Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On to Laos

Oct 2nd

Gladys at the Baccii Ceremony
We are now in Laos, traveling with more persons on the tour.  Sue joined us and then Jen and Jennifer, (all from Australia) but Steve has returned to Australi .  The French occupied Southeast Asia for about 100 years and it is reflected in their food.   There are different ingredients but a lot the same as Vietnam.   There are actually  French restaurants and  wine is very inexpensive as there is no duty on “plonk!!! Upon our arrival in Laos we attended a Baccii ceremony held in our honor to bless us on our travels in Laos. The ceremony is where they tie cords around your wrist while blessing you with a chicken on a platter with an egg in shell.  You cannot take the cords off as it is bad luck, they must stay on for 3 days and then you can untie them if possible. The following day,   after I tripped and fell in a mud puddle while trying to cross a rainy stream to see the Buddhist cave, I decided they did not give me much protection, so I cut them off as they were covered in mud!!!!.(so glad I was wearing only my dive watch!!) We were treated to a wild mushroom lunch after the caves  and none  of us were sick , so maybe the protection did work!!!

Wild Mushroom lunch
We traveled to Vientiane, the capitol city of Laos.  On the way we crossed a dry river bed where there are ancient temples with an embossed footprint of the Lord Buddha.  We were encouraged to throw an offering out of the window to its spirits (this is not considered littering, especially if you throw money!!!)
Arc de Triomphe  in Vientiane City
Cooking lesson at NGO
This city is very busy and has several French restaurants.  Next night we went to Le Central for a French meal, complete  with appetizers of smoked salmon, great cashews and puff pastry pinwheels with caviar and the first course was Salade gourmande au foie-gras mit -cuit.  With fat slices of wonderful melting foie-gras, tin slices of smoked duck breast , artichokes, and thinly sliced apples .with  a great assorted greens and a very light dressing. The main course was lamb from New Zealand with lovely green flageolets, or a choice of salmon in puff pastry with lemon sauce.  Dessert was fondant  chocolate cake  with  a nice runny center and velvety ice cream. We were served a Bourguevil Val de Loire white wine with the first course and a Viognier , Ardeche red wine with the main course.

We were in the capitol city  for a couple of days . One day we had a cooking class and lunch  at the NGO restaurant. This restaurant is a training location for youth that were previously living on the streets.  They have received the Gault-Millau , Asia’s Finest Award for training in the hospitality  industry.
 We have visited the golden dome of the Wai That Lunag  which is next door to a replica of the Paris Arc do Triomphe,  this is the  country’s most important unifying symbol area. 

Oct 9th

Last day in Laos - an amazing country. As we left Vietnam, I really was so tired of traveling, that I was wishing that I had not signed up for this portion of the trip.  Now I am so glad I continued, as we saw some of the most beautiful sights along the Mekong river. The Mekong is usually associated with Vietnam but it really starts in China and flows thru Laos and establishes the boundaries between Laos and Thailand.  We learned much about the culture and food here.  We flew from the capitol city of Vientiane to Xieng Khuang where we stayed on top of a mountain and were cold for the fist time since flying to Asia, I actually wore my chammyz jacket and slept in my marino wool /possum fur New Zealand socks!!!

Gladys at the Plain of Jars
We came to this area to see the Plain of Jars, which are ancient vessels that are between 1500 to 1000 years old. There is some evidence that they were used to for distillation or storage of alcohol and some scant proof they were used for funerary purposes.  Unfortunately the relics are located at the site of one of the world‘s greatest concentration of carpet bombings and more than a third were destroyed during the undeclared Laos/Vietnam War. This portion of the Ho Chi Minh Trail received more American bomb strikes than World War II Europe in its entirety.!!! The legacy of unexploded ordinance continues to injure and kill and more than 50 people annually as they try to clear more land for rice growing. We walked CAREFULLY thru the rice paddies to see these giant relics, using walking sticks to balance on in the narrow walkways between the rice paddies.

As we departed this colder area, we went to the market to buy school supplies for a remote village that we were visiting later in the day.  But first we went to the Mulberry establishment that produces some of the most beautiful hand made silk textiles   perhaps in the entire world.  We started by visiting the mulberry fields and picking mulberry leaves for the silkworms (and a few berries to feed our overstuffed faces!!). The thousands of silkworms in all stages of eating and producing cocoons were amazing.   Then seeing how the workers boil the cocoons to separate the threads, de-waxing each strand, and making natural dyes.
We watched the actual dying by 2 ladies dipping the yarns on a stick between them into the boiling dyes until they get the desired colors !!!.   They were using the indigo plant  for the beautiful color of blues. This is one of the plants that grows on Little Cayman.  Those of you that have been on my hikes know the story about how the natives of our island discovered the dying properties of this plant!!  Needless to say I made a few purchases!!! 

Our continued journey was to a remote village where we shared our morning purchases with the children.  I brought a soccer ball and 4 more that were smaller and can be played like volleyball.  The eyes and smiles of the children was all the thanks we needed.  They were so pleased and happy that they started playing with the ball immediately. Our continued travel that day was through some of the most beautiful mountain regions  I have ever seen. Our day ended at the Alila Resort in Luang  Phrabang. We  were the very first guests of  this  new property that is built within the compound of the original prison.
Children with soccer ball

This 600 year Royal city on the banks of the Mekong and Khan rivers is a declared UNESCO World  Heritage site. It is considered to be Asia’s best preserved Ancient City and “the jewel of Southeast Asia”.

Cooking demonstration at the Alila
We spent the first day on a boat going about 16 miles up the river to visit the caverns of a declared holy spot by King Setthathirat in the 16th century. It contains thousands of Buddha images. We were treated to a simple snack of French baguette sandwiches known locally as khao chi pate, that was super  and then had a full lunch on a floating barge!!!  . We stopped to visit the Whiskey Village and had a few samples of their back rice wine!!!!!  We tried not to fall off the jetty getting back on our boat. After a visit to a paper-making village, we needed a nap!!  The evening meal was at a local French café where I had frog legs and a wonderful lamb shank and lots more of the local wine!. 

The next morning was a visit to the market with the French chef from the 5 star Alila and then cooking classes in their new facility. We were treated royally, as we were all the guests they had!!  That evening we had a gala dinner with hundreds of candles in their garden which was once the prisoners’ exercise grounds!! We bade a fond farewell to Laos, but all vowed that we would return.  Cheers.Gladys

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pictures from Vietnam

Gladys on her way to Waterfront Restaurant in Vietnam

Buddha at the open kitchen at Mango Mango

Group at White Rose learning to make rice flour dumplings.

Gladys taking a ride.

Robert with a bowl of "fur" or PHO.
Bowl of PHO

Market tour

Morning Glory Cooking School class making spring rolls.

Full moon over ocean at French Restaurant.

Gladys ready for the day at the Motrin/Saigon 5 star hotