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Laos

Cooking course in Luang Prabang

sunny 33 °C

Today was the day we were most excited about...... Our cooking course day.

It started out bright and early at 8.45am at Tamarind restaurant where we were given a welcome drink and waited for all the participants to arrive. The course costs 275,000 Kip, around £25 and has been given awesome reviews so we decided to buy it each other as a present. At 9am we set off. They took us in a tuk-tuk to a local market where our chef showed us around and explained about Southeast Asian herbs, cuts of meat, wicker steaming utensils and fish.

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We got to try all different bits and pieces from the market from sweet peanut brittle, bamboo crisps and dried mushrooms. It was great, we got some free time to browse or buy and our chef bought a few herbs and chillies for the course. At this point Liam started to feel sick and had to wait in the car park.

After the market we got back in the tuk-tuk And went to the cooking course venue. It is outside the city, in the countryside down dirt road for about twenty minutes. When we arrived the tuk-tuk pulled into a gate with a wooden building and a bridge leading to an outdoor pavilion. It was beautiful. The course is done in an outdoor wooden area over looking a stunning lake filled with water lilies.

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It was so gorgeous, there were work stations on a raised area and then seating over looking the water. It is really beautiful and the whole place is planted with big palms and banana plants. We got on our aprons and found a work station and then started.

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The chef was funny and really good at explaining and keeping the class moving. First he showed us how to make sticky rice. It had already been pre-soaked but we washed it and then put it in a special bamboo steamer over a charcoal fire.

Then he showed us how to make two spicy dips for the rice, a tomato one and an aubergine one. We roasted our chillies, tomatoes, onion, garlic and aubergine over charcoal and then we pounded them in a pestle and motor with lime and herbs and fish sauce to make a yummy dip.

Next on the agenda was herby fish steamed in a banana leaf. We made a marinade using lots of different herbs and spices. Basil, fennel, dandelion, shallots, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, chilli, spring onions and fish sauce which we bashed in out pestle and motor again. We then marinated pieces of filleted fish and made a banana leaf present which we tied up with bamboo string.

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It was really fun to make and by this point everyone was getting hungry to eat what we were making. The little parcels then went into the steamer to cook.

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Chicken stuffed lemongrass was next and this one was more tricky. First we made a marinade using lots of garlic, shallots and lots of coriander, some kaffir lime leaves and and salt and mixed this in with minced chicken. We then had to slice the centre of a peice of lemongrass long ways to make a sort of basket to put the chicken inside. In the end they looked like eadible maracas.

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They were then dipped in beated egg and fried until golden and cooked through. They smelled gorgeous when they were cooking and we couldn't wait to eat them.

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Lastly for lunch we made Koy, a meat and herb salad. This is made from minced buffalo meat that is cooked medium rare and mixed with lots of different herbs. Garlic, coriander, lemongrass, mint, lime, chillies, green beans, banana flower, galangal, bean sprouts, spring onions and fish sauce. It is served with lettuce, watercress and other green salad leaves and you make small parcels full of meat when you eat it.

By this point is was 2.30 and we were all dying to try what we had made so we sat down to a feast. We ate everything we had made ourselves with the sticky rice. Sticky rice is meant to be eaten with your hands. You pick off bite size pieces and dip them into your dishes. Everything was really really yummy and everyone was full after they had finished. We ate overlooking the beautiful water lilies and lake, the setting is so lovely.

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After we had eaten it was time to make dessert. We made a coconut rice pudding from sticky rice in a pan over the charcoal fire and ate it with fresh tropical fruits. It was sweet and scrummy. The course finished at about 3pm and the tuk-tuk took us back to the restaurant. At the end you get a recipe book of everything you have made and more.

Whilst Chelsea enjoyed it Liam became sick mid morning while we were there and couldn't participate. The Laos staff looked after him and took him to a staff room so he could lay down. He didn't cook anything or eat anything and all the staff and the cooking participants were genuinely worried about him and trying to offer Chelsea drugs to pass on to him. We're not sure what's wrong, we thing he ate something yesterday which doesn't agree with him but Chelsea ate the same so maybe he has picked up a bug. Anyway as he didn't participate Chelsea asked the manager if we could have a partial refund or let Liam go another day and they refunded us two thirds of the cost which was kind. We will have to do another course as we are both disappointed we couldn't do it together and Liam really wants to do one.

The rest of the day was spent in the room. Liam has had a fever and so had kept having cold showers and Chelsea has just been keeping him company. Chelsea went out for a sandwich and some chocolate milk about 8pm and then we just had an early night. Hopefully Liam will feel better tomorrow.

Posted by Chelsandliam 06:55 Archived in Laos Tagged laos luang_prabang Comments (3)

Exploring Luang Prabang

sunny 36 °C

Last night we had a drama in our guesthouse. We were sat on the bed reading and on the computer when Chels saw a bug. We ignored it but then she saw one more and after some googling on the dreaded bed bugs we were on the lookout as it looked remarkably similar. We waited and saw two more and then Chels realised she had loads of bites on her back so we quickly caught a bug, frantically packed and Chels took the bug to reception in a freaked out state. It was late and they were just going to bed but she showed them the bug and explained there were several in our bed. After a long discussion in which Chelsea calmly tried to explain why it was not acceptable to just change our sheets or spray wasp killer on the bed they agreed with us to swap rooms after we made it clear we were not paying extra. 

We showered as we had the serious creeps and thankfully there are no bugs in our new room. That didn't stop Chelsea waking up every half an hour to check the bed and herself however. 

After our traumatic night we decided to just have a walk around to get our bearings and explore the town. First we tried to find Tamarind, a restaurant that has a top ranking cooking class we have decided to book on. We have booked on for tomorrow and are really really excited. 

Next was breakfast time. We found a noodle soup shop that everyone is raving about but there were no free tables. We will have to go back. We decided on a French cafe and had a fruit shake and a baguette. 

We walked all morning and afternoon until we got too hot. Luang Prabang is just lovely. The streets are full of small shops, restaurants and guesthouses.

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They are all old fashioned shop houses with shutters and big open wooden doors. There are lots of small and quirky family run places but also a lot of very upmarket hotels, boutiques and restaurants. Lots of the shops sell handmade silver, paper crafts, silk and genuine Laos handicrafts.

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Coming off the main roads are small alleys where people live and there is an odd guesthouse or shop. The small streets are cobbled and people cook there stock for the day outside on coals in big pots. We enjoyed walking down the winding alleys wondering what was at the end and looking at all the beautiful houses and gardens.   

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It has been really hot today so after a while we were ready for a cool off. We headed into a cafe and both had a mixed fruit shake. We browsed the shops and then headed to the river. Along the Mekong small shacks are set up with tables over looking the river where you can eat and drink. There is also a fair number of very posh places to eat and stay with gorgeous old colonial mansions being converted into high end hotels. Shops line the street and boat men offer hour long rides to the sights on the river. The river is beautiful, lined with huge ancient trees, banana plants and palms with places to eat and drink jutting out.  We sat on the wall in the shade and watched the boats go up and down the river. Away from the main streets the town is very quiet. Tuk-tuk drivers sleep in the back of their cabs and occasionally offer you a ride to the waterfalls and people go about there daily business. 

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By this point we were really hot and our feet were hurting so we headed back. After showers and a change we went out for some tea. We decided to walk down the river and go to one of the low key places. We settled on a place with only a few wooden tables right over the river that had no western food on the menu. After talking to the waiter we decided on some papaya salad, grilled pork, and chicken larp, as well as a beer to share. In Laos it is custom to order a selection of food for the table to share and it normally comes with sticky rice and a dip. The food was awesome, the sticky rice comes in a basket and you eat it wih your fingers. It is delicious, chewy and yummy and you ball it in your hands and dip it in the sauce. We got grilled pork ribs and zesty and spicy papaya salad. Larp is minced meat mixed with onions, herbs and spice to make a sort of a meat salad, it is spicy and minty..... Really yum. The meal was really good Laos food and ate over the river as the sun was going down, it was lovely.

