Hey all! Just a little update on my status, I’m currently in New Zealand (which is amazing!), and unfortunately my faithful laptop has finally given out. I still have a week or so left until I go home, where I’ll finally be able to start posting again. And I have a lot to tell you about! Since my last post, I’ve worked at the Dog Rescue Project at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, gone Zorbing and swimming in naturally occurring thermal pools in Rotorua, seen the Shire at Hobbiton in Matama, and had loads of other amazing experiences that I can’t wait to tell you about! In the next week before I head home I’ll be going skydiving, seeing the famous Milford Sound, may be going white water rafting and then finally doing a wine tasting, so I’ll have plenty to write about when I get home, and plenty of pictures to show as well.
Thanks for reading and sorry about the delay!
Full disclosure, everyone: I absolutely love Laos! After coming away from the very beautiful but also very loud, dirty and crowded country of Vietnam, Laos was a complete breath of fresh air. My first stop was in Luang Prabang, which is well-serviced by an international airport and is also located along several bus and ferry routes. I got a very last-minute flight here from Vietnam for under $200, and was able to take a tuk-tuk to my hostel for $3.50 ($7 flat fee from the airport, which can be split between a maximum of 4 people).
Location & atmosphere:
Luang Prabang is a small, wide-open city located in northern Laos, a former French colony. Situated along the banks of the Mekong River, this UNESCO World Heritage city offers a beautiful mixture of natural and man-made attractions, including waterfalls, river cruises, temples and markets. Compared to other major Southeast Asian cities, Luang Prabang has long, wide streets that are generally sparsely trafficked and are perfect for walking, biking and motorbiking.
What to do:
I only had two days in Luang Prabang, and although I saw most of the things I wanted to see, I definitely could have spent more time there. In the rainy season, note that you will probably only get a half-day of decent weather per day, so plan accordingly and expect to have a lot of time to relax! During the rainy times you can go to one of the many spas, enjoy a long meal in the pop-up restaurants along the riverside, or have a smoothie or drink at Utopia bar, which offers sun-beds and good views of the river from above.
If the weather is permitting, take a half-day to go see the Kung Si waterfalls outside of the city. A tuk-tuk roundtrip costs about $5, or 40,000 kip. Entry to the waterfalls is not included, and costs about $2.50 extra (20,000 kip). I would suggest leaving on one of the 1:30 pm tuk-tuks, then taking the return at 4:30. This is plenty of time to see the falls, with an included trip to a bear sanctuary on the way up to the falls. You can spend the day hiking up the waterfall, which is steep but provides decent views, or simply swimming in some of the lower pools, which I would recommend for those who are less fit or who have leg/foot/knee injuries. The best view of the falls is located just before the ascent to the top, where you can take pictures from the bridge.
During the second day I would highly recommend renting a bike, which costs about $2.50 for the day (20,000 kip). Riding the bikes is a great way to see the town itself, even if you don’t have a destination in mind. This is also one of the best ways to see all the temples in the area, including the majestic Golden City Temple (Wat Xieng Thong) and the elevated Wat Pa Phon Phao. The views from the top of Wat Pa Phon Phao are stunning and highly recommended. You can also easily see the National Museum and the Handicraft Village, which I unfortunately didn’t make it to as it started to rain.
My favorite thing to do was the Night Market, which offers some of the standard touristy souvenirs and also some amazing food. I ate there every night and always had something new and different for pennies, and also took home some amazing teas, a tote bag and a scarf. Its very easy to haggle the vendors down, and I’d suggest asking for multiples for a much cheaper price or asking for a single item for about 75% of the original price. Usually you’ll end up somewhere around half or less of the original price offered. This rule generally does not apply for food.
Getting around Luang Prabang is super easy as the town isn’t very big. You could walk to most places within an hour, but renting a bike can be much faster and more fun. As stated above, bike rentals cost about $2.50 per day (plus a deposit). You could also get a tuk-tuk to take you around, for whatever price you can haggle! If it seems too high and your driver won’t budge, just say no thanks and try walking away. Usually you will get the price you ask for.
