Monthly Archives: January 2016

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Amazing Yunnanese food in Mae Salong, Chiang Rai!

Perched high in the mountains of the northern Chiang Rai province, is a tiny town, where life moves at a slower pace and the air feels a little lighter.

Surrounded by vast sloping fields of tea plantations, Doi Mae Salong is a beauiful town with a rich Yunnan Chinese influence. Red Chinese lanterns hang from the telephone wires that zig-zag across the road, as ladies pick fresh tea leaves in the fields below. The town itself is built all higgledy piggledy – houses of cement and brick with clay tile roofs, built almost on top of each other. Old ladies sat outside shops, smoking and flashing us toothy grins as we drove past. I watched pedestrians making their way along the side of the road; one lady dressed in bright woven clothing was carrying a large bundle on her head and small child in a sling on her back. Our guide explained she had come down from a hill tribe village to sell things at the local market.

The dusk view from our guesthouse.

The dusk view from our guesthouse.

Our guesthouse had amazing views of the town and the mountain range, even in the hot season when the crops were ablaze and the smoke was thick in the air. After a long day driving, we made a beeline to the small bar, and took over the bench which faced out to the valley below. The owner was cheery and very friendly, bringing us his coldest beers and glasses of ice. As the sun disappeared, a gentle bamboo flute tune trickled down the hills, followed a reading of the daily news in Chinese for residents without televisions or radios.

It would have been very easy to sink deep into the old lounges on the balcony at the guesthouse bar and let the cool darkness swallows us, but we had a dinner date at a local Yunnanese restaurant.

Ping Ping Restaurant

Next to the markets near the turn off for Hongfu Boutique Resort, in a neat little building open on two sides, you will find Ping Ping Restaurant. Run by a local family, this little restaurant serves up amazing Yunnan Chinese cuisine in big portions for little dosh. A teenage girl in pink and white Hello Kitty slippers served us beers while our guide ‘A’ ordered a spread of dishes for us to share. The prize dish was a whopping plate of braised pork leg, with a divine, meaty broth that tasted of star anise and salt. There was no wrangling this dish, the meat simply fell off the bone when you tapped it with your spoon. Instead of rice, we sopped up the broth with slightly sweet steamed buns. I could have only eaten the pork leg and been totally satisfied, it was one of my favourite dishes!

Look at that braised pork leg! Delicious!

Look at that braised pork leg! Delicious!

There was also a plate of barbequed duck that was extremely tasty. Cooked to perfection, with crispy skin and delicious juicy meat. If I had’ve ordered, it probably would not have made its way on to our table, as duck is not my favourite barbequed meat. However, it was delicious all the same. A surprising favourite of mine was stir fried mushrooms in soy sauce, garlic and chilies. The mushrooms and the duck together were divine – salty and succulent, chased with icy cold beer.

Another dish arrived at the table – stir fried ostrich with chili, garlic and handfuls of coriander. It looked a bit like pad gra pao, but the meat was different. To me it was like a cross between beef and chicken. The flavour came from the chilies and garlic, and the coriander added a fresh kick. I had to concentrate on not thinking about the long legged bird running in a paddock outside in the dark. I wondered if they kept these ostriches out the back, or if it was lost in translation. Or maybe they were just pulling our collective leg?

Stir fried ostrich mince, with chili, garlic and coriander.

Stir fried ostrich mince, with chili, garlic and coriander.

Once we’d eaten our fill, and watched ‘A’ and Ehk stack more and more roasted chilies onto their steamed buns, we left with our bellies full and smiles on our faces. The bill was unbelievably cheap; we made the girl in slippers double check it as we were sure it wasn’t enough. She returned to the table nodding and grinning, handing the bill over to my husband. In the end, it worked out to be about $15(AUD) a head for the whole feast. We still suspect they missed some beers.

If you’re in Mae Salong and looking for somewhere to eat, make sure you pop into Ping Ping Restaurant. Their menu is huge, and the service is lovely. It’s a proper, family run restaurant and you’d mad to miss it!

Where have you eaten the best food? Tell me below!