After finishing our meal we had a walk through the night market and called at a newly opened bar. It was a really posh place and we sat and shared a beer and people watched for a while.

We are very excited for our cooking course tomorrow and hope we will be able to make some of the delicious food we tried tonight.

Posted by Chelsandliam 07:18 Archived in Laos Tagged laos luang_prabang Comments (1)

Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang

sunny 38 °C

Yesterday we had a very chilled day. Like most of our days in Vang Vieng it was spend doing nothing. We decided to go to the Luang Prabang bakery for some breakfast. We both ordered a salami and cheese sandwich and it was really delicious. Chelsea had an ice coffee which was yummy and we decided to have some dessert. The bakery is full of gorgeous baked goods, cakes, biscuits, cookies, donuts and Danish pastries. We settled on a chocolate cookie which we were so full we had to save after only eating half and take the rest with us.

After our indulgent breakfast at our posh café we booked our bus to Luang Prabang. We booked on the VIP coach for 10am the next day. We had heard stories of how bad the journey was so decided to book on something big and comfortable.

We spent the rest of the day lounging at our riverside spot taking in the views, drinking and talking. It was lush, we wrote our blog from the day before and replied to our emails until the sun was creeping in and we had to retire back to our room to cool off. The late afternoon was spent relaxing also. Chelsea sat on our balcony and painted the view and Liam sat and watched James Bond. Sorry everyone...... were not that exciting we know.

After a cold shower and a change of clothes we were ready to go back out. As it was our last night in Vang Ving we went out for some cheap food and went back to our riverside spot and had some beers.

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Since we have been there several times everyday the waiter brought us over a vat of complimentary 'cocktail'. It was lethally strong, the colour of pond water and in a 2 litre water bottle with the top cut off to make a MASSIVE glass. were not sure what was in it as all we could taste was whisky and lime but it was strong. We managed half of it to be polite, said thank you very much and stumbled out.

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On the way home we decided to call into fat monkeys a bar on the way home for a nightcap as it was really busy. We shared a beer and watched a bit of beer pong as there was a tournament on. We would have entered if we would have been earlier. We walked home and had to pack ready for the next morning. We were both tipsy so just shoved everything in.

The next morning we were up bright and early for our bus. Since we had packed after so many drinks we weren't sure where anything was but checked out and went for breakfast. A fruit shake and a baguette sorted us out and we went to wait for our bus.

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We had a slight scare as the VIP bus that we had booked pulled up and it was a dilapidated mini van with bench seats. We looked at each other an laughed imagining six hours drive through the mountains but it was just the shuttle to take us to our coach.

The drive wasn't too bad. Everything you read about the journey from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang says that it is terrible. Apparently half the bus will get travel sick and the bus driver hands out sick bags as you board. It wasn't that bad. Yes it is very bumpy and very very windy up and down twisting mounting roads but the coach was comfortable. Only a few times did we feel sick and even though most of the bus were popping travel sickness tablets like they were going out of fashion no one was sick to start the chain of sickness that would have then occurred..... thank the lord. The views from the bus in between sleeping were stunning. mountains everywhere, farms and tiny villages, nothing else for miles.

We arrived at the bus station at 5pm and shared a tuk-tuk with some French people. It didn't take us long to find somewhere to stay. We only looked in three places and the third one was lovely. We are staying at Kinnaly Guest House or 50000 kip a night (under £5). It is right in the centre, has its own bathroom, is spotless and decorated beautifully. It is in an old building and is a steal for the price. Even though the weather is more hit an miss we are enjoying traveling in low season.

We freshened up and then went for a little explore. The main street at night gets closed off to traffic and open up as a huge night market. It is incredible and sells all sorts of handmade wares and handicrafts. Silk scarves, jewellery, clothes, paintings, bags, antiques an more. It is beautiful.

