Japan 4yrs ago, we were with other people and it was hard to find food that everyone wanted to eat. This time, we had no worries; we’re pretty similar in that we wanted true Japanese food, and we wanted to eat!

Thankfully, Tokyo was only too willing to feed us!

Every time we went somewhere, I took out the camera and snapped some pictures. Because we wanted to remember the food; we wanted to show people; ‘look, look at the food! Look how yummy it is… we ate that! We remember the taste’.

Looking at these pictures now, I have very fond memories of sitting in these places, munching on this food as Tokyo and its people flashed passed us; we ate in good company, had good chats and dreamed good dreams… so with that, let me show you our food memories!

Day one of serious photo taking involved yummy okonomiyaki (sort of savory pancakes) at the famous restaurant, Sometarou in Asakusa. We mentioned it in a previous post, but it’s worth another mention. It was amazing!

It was also the most tradition place we ate in, and while it was roasting sitting by those frying-slabs, it was just perfect!

Ridley lovingly paints our pancakes, with a substance we didn’t recognise but had the consistency of tar!

Cuttlefish and tiny red shrimp- probably us at our most adventurous I think!

The next day we were off to Ueno Park.

Now the Lonely Planet guide book didn’t recommend many eateries in Ueno, so we were stuck. It was a hot day, the park was vast and we were hungry. Looking around the periphery of the park we managed to find the Korean cafe.

Ah, we love Korean food, it’s hearty stuff, so we were very happy with this find!

Although the waiter didn’t understand us, and we had some mishaps ordering, which left Ridley with food, and me with a drink! Ha! We managed to sort it out and I ended up with food, but Ridley didn’t get her drink! But she didn’t care by then, it was too much hassle!

But actually, the drink was AMAZING! Like drinking sunlight (big assumption!).

The food was typical Korean fare (yummy!)….

Except for these….

Ahhh! What are they? They’re looking at me! Ridley ate them without looking as far as I’m concerned! When I pointed it out to her, she was two mouthfuls in… she was rightly aghast!

When we went to Ikebukuro, we ate in one of the shopping malls.

Which we were kind of thinking was a cop-out as we should eat ‘authentic’ food out in the little restaurants. But the guide book (not that it had become God in the last few days…well actually it had, all hail guide book!) said that the malls actually have some really good places to eat in!

They were right! This was a veggie noddle dish, with rice, served in a pipping hot stone bowl. Which, in winter would be just amazing, in summer a bit too hot, but still lovely!

At one point I remember we spent hours looking for this one restaurant around the Ginza area I think.

Ridley had her google maps out and we managed to find the place where the restaurant should have been. But it was mysteriously absent (she was annoyed because we had spent all that time looking and it was almost like the map had bested her!).

So, falling back on the God, Lonely Planet, we headed into the nearest shopping mall. We judged based on pictures what restaurant we would eat in.

It was on the top floor and faced a massive sky-bar that loomed over the mall from across the road. We sat down, and a lovely waitress came over and explained the menu (we had been staring at it completely bewildered). She had very good English (we were soooo happy!). The first thing she asked though was…. ‘have you ever eaten Korean before’.

Haha, we didn’t even know we’d come into a Korean restaurant. We were even happier!

The food was cooked (by her in front of us) over a small hot plate, in a large steel bowl.

She asked us if we wanted rice or noodles, we said noodles…. but they didn’t materialize. We were baffled, but we ate away not caring.
It was great, sharing food over a hot plate like that. Korean food is so hearty and built to share (kind of facilitates conversation too!).
When we were finished the waitress returned with the mysteriously absent, much discussed noodles. She put them into the remaining sauce and added water, leaving it to bubble away… It was so good!
It reminded us of being in a Korean drama! It was the best feed I think we had while in Japan.

I get very hungry thinking back on this dinner… sigh. On another day we contemplated going back to this place, but Ridley frowned, “I don’t think I could find it even if we wanted to, we did so much walking around… I wouldn’t know the way.”

Ridley is like a human GPS, so if NavWoman couldn’t find it, it wasn’t possible!

Of note here, is that myself and Ridley have this deep love of ramen. It started really from watching anime (Naruto mainly). We always wanted to taste the real stuff in Japan. We managed to on our first trip a few years back and we always regretted not eating more of it (our other friends didn’t really like it that much).