Where I stayed:
As a budget traveler, I stayed in a hostel called the Khammany Inn Hostel, which cost about $5.50 per night for a dorm, $7.50 for a private room. The rooms were decent, but less nice than some other hostels I’ve stayed in. All the same, they had aircon, free breakfast and an adorable puppy running around, so it was a pretty decent stay. On the downside, I had my laundry done there and all of my underwear and several of my tops went missing, so don’t do your laundry through the service offered there! Its also much cheaper to get it done elsewhere, and if you look around you should find a place that will do it for 8,000 kip, or about $1.
Where to eat:
Always and forever eat dinner at the Night Market. There are a few quick options right from the start, but if you walk down half of a block to a small alleyway you’ll see long rows of food vendors. Go there and check out the buffets– for 10,000 kip (~$1.25) you’ll get an all-you-can-eat plate full of local foods. You can also get freshly grilled meat for an extra 10,000 kip (~$1.25), which I’d definitely recommend. Once you’ve finished your main meal, head back up toward the market, but stop to sample some of the barbecued dried pork (5,000 kip (~$.75) per full serving, which I guarantee you’ll want!) and their coconut discs, which are made with rice flour and coconut for dessert.
During the day time you can also get quick bites to eat on the same street, with the fruit shake/crepe/sandwich vendors standing permanently in the same place as they do at night. Most shakes are 10,000 kip ($1.25), sandwiches and crepes may be slightly more.
Utopia also serves some pretty decent foods of local and Western varieties, but their service was definitely more than a little lacking in this department, so I’d suggest trying to find a little local pop-up restaurant instead.
Nightlife/Where to drink:
Utopia is really the only good place for young backpackers to go and drink, and you’ll see most everyone from your hostel there. Earlier in the evening, Utopia has a very relaxed vibe, with sun-beds and shisha available, while later in the evening it gets a little rowdy. Utopia does close at 11 pm, though, so its important to get there a little bit on the early side. After Utopia, some people go bowling (tuk-tuk drivers are happy to take you there), but you can opt to go home and drink there instead.
Overall, Luang Prabang was an awesome hit for me. I loved every second of being there, and could not get enough of the relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere. Take it at your own time and remember the popular pidgin’d acronym for the country’s name: Lao P.D.R- Please Don’t Rush!
One of my favorite bucket list items that I’m currently working on is “take 5 different cooking classes around the world.” So far, I’ve taken a vegetarian cooking course in Thailand, a gourmet cooking course in Tasmania and, most recently, a traditional Vietnamese cooking course. I’m going to be posting my recipes from my most recent classes on my cooking blog, and will provide links to them in the post when they’re up and running!
I unfortunately arrived too late at night to book my class the night before it was meant to run, so I had to wake up early to try and secure myself a spot for the day. I booked the class through my hostel, and was pleased to find that it was only a few steps down the road from where I was staying. The class was run through the Blue Butterfly restaurant by a cheeky Vietnamese man named Tinh, who came and picked me up at my hostel promptly at 9:00 am.
Having booked on to the course at seven in the morning the day of the class, I was a little bit nervous about the class size and what the quality of the class was going to be like. Thankfully my worries were totally unfounded– there was only one other person in the class, and she joined us around ten thirty am, though Tinh said that upwards of ten or twenty people could be in a class, which usually run twice daily. Tinh’s flexibility with booking was a major bonus for me and my super laid-back booking style, especially because he was happy to start the class within two hours of learning that he had a customer!
When I got to the restaurant I was offered a complementary tea while Tinh explained the menu to me, which consisted of traditional Vietnamese spring rolls and sauce, a green papaya and glass noodle salad and a lemongrass chicken stir fry. Before beginning the class, Tinh took me around the local marketplace, where we sampled different fruits and meats from various vendors before buying some of the ingredients we’d need for our recipes. He took a lot of time and effort into explaining what the various fruits and vegetables available for sale were, what they’re commonly used for, and which features I should look for in the products if I was going to try and recreate the recipes at home on my own time. On the way home we stopped into a local temple, which was absolutely beautiful!