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10 things to do in Ao Nang, Thailand

In the south of Thailand, where the sun blazes a little brighter and the air smells of salt and incense, there is a tiny beach side town the backpackers now blow through on their way to Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi. Ao Nang is peaceful town, dotted with resorts and filled with great restaurants and happy smiling locals. It’s a popular family destination with sun soaked stretches of sand, and while a lot of travelers only stay a day or two before catching a boat to the islands, Ao Nang has plenty to offer those looking to stay longer. Here is my list of 10 things to do in Ao Nang!

10. Rock Climbing
Ao Nang is surrounded by enormous limestone cliffs, some even jutting out into the water. If scaling and hanging off these stunning formations sounds like your thing, there are a number of companies in Ao Nang that offer rock climbing and trekking tours. While I haven’t (yet) taken part in any rock climbing in Ao Nang, it would be a tremendous adrenaline rush! Some companies even offer climbing tours where you climb an overhanging rock formation, without ropes or harnesses, and once you feel you’re high enough, you jump off into the perfect azure deep water below!

Pai Plong Bay

9. Scuba diving and snorkelling
The region’s pristine warm water makes for spectacular snorkelling, especially around reefs and the Phi Phi Marine Park. There are also plenty of great dive sites to take advantage of as well. You will find an abundance of companies in Ao Nang offering snorkelling and scuba diving tours. While I haven’t yet taken part in snorkelling or diving yet, I can tell you the water is divine and you should make the most of it!

8. Visit the Wat Tham Suea – the Tiger Cave Temple
I have now been to Ao Nang twice, with the grandest of plans to climb the 1, 237 steps to the top, and still have not done so. I know, dreadful. I get so wrapped up in swimming and wriggling my toes in the sand. Plus, you know, it’s hot. I still plan to return to Ao Nang and fully intend to climb those stairs. Some recommend a dawn ascent to see the sun rise, while others recommend an afternoon climb to see sunset. The views are vast and impressive, a reward for the hard climb. Or, do what I will, and simply marvel at your own resilience and determination. Over a thousand steps to the top? Calls for a Rocky Balboa impersonation, methinks.

7. Shop for souvenirs and trinkets
There is no shortage of tourist trinket shopping in Ao Nang. Bags, magnets, t-shirts and postcards are all easily found. At night, Nopparat Thara Beach Road and Ao Nang Beach Road come alive as stores open for the crowd emerging from their resort pools or returning from day long tours to Railay Beach. There is an interesting mix of mass produced tourist goodies, like t-shirts, stubbie coolers and singlets, as well as unique homewares, hand painted girls tops and handmade jewellery. On our first trip to Ao Nang there was an abundance of original artworks for sale on the main road, about 80 meters toward the beach from McDonalds in the main street. On our second trip, art was a little harder to find. We did find one shop on the road that links Nopparat Thara Beach Road and Ao Nang Beach Road. Be sure to haggle. Some places will ask extortionate prices to begin with.

6. Night tuk tuk tour
This was more my husband’s pick than mine, but turned out to be good fun – and would be especially great for kids. Ao Nang tuk tuks do not sport three wheels and are nothing like the Bangkok version. They are tiny Izuzu utes, with bench seats in the tray and a roof. At night, these tuk tuk’s morph into mobile techno parties, complete with strobe lights, neons and pounding music. Locals take great pride in their tuk tuks, fitting them out with as many gizmos as they can, including DVD players and TVs. Think ‘Pimp My Ride’, but small and, well… funny. You can charter one of these party tuk tuks to ferry you around – my husband somehow managed to get us a round trip of Ao Nang with our own doof-doof-doof and neons. The breeze was cool, the music was good and the lights were bright! They certainly turn heads, and its great competing against fellow tuk tuks while waiting for traffic to move.

5. Monkey trail
If you’re feeling the need to stretch your legs and strolling on the pristine sand isn’t cutting it, venture to Pai Plong Bay via the Monkey Trail. Starting at the far eastern end of Ao Nang Beach, the Monkey Trail is a steep stair climb and walk through the scrub to Pai Plong Bay – home of the plush Centara Grand Resort. The path is well worn, but the stairs are steep so watch where you are going. We didn’t see any monkeys on the walk, however we did see a lot of birds and what I think was a squirrel! The views of bay from the crest are quite pretty and the walk is worth the view from Pai Plong Bay.

Pai Plong Bay

4. Wednesday Market
While Ao Nang might not have the street food scene of Bangkok, it’s Wednesday Market is still pretty rocking. The market is on Khlong Haeng Road, just past the boxing stadium. Stalls begin setting up around lunch time, so aim to arrive late afternoon or early evening. A tuk tuk should only cost you about 500 baht return – your drive will wait around for you at a predetermined spot (usually where he dropped you off). There was four of us and one toddler, so it wasn’t a bad split really. The market is predominantly local, but you will find some clothes (new and pre-loved), children’s shoes and toys. There is plenty of food available, including moo ping (grilled pork skewers), gai yang (grilled chicken), gai satay (chicken satay) and khao gaeng (rice and curry). There’s also mussel pancakes and barbequed ‘everything’ stalls, as well as fresh fruit shakes and juices. Everything is quite cheap – think 20 baht for fruit shakes and 5 baht per stick of gai satay.

Khao Gaeng stall

3. Eat seafood (of course!)
I love food. I spend a lot time thinking about it, cooking it and photographing it. Ao Nang has some of the best seafood around. From very casual, home cooked meals at the no-frills affair ‘Family’, to beachside dining at Wang Sai Seafood and Chaba Thai Kitchen. My favourites include whole fried fish with garlic and pepper, barbequed prawns and lobster with fried garlic. There are plenty of seafood restaurants in Ao Nang, but my absolute favourite was Family. Tucked back off Soi Ao Nang 6, in a large open air restaurant over looking a carpark, Family Seafood and Thaifood offers a dizzying array of Thai dishes and seafood. It is run by a local family, with the grandfather out the front grilling fish, prawns, lobster and corn cobs over coals. Everyone else is lending a hand in  the kitchen or serving tables. The beers are exceptionally cold, and true to Thai style, your dishes will arrive one by one in no particular order. Just roll with it and enjoy it.

2. Day trip to Rai Leh and/or Koh Phi Phi
Looking to get out of Ao Nang for a day? Jump on a long tail boat for a day trip to Rai Leh Beach, or hop a day tour to Koh Phi Phi. A long tail boat to Rai Leh will cost you about 150 baht for a spot on a long tail shared with 8 people (if you want a boat to yourself, you can expect to pay 1500 baht). We took our own lunch over, but there are some restaurants and cafes there. Wander through the small village of resorts and bars, do a little shopping and lounge on the beach in the sun. The was plenty of shade on the beach, and it was beautiful scenery. While I haven’t been to Koh Phi Phi, my husband also highly recommends it. Spend the day snorkelling and diving through the beautiful Phi Phi islands, go kayaking and cliff jumping, then once you’ve had your fill of sunshine, relax with a pina colada at one of Koh Phi Phi’s many bars. The ferry to Koh Phi Phi Don leaves the Nopparat Thara Pier at Ao Nang at 9.30am.

Rai Ley Beach.

1. Spend a day on the beach
Nopparat Thara Beach is a long, sun soaked stretch of sand fringed by stunning turquoise water. You’d mad not to spend at least one day on the beach in Ao Nang. The calm waters are great for swimming, and there’s plenty of shade high on the sand. The eastern end of Nopparat Thara Beach can be a little busy with long tail boat traffic, however there is plenty of beach to take advantage of. Ao Nang Beach is a little busier, as there is more boat traffic and beach isn’t as nice. Directly across from Nopparat Thara Beach you’ll find stalls selling all the hats, sarongs and kids beach toys you could possibly need. There’s also street food stalls and restaurants facing the water if you fancy lunch. The sunsets in this area of the world are some of the best, and are best enjoyed with a sundowner at one of beachside bars.

Nopparat Thara Beach