So this time we were noodle crazy- we wanted to go to ramen places as much as possible. It’s a massive bowl of happiness!

This place was a ramen shop around where we were staying (Akasaka). It wasn’t the best ramen we had, but it was nice. We had to use the typical vending machines the Japanese use in eateries like ramen places and curry houses.

Bascially you select the meal you want, pay for it, get your ticket and give it to the people in the shop. It’s a brilliant idea, because us foreigners aren’t left feeling confused… although a few times some kind Japanese people had to step in and help us! You have to match up katakana, kanji and hiragana symbols to identify the food you want on the machine (a little time consuming, so we had to make sure no one was waiting behind us, or sidestep and let them in first!).

I was actually always very happy to see these machines in the places we were going to eat in- a deep sense of relief!

Our search for ramen brought us to another cool, traditional restaurant around Akasaka. This ramen was delicious!

These were Ridley’s gyoza (dumplings… she didn’t like em- too many onions!)

My yummy ramen (I love sweetcorn)

Ridley’s pork ramen (looks delicious)

The best ramen we had, we got in the Ginza district, in yes, another shopping mall! This was our last night in Tokyo, so we finished it with the food we had loved most- (well, next to the Korean food!).

This business man was eating beside us. He was a little rude to the guy making the ramen.

I found at times the meat that was being used was tough. But this was melt in your mouth pork. I feel like Homer Simpson at the moment, drooling away at the thoughts of eating.

I was so tired this night. Me and Ridley sat at this bench for ages. We were the only people there. I nodded to sleep at one point (resting my eyes, haha). When we got up to leave, the two ramen chiefs smiled over at us and gave us big goodbyes and thank yous. It was a nice way to end our ramen adventure!

A side project we had was to have proper Bubble Tea/Milk Tea. This is popular in Asia. Basically it’s a milk-based, flavoured drink, with tapioca balls in it. The straws are thick so you can suck them up. The desire to get the Bubble Tea wasn’t that strong as the days wore on. It was only as we passed through Harajuku on our third round that we found this Pearl Lady place. Which seemed to be where all the kids hung out.

It was all pink and open plan and full of cheap fast-food places selling curly potato fries and so on. 

After about 10mins of trying to remember my Katakana (argh, I hate Katakana). I was able to figure out two flavours, caramel and strawberry! That’ll do we thought!

We settled down at the window overlooking Takeshita dori. We slurped on our Bubble Teas, with intermittent coughing/choking fits when we gulped down a tapioca ball or three, or ten.

We’ve had some bad Bubble Teas (Christmas market, Berlin brings back bad memories of gingerbread, hot Bubble Tea! Oh nasty). So, I was dubious. But this was so tasty. I wish we had of known about this place sooner! Check it out if you’re ever there- it’s so good!

Following a delay in our flight (actually an out and out cancellation), we ended up in an airport hotel. I finally tasted the strange green-tea and cherry blossom flavoured kit-kat I’d bought. It was actually nice. But doesn’t it look weird?

We were offered a free all you can buffet lunch- I should never be offered such a thing! I tried a bit of everything (and felt sick afterward). I snapped a picture of the fancy Japanese sweets because they looked so lovely. But I didn’t like them- they were made from rice dough and filled with bean-paste… I was expecting chocolate- so I was left grimacing, while Ridley nodded, “yep, bean paste! Knew it!”.

On the way home, our fly was practically empty- it was heaven for a long-haul! Everyone, I kid you not, everyone had a three seats to themselves! 

I won’t end with airplane food- don’t worry (it makes me sick and I can’t eat it). But I was able for this ice-cream….

Our final taste of Japan, for a few years at least!

On a book related update, the editing of our book is nearly finished! By me at least… procrastination must be the way of getting things done in a weird way! I’ve done so much of it. Soon we’ll be sending it to the professionals. We are so excited to be walking down this road! Ridley is busy with her book trailer too, so all is going well!

In the editing process I have been armed with my moomin cup (always full of Lyons tea) and my moomin pen for the taking of notes (both bought in Kiddyland in Harajuku)! The kit-kat, yes, is one I bought in Japan. If it keeps I plan to eat it when the book goes ‘live’ so to speak! Keep watch… it might not last that long!