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We had a look around the vast amount of stalls and went to a food stall. We ate at a place where you serve yourself. it is 10000 kip for a plate and you can eat as much as you an fit on it. We filled our plates and bought some grilled chicken. The food stalls are really interesting to browse. You can buy all sorts of bbq food, dumplings, spring rolls, salads, fruit and dried good.

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After we has a walk around the streets and went to a beautiful bar and shared a beer. The streets are gorgeous, old colonial French architecture mixed with traditional Laos style. Old wooden shop fronts dominate the streets and they have all tastefully been transformed into shops, bars and travel agencies. We can see why it is a UNSCO sight, it is unique and amazing. We cant wait to get up and explore.

Posted by Chelsandliam 08:11 Archived in Laos Tagged laos prabang luang vang vieng Comments (1)

Tubing in Vang Vieng

sunny 40 °C

Today we got up, had a nice breakfast/ dinner at our guest house and then walked into town but not before putting our money in two plastic freezer bags to keep it dry. We decided to have a drink before we collected our tubes and headed to the river so sat at a bar and had a drink. We didn't want to arrive too early as we had read that it doesn't really kick off until between 12 and 2pm. At half 12 we couldn't wait any longer because we were excited so headed to the tubing service in town. You have to pay 55,000 Kip to go tubing, This includes a tuk-tuk to the river and a tube. You have to sign a disclaimer stating you can swim and to say you are turning down the offer of a life jacket as well as loads of other stuff stating that if anything happens to you to is not the fault of the tubing services. You have to leave a deposit on your tube of 60,000 kip. This only covers damage to your tube, if you loose it you have to pay an extra 70,000 kip. The only other rule is you have to have your tube back by 6pm otherwise you are charged an extra 20,000 kip. We thought that would be no problem as that gave us 5 and a half hours to get down the river. In dry season it takes four hours but in wet season (like it is now) it only takes one hour. We met some people at the services and shared the free tuk-tuk with them to the start. They drive you 4km up the road so that you can tube back into town on the river.

Bare in mind that we didn't think that tubing would be any good. We thought it would be full of drunk idiots thinking they were cool but it is actually awesome. You just have to take it for what it is. A really fun afternoon, drifting, socialising and drinking on the river.

When we arrived at the river us and all the people on our tuk-tuk wet our tubes and stood in the river laughing, no one wanted to be first as the current was stronger than we expected. Liam was the first in and he set off down the river, Chelsea didn't want to be left behind so she was next. We floated down the river for approximately one minute before the first bar appeared and we decided to go to it. There are people at the side of the river working for the bars who hook you in and pull you to shore with half full water bottles tied to a rope. As soon as you enter the bar you get a free bracelet and a shot of Laos tiger whiskey. We had a beer, sat with our tuk-tuk friends and talked. Our money was soaked within the first 30 seconds of tubing but it doesn't matter, we still spent it and as our change was also sodden we assume everyone's money is soaking wet. The bar was quite full to say it was the first one and they have music on. People lay sunbathing and talking, it was nice. After we finished our drink we were eager to get going. We set off back down the river and floated for around approximately three minutes until the next bar.

This pattern continues down the river until you get to a bar called 'the last bar'. At each bar it was really busy, music was playing and there was loads of people socialising and drinking. We played table tennis and volley ball, sun bathed and played beer pong against other couples. At one point we were a team of three with a German lad in an illuminious vest who had been tubing for three days in a row. With every drink you get a free bracelet and you get as many free shots of whiskey you can manage. It is really fun. Chelsea was surprisingly good at beer pong and at one point we were playing against a German couple when a lad came over to cheer us on. Chelsea was ecstatic when she made the winning shot.

