Posts Tagged With: rice

May 27th – Day 8 – Monks, Caves and Coffee

This morning we met at 5:20am, before sunrise, which meant a 4:30 alarm (followed by a 4:35 alarm, a 4:40 alarm, a 4:45 alarm and a cold shower…). The reason for our early rising? Today we were to give Alms to the monks who live at the various temples around Luang Prabang.

The daily ritual is the way that the monks in the area receive food and gifts from the local community. Every morning at sunrise the monks walk a route around the city with collection baskets and locals give gifts of sticky rice, crackers and sometimes treats. It’s something of a tourist event now, but there were still plenty of locals continuing the tradition even in down-season.

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Our 5:20am walk

We headed quickly from our hotel to the Main Street, around a 5 minute walk, and took our seats on some small plastic stools. By each stool was a large basket of sticky rice, provided by GAdventures as part of the tour.  Shortly after we sat down, the first of 5 temples worth of monks began walking past us.  Dek instructed us in how to create balls of sticky rice and place them into the donation baskets. The rice was incredibly hot, which made it difficult to handle, but it was an amazing experience to provide for the monks who live their lives from donations.

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The monks arrive at sunrise

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Prepped and ready at 5:30

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Me, giving alms

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The procession of monks

In total 5 temples passed us in the space of about 15 minutes, and a lot of the experience for me was reflection on the life of a monk – taking their spirituality into mind and understanding more about how much it means to them that these traditions continue.

After giving alms, Dek led us through the local market in Luang Prabang where we were warned we would see a lot of unusual products. This market was really for local people, not like the tourist markets we’d been shown so far. As I mentioned yesterday, Laos people are really resourceful when it comes to food and eat pretty much whatever is going in the area – and that included a lot of fish (in various states of disembodiment), snakes, lizards, bags of animal blood and animal bile, snails, frogs and a thousand other things you wouldn’t expect to find as food! It was really interesting to consider how much these people take from their resources which we would normally disgard or not consider as part of our diet. We’re incredibly lucky to be able to pick and choose what we eat, but we are also incredibly wasteful.

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Some stuff was actually packaged

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Chillis of all types

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Some sort of lizard for sale at the market

With our stomachs now rumbling even though it was only 7am, we were offered a chance to try Lao coffee – a local speciality which is prepared with condensed milk at the bottom of a glass followed by strong thick coffee poured on top.  It was served to us outside of a local coffee shop, with a small fried doughnut in an H shape for 6000 kip – less than $1.

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Lao coffee

Just after the coffee, we headed back to the hotel for real breakfast before preparing to leave at 8am for our next adventure.

At 8 we got onto the minibus to head upstream – this was the easier option of two we were given (the other one involved an extra 90 minutes on a boat floating upstream).  The 30 minute drive gave us all a chance for a short nap before we arrived at what was described as a rice whiskey village. This was a local village by the edge of the water where tourist boats stop and the locals sell their rice whiskey, as well as other hand made products – I bought a terrible hat (to match my terrible hat from Peru) but avoided trying the rice whiskey which had scorpions soaking in it (to add to the flavour, or just to make it look scary – I couldn’t really tell!)

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Rice Whiskey lady

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Styling out my new weave/Burberry $3 hat

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Snake rice whiskey

Once the locals had finished convincing us to buy things, we boarded our boat and started a short 30 minute trip on the river to our destination – the Pak Ou Caves.

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Our boat

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River photo

These caves are famous for housing over 2500 Buddha statues, a sort of cave temple I guess. The caves are split into two – the lower cave is easily accessible from our boat and the upper cave is a few hundred steps up the hill.  I decided to do both, and it was really spectacular. The lower cave is well lit and interesting, but the upper cave was pitch black and meant I needed a head torch to see all the statues. Jaqueline and I explored and felt like we were in something out of an Indian Jones movie. It was so hot at the top having climbed the stairs, I was glad to get back down and drink some cool water on the return boat ride to Luang Prabang.

