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Cycling around Kep

22 Dec

After a “I hear Kep is supposed to be nice” comment from  fellow traveller Raf, we were on a bus to the little coastal town, not far from Kampot in Cambodia (where loads of pepper is grown).

Once we arrived we secured a bamboo hut on the hill side (they were pretty comfortable, though electricity only came on from about 5pm), with a beautiful view of the bay. We rented a couple of bikes and along with our friend Raf we scouted out the local area.

Kep, once a popular resort area until the Khmer Rouge came along and forced everyone out, it now had an air of abandonment; but not it a trashy way, just reclaimed by nature and time. The old fancy broad-walks along the coast, now cracked and grown over in some places, coastal homes lay gutted. Though next to all this decay there were also a few wonderful local restaurants and newer resorts (like our own).

We stopped to try the local crab (which the area is known for), and did not regret it. We ate peppered crab with pepper from down the road and crab not more that 30M from where we sat and ate on the shore.

The next day, feeling energetic we set off with our bicycles once more in an attempt to find more old abandoned houses whilst we circled the hill which a part of Kep sat on. We cycled for miles through the most beautiful countryside. Passing locals retrieving mud from the river (not sure either…) and field after field of rice. Stopping here and there to say hello to the local children of picking up playing cards (once again not sure either… ask Clare). As we doubled back to round the other side of the hill, we happened upon a mosque almost in the middle of nowhere. It looked pretty incredible against the swirling skies of an ominous looking storm.

 

2 Minutes up the road we ploughed into the nearest restaurant/cafe/shop/thingy at the side of the road, rain just on our heels. As we propped our bikes up and ran under the tarp that was the front of the shop thing, the heavens opened. I know! I know! Its a massive cliché, but there really was no other way to describe it. SO MUCH WATER FROM SKY! We sat and ate some chewy fried things and nibbled on some hard cinnamon baked things whilst we waited, watching the road become a river.

After a surprisingly short time the rains just stopped and on we went.

We cycled only a short distance and discovered an amazingly blackened building in the middle of a luscious green field of rice. We all stopped to take pictures and after a minute we realised how quiet and peaceful it was around there. Well, not entirely.

“What’s that sound?” Raf asked.

“What sound?” I replied

“That sorta whooshing rushing sound? Sounds like TV Static? Oh my god is that rain?!”

“Shit, CLARE RAINS COMING, Run!”

We grabbed our bikes and peddled as fast as we could in the direction of the nearest building, which happened to be a farm house with a pig-sty next to it. Not seeing anyone in the house we ran for the iron lean-to that was the sty. And then the rain fell, heavy as before, soaking Clare to the bone as she was a little way behind us (she had gone up to explore the building).

Eventually the rain slowed enough (the owners of the farm house had seen us standing in the sty) and we we’re invited into the farm house. It was an incredibly humble home, with dirt floors wooden beds with no mattress only mats and a barrel in a back room for washing. We spent quite some time in there, waiting for the rain, in the warmth of the simple home. We made the time pass by trying to bridge the language barrier; playing with the children  (Clare teaching them yoga and getting them to play ‘Simon Says’ which was more like ‘Copy Clare’), drawing pictures in a little note book, teaching the kids to count in English and showing photos from our camera’s. I don’t think I have felt that welcomed by strangers in a long time, though there was no common language and we had nothing to give to them in the way of thanks, we really did feel so welcomed.

Eventually the rain let up and we left, waving and shouting “Ar Kun” (thank you). After a short ride we finished the circle, to climb the guest houses hill once more, arriving exhausted and sweaty.

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The Best Beer in Laos

12 Oct

Dam Jook!

Laos is partly renowned for its friendly people, semi lethal Lao Lao drink and Beer Lao, but until reaching Central Laos I had no idea the province of Savannakhet had its own beer too- Beer Savan. It has a tiny dinosaur on the front of the can and tastes better than Beer Lao.

After perhaps one of the tastiest meals I’ve had in Laos at the floating restaurant, and listening to some rather deafening live Lao music by the Mekong River, we decided to search for a karaoke bar Tat and Andy had been to the other night.

However, unable to find the place, Tat asked some Lao locals who were sat enjoying a beer outside, for directions. The man at the far end said, “I’ll tell you where it is, but you have to have a drink with us first.” Behind him were loads of stacked up crates of beer and large signs reading ‘Beer Savan’.

