Posts Tagged ‘Food’


Shangri-la

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Having spent six days experiencing some of the most enjoyable, but hard cycling to date, it was time for some R and R.  I spent my time in Shangri-la at the Barley YHA, a great hostel with friendly staff and a constant stream of travellers.  It was great to meet some young Chinese travellers as well, a lot of whom were interested in my trip and one guy in particular who was keen to try bike travel himself.  I hope you take the first steps, get the bike and set off for the ride of your life.  We found a good local restaurant to eat at run by a lovely lady from the North East of China and I met a girl from Singapore who was opening up a new cafe in town, that was going to be selling real coffee, muffins, pies and waffles.  I sampled all her lovely food and i hope that the cafe is a great success for her.  If you are in Shangri-la go and check it out. TLJ The Long Journey in Shangri-la.  It’s in the old tow,n near the dancing square.  Carole who runs place, speaks fluent English and Chinese, so if you are in a pickle or just want to chat to someone, pop in for a Muffin and a coffee.

sign the long journey cafe

the long journey cafe

Shangri-la in the winter is very cold and the old town is quiet. A lot of the hotels and some of the shops close down in the winter, and a morning walk around the old town was a quiet and relaxing experience.  There are a few temples, a national park and good food to sample in the town.  Generally when we are off the bikes we are either doing a lot of tourist things or just chilling,  People often don’t understand why i am not bothered about seeing all the temples and going to all the tourist sites.  We have found that on the bike your are constantly moving, seeing lots of things, meeting people and your whole life is lived in the open. When you stop, it’s nice not to move too much, relax and enjoy some time to yourself.  So that’s what I did.  I caught up with some of the blog, watched movies and ate nice food.

Songzai Temple Shangrai-la

I did take a trip to the temple in the town though, it has the world’s biggest prayer wheel and gave it a few turns, there were good views from the top and I still can’t work out what is so magical about Tibetan prayer flags.

Tibetan pray flags, Shangari-la

worlds largest pray wheel shangri-laPart of the reason for staying so long in Shangri-la was that Margo and Ben and I were waiting for some post.  I needed a new bank card as mine had expired, and I had also ordered some Neos, winter over boots. Margo and Ben were waiting on new tent poles and sleeping mats.  After a week i was getting a little restless as were Margo and Ben.  With no post in sight i decided that a trip back to the Tiger Leaping Gorge was a good idea.  A lot of the travellers that I met, had said that it was a great walk with stunning views.  Margo and Ben who had limited time on their visa, made some repairs to their current tent poles and decided that they had to get going and would try and redirect their parcels further north.

So after nearly two months of travelling together we were to part company.  It was strange having planned to cycle together all the way to Xining and now our time together was going to end.  Over a short period of time we had become close friends.  Living, cycling and travelling with someone, you soon get to know a lot about them.  I had an amazing time travelling with them and we shall definitely be meeting up when we get back to the UK for drinks, cycling and camping.

At the same time, i was looking forward to some time on my own, Liz and I had travelled together for 15 months and probably only spent a few days a part during that time.  I think it is good to have time to yourself, you get more time reflect on things you have done, and the things you want to do.

chris turining pray wheel shangri-la

I went to the cafe of the Hostel that had closed for the winter, where all my stuff was being sent to, to say that i was away for a few days, so if my post came then hold on to it for me.  To my surprise, everything had arrived.  I left the cafe pondering what to do, carry on riding or go and walk the gorge.  In the end I had to go back to Lijiang to collect some money from a friend who had ordered some tyres for me, but the order was cancelled due to lack of stock, so the decision was made for me.

Margo, Ben and I said our farewells and I took the bus back to Lijiang as they set off North for Sichuan.

See more photos here

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Lijiang to Shangri-la via the tiger leaping gorge Day 3 & 4

Monday, January 31st, 2011

The next morning, I woke up I looked at my watch and it was nearly 10 o’clock, I must have relaxed and happy because I am usually keen to get up and away in the mornings to avoid confrontation with any disgruntled land owners.  But here I suppose I felt that no one cared and there was no rush, the view was good and the sun was warm.  We had leisurely breakfast packed up and set off.  We now had to get back up the rocky path we had come down, I was under no illusions about cycling it but thought the first bit would be worth  a go.  I came off straight away so pushed the bike and got the camera out to film Ben and Margo as they attempted the ascent.  Margo did really well, got past the bend and half way up but came off just before the top.  Ben – whose bikes skills are quite impressive, his ability to put a fully loaded touring bike exactly where he want it is amazing – he got past the first bend easily and came off, he started again and made it all the way to the top, impressive. I packed up the camera and panted as I pushed my heavy bike up the slope.