The boat ride back took about an hour but we landed right in the centre of Luang Prabang, just behind the Royal Palace Museum. It was a short bus ride back to the hotel and we were able to relax for the rest of the day.

First on my priority list was a massage which I took in the hotel spa.  It wa a little more expensive than the massage places in town, but still only $20 for an hour!

My stomach wasn’t feeling so good so I opted to just make a short trip to the store and bought some snack foods to have in my room before napping and sleeping off my funny tummy. After all, I had woken up at 4:30!

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My snacks

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Categories: South East Asia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

May 21st – Day 2 – Bangkok, Buddha and Sweat

We resume our story much as we left off – on a Boeing 777 somewhere over the middle of the journey.  Truth is I didn’t sleep that much, a few hours and then some in and out of sleep tossing and turning on the plane as we approched Bangkok.  The seats on the BA long haul 777s are pretty reasonable but I was longing for a Premium Economy seat by the time we approached Bangkok.  I’m kind of out of practice with the long haul flights now and 11 hours felt really really long… But finally we approached and were served a standard airline breakfast of Omelette, Tomato, Baked Beans and some mystery passion fruit cereal yoghurt thing which looked, tasted and felt weird (yes, even the texture was blurgh).  Before long we were on approach to Bangkok and I got quite excited seeing all the cities on the trip appearing on the in-flight map – spotting Chaing Mai, Siem Reap and Hanoi made me realise the adventure really was about to begin.

Classic airline breakfast


Mmm, appetising


Getting close!

Once we landed in Bangkok the plane taxi’d really quickly to the gate and amazingly we walked a short distance to the immigration which had virtually no queue. I’ve become familiar with immigration processes in many different countries and had anticipated some hassle entering Thailand as I did not have a visa (UK Passport holders don’t need one) – but shockingly the guy just scanned my passport and landing card and stamped it and handed it back – the whole process took less than a minute and immediately after the passport control we were presented with the baggage carousel, which was already rolling with the Priority luggage. I didn’t have priority luggage (boo, I miss my premium status!) but my bag came out within 15 minutes of us landing in Bangkok. If anyone has ever immigrated to well, basically any country, they’ll know that this is a CRAZY short amount of time for the clearing process. I was in shock!

I headed out of the ‘Nothing to Declare’ lane all ready to spot my G-adventures sign and being my adventure. And then… There was nobody. Well, that’s not quite true… There were LOTS of companies looking to pick up their tour guests and ferry them onto their adventure, but nobody from G-adventures.  Did I screw up? Did I forget to give them my flight details? Did I give them the wrong date? Should I phone them and find out where they are? What do you do in this situation?? I have to admit that I was a bit panicked by it…. But tried to remain calm and double, triple, quadruple checked that my name wasn’t on ANY of the boards by the exit gate. It wasn’t.

Hmm…  I decided to wait it out, and hung around, looking suspicious by the exit gate, when I spotted an equally bamboozled looking person with a G-adventures paperwork in their hand.  I headed over and asked and yes, she was also looking for G-adventures… Okay, good, so it’s not just me!

We panicked together for a few minutes before a friendly tour operator from another company came over and asked who we were looking for.  We told her G-Adventures and she pointed us to ‘Door 4’ – we had no idea, but we were at door 1… About 500m from where we needed to be! Thank you tour operator lady – I’m not sure what we would have done had you not popped up and helped us!

We made our way down and were relieved to find a lady in a bright purple ‘GAdventures’ t-shirt who told us to go sit down and wait. Hmm. Okay.  Anyway, it gave us time to talk and I got to know Louise, who is a student in Bath and just finished a year in industry working in London.  We chatted – she’s on a different tour, hopping the islands in Thailand and snorkelling and doing generally relaxing things, which sounds awesome but definitely not the same as my temple packed adventure.