At the last bar we played volley ball with a huge group of people. it was really fun and every time the ball went into the river a Japanese lad saved it as if it was more important than his own life. He ran down the hill, jumped in the river and saved the ball, was pulled back to shore clutching the ball with everyone cheering him from the side. it was like something from total wipeout as he face planted the river every time. Liam apparently has a hidden talent for volley ball which Chelsea seriously lacks. She was so bad the two times she managed to hit the ball everyone cheered.

The bars are fun but the floating in the river is peaceful and beautiful. There are mountains either side and it is quiet and tranquil. It is a beautiful setting and even in wet season the river is still a smooth ride. Liam however managed to loose a flip flop and his St Christopher on the last leg of the drifting as well as capsize and have to be hooked out by a man on the side.

When you reach town again there is a sign which says 'stop tubing' where you have to get out and walk back to the tubing services. We were having such a good time us and another hundred people were late taking our tubes back and had to pay the fine. It was definitely worth another two pound though. Although it is popular and everyone comes to Vang Vieng to tube we can see why. It is a really really fun day. As long as you are not stupid and don't get totally wasted it is awesome. The bars are great and the tubing itself is lovely, floating down the river on a giant tractor inner tube sounds ridiculous but don't judge it before you try it, its worth every penny of the seven pounds it cost us.

P.S we have no photos because we didn't want to ruin our cameras so here's a random one from the day before :)

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Posted by Chelsandliam 23:05 Archived in Laos Tagged laos tubing vang vieng Comments (2)

Relaxing and Wandering in Vang Vieng

sunny 45 °C

Today has been a rather lazy and uneventful day. First we had our first lie-in in months and stayed in bed until 10.30am. It was bliss. We got up and ready and then sat in our guesthouse café all morning with our journals and computer and got up to date with all our writing. We drank coffee and ate lovely food and just enjoyed the slowness of the day. The views from our guesthouse are stunning. It is right next to the river so we can see the water, the rickety bridges and the small long tail boats moored up. There are mountains in every direction and small wooden buildings nestled between them. It is beautiful. We stayed drinking coffee for ages.

After we went in search of a pair of sunglasses for Liam. This is his fourth pair. After looking in every shop at the very dusty and scratched pairs on offer we came back to the first shop and he was humming and haring over one pair of dusty sunnies. Chelsea asked how much and the man said 20000 kip, (less than £2) so Chelsea just bought them and said if he changed his mind to just buy another pair. It was hot and all the shops sold the exact same merchandise.

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After the extremely busy morning of coffee drinking and shopping in the sunshine we were ready for a pit stop. We went in a café on the river and decided to share a beer. Lots of the cafes here have raised booths with low tables where you sit around on cushions. It was raised above there river so offered beautiful views again. We took our books and talked and read all afternoon, drinking beer and admiring the mountains. By the end of the day we were so chilled out we were laid down and though we better have a little walk before we fell asleep.

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Vang Vieng is a very small river town. It has a main road and an adjacent road on the river. Off this are several small bridges crossing the river which lead to a little island. We decided to go on a little walk across the river. The bridges are little wooden things than sway heavily when you walk across them. The island is extremely small and you can walk from one side to the other in less than a minute.

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There are some nice places to stay on there and little footpaths so you can explore. There were chickens walking around and it is very green, long grass and trees. The view over the other side of the river is beautiful and you can see down the river towards the mountains. It is the final stop point for tubing.

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After out little explore we got ready, cooled off in our room and went out for some tea. We walked around the whole town and decided on a place on the river. It took a long time for our food to come but the atmosphere was nice and the views again were lovely. To finish off our lazy day we watched some films and went to bed. A perfect lazy day for a beautiful lazy place.

Tomorrow we have decided to go tubing. This is what most westerners come to Vang Vieng for and is normally a massive drunken affair on the river where loads of people drown or get injured however as it is very low season Vang Vieng is not the party destination we thought. It is very relaxed and quiet and we think it might be nice to float down the river on a giant tractor inner tube admiring the mountains and stopping off for drinks on the way.

Posted by Chelsandliam 20:46 Archived in Laos Tagged laos vang_vieng Comments (2)

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