Picture cyclist going up steep hill

We were rewarded with a short descent and then started climbing again.  It was a lovely day, still and warm but not to hot, perfect cycling conditions.  After only 10km we came across a couple of guys at the side of the road.  They had lots of wood, and beside them a hole in the side wall next to the road, with a big fire in it.  After some good signing we discovered they were making bricks.  We chatted for a bit longer, and it seemed were being invited for tea so we sat down on the road and watched while one guy was working and the other was preparing food.  We were given some small bits of what I think were black pudding, so tasty.  Then we were offered rice, more meat vegetables and some beans.  The food kept coming and attempts of saying ‘no more, I am full’ were useless our bowls just kept being refilled, Ben ate the most followed by Margo and then me, some of you may be surprised at this as I am know for eating lots, it just goes to show that I am not the only human dustbin – any cycle tourer you meet will happily match me for food eating ability.  Anyway I was getting really full by the 4th bowl of rice and stopped any more going in by putting my hand over the top of the bowl, this seemed to convey the message I was trying to give!

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We thanked the guys profusely and dug out a bag of nuts to give them something in return.  They looked in the bag and at the nuts and then gave them back, then as fingers met thumbs and rubbed together we realised they were after some money.  Now this possibility had crossed my mind and I was now sure that, earlier when the guy was pointing to my camera before he was hoping that I might give it to him.  It was a funny situation rather than tense or awkward, they guys were trying their luck, they had sat us down and given us food, so we probably could have just shrugged a no understanding gestured, more thanks and carried on.  However we decided that we should give them something, it was a lot of food and it was useful for us as it was not like there were many restaurants around.  The guy got out a big note and we all though no chance, a quick group huddle and we decided on a reasonable amount to give them, paid up and cycled on.

Road side hospitality

I felt a little strange as we set off, partly annoyed, partly confused, did they do it on purpose, should I have paid what?  It is difficult when you are in a different country and culture but generally speaking if someone offers you food, then you don’t expect to pay for it after (without knowing the price beforehand).  However as a western traveller I am perceived as being rich and have lots of money.  I mulled the situation over in my head, but it was not till the next day that I realised I had done the right thing for me.  I would have felt worse if I had not had given any money, and vulnerable as I cycled on in case there was any comeback.

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We kept climbing after lunch and continued to do so for the rest of the day, I was mostly in my own world thinking about life, kit and the universe, as usual and admiring the butterflies by the side of the road.  We cycled though some small villages and I pondered their evolution.  A lot of the houses were built of gray brick but the brick work was perfect and beautiful with different shades of gray.  Similar style roofing slates were also in use and intricately carved wooden windows for the houses.  It seemed that it was the newer houses that were brick and the older ones wood or stone, some of the buildings had tin roofs others plastic sheets.  How long had the bricks been a lively hood for these villages and what was their life before bricks.  Seeing the architectural style change as the buildings got newer was fascinating, I could only imagine how and what and will probably never know the real history of this place.

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I caught Ben and Margo up on a flat bit and we sat down to have tea, it had been a funny day, time was irrelevant really but now suddenly it was creeping back into our reality as we realised it was nearly 5pm and we had probably only done about 30km.  Still we waited for the water to boil had our tea and watch as the villages emerged slowly from the trees behind us.  What they had been doing I don’t know, but I imagine it would have involved tending animals or plants.  They were mainly groups of young women and sometimes one man.  They would wait by the side of the road, chatting and giggling until a truck or car came a long and then climb on top to get a ride home.  Some of the vehicles were already piled high with hay but still they climbed on top, to the already seemingly wobbly truck and carried on chatting as they went down the hill to their homes.  One group of girls reminded me of home, they were wearing more western style clothing, almost oblivious to us, three in front chatting away, what about I can only imagine, but I presume it was not Topshop’s new winter collection, the other was on her mobile phone nattering away to someone somewhere.  It struck me that despite the great distance and cultural differences some things are the same.  Sure as the world gets smaller, cultures merge but for me it was a picture of how much we are alike rather than how different we are.

