Posts Tagged With: sunset

2nd June – Day 14 – Planes, Cyclos and Sunsets

Today was our last flight of the tour – after this it’s busses, tuktuks and our own bookings. The timing was odd today, since our flight route (Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh) is an infrequent one – we actually ended up booked onto Qatar Airways who do a two leg flight between Doha and PP – stopping in Ho Chi Minh. This had one great advantage for us which was that the plane was a Boeing 787-800 – a ridiculously over-specified plane for the 25 minute flight! It was huge, and almost empty – I had my own row in the cabin, as did most of the group!

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Empty plane

Our flight was actually at 15:30, so the whole morning was lost to hotel time and currency exchange – I took my remaining Vietnamese dong to the local currency exchange and swapped to USD, which is the main currency in Cambodia. It was nice to have a lazy morning in the hotel after so many early starts and I made use of it to buy a Vietnam t-shirt as well as some postcards.

Once we made it to the airport, leaving Vietnam was easy – just a stamp in the passport – and we had a ton of time to kill. I had a small meal and a coffee, and still made it to the gate before the plane had even landed from Doha. Shortly after it landed, we were ready for boarding – and after what seemed like no time at all, we were in Phnom Penh.

The Cambodian visa process was a little more complicated – there were 3 forms to fill out and we had to queue up for our visa on arrival, in a chaotic system which involved handing over your passport and photo as well as one of the forms and then waiting for your name to be called out (or your passport held up, if they couldn’t say your name) before going up and paying the $30 visa fee and collecting your passport. The system worked, but it was slow and a little stressful compared to the other immigration processes in the trip. Still, my passport is filling up nicely now!

After we regrouped in the airport, we headed to our bus transfer to the hotel – which was a pretty large bus considering we’re a group of 9 people! Our hotel in Phnom Penh is our most basic of the tour, and Dek had warned us not to expect huge luxury – thankfully he warned us because the hotel was really fairly basic. My room had 3 beds in it, and a huge shower room, but that’s about the only good things – the air conditioning never really got the room cool (until 2am, when I would wake up freezing)!

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3 beds to myself

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Swimming pool

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Beer ‘fridge’

By now we were all getting desperate for our washing to be done, and this hotel offered washing at $3 for half a bag, or $6 for a whole bag. The bags were huge, so I threw all my dirty stuff in there and handed it in – we’re here 2 nights so there’s time to get it back before we leave.

At 5pm we met up for another Cyclo tour (noticing a theme here yet??) where we were lucky enough to catch Sunset hour. I love taking photos at sunset.

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Another cyclo tour

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Kiwi mart

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The sunset was beautiful

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Sun setting over the US embassy

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A famous nun

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More sunset

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The central market

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Proud of this photo

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The king of Cambodia, Nordom Sihamoni

 

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More celebrations of the new king

 

This cyclo tour was supported by an NGO which runs the scheme to encourage underprivileged Cambodians into work and it took us past some of the major sites of Phenom Penh. The city actually has quite a few sites, but they’re spread out which means that a tuktuk or cyclo is definitely required to get between them. The hotel is surprisingly close to the Royal Palace and National Museum of Cambodia however, so both of those could be on the hit list if we have time (they’re not on our tour however).

The Cyclos dropped us off in front of the Royal Palace and Dek showed us a big monument to the new King who was crowned a little while ago. He told us that the Cambodian people are a little worried about this King, because he is unmarried and really likes ballet…

The Royal Palace is located on the edge of the river, and we walked up the riverfront which had a really nice vibe to it – a few tourists but also a lot of locals just hanging out by the water and relaxing. Dek had booked us a table at another training restaurant, where locals are taught to be chefs and waiting staff. The food here was okay, although they were unable to cook my first or second choice so I ended up with steamed vegetables and rice – a little disappointing but extremely cheap! Even with a starter and 2 beers, the whole meal came to $9!

After the meal, we walked back to the hotel and to bed – in a room which I couldn’t get cool. Hmm, see you tomorrow… One way or another.

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

May 23rd – Day 4 – Durian, Cooking and Chanting Monks

The day started with an early and light breakfast, since the first activity of the day was starting at 9am. I ate with Fred & Carol, then popped up to my room to grab my bag before heading out to meet everyone for our pick-up.  We were collected by our guide from Thai Orchid Cookery School, who later introduced himself as Kong (as in King Kong).

Breakfast, buffet style as always

Thai Orchid Cookery School

Kong took us to the local market, about a 10 minute drive from the hotel, and we had a chance to see all sorts of local speciality fruits and delicacies, including the infamous ‘1000 year egg’ – an egg which has been buried under ground for 100 days and is completely black in colour inside.  The yoke has a sort of jelly texture to it.  Steve from the group was brave enough to try it, but his reaction told us that the rest of us didn’t need to try it!

In Thailand, eggs are coloured to identify their type – brown is chickens egg, white is duck egg and pink is flamingo egg (only kidding, its 1000 year egg)

1000 year egg

We saw a lot of local fruits including dragon fruit, mangostines and the durian fruit.  Durian fruits are banned from all hotels, due to their strong smell and flavour. They smell something like cheese or rotten eggs, and the smell can linger for days or weeks if they are opened indoors, but Thais love the flavour of them – and Kong bought a pack of already cut Durian (a few days old) for us to try – by then the smell has become manageable and actually the taste was pretty good!

Durian fruit, and the cut durian in the bottom right in cling film

Also on sale at the market were spices, curry pastes and lots of different type of rice for different purposes.  Thai people eat rice 3 times a day, so I guess you have to change it up from time to time!

I bought a small pack of pre-cut green mango, which was provided with a sachet of sugar, salt and chilli mixed together to be dipped.  The green mango is quite firm and bitter on it’s own, but with this little pack of zing, it was a really nice experience to eat it!

Green Mango with Sugar, Salt and Chilli – 10 baht (20p!)

After a few minutes of free time whilst Kong gathered some last minute ingredients, we headed back to the van and drove to the cookery school – which turned out to be Kongs house. He runs the cook school as his business and it was really professionally laid out, with a giant angled mirror above a demonstration station in one room, and a bunch of gas stoves in the back garden (with a covered roof) for us to cook on.  We each got our own station, so the pressure is on to really cook!

Our cooking areas, all prepped and ready to go

The Demonstration Station

A chef in the making

The first dish Kong showed us how to prepare was Vegetable Spring Rolls, which were surprisingly easy.  It was great to see all the different ingredients and learn about things like the rough and smooth side of the spring roll paper, the way Thai people make a glue up from tapioca flour to stick the edges together, and to make up our own sauces with traditional Thai ingredients. Kong made it look really easy, and then it was our turn – first collecting the ingredients for our sauce and then chopping the vegetables, stir frying and then wrapping them before frying off the finished spring rolls.  Kong gave us each a dish of home made Sweet Chilli Sauce and we sat down to eat our first home made concoction!

Kong shows us Vermicelli (glass noodles)

Stir frying for the filling of the spring rolls

My turn!

My first spring roll

And then there were two

They survived the fryer

Starter is served!

Got to admit, I am pretty proud of my first Spring rolls – they tasted good and they were super crispy. The second one kind of exploded on me as I was eating it, but at least it tasted good. There was a sign up in the dining room saying that they had beer and soft drinks for sale for 40baht so we agreed we’d all like to order a beer – which resulted in Kong jumping in his car and driving to the shops! Not quite what we had expected, but a few minutes later we had cans of beer in our hands.

We took our beer through and watched our next demonstrations – for Banana Steam Cake, then Yellow Chicken Curry and finally Chicken and Cashew Nuts.  All of the recipes were easy to follow and surprisingly uncomplicated – lots of measures of ingredients – but the end results spoke for themselves.  It was a great lesson in Thai cookery and showed just how simple their dishes are. As long as you have a handy cup of coconut cream around, you can make most of their things with a very simple powder or paste.

Below are a few snaps of the finished articles, and I can assure you that they tasted amazing!

Kong demonstrates Banana Steam Cake

My banana steam cake

Carol smashing it with her Banana Steam Cake

My yellow curry with chicken and potatoes

Fred cooking Chicken Cashew Nut

My chicken cashew nut

Lunch is served

My Banana Steam Cake

Our free cook book

Thai Orchid Cookery School

At the end of the cookery lesson, Kong gave us all a free cookbook with more simple Thai recipes and drove us back to the hotel for a brief rest to allow our stomachs to settle after so much food!

Around 4pm we set off for the next bit of our adventure – a trip to Doi Suthep, the second most sacred sight in Thailand. Doi Suthep was a 45 minute bus ride up a VERY windy road up hill to reach the temple. The road was pretty scary at places and we were amazed to see people cycling up the hill.

At the top of the hill, the minibus stopped and we were told that there were two options to reach the temple – we could either take a tram, or we could walk 309 stairs. Of course I chose the stairs!