Did I mention yet that Thailand is really hot? Because even in the airport, we could feel it and I headed over to a touristy store in the airport and bought myself a 35 baht bottle of water.  Little did I know that this was THE most overpriced water – 35 baht is about 70p ($0.50) and even that felt super cheap compared to the UK!

Louise and I were eventually herded into a GAdventures car and told we’d be dropped off at our respective hotels.  Since neither of us had any plans during the first day, I suggested to Louise that we regroup after our post-flight showers and buddy up for the day to go be tourists together.  She was thankful, since she really didn’t have any plans, and we exchanged numbers (although stupidly, not names – I think I’m still stored in her phone as GAdventures guy).

I checked into the hotel and was given a room key, together with the information that I’d received a free upgrade to a suite! GAdventures pricing policy is that everyone shares rooms, but glancing over the passenger list posted in the hotel reception I quickly realised that I was likely the only single guy on the trip – and this I was confirmed when I go to the room and it had only one double bed – win! Another trip with GAdventures where I get a free ‘single room’ status! On this trip, that’s a saving of £750!!

Suite! Sweet!


Double bed… win!


Not gunna make much use of the kitchen!

A short shower later and a few texts and I was back in a Taxi (arranged by the hotel) to Louise’s hotel, where we met and began our adventure. We decided to walk around and try to get a feel for the area surrounding the Central Station – mainly China Town it turns out, which was really interesting and fun to see. We walked quite a long way, exploring little back streets and figuring out how to cross the roads (suicide run seems about the only option!) before stopping off in a small shopping mall food court for lunch, where we ordered Thai food – I had Tofu and Basil with Rice, which cost 40 baht (80p, $1.00)!  It was amazingly cheap and pretty good for the price.  I also had a iced coffee and some water – much needed as we had already been out in the Bangkok heat for a good couple of hours by this point. It was around 33c and humid as hell, and we were both sweating like the just-arrived unacclimatised tourists that we were.  Louise bought a pair of Elephant trousers to enable her to visit the temples with relatively cool legs, and we were both shocked that they cost 150 baht (£1.50!).

Tofu and Basil, Iced Coffee and a water, and change from 100 baht (£2)


Street market in China Town

As you probably guessed, our next step was to find a temple. We had literally just planned to find any old temple but managed to stumble upon Wat Pho, the home of the reclining Buddha and many many many other Buddha statues too.  A 100baht entrance fee (£2) got us in, and we spent a happy couple of hours exploring the amazing sight of so many gold Buddhas all in one place.  There we small Buddhas, big buddhas and the biggest Buddha of them all, the reclining Buddha.  It would have been nice to have a guided tour of the place, since we were pretty much guessing and taking photos, but still it was an amazing place.  I couldn’t believe the colour and vibrancy of it all, with such beautiful architecture and decor in amongst the fairly dusty dirty city just outside of the walls.  Below are some photos from Wat Pho – in no particular order and with no particular sense, since I didn’t really understand all the significance.  Time to get out my guidebook and read!

Some of the many buddhas


Amazing, vibrant buildings. My guidebook says these are the Royal Chedi, built in the Ratanakosin style and the 4 of them represent the first four kings of the Chakri dynasty. So now you know!

I really can’t ca[ture just how beautiful the decor is here, and the statues

Everywhere you turned, more icons


Buddha with snake headrest


Phra Buddha, Deva Patimakorn. His pedestal contains the ashes of Rama I and the statue was given to the temple by the king of the time.


Obligatory cheesy photo. I look so hot here, it was seriously hot outside. Love my stylish grandad trousers too.


The reclining buddha, plus me, and a monk in the background. This is huge!


More Chadi, I really like this photo – it’s how I want to remember the first day.