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With tea finished and everyone and their goats on the way home too, even the one that got stuck on a rock wall, we set off again.  We knew from speaking to one of the locals that we would go up, then come to a flat plain, then up again.  All we had to do was find some more water and then a place to camped for the night.  We climbed a short way up and the valley opened out onto a flat plain flanked by the road, going up a steep climb to our right and snow capped mountains on our left.  The plain was dry and dusty and there was not a river in site, so we pushed on and eventually found a small river at the bend where the road started to climb again.  We filled our bottles with ice cold water from the stream and pondered about what to do, go back about 1km and camp or continue up the hill.  We opted to go back, as the whole area behind us was perfect for camping. We cycled back a short way, made a small bridge from a log and pushed our bikes off the road and onto the dusty earth to a clearing behind some trees.  It was another perfect camp site.  With camp set up, we filled our bellies with more rice and drifted off into another peaceful sleep.  It had been a lovely day, perfect weather and perfect cycling, beautiful scenery and very relaxing.

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The next morning we woke up to more frozen water and the sound of the vehicles in the trees behind us, most of the trees were pine and were being harvested by the locals.  We remained undisturbed by humans as we had breakfast and packed up, but a small horse wandered around our campsite, probably wondering what we were doing there, what was for breakfast and why we had so much stuff.  He was friendly and seemed to enjoy the attention we gave him, his soft coat warm from the rising sun.  We pushed the bikes back through the soft dirt and started to climb, the sun warming our bones again and reflecting majestically off the snow capped mountain behind us.

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I took some snaps with the camera that did not do justice to what my eyes saw, undeterred I committed the scene to memory and carried on up the hill.  We crested the hill and descended into another valley, the road weaving though small settlements, the villagers going about their daily life, briefly disturbed by three bicycles whizzing by.  We reached a larger settlement with a shop and stocked up on a few essentials.  Ben was already hungry so stopped for some noodles, I was keen to carry on so left Ben and Margo to have noodles and arranged to meet them later.

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I cycled out of the village, and back up the other side of the valley, on the way I had a fierce growling match with a dog that had a toothy grimace and probably thought that biting a cyclist was a good idea.  Fortunately for me, he backed down and I continued on passed the rubbish dump and up the hill.  I got to the top and freewheeled down finding a great spot for lunch.

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As I was tucking into my noodles Ben and Margo joined me and we enjoyed the midday sun and waved to the occasional truck driver as they plodded up the hill.

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After lunch we descended into another valley and started climbing again.  I heard singing  from somewhere and stopped to find out where it was coming from, not just one person but a group of people, it was the school below me.  Upon closer observation there was two groups of Children singing , they were singing together, sometimes following one another and at other times competing in against each other.  It did not feel like China, more like Africa but it was magical and a part of Chinese life I had not seen before.  With a smile on my face and a warm heart I carried on up the hill, it went on and on and on and on and I felt like it was never going to stop.  We had all separated out, going at our own pace.

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I would sometimes see Margo on a bend above me and wondered where Ben was and if he was ever going to stop.  I started cursing, come on it’s getting late now, I can’t do any more of this, I want to stop.  I had no choice but to carry on, I knew that Ben was probably pushing for the top to get there before dark and so really I understood, just keep pedaling.  Eventually I crested the hill and Ben and Margo were there, an old lady in traditional dress was talking with them.  It was getting cold and I did not want to stop and loose the heat I had generated going up the hill, I voted we carried on and camp at the first opportunity.  I put on some gloves and another jacket and we whizzed down the hill.  We found an empty patch of land that was exposed and rocky, but after a day of climbing it was going to be home for the night whatever.  We pitched the tents with rocks, as the ground was too hard for pegss and started to make dinner.  Ben was exhausted and passed out before dinner, he had eaten at the top of the climb, so Margo and I had some rice, finished boiling the water on the fire for the next day and went to bed.  I was knackered, but happy to have to got the top of the last hill and now be cosy in my sleeping bag.  The next day we were hoping to make it to Shangri-la.

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Being back home…

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

I left Dali on 8th Dec and flew to Kunming and then onto Beijing. It was strange to be travelling alone after being together with Chris for so long. In Beijing, I was very fortunate to have people to stay with right in the heart of Beijing, and had a day to explore the vast city.

Beijing is huge, but quite similar to other big metropolis, lots of traffic, skyscrapers and the usual hustle and bustle, China style! I visited Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City, which was interesting and I had fun using a disposable camera for the first time in years. It was also a lot colder than I realized and to the delight of the stall holders, I had no choice but to buy a pair of woolly, fleeced lined gloves.

I flew home to the UK the following day, via Moscow and landed back at Heathrow around 9.30am. Home!! Having been on a Russian flight for the last few hours, I still hadn’t heard anyone speaking English. As I entered the baggage area, two men in high vis jackets walked passed and I got to hear my first bit of English… which went something along the lines of “You’re such a c**k” with the unimaginative reply of “F*** off!”  Ah home sweet home!

It was exciting and surreal to see my Mum and brother as they arrived at the airport. After such a long time away, it was so nice to see them again. This was followed later by my brother’s wife, my little nephew Joshua and my Dad.  With champagne, a wonderful leg of lamb and roast potatoes to welcome me home, it was a very celebratory evening and we talked until late.

In addition seeing my family, the other reason for returning home was to work and earn some more cash to keep us going. I was very fortunate to have picked up some freelance work back at the BBC where I’d previously worked for 7 years. And I was starting in 3 days time! So with 2 days to get organized, I dashed to the hairdressers to sort out my rather neglected hair and return it to some sort of recognizable colour. This was followed by a sprint round the shops to find some clothes to wear (the entire contents of our house were in storage at Chris’s mums and I’d need to go and search for my belongings at some point). Having lost quite a lot of weight whilst being away, I was delighted to be buying size 10s again! So I returned feeling like I’d been on one of those makeover TV shows.

On Monday morning I went straight into an all day meeting and workshop in the centre of London, for the project that I had joined. And on Tuesday I headed to BBC Television Centre with a spring in my step. It had been 4 years since I’d left and I was excited to be back and see some familiar faces. Funnily enough I was working back on the same floor that I worked a few years ago and it all seemed pretty familiar. That said you still feel a buzz of excitement as you walk through Television Centre!

I was pretty shattered after that first week, travelling to work and being in an office all day isn’t as tiring as cycling but I did feel quite tired by Friday. My legs were stiff from sitting down all day and my eyes were twitching from looking at the screen all day. I’m definitely out of practice!

Other than that I found it pretty easy to slip back into ‘normal’ life. I guess I expected more of a culture shock, coming back. However perhaps because everything here is what I’ve always known and is so familiar, really, being away is still the stranger of the two. It’s a bit like meeting up with an old friend who you haven’t seen for a few years, and being able to pretty much pick up where you left off, like it was yesterday. I also think it’s easier to hit the ground running when you’ve been on the road for a while, because you are used to everything changing all the time and are constantly adapting to the environment and people around you. When you’ve been out of your comfort zone so much, it leaves you feeling quite versatile and able to go with the flow, without freaking out.

Despite feeling relaxed about being home, I do feel I have a heightened sense of awareness and appreciation for things. Being able to turn the tap on and drink the water without even thinking twice – what a luxury – after 9 months of having to boil, filter or treat water in order to drink it safely (or buy it), I certainly appreciate this simple, yet fundamental thing.

Stepping into a hot shower and standing under it for longer than you need to, or running a bath and soaking, just to enjoy the heat and luxury of it all. Yes we do have showers on our travels and hot water, but after camping for several days without washing, cycling in the heat with road dirt, sweat, mosquito repellent and sun cream all over you, a shower will always be one of those amazing luxuries that I won’t ever take for granted now!

