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ms loan

cau lauHoi an has some great specialities.  In fact it’s one of the best places to eat great food in Vietnam.  There are tasty cheap eats down the market, upmarket Vietnamese places in old traders houses, Cafes, even places that serve some pretty edible pizza – but for me, this is the place to try great examples of the local food.

Ms. Loan is one of many almost identical places lined down the Khu am Thuc eating area.  The restaurants take turns feeding the customers who wander this far down, and I ended up being fed by the family here – lucky for me.

mi quangThe most famous dish from Hoi An is Cau Lau noodles – Thick, rough rice and wheat noodles, with lots of green herbs and lettuce is topped with a little broth, some roast pork, and finally some offcuts of the same noodles deep fried till crispy.  It’s one of my favourite noodle dishes.  Simple, and the pile of herbs and a squeeze off lemon give it a fresh light flavour.

white roseAnother noodle dish we tried was Mi Quang –  Turmeric coloured noodles with the same herbs, but a rich tomato and crab fat sauce, with braised pork and a quail egg.  Another great dish, Richer than the Cau lau, but still light because of the mix of green herbs.

won tonsWe also tried two other local dishes. White Rose is a steamed rice noodle stuffed with prawn, and topped with lots of crispy shallots – with a sweet vinegar dip.  The local wontons are flat triangles stuffed with a little pork mince, then topped with a great sweet and sour salsa of green beans, tomato and peppers – another winner, almost like a local plate of nachos!

So, If you’re in Hoi An, get down to Ms. Loan’s for some local specialties.

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Not in the same league as Angkor in Cambodia, but still a great place to visit due to the beautiful natural environment around the Temples.

The Temple, dedicated to Hindu Gods, was used as the religious centre for the Cham people when they controlled much of Southern Vietnam. Work began building a religious centre in the 4th century, and the temple complex was used continually till the 14th, the longest of any similar site in South East Asia.

With the decline of Cham power in the region the temple was abandoned.  Sadly, during the American war, the temple was damaged significantly, destroying many of the buildings.

 

 

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Hue was the last Royal Capital of Vietnam.  Sadly though, the old quarter of the city and most of the palace was destroyed by American bombing during the fight to recapture the city from the Viet Com.  Luckily, outside of the city there still remains the tombs of some of the last Vietnamese emperors, a world heritage sight.  They give some insight into what it would have been like in the Imperial Capital.

 

The eight tier Thien Mu  pagoda, just outside the city

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A shrine in the tomb of Minh Mang

shrine

 

More of Minh Mang’s Tomb, built to specific Confucian design and set in beautiful grounds.

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Tu Duc’s Beautiful and expansive temple complex

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The ruined living quarters for servants – still expected to tend to their Emperor after his death.

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Elephants, horses and Mandarins stand to attention for their dead emperor in the after life

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Flowers decorating the grounds

tomb flowers

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Street food in Hanoi leaves a lot to be desired.  Most of the food is bland and they don’t really have any condiments to jazz it up – unless you want saltless chilli sauce, or vinegar with garlic slices in it.  The staff aren’t to excited about serving foreigners either because of the language barrier – this is especially annoying when they only serve one dish.  Just give me what everybody else is having!!!  Oh,and they don’t have the price of anything on the English menu – is this an excuse to rip you off – prices vary wildly.

Luckily, there are a few exceptions  – Sadly exceptions rather than rules.  But one place where you can try a cross section of the nations street food is Quan An Ngon.  Its set in the courtyard of an old French colonial villa, the staff are attentive and friendly, the food is good, you can see all the food being prepared and it’s only a little more than the price of street food.  It’s also very clean – something that most places in Hanoi don’t seem to care about – you might say I can’t expect certain levels service and cleanliness in a developing country, I say go to Thailand and see how it’s done there – and it’s cheaper!!!

Anyway, At Quan An Ngon you get exactly what you expect.  I’m not saying it’s the best food in Hanoi, far from it.  It’s just really good.  And the choices are endless – Each dish being cooked in it’s own mini street food stall.  We go for a selection of rice paper rolls – Pickled pigs ear with crispy vegetables; Shredded pork skin; Sour pork sausage with green papaya and more pig skin; and finally the classic pork and shrimp roll. All text book rolls, fresh, tasty and coming with a dip specific to the filling.

After this we had a huge Banh Xeo.  A crispy rice flour pancake stuffed with beansprouts, herbs shrimp and pork belly slices.  This was Amazing, so fresh, the way I imagined Vietnamese food.  we also had spicy chicken wings,which weren’t the same standard as the rest of the food, but you can’t win them all.

On a second visit we try the shrimp hash steamed on sugar cane, another winner.  Steamed shrimp mousse with a great fresh taste, and an interesting presentation, like some weird drumsticks.  The waitress then cuts the mousse into wrappable pieces which you match with what I can only describe as pieces of rice noodle pancake.

This time we also eat a crispy salad of papaya, banana flower, mixed herbs and strips of dried sweet beef – This is dressed in the usual sweet sour light dressing common in Vietnam and dusted with some extra crunch in the form of crushed peanuts.  When I eat salad as fresh and crispy as this I always wonder at how something so simple can be so tasty, so good. Why cant the creators of limp flavourless salads taste stuff like this – maybe then I wont have to eat soggy lettuce again.

All in all a great meal, and if you’re in town definitely get yourself to this place.  Or try eating at every stall in town till you find something decent.

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Always in pairs, huge Chinese dolls guard the gateways of many of Bangkok’s temples.  However, none are as impressive as the examples found in the famous Wat Pho – home to the country’s largest reclining Buddha.