Feeling like expert tourists to have found such an amazing place, Louise and I decided we’d had enough exploring for day 1 and we should probably head back to our hotels so that I could freshen up before the welcome meeting, scheduled for 6pm. Our initial thought was to grab a taxi, but after trying 4 taxis and coming up dry on a good one (word has it that you should never get into a taxi in Bangkok which refuses to run on the meter), we settled on the idea of getting a Tuk-Tuk.  Our logic was that if we were going to get ripped off, we may as well make a life experience of it! And what a fun life experience it was – bouncing around the streets of Bangkok on this crazy Tuk-Tuk for 150 baht to get back to Louise’s hotel before I then battled and failed to find a taxi willing to take me to my hotel on the meter and ended up spending another 100 baht to do the short 10 minute ride to my hotel.  Anyway, I made it back to my hotel in one piece and for that I was pretty thankful!

Our Thailand tuk-tuk


Tuk Tuk ride selfie!

A quick recharge of the camera battery, shower and unpack of the essentials and I was back downstairs at 6pm for the welcome meeting. After a short wait in the lobby I introduced myself to the group who I will be touring with over the next few weeks:

  • Dek – our Chief Experience Officer (CEO) from gAdventures
  • Steve, Yvonne, Fred and Carol – two married couples from Victoria, Canada
  • Karl and Petra – a married couple from South Africa (Petra is German and Karl is Canadian)
  • Jaqueline – a student from Colordao, USA

The make up of the group is really similar than the one I had in Peru, although the age dynamic is a little different – in Peru we were all age 25-30 whereas here we spread between 19 and 50+.  That’s fine though, we seem to be getting along okay!

Dek, our CEO, called us together and suggested that rather than sit in the hotel and do a briefing, we should go somewhere to see a bit of Bangkok whilst we talked. He told us there was a sky bar near our hotel, about a 10 minute walk and we all concurred that this was a great idea, although many of the others then had to head back to their hotel rooms to grab money or deposit passports and other valuables.  I seem to be the most relaxed on the trip when it comes to my baggage and valuables, although I’m listening to their advice and tucking things away a bit more than I normally would.

Meet and Greet at the Sky Bar


Amazing View of Bangkok


The Bangkok Skyline

So, our first outing as a group was a quick walk to the Sky Bar near the hotel – hidden away in what looked like an office building, we reached Cloud47.  It’s an outdoors sky bar but luckily the weather had held all day (I had feared the start of monsoon rains due to the crazy humidity).  What an amazing view! It’s hard to describe Bangkok since at this point I’d only really seen China Town and Wat Pho, but the view showed me all of the different areas, from the river right through to office buildings, and the city stretched as far as the eye could see.

We sat and talked through as a group the itinerary and Dek added a lot of useful titbits about Thailand, as well as the other countries we’ll visit on our trip. I hadn’t realised that both Laos and Vietnam are communist countries – 2 of only 5 in the world (the other 3 being Cuba, North Korea and China).  Dek is from North Thailand, quite near Chiang Mai (although he then told us it’s a 3 hour drive to Chiang Mai from his home, so I’m not sure I understand the Thai definition of Quite Near and will be watching out for that next time he tells us a bar is Quite Near our hotel!!).

After a really long but interesting presentation from Dek and filling out some required paperwork, we finally got to order a beer.  I wish we could have done that before the talk, because by this point I was REALLY thirsty with the humidity and heat, but it was well received when it came, along with the small dinner of vegetables in oyster sauce with rice which I ordered to go along with it. I like the Thai dining style – light meals and lots of vegetables, that works for me!

During dinner we chatted and go to know one another better – Karl and Petra are really interested in doing a GAdventures tour to Peru so they were very interested to hear a few brief stories about that, and Jaqueline has already been in Tokyo and Indonesia before arriving in Thailand for this tour, so it was interesting to hear a little of her stories as well.

As part of the briefing, Dek had informed us that we would be required to cover our legs during the visit to the Grand Palace tomorrow and this caused a bit of a stir from some of the group who hadn’t prepared for this – luckily nearby the Sky Bar is a night market which Dek happily showed us to and most of the group tagged along whilst people bought Elephant Pants (yes, those are a real thing, no they don’t make you look like an elephant – they have elephants printed on them, and no, I don’t know why!)