Dek gives us the options for the journey up the hill

Dek gives us the options for the journey up the hill

And I chose the hard option, of course!

And I chose the hard option, of course!

In honesty the 309 steps weren’t that hard, and it was a lovely ornate staircase.  There were even some fallen fresh flowers on the steps, which made it pretty to walk up.

Once we regrouped at the top, we headed to a really fantastic viewpoint over Chiang Mai, where you could see the whole city.  Dek explained to us that the temple was built in this location because many years ago an elephant carrying the remains of Buddha indicated that this should be the site, by turning in a circle 3 times and trumpeting.  Somme stories say that the elephant died, others just that it trumpeted. Either way, they decided to build a temple here.

Dek also explained some details about the life of a Buddhist monk, how they follow 227 rules and dedicate their life to the Buddhist principles.  What was interesting that I had no idea about is that you can also get female monks, and they have more than 300 rules to follow because, as Dek said, women are more emotional so they have to have stricter rules.

The temple contains the remains of the Buddha which were carried by the elephant, which is what makes it such a sacred site.  The remains are buried under the temple, and people make trips from all over the Buddhist world to visit and pay their respects.

Whilst we were getting all this information, Dek also explained to us the story of the first Buddha – how he was the son of a King, and lived his life in the palace, never seeing the outside world. Eventually he left the palace and was shocked by the suffering he saw, the sick and dying people. This is what caused him to start the life of a monk, suffering like those people, and since he was making such a sacrifice, people respected him and started to follow his principles. That was the birth of Buddhism.

After all this information about the Buddhist faith, we were given times to wonder around the temple before sunset when the monks who live there come out to pray and chant.  This was what we were aiming for, and we waited around to watch the start of their chants. This was an incredible spiritual experience, seeing these men and a few women who have dedicated everything to their beliefs.

Here are a few snapshots from the temple:

Doi Sutep

Doi Sutep

Doi Sutep again

Doi Sutep again

Somme of the smaller Buddha statues surroundings the main temple

Somme of the smaller Buddha statues surroundings the main temple

Young (novice) monks praying and chanting

Young (novice) monks praying and chanting

Chanting to the Buddha in the temple

Chanting to the Buddha in the temple

People bring bells with their name on and leave it with a wish. Most were in Thai, but I found one from Kati and Fredi.

People bring bells with their name on and leave it with a wish. Most were in Thai, but I found one from Kati and Fredi.

After that amazing experience, we were free to wonder down the hill at our leisure. I grabbed a couple of shots to show the ambience of the area and the steepness of the hill:

The stairs were easier going down, for sure

The stairs were easier going down, for sure

Another Buddha, at the bottom of the hill

Another Buddha, at the bottom of the hill

The flags at the bottom of the stairs

The flags at the bottom of the stairs

Once everyone regrouped, we jumped into the minibus and headed back into Chiang Mai. We stopped at a viewpoint over the city to see some of the lights switching on, then headed all the way down the windy road again.

Once back in Chiang Mai, we were dropped off at another Night Market near our hotel. We had a bit of a look through the stalls, but most of the people in the group wanted to try a ‘Fish Massage’ – something I ruled out straight away! With my ticklish feet, there is no chance I would enjoy that.

Dek took us to a stall which was really good value for money – the fish massage was 100 baht for 20 minutes, and they offered Thai massage for 100 baht (£2) for 30 minutes. I opted for a neck and back massage, whilst the others tried the Fish Massage!

Steve didn't last long!

Steve didn’t last long!

Feeling accomplished from our mixed day of cooking, temples and massages, we grabbed a light dinner in a bar at the market and I treated myself to a hand made ice cream as well.  Afterwards, we took a Tuk-Tuk back to the hotel and had a fairly early night – preparing for my Ziplining adventure tomorrow which Dek has booked for me! Got to be ready to leave at 8am, so it’s an early start.

Brownie and M&Ms get cream poured over them and smashed together

Brownie and M&Ms get cream poured over them and smashed together

Then the mixture is spread out on a cold plate to freeze, and rolls of it are created using the spatula once it's frozen

Then the mixture is spread out on a cold plate to freeze, and rolls of it are created using the spatula once it’s frozen

Then whipped cream is added and more M&Ms and brownies... Voila, calories in a bowl! But I'm on holiday!

Then whipped cream is added and more M&Ms and brownies… Voila, calories in a bowl! But I’m on holiday!

Night all!

Categories: Food, 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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