Vang Vieng

After our more than interesting journey up north to Vang Vieng, we were glad to find our guesthouse easily. Champa Lao The Villa was an amazing placee, a little bit outside of the bustle of the village and definitely not in the middle of the backpacker party zone. When I told my brother that I was heading there I had to hear that last year 22 people died due to the rapids of the Mekong (and probably heavy inhibitions of LaoLao). But since I am not 20 anymore but a responsible adult, I didn’t foresee any problems.

After checking in we went first for lunch to get some energy and then I convinced Dudley to book a tour for the next day.

Since we had made such good experiences with Green Discovery Laos I wanted to book with them and they offered us a three caves visiting tour with kayaking in the afternoon. After finalizing our plans for the next day Dudley went back to get some rest while I sat down to write some postcards and to get a pedicure (so not worth it).

The next morning we had breakfast at the guesthouse where they served an amazing soup.

  
Right on time our pickup arrived with two girls from South Korea already in it. Minnie and Jinnie were way better prepared for the rainy weather than us. With rain coats and shoes which could get wet they were perfectly adjusted for the day. I of course didn’t bring neither but was at least wearing my bikini underneath.

  

We had a 14km drive ahead and when we finally arrived near the first cave it was raining even harder. I decided to remove my T-Shirt and just walk around in my bikini top. Really no point in getting everything wet.

IMG_7176IMG_7174From the Elephant Cave we trekked for a while through the rain. The first couple of hundred meters I still tried to save my shoes but eventually I gave up and waded through the pools of mud. There was just no other way through.


By the time we reached our lunch place I looked like a drowned rat. Since we would visit two caves before eating I put my T-Shirt on again, no need to get cold in the caves.

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We left all our things at the table and started with the snail cave (Tham Hoi cave). After the caving experience in Vietnam the caves in Laos were of course disappointing. Nonetheless we walked through the first one for about 45 minutes and the second one maybe 10 minutes. The formations were better in the first one but still insignificant. In the second one was a large Buddha at the cave entrance though.IMG_7461.JPG IMG_7375.JPGOnce we finished with the second cave we went back to the rain shelter and had our lunch. Now this was a tasty affair, Laotian BBQ at its best.

IMG_7183 It was still drizzling when we left for next cave. After a short trek we arrived at Tham Nam (water cave) where I shed my T-shirt again because as the name implied this cave could only be accessed swimmingly or as in our case with tubes.IMG_7295.JPG IMG_7323.JPG IMG_7285.JPGThus we explored the last cave for the day. As with the others there was not much to see but it was fun tubing inside, using a rope to not get dragged along by the current. When we exited the cave the sun was out and all of a sudden it was hot again. We had another trek ahead of us to visit a Hmong village passing through some rice fields.IMG_7233.JPG IMG_7258.JPGIMG_7270.JPG IMG_7273.JPG IMG_7467.JPG IMG_7483.JPGIMG_7275.JPGWhen we finally crossed the bridge we were all hot and sweaty and ready for the last leg of our tour. The tuk-tuk truck was waiting for us and with the canoes we made our way to the Mekong. We had a good two hours of kayaking ahead of us and we all wanted to get into the water.IMG_7262.JPG IMG_7245.JPGIMG_7201.JPG IMG_7204.JPG IMG_7205.JPGWhy Dudley was mostly taking pictures of me when I was not rowing, I really don’t understand.IMG_7291.JPG IMG_7476.JPG IMG_7391.JPGBut at least we didn’t capsize due to my unwavering support. Eventually we all made it to the last bar along the river before the village. Here we stopped for some sustenance in form of chips and beer. That “happy water” was served along the beer we didn’t know before but it had the desired effect.IMG_7184.JPG IMG_7189.JPG IMG_7190.JPGIMG_7191.JPG We stayed a while longer and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere with our guides and Minnie and Jinnie. What difference a little “happy water” could make, suddenly we were not strangers anymore.

After so much exercise we were really hungry that evening and Dudley managed to eat the biggest burger available in Vang Vieng. Yours, PollybertIMG_7200.JPG

More trekking around Sa Pa

I was excited for my second day of trekking; planned was a much longer tour than yesterday and we would start again at 9:30. When I arrived for breakfast at 9am all the Pho had already been eaten. What a disappointment, the soup had become my staple breakfast here in Vietnam. So I had some eggs and fruits instead.