By now it was getting late, or at least it felt like it – it was only actually 9pm – but we headed back to the hotel (via some cockroaches and rats in the alleyways) before saying goodnight and arranging to meet between 7 and 8 for our 8am set-off tomorrow.

I headed to the room and forced myself to stay awake a coule of hours, in desperate hope that it would stave off jet lag and allow me to sleep through the night.  Eventually around 22:30 I headed to bed, and rested, excited for the first proper day of the tour tomorrow!

Read about day 3 here!

Categories: South East Asia, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Quest of the Gods – Day 2, Jungle

After dreaming excitedly of the jungle, I woke before my alarm at 5:45.  At 6:00, the planned wake up call came through and I prised myself out of bed to quickly shower and repack then head down for breakfast.  The breakfast was a buffet style and included in the price of the tour (as it will be throughout the tour) – I had some granola, a banana, some bread rolls and a glass of orange juice.

At 7:00 we met in the foyer of the hotel to head back to Lima airport in a transfer van.  The airport is about 70 minutes from the hotel, and during the van journey Harold gave us a brief guide to the history of Peru and spoke a lot about the troubles in the past, particularly when the van was driving through some rougher areas of Lima.  Harold distributed our boarding passes – we are travelling with Avianca who are a Star Alliance airline, so my United miles work for this trip too!  Harold had pre-selected seats for both flights, since we would fly first to Cusco and then stay on the same plane to Puerto Maldonado.  Puerto Maldonado is the gateway to the amazon basin and very close to the Brazil border, which makes it a pretty busy city by Peruvian standards.  When we landed at the airport we were the only plane on the tarmac, so it clearly isn’t that busy!

Plane selfie - Lima to Cusco

Plane selfie – Lima to Cusco

Plane Selfie - Cusco to Puerto Maldonado

Plane Selfie – Cusco to Puerto Maldonado

The first flight was uneventful, but late.  Or rather, running on Peruvian timing.  Once we landed in Cusco there were no gates free so we had to wait a while, and then wait whilst everyone deplaned, before we shifted to our second seats.  For the second flight Harold had arranged window seats for us all, so that we could watch the views of the river from the window.  Although we were visiting the Amazon basin, the river itself was the Tambopata river which is a tributary to the Amazon.  From the plane, it is one of the typical views of the Amazon basin – oxbow lakes, meanders, and huge amounts of vegetation. The second flight was short – only 30 minutes – and landing in Puerto Maldonado we could feel the excitement building.

The jungle from the plane

The jungle from the plane

Tambopata River from the plane

Tambopata River from the plane

After collecting our bags, we headed out of the airport to meet our local guide, Ronald (Ronny) who would be looking after us in the jungle.  We jumped onto a minibus and were taken to a small Gadventures office where we swapped out our big bags/suitcases for small duffle bags which we would take into the jungle (since the humidity is high and we don’t need all our clothes for the 2 nights in the jungle).  The repacking took 20 minutes and we had a chance to go to a local shop to buy ponchos, snacks, etc – I bought an ice cream!

Bus selfie

Once the bags were repacked, we got back onto the minibus for a 45 minute trip to the river.  The road was basic to say the least, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend the trip to anyone who gets motion sickness… bumpy, but amazing and we began wildlife spotting as we drove along.  At the port, we boarded the boat which would take us on a 2 1/2 hour journey into the amazon basin to the lodge.  It’s worth mentioning that the service level of the staff here is incredible – we didnt even carry our bags down to the boat –  the Gadventures staff did that for us!

Boat selfie

Boat selfie

Harold had warned us that we should have our eyes open as soon as we got onto the boat, and he wasn’t wrong – the wildlife spotting started almost immediately!  We saw vultures, monkeys and a giant guinea pig creature called a Capybara.  Every time the guides spotted something of interest they called the boat to a halt and we moved in close to take photos, and were given explanations of the habitat around the creatures too.  We also saw a basking turtle on a piece of wood, which was fascinating.