We’d accidentally stumbled upon the Beer Savan owner and her friends and employees having a friendly evening meal and drink. We were only too happy to accompany them.

In all honesty, up until last night I was starting to feel that the claims were false about Laoisians being friendly, hospitable people; especially as we were fed bowls of laxatives the week before in a home-stay meal in Konglor.

But, the people of Savannakhet and the Beer Savan group were incredibly warm, welcoming, and happy to chat with us all evening; they definitely lived up to the ‘Lao people are friendly’ reputation. And as we left, they kindly gave us all a free Beer Savan glass each, with a dinosaur on the front.

Of course, the whole thing could have just been an excellent sales pitch, as I’m now writing a whole blog post about Beer Savan; if so, good for them. We all had fun, they made some extra sales and as promised, they lead us in the right direction to the karaoke bar just in time for what seems like Laos and Thailand’s favourite song, Hotel California.

People Watching in Vientiane

3 Oct

Vientiane feels half finished and a bit unsure of itself. I had this vision before we arrived that it’d be quite French and rustic, but in reality it’s a bit like a building site with some banks, bakeries and temples dotted about.

After wandering around for a while and seeing a great film called Trafic at the French Institute, my attention turned purely to people- both tourists and locals.

Arriving in Laos, Luang Prabang, and an angry woman and her dog

20 Sep

Laos seems to be one of the more mysterious South-East Asian countries, probably because I’ve never come across a Laos restaurant outside of Laos or owned anything made in Laos, etc.

And before arriving here, whenever I asked anyone about Laos they’d talk mainly about the tubing which despite sounding kind of touristy, I think I’d quite like to do. For the equivalent of a few £’s, floating down a river on a rubber ring in the sun and being handed free shots doesn’t sound so bad.

But where is the real Laos? The Lonely Planet mentions that “For about 80% of the population, the ‘real Laos’ is village life, and the best way to really get a feel for how the Lao live is to spend a night or two in a homestay.” Quite like the idea of this too.

However, we only arrived in Luang Prabang in central Laos a few days ago, and for now I think we both want to stay here for a few more days. The city is full of character and seems almost European in some ways; probably because it was originally a French colony. When we arrived it was a pleasant surprise to see lots of stalls selling baguettes. It made me hungry for sandwiches.

Aside from the bread though, Luang Pragang is an entertaining and endlessly intriguing place. Perhaps we haven’t yet got to the core of life in Laos but we’ve sampled some delicious food, stumbled across some great art, experienced Saturday night in a Laos nightclub, and met some interesting people, both nice and nasty.

On our first full day here, we were walking past a restaurant and met an Aussie girl, Nikki who had just finished doing a Laos cooking course and was sat alone surrounded by bowls and plates of yummy looking vegetarian food. She couldn’t eat it all so she invited us to sit with her and eat some, which is still some of the best food I’ve tasted here.

Unfortunately a bit later on, the next person we met wasn’t so nice. We ventured into the second hand book swap shop across the road where we were greeted by a horrible barking ratty little grey dog (reminded me a bit of the severely inbred dogs when you type ‘ugly dog’ into google).

Shortly after us, a Swedish guy walked in calling ‘Sabadee’ which is hello in Lao. I thought he was calling Zebedee and assumed he must know the woman who worked in the shop, because a few seconds later this booming Australian female voice yelled something back quite scarily.  I thought, you can’t surely be that rude to a stranger- he must be family.

The Swedish guy couldn’t hear so said something like, “I’m sorry I can’t here you.” And the woman completely lost her temper and started yelling at the top of her voice, “I SAID WAIT A MINUTE…” When she appeared (an overweight, ratty, grey woman in her 60’s), the Swedish guy timidly asked if she had a copy of a book he was looking for, to which she barked back, “No” and he left muttering, “sorry for disturbing you.”

By this point we were pretty keen to leave this bad tempered woman and her ugly dog alone, so Dom handed his Terry Prachett book to her which she disinterestedly flicked through and said, “Well, I suppose we can take it because we had one of these in last week and it sold pretty fast.” The other books on the shelf were so bad; we didn’t even swap it with another one. Talk about being ungrateful.

It’s also important to note at this stage that the shop this woman was working in was a charity, and all the money made supposedly went to help children in Laos get an education. How and why was this woman allowed to work there is completely beyond me.

I very much doubt that this little encounter had much to do with experiencing the ‘Real Laos’ but it was amusing to see such a well matched, ugly and angry dog and owner combination.