For the trek Mù told me to wear different shoes. I had left my trekking boots in Hanoi since I was told that sneakers would be enough. But Mù said it would be slippery, therefore I had to get a pair of rain boots on her recommendation. They wouldn’t have been my first choice at all, but I bowed to her greater wisdom.

Our group got bigger today with two Australian sisters and the boyfriend of one, plus a girl from Croatia who taught English in Hanoi. Then again the two ladies from Singapore decided to stay in Sa Pa and have a relaxed day. Before we started Mù asked if we wanted to do the long (12km) or the short (8km) trek. The Australians were all for the long version and Randi didn’t look very happy about it. But it was agreed and finally we started.

In my boots I felt hot and sweaty already when we passed the local market. Check out what can go onto a scooter!

  

Then Randi fixed my boots and once they were half-boots I felt better. We began the trek with a very steep incline and after about 5 minutes in, Randi decided to turn around. As it turned out she made a very wise decision.

The view on the first two kilometers was limited due to a lot of mist.

Then we passed a tea plantation in the woods.

  

And just so that you get an idea about the trail we were on, this was definitely not the same as yesterday.

We had our first real break after about an hour into the trek. The view was a lot better and very beautiful.

      

And up we went again after only a short nursing stop for Mù and her boy. Today we were not only accompanied by the mother but five more women, all in bathroom sandals.

We saw a couple of children on the way up and I noticed how dirty they all looked. Happy but very dirty. The region is one of the poorest or maybe here I got closer at the locals than anywhere else. But nowhere else had I seen toddlers run around with no pants because the parents had no money (that’s what Mù told us).

Just a bit more up and then we had another break watching the mist weave in and out.

              

And everywhere we went were animals, Kul would have called all of them mountain animals.

      

From here on we descended downhill into the mist and since it was already noon Mù wanted to know if we preferred to take the long way along a road or a shortcut to our lunch destination. Everyone was for the shortcut. And already on the first couple of meters we had the first fall. It was really interesting to see. All others except for me were falling left and right and needed the hands-on support from our local companions, the women who were walking these slopes with bathroom slippers. I don’t know if it were the rain boots or my Austrian mountain goat genes that kept me from falling, but I was the only one with a pristine butt in the end.

              

How we had made it down there without broken bones I really don’t know. But our arrival on the paved path didn’t mean we had done it, no we had to walk another 45 minutes to reach our lunch destination.

      And then finally we were in the village of Lao Chai where we had our lunch. All the women who had trudged with us and helped us on the trail packed out their wares and wanted to make business or better ‘make happy’. That was really annoying but with the poverty we saw on the way, I felt obliged to buy something. One has to see it as local development aid. And here is my favorite vendor, same age as me and so tiny I felt like a giant elephant next to her.

Lunch was “same, same but different” as the day before. It was plentiful and we were all starving. By now it was about 2pm and we had had a very challenging trek with a couple of “near-death experiences” for the others.

After lunch and after all business was concluded we thought that that was the end of it. But far from it, we had another long walk through this valley to get to the Ta Van village.

            

Here we had our last stop and then it was back on the bus to the hotel. All of our group went back to Hanoi on the night train except for the Croatian girl Marsha (I probably spell her totally wrong but this is how it sounded) and me.

  

Back at the hotel I needed a shower first and another power nap. I had already decided that I wouldn’t have dinner again in the hotel. Last night was just not great and since I was eating alone I wanted to try something new. So around 6pm I left the hotel refreshed and ready to explore another part of the city. It was Saturday and there was a plant market right in front of the hotel. Do you see that the plants are not in a plastic container? Very resourceful!

  After exploring the shopping street and deciding against any impulse buy, I settled on BBQ for dinner.

      

The stuffed green thing was bitter melon. It was the only skewer I didn’t finish. It was even for me too bitter. Then after this delicious meal I went for a foot massage and was surprised when he started with my head. It was so good I almost fell asleep.

45 minutes later the relaxation was over and I walked back to the main square where I stopped to watch the evening entertainment. But the local singer who howled more like a dog than anything else made me leave the premises and prefer my bed. Yours, Pollybert

BBQ with a twist

Every year I am going to Tuscany with the same group of friends! During the rest of the year we meet regularly, explore news restaurant or get invited to each other’s home for dinner. This month we got invited for BBQ and it could not have been more perfect for this kind of sweltering heat.

This BBQ turned out to be something special. I love BBQ in all its forms, and this one was truly remarkable. Therefore I have decided to give it its own post.

We started with a tomato and leek quiche, a gift for our hostess Claudia from one of the guests which everyone sampled.

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Then it was time for the hostess to dazzle us with her creations and she did. We were told that the theme of the BBQ was Thai! As you all know by now, I love Thai food and was intrigued by this announcement. We started with a soup, a fragrant, spicy broth with shrimps, scallops and some vegetables. Delicious, I had to take seconds.

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The main course consisted of three kinds of meat: beef satay with a home-made peanut sauce, spare ribs, ground chicken kebab on lemongrass skewers and a salad with lettuce, cucumber and coriander. The flavors and colors of all dishes were so well-balanced, it was a feast for the palate and the eyes!

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Claudia was supported at the grill by her man (BBQ chef and my brother) Andy.

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To top the feast off we had a Pavlova with berries for dessert! What a treat!

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We stayed until after midnight, really long for a weeknight when everybody has to work the next day. It was just one of these evening where everything clicked: company, food, weather.

20130724-141931.jpgOur hostess Claudia with yours truly.

I have been invited to a couple BBQs already this summer and all of them were good! The Thai BBQ stands out because it was so unexpected different and so well executed in all its little culinary details. You know what I use as a measure if something was really outstanding or not? It’s when I am hungry the next day and I still think about the food from the day before. When I start to fantasize about the leftovers and berate myself why I didn’t have this one piece more. I admit, I am a glutton!
Yours, Pollybert

Is it all about the meat, baby?

On Thursday I had to leave the office early for a dentist appointment. Although my dentist is my brother, it still freaks me out when I know a procedure is looming ahead. Luckily it turned out to be something quite small and was over in no time. Since I wasn’t returning to the office, what was I to do with a free afternoon?
I called my friend Cheps from deli bluem and joined her for ice cream not far from downtown. After cooling down for a bit and talking intensely about ‘Furious Love’ we headed for drinks into the city.
We decided on Freyung 4, a ‘newish’ place and had excellent Campari spritzer!

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Since ice cream is not the ideal base for spritzers, we later ordered some kind of bruschetta with avocado and tomatoes to go with the drinks. Really tasty while the side order of olives was disappointing.

Around 9:30 we changed venue and walked to a place on the channel called It’s all about the meat Baby. I had heard about the place just a week before and was told that it was the best burger place in town. And just the day before I had gotten a newsletter from ‘Daily Secret’ which talked about the veggie burger at this place. So off we went and ordered one together, my friend foregoing her strictly vegan diet for a culinary adventure. A large brioche bun filled with a sweet potato and zucchini patty, roasted red pepper, marinara sauce and goat cheese. We shared it with a kraut slaw on the side. Pure bliss!

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Definitely have to go there again and try one of their meat burgers.
Yours, Pollybert

Good girls go to Paradisi

Not much new in Paradisi. Spent the whole day at the beach in Paradisi and played around with the camera app from Hipstamatic. This is the result.

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20130626-231727.jpgHavaianas from Brazil!

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That was basically it for the day. In the evening we walked into Paradisi again. Before dinner we tried the local pharmacy to look for Korres products. We found quite a bit and also got a super cute beach bag each (honestly, we only bought a few products).

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And when we left, we heard ‘Bye girls!’

For dinner we tried the BBQ place at the main square.

20130626-232030.jpg Shared delicious Souflaki and Greek salad, washed down with Mythos.

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A last beer at our usual hang-out where we were greeted like the lost daughters (we didn’t go there yesterday). Got invited again for a beer, this time by the BBQ guy. And were called ‘good girls’ by our friend from the beach. I really think we are the main attraction in Paradisi at the moment (still no other tourists in the airport village). They really are charming these Greek men!
Yours, Pollbert