Capybaras

Capybaras

Turtle on some wood

Turtle on some wood

A family of monkeys

A family of monkeys

During the journey we were served a packed lunch – mine was mushrooms, vegetables and rice, together with two of the worlds smallest bananas!  Those bananas were so cute, and are available all the time in the lodge.

Smallest bananas ever!

Smallest bananas ever!

Vegetables and rice

Vegetables and rice

 

Shortly before arriving at the Tambopata Eco Lodge we saw a spectacular sunset, which felt very special with the river spread out infront of us.  Once we arrived, we headed up the river bank to the lodge and straight into the bar where we were served welcome cocktails of fruit juice and then were given 45 minutes to freshen up in our rooms before a slide show presentation.  The electricity is only on in the lodge from 5pm – 10pm, so this was also the chance to recharge our cameras for the nighttime activities.

Sunset on the Tambopata

Sunset on the Tambopata

The rooms are amazing in the lodge – I had half of the building to myself, and as you can see, it was a really special experience.  There’s no electricity at all in the buildings, so we had to use headtorches and candles for everything – even setting up the mosquito nets, which seemed quite dangerous to me!

My home for the 2 nights

My home for the 2 nights

After a quick freshen up, we met in the bar and ordered a round of Passion Sours before heading into the slide show presentation. The barmaid wasn’t the fastest, so Harold had to bring the cocktails in for us after the slideshow started, but again – the service level was impeccable.  Nothing was too much trouble, and there was no bitterness to us being late or an inconvenience by ordering drinks before an activity.  The slideshow was educational and gave us an idea of what we could expect to see over the next few days, including Caiman which are probably the most impressive creature which lives around the lodge.

After the slide show, we headed to the dinner hall for dinner which was served buffet style.  The lodge had been prepared for my vegetarian needs and Ronny saught me out to hand me a plate of vegetables as soon as I arrived.  The food was amazing, and Ronny told us that almost all of it was grown within 10 minutes of the lodge.  For dessert they served crepes, and on the table was purple corn juice (Chica Morada) which is a Peruvian speciality.

As soon as dinner was finished we prepared and headed out for the legendary “night walk”.  This is a walk in the dark using head torches and cameras to spot some of the night residents in the rainforest.  We only walked about 300 meters from the lodge, but we saw so many amazing creatures.  Check out the photos for just a few examples – some were way too fast or far away to take decent photos of!

Tiny lizard on a leaf

Tiny lizard on a leaf

Giant ant on a tree trunk

Giant ant on a tree trunk

A cricket

A cricket

Not even sure what this one is!

Not even sure what this one is!

A stick insect - not hiding well in the camera flash!

A stick insect – not hiding well in the camera flash!

Some sort of huge beetle

Some sort of huge beetle

A scary looking caterpillar

A scary looking caterpillar

Grasshopper, maybe?

Grasshopper, maybe?

Poisonous frog.  We know it was poisonous because it didn't run away when it saw us.

Poisonous frog. We know it was poisonous because it didn’t run away when it saw us.

A millipede

A millipede

A lizard thing with cool camouflage

A lizard thing with cool camouflage

 

After the night walk, to steady our neves we settled down for another Passion Sour (it would be rude not to, after all… it’s helping the local economy!) and reminisced about our first day of adventuring.

Once the cocktails dried up (the electricity got shut off), we headed to our cabins for bed time – preparing for bed by candllight was special, and getting into bed listening to the sounds of the jungle was an experience I will never forget.

The breakfast meeting was set at 6am the next day since we had a packed day of activities planned, so I drifted off to sounds of the jungle in fear of my 5am alarm! (No wake up calls provided in the cabins – there were no phones!)

Categories: Peru, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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