The statues are known as “Up Chao” in Thai, meaning ballast, and actually many were brought from China for this purpose.  The main trade from Thailand to China was in heavy resources such as tin, lead, wood and rice, on the return however the lighter Chinese products weren’t enough to weigh the ship down in the water, so these cheap concrete statues were perfect for the job.  However, many of the statues in Wat pho were believed to have been specially made by Chinese artisans in Bangkok as a  thank you to the royal family of the time.

 

 

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A great place to see real Thai people getting to grips with on of the country’s most popular hobbies.  Men come to spend hours studying the amulets looking for unique and rare examples to add to their collection.  The most expensive will contain hairs from auspicious Monks, and will have been blessed over an extended time.  Strangely, the trade in Buddha images is illegal in Thailand – To get by this the representations are “Rented” to the collectors.

Here are a few of my photos:

A selection of Amulets

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Buyers pore over amulets

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Pictures of a young Prince as a Monk

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A collection of statues, and an Artisan creating a large example

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Lucky catfish

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A cat naps on top of the Amulets

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Keeps your eyes open in Bangkok and you’ll see some pretty crazy stuff.  Here’s a few of the random things that I found.

My favourite brand of whisky….

black cock

What an awesome statement.

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No hand grenades, no S&M, no sexual harassment???

noooo

No explanation needed!

no fng

How are they gonna know if it doesn’t smell?

no farting

I know I am.

coffee.

Well those glasses should help with his eyesight…

painted dog

Karaoke – yes, Sexy ladies – yes, Disabled – yes, Filming no, obviously!

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Cute and crazy shit- some things definitely get lost in translation

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cute shit

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Started in 1958 by Luang Pu Bunleua Sulilat, the Buddha park contains more than 200 statues from the Buddhist and Hindu pantheon. Its a masterpiece of outsider art.

Luang Pu combined both Buddhism and Hinduism to create his own doctrine.  He left Laos after the revolution in 1975 to Thailand – only 200m away over the river and visible from the park. He continued his project there, building another sculpture park in Nong Khai.

 

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Travelling in Northern Laos is an amazing experience.  Serene, Beautiful, amazing people and a slow pace of life.  A great place to relax and enjoy Nature at its finest.

The river boat to Muang Ngoi

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Hill Tribe girls pose for a photo

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Another young hill tribe girl plays, and young boys prepare their cocks for fighting.

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A beautifully looked after sowing machine.

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Scenes up and down the river

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A huge tree, and dead parrot like birds for sale at the side of the road – Sadly a common sight in Laos

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A white water buffalo family

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An Akha Hill tribe village

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A spirit gate – protecting the people of the village.

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Tad lo fall

Tad Lo, on the Bolaven Plateau of Southern Laos – Waterfalls, scenery, relaxation. Or So I thought. Well it was good while it lasted….

Dry waterfallThe day started off pretty normal – Rent motorbikes, drive up to see some waterfalls, find somewhere to swim, eat, drink.  Exactly the kind of things I dream about when on holiday.  We drove straight up to The largest and furthest away waterfall.  But this being the dry season, and a newly built hydro-electric dam, meant no water.  Shame, this was a huge fall that would have been spectacular if there was even a little water – What little water was falling was strangely being blown back up and over the fall by the wind, or simply evaporating before it hit the bottom.

IMG_2578After this we hit our first snag – Paul’s bike ran out of petrol, but this was easily fixed with a run down to the local petrol station.  Right after this though we take a drive to the Tad Lo falls, where we think we’ve hit the jackpot.  A wide 4m high fall, with crystal clear water for swimming, right along a precarious bamboo ladder/bridge thing.  Beautiful.  We spend Half an hour swimming, managing to navigate ourselves right behind the falls and back again.

Swimming is tiring though, and I try to get out of the water to rest for a bit.  The rocks are slippy though, and I feel something under my foot.  I try to move away but slip on the rocks.  As my foot runs the length of the random object I can feel a hole tear in the sole of my foot – But no pain.  Just the kind of feeling you get when a really sharp object cuts you quickly.

gillan getting outAs I drag myself out onto the dry rocks I can see the extent of the damage – A 2 1/2” slice right into the muscle fibre of my foot my friend Paul laughing at me in the background.  I’m still not in pain, but now I don’t know what to do.  How am I going to get back over the bridge? There’s no way I can navigate that bridge, even with the T-shirt I’ve now got tied around my foot. Turns out the thing that cut me was a discarded bamboo fishing rod – also with line and hooks which luckily I didn’t get snagged on.

leder boysAt this point, seemingly out of nowhere, two young Germans, wearing Lederhosen,  come to my rescue.  They’ve got a decent first aid kit and bandage me up enough so I can get back over the bridge to find some help.  I couldn’t be more thankful that those guys were there to help me.  Apparently they are part of a trio travelling around the world, in Lederhosen.  Why not.  I would appreciate people taking a look at their site………………HERE.

Back in town the man who we rented the bikes from offers to drive me to the doctor.  Another person I’m eternally grateful to.  He had a bar full of guests watching a Muay Thai match but left to find me help.

IMG_2585And help we got.  The doctor was also watching the Muay Thai and didn’t seem too happy to help, the word Falang (or foreigner) was thrown around quite a bit. After opening up the hospital for me and taking off my bandages though, he realised how bad a gash it was.

He stitched me up good and tight – with what looked like 20lb fishing line, covered me in iodine – much more pain than the actual cut, gave me antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs, and sent me on my way.  And all for only $10, a bargain.

It’s now been four days and I still cant walk, and it bleeds a little.  It’s getting better slowly, but I’m in a hammock on an Island in the Mekong – And its a good excuse to do nothing.

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