It goes on… sitting on a sofa, rather than the floor, eating mash potato rather than rice, flicking a switch to boil water, rather than getting the stove set up, fresh milk instead of powdered (or none at all!), soft pillows, western, clean toilets (as the norm), cider, cadbury’s chocolate. I know these are all simple pleasures and creature comforts, but to me they are all heavenly and make me feel so lucky. We have so, so much here, we don’t realise how fortunate we are, to us it’s just normal.

It’s great being able to understand what everyone around you is saying and being able to talk to everyone. It’s also nice to be able to read road signs and newspaper headlines again!

Even though our roads are less chaotic than in Asia, I can’t help noticing how fast everyone drives. Whilst walking along the pavement one day, not long after I was back, I felt myself jumping every time a car went zooming passed. We drive fast and we accelerate quickly too – at the traffic lights it’s like the start of the Monaco Grand Prix! Despite the unpredictable nature of Asia’s roads, I think there is a lot of tolerance and acceptance of other types of road users (bikes, scooters, cows, goats, buses, pedestrians, gangs of kids, rickshaws, tuk tuks etc) and common sense prevails. Perhaps this simply reflects the difference in our pace of life?

On that note, I have noticed that I am inclined to take my time a bit more than before. Normally when I leave the tube and see the train I want, just pulling into the other platform, I run up the stars, leg it over the bridge, down the stairs and try to catch it, despite the crowds of people. If I miss it, I feel stressed and cross. However now I will try to catch it, but can’t help feeling that if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world I’ll just catch the next one. But I am aware than I’m not running at the same pace as most people living or working in London, this is only temporary!

Also the UK is really expensive, I mean, how did Crunchies end up costing 75p, just to be clear, that’s 75p for one crunchie?? Not to mention a single tube fare is £4.00, a pint of cider is £3.75, unleaded petrol is abut £1.30 a litre, even chocolate buttons costs about 65p and you only get about 10 in the packet! Scary stuff.

However, the thing I’ve found most challenging is being able to keep more than 7 or 8 things in my head at one time. I’m usually the kind of person who can remember 30 things at one and flit from one to the other with ease. I guess over the last 15 months I’ve had a lot of ‘head space’ and my mind hasn’t been filled with all the clutter and day to day stuff that you have to do here…. Buy present and card for baby, book dentist appointment, call bank, contact Julie, buy nikwax, read document, reply to emails, book train ticket, get petrol, go to meeting, meet for drinks here, call baby sitter, see friends on this date…blah blah blah… Not that we don’t have things to do on the road, we do of course, and we have lists. But most of these things are just jobs that we have decided to do and mostly things that only affect us, no one’s gonna care if we do them or not. So it appears that my brain has forgotten how to hold all these tasks and thoughts at the same time. Maybe it’s good thing, I certainly don’t feel stressed… or maybe it’s just makes me a space cadet!

One of the best things about being back is babies. Since we’ve been away 6 babies have been born: Felix, Harrison, Lucas, Marcus, Charlotte, and Freya, plus there are 4 little ones, Joshua, Katie, Amy and Harriet who were tiny babies when we left and they are now about 1 and a half years old. So I’m having lot of fun getting to know all these gorgeous little ones. Other friends are also pregnant, so it’s an exciting time to be back and wonderful to share a little of their lives whilst I’m here.

The hardest thing by far, is being away from Chris, after spending so much time together, it’s strange to be apart. However I think it’s good for us to have some time on our own and for us both to have chance to do our own thing and not have to always consider the other 24/7. Chris is relishing the challenge of some tough cycling and a solo experience; for me having time with friends and family is important, as well as having some normality, and I reckon I’ll be ready to carry on cycling soon enough.

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Roti Mataba

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Roti Mataba SignIf you are staying near Khao San Rd in Bangkok, you may want to try Roti Mataba for breakfast, brunch or any time of the day really! It is one of my favourite places and I went there twice during the short time we were in Bangkok.

They basically serve every type of Roti you can imagine (it’s like Indian bread or a thin savoury pancake) , all cooked fresh on a hot griddle about 1 metre from where you are sat. We had roti with chicken and potato served with a sweet sauce; roti with egg, served with a sweet custard sauce; and a mataba, which is like a vegetable patty wrapped in dough (roti). All really really good!