Our preparation area consisted of two tables pushed together in the upstairs area, which was spacious enough for the size of the group and placed gloriously underneath the air conditioning unit, which provided some necessary relief from the Vietnamese heat and humidity. The chef spoke little or no English, so Tinh served as a translator for me, and the other woman had her own Japanese language translator for herself. Tinh also was happy to play the part of the photographer and snapped literally dozens of pictures for us throughout the course.
The first thing we learned how to make were some super fun garnishes, including carrot flowers, tomato roses and cucumber hearts. Unfortunately I lack the patience and the skill to make these well, and all my carrots came out chunky and I could not even begin to make a tomato rose to save my life, and destroyed a few perfectly good tomatoes in the process. In the end I think the chef donated a few well-crafted veggie garnishes to my cause so that I didn’t have any ugly plates of food, but I got to eat the mess-ups, so I wasn’t too disappointed.
The first dish we made was the salad, which involved mixing grated green papaya, grated carrot, coriander, mint, marjoram, peanuts and sesame seeds together, then tossing with a chili-garlic dressing and spicy dried beef. This recipe was amazingly easy and took almost no technical skill at all, but was incredibly flavorful and delicious, and would be (and was!) great for a hot summer day.
The second dish we prepared were the traditional spring rolls, which were filled with a mixture of pork, carrots, bean sprouts, onion, spring onions, rice noodle vermicelli, wood ear mushroom, eggs, shallots and pepper. We made a dumpling sauce that was sweet but tangy, and thankfully gluten free! All of the dishes we prepared during the day were actually gluten free, but most contained fish sauce, which I typically am not a huge fan of. We were told that we had to pick a light-colored fish sauce to reduce the fishiness and the heaviness of the flavor, and it definitely did the trick! The sauce didn’t taste fishy at all, and was a perfectly mixed balance of salty and sweet.
Our main dish was the stir fried chicken with lemongrass and chili, which unsurprisingly consisted of chicken, onions, lemongrass, chili, garlic, and various other stir fry veggies. Although the dish was pretty literally named, I was absolutely floored by how intense the lemongrass and garlic flavors were in the stir fry. Whenever I’ve tried to cook with lemongrass at home it usually just gets stringy and adds little flavor, so I’ve stopped bothering and used another flavor instead. Never again! I will definitely be making this dish in the future, as the lemongrass was not at all fibrous or tasteless.
At the end of the class we were offered drinks again and had a table set for us to enjoy our food, which we most definitely did! The portion sizes were massive and there was definitely enough food there for at least two meals, but unfortunately I didn’t have any way to store my food, so I had to leave a lot of it on the plate. When I was on my way out Tinh gave me an extra recipe for my beloved Pho, which I can’t wait to try out on my own! Overall the day was amazing and such a value for what I paid (US30), and I could not recommend it highly enough.
Activity Type: Cooking Class
Value for Money: High value activity.
Suitable for: Everyone! This class was very intro-level, and all the foods we prepared could easily be made at home. Spring rolls would be a great activity to do with kids.
Recommend: Definitely. One of the best things I did in Vietnam, and for a pretty low price.
Having gotten to Hanoi a day before Typhoon Rammasun was set to strike Vietnam, I found my options for traveling relatively limited, as all trips to Halong Bay and other adventures along the coast were all preemptively cancelled. Fortunately, my hostel was very accommodating and found me some alternative trips that I could do, and I got very lucky with an amazing day trip to Tam Coc, or the “dry Halong Bay.” Tam Coc is located approximately 100 km from Hanoi, boasting three limestone caves that sit over a long, winding Ngo Dong river that runs through the picturesque karst mountains.
We were picked up from our hotel around 8 in the morning and driven for about an hour to our first destination, which was a temple mounted in honor of one of the former kings of Vietnam. Our guide, Lucky, told us a little bit about the history of the area, then let us roam around on our own. We spent about twenty minutes at the temple, then set out again toward Tam Coc. When we arrived we ate a generous buffet lunch full of fresh and tasty regional foods, then set out on our two hour boat trip up the river.
In front of the small lagoon where the boats are held are people peddling souvenirs and goods, most of which are pretty tacky. Some of the items, like the local rice-paddy style hat, might have come in handy on the boats, which were entirely in the sun. Our boats were paddled by local women and men, usually two to a boat, with one person rowing with his or her feet and another paddling by hand. Most of them were either wearing one of the hats or holding an umbrella to shield them from the harsh sun, and I would suggest doing the same if you’re planning on doing one of these tours, as there were few opportunities to take a break from the sun along the two-hour journey.
The few breaks we did get from the sun came in the form of the three limestone caves that broke up the river. These caves are still being rapidly built and changed by the water seeping through the rocks from the plants above. In some places there’s water literally pouring down from above, and its pretty cool to get to see a cave being changed basically as you’re traveling through it.
The whole trip is picturesque, personal (2 people per boat was the norm), and a great way to get to explore the mountains, especially with Halong Bay temporarily out of the picture. If I were to do the trip again I definitely would have put on more sunscreen, brought an umbrella for the sun and stocked up on water well before getting on the boat. The only drawback to the tour was that people were constantly trying to sell you things, from pictures they’d snap of you while you were trapped on the boat, to flowers, drinks, snacks and hats, and I even heard of some of the rowers trying to get more money out of their tourists, which unfortunately puts a damper on the beauty of the whole trip. Overall, though, the trip was definitely worth the time and the price (about $40 with all transport and food included), and made for an awesome alternative to Halong Bay!
Activity Type: Tour, Day Trip
Value for Money: Average/good. Transport and food and activities all included, but some elements felt like people were constantly trying to get more money out of you.
Suitable for: Anyone. Did not require any specific fitness levels.
Recommend: Maybe, especially if you can’t go to Halong Bay or if its in the season where the rice all turns yellow.
1) Bring. Sunscreen. And probably an umbrella and a hat. Its insanely sunny and you’re stuck in a boat on water for two hours, its important to protect yourself!
2) Bring enough water.
3) Try and go when rice fields are yellow, which I’ve been told is in September. Also, make sure you get a view from above the fields– I didn’t on my tour, but apparently most tours tell you to and the photos I’ve seen from that vantage point look amazing.
Just before my return trip to Tasmania, I decided that I really wanted to do one of Tassie’s famous cooking courses. I did some last-minute research to try and find a class that suited my interests and my dates, and was a little bit disappointed that I couldn’t find a class for the dates I was going. And then I stumbled upon a blog post that talked about the Agrarian Kitchen and, after looking into it, realized that there was a class offered during the time I’d be in Tassie. I booked the course right away, not entirely sure what I was in for but definitely excited to check it out. The course itself was more expensive than I would have liked, but the rave reviews all said that the price was justified by the experience, and they were definitely not wrong.
The course that I did was the Agrarian Experience, whose winter session ran on July 1st. I rented a car and headed out early in the morning, but unfortunately didn’t rent a GPS and got myself painfully lost. I made it to the class half an hour late, but was welcomed all the same and was thrown right into the first activity, which was bread making. We were taught the proper way to knead and throw the dough in order to get the elasticity just right, then popped the dough into a covered bowl and let it settle for several hours.
Our menu was impressive, and the names of the dishes themselves were enough to get our mouths watering. The dishes on the menu for the day were: pink-eye potato latkes with bresaola, quail eggs, and a parsley apple salad, goat curry with flaky flat bread, chermoula pumpkin with quinoa and yoghurt, a winter salad, spice poached quince and mascarpone dacoise, and of course the wood-fired rustic bread.
After we prepared our dough we were given a set of rain boots and a basket with a set of clippers, then set out into the yard for a tour of the farm and to collect some of our goodies for the day. The Agrarian Kitchen farms almost all of the fresh foods that we would be using for our dishes, depending on what was in season. We were shown the smokehouse first, and had all of the smoking techniques explained in detail. The farm raises their own animals for smoking, and built their smokehouse specifically for the dry smoking of their meats and cheeses.
We toured the pens of the animals next, seeing the pigs and chickens that they kept on-site. There were two to six or so pigs per enclosure, with plenty of space to root around and explore. The farm specifically plans out which animals are meant to live where, and change up the enclosures frequently, with the aim of accomplishing maximum soil fertility through the use of natural means. In addition to having flexible and impermanent enclosures for their animals to help naturally replenish soil fertility, the farm also uses horse manure from nearby farms, “green manure” (dead plants laid out un-composted as a top layer and allowed to decompose naturally), and compost to organically add to the quality of the soil.
During our mini-tour of the farm, we hand-picked some of the ingredients we would be using, including carrots, radishes, coriander, celeriac plants, cabbage and parsley. We headed back inside with our food and reassembled, ready to start cooking our main courses. Our group broke the menu down into different dishes that we’d be in charge of, and I was primarily in charge of the dessert. We were given a recipe book with all of the recipes and shown as a group the major techniques involved with each recipe so that we would be capable of cooking all of them on our own. When a group finished with one dish they moved on and helped with the preparation of another until all the groups had finished and the meal was ready to eat.
We began with the pink-eye potato latkes, which were topped with a delicious home-cured meat and served with quail eggs and a parsley-apple salad, served with a glass of white wine. About twenty minutes later we were back in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on the main dishes and the sides, serving them up and bringing them to the main table. The goat curry, pumpkin and quinoa, and the winter salad were served up in a group of three, and comprised the main meal. Every single dish was fantastic, satisfying, well-balanced, and served with a glass of red wine that was generously topped-up at every opportunity.
When the main meal was over we assembled our desserts and put in an order for tea or coffee. The Agrarian Kitchen makes most of their herbal teas on-site, and come up with unique, fresh blends that were exciting to taste. The finishing touches on our desserts involved powdered sugar and a blowtorch, which seemed a little unorthodox but was fun to play with all the same.
Unfortunately the day had to come to an end, but we were sent home with full stomachs, an apron, and our loaves of bread, which we wood-fired while dinner was cooking. Overall the experience was absolutely amazing, and highly recommended to anyone with a passion for cooking, sustainability, and getting a truly authentic Tassie foodie experience.
Activity Type: Cooking Class
Price: $385 AUD
Value for Money: Average. $400 is a lot to pay for a cooking class, no matter how amazing of an experience it was.
Suitable for: Adults with disposable income, cooking skills, interest in local/sustainable agriculture and/or gourmet foodies.
Recommended: If you have the money I would highly recommend it. Best for adults with some technical cooking skills.
After our Great Ocean Road adventure, Cheyenne and I made our way down to Kangaroo Island, accessible by a bus/ferry from Adelaide. We got to the island around ten am on our first day and rented a car, then headed out for the day.
Our first day was unexpectedly bright and sunny, so we decided to do a drive partway down the southern coast. We happened upon our first stop by chance on a wrong turn, ending up at Clifford’s Honey Farm. We did a quick tour of their back room and one of their hives, then perused the gift shop. This tiny little store had honey-themed everything, and offered free honey tastings of six or seven of the varieties they sell in store. Unfortunately I’d just bought honey in Melbourne, but I did snag an all-nautral non-petroleum based lip moisturizer and an awesome strawberry scented bar of soap.
We were encouraged to stop by the eucalyptus distillery, and we got there a little bit before it closed. It was pretty empty and not all that interesting, so unless the history of eucalyptus oil is something you’re really into, I’d give it a pass. They do have some cool eucalyptus based products, but they were a little bit expensive and some of them were a bit impractical.
Our big stop for the day was the Raptor Domain, which I would highly recommend. Raptor Domain features shows at set times, and the shows are the only way that you get to see the animals. They’re very reasonably priced and you can pick and choose which ones you want to do, and the two that we did were very interactive. We got there just before the reptile show, which features blue-tongue lizards, skinks, and a few different varieties of snake. We were told a little bit about each species, instructed on how to handle them, and given the opportunity to hold or touch most of the species.
The next show we attended was the birds of prey show, which featured two different types of owls, an eagle, kookaburras, and a few other birds as well. A $10 donation allows you to hold one of their juvenile eagles, which was a pretty nifty experience. The rest of the bird encounters were included in the show.
We finished our day with the last tour of Seal Bay, where a guide escorted us down to the beach to observe their seal colony. For about half the price we could have only walked the boardwalk, but opted for the tour and were not disappointed . The beach itself is beautiful, and the seals were very cute and in their natural habitat.
On our second day we went to Paul’s Place, a family-run wildlife park that houses a number of kangaroos, emus, an African deer, a koala, two echidnas, birds, reptiles, snakes and an injured baby possum. The park’s insurance only allows adults (18+) due to their insurance, so this wouldn’t be an option for those with younger kids. It was an amazing experience as an adult, though, and it was nice not to have to worry about having young children around.
Admission to Paul’s Place is only $15, and it costs and extra $3 to hold their koala, Lou. Our tour started with Paul enthusiastically asking who wanted to feed a kangaroo, and I volunteered. I was pretty surprised when he pulled out a converted beer bottle (full of a kangaroo-friendly substance!) and plunked one of the roos into my arms like a baby. After that we were given some barley to feed to the animals. Unfortunately the emus didn’t seem to know their own strength and tended to peck aggressively at your hands to get the food, which was more painful than it was pleasurable. The kangaroos were all very docile, though, and we had a lot of fun frolicking around with them.
After the roos we were led into another yard and got to hold the Koala, Lou. Lou was an orphan and has been with the park for six years, and was more than happy to cling on to all the excited tourists. We were also given the opportunity to cuddle an orphaned baby possum, which was adorable and tucked into a soft blanket, snacking away happily on almonds. After the koalas we were taken into a large, fenced-in area, which held the two echidnas and all of the birds. Paul coaxed the echidnas out with some larvae, and we were allowed to pet them gently as they munched.
Our last part of the tour involved the reptiles, and Paul’s wife and kids carefully passed around the reptiles. The highlight of this section was definitely the massive snake that he had, and which we were invited to hold if we were up to it. We were seen off by an excitable alpaca, and headed back to our town for some dinner.
Our last day was more of a half-day than a whole day, but we set out early enough and managed to check out the Kelly Caves and Flinder’s Chase, which is definitely the most photogenic part of the island. Even though the weather was pretty rough, we managed to check out the Remarkable Rocks, which were pretty amazing, and were lucky enough to see a double rainbow over the rocks on our way in! We payed the price for that little bit of awesome in the form of a freak hailstorm cropping up as we were on our way out, but the weather held out long enough for us to explore a little bit before we ran back to the car.
Walking down to the Admiral’s Arch felt a little bit dangerous in the winds, and on my way up I nearly got blown off the boardwalk. It was worth the struggle, though, and I snapped a few quick photos of the arch before I scurried my way back to safety. I made a short pit stop by the fur seals, which had a few adorable and playful pups who seemed unfazed by the snappy weather.
We left Flinder’s Chase around 1:30 to return our car to the ferry port by 3, but our plans unfortunately took a hit when we were told that all ferrys were cancelled for the day due to the weather. We were a bit bummed but made the most of it by treating ourselves to a great steak dinner, wine and some gluten free chocolate cake!