The place was packed when we got there, all with locals, and people were queuing to get in. There are only 3 tables inside and two outside on the pavement, so many people take-away. I did this the second time I visited, on my own, and sat in the park opposite instead. You can’t help feeling that they could easily fill a place 5 times bigger, but somehow I think the atmosphere would be different. Service is pretty fast and furious, and the place is tightly packed so it might seem a little hectic, but it’s great for people watching, especially the lady who does the cooking…

To find Roti Mataba, go to Thanon Phra Athit (Banglamphu), same road at the Ferry pier N13. It’s on the corner , opposite the park and the  Phra Sumen Fort. The road turns into Thanon Phra Sumen once you go around the corner.

Phra Sumen Fort

Don’t hang back, just go in and order – they’ll find you a place to sit, or you can take-away and eat in the lovely park opposite, next to the river. Rotis start at about 40 baht, order a few things if you are hungry. They also have a great selection of curries.

Roti Mataba

Enjoy!

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Cycling in Thailand

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

After leaving the tranquility and beauty of the Sri Phanga National Park, we headed to a town called Khura Buri, which wasn’t too far away and a nice gentle ride with mountains keeping their distance to the right. The road was quiet and it was overcast so very pleasant cycling conditions.

We stayed at Alex Homestay, in Khura Buri and really enjoyed meeting Alex, who looked after us superbly – letting us use the washing machine and supplying a high speed internet cable to our room. He even invited us to join him for dinner…

Leaving Alex, with a late start, we cycled north towards Ranong and stopped to camp in a Rubber Plantation for the night, about half way. In our best broken Thai we managed to ask some passerbys if it was ok, they seemed to think so.

After a nice supper, we sat by the trees in the dark, discussing the concept of soulmates. We’ve both just read a book called Brida by Paulo Coelho (author of The Alchemist), which is about soulmates amongst other things. Very interesting read and got us both thinking…

It rained very heavily overnight, yet was still sauna like in the tent. I kept waking up intermittently to check we weren’t being flooded.

Next morning, with waves and smiles from passing scooter riders, we packed up and set off for Ranong. Ranong is predominantly a place where the backpacker buses go and a good place for visa runs, due to the proximity to the Burmese border (read this article to see why we are using the name Burma rather than Myanmar). Plus there are free hot springs, which has to be a lure for any cyclist! It rained most of the way there and was otherwise uneventful, (besides our rather exciting trip to Tesco).

In Ranong, we stayed at the Kiwi Orchid Guest House, right next to the bus station, where we were greeted and shown a choice of nice rooms with fans. There were a few backpackers staying there, who seemed to have had a rough day, with long bus journeys or were simply weary (of travelling?) – they all seemed a bit gloomy to us! Made us glad to be on the bikes and not at the mercy of buses, boats and tour operators. At the same time I can’t help wondering how people can be so grumpy when they are in such a lovely country, at the end of the day it’s their choice to be there and so many people in the world would never even have the opportunity to travel in this way.

We stayed a couple of days in the end and went to the hot springs and explored the town, enjoying the delights of the Food Market.

We can’t help noticing that there is a great appreciation of food here in Thailand, people take their time to sit and have a coffee and a bowl of noodle soup together. Watching the faces of the people cooking and preparing food, it seems that everyone is happy, content, they take pride  in their work. After all, making food for people is quite possibly one of the most important jobs you can do, we all gotta eat!

So we too take our time and sit eating Kow Pad Kai (literally: rice fried chicken) and phad thai with pork ( big soft noodles fried in a peanuty/sweet sauce). Most dishes are served with a small bowl of watery soup, wherever you go, it’s free or included in the price. My dish comes with crunchy beanspouts, spring onions and a slice of lime on the side. We learn the word for ice tea, order two and soak up the atmosphere.

It poured with rain solidly for 2 days and we found our trip to the hot springs quite comical. The sign said you could only soak your feet, so we sat on the edge in our waterproof jackets, with our toes in the water. A Thai man was in the pool completely and then others came and did the same, so we decided to ignore the sign and get in.

A one point a lady arrived on her scooter wearing long trousers and a long sleeved top. After greeting us she proceeded to climb into the hottest pool, fully clothed still wearing her scooter helmet! We both looked at it each other and said ‘Only in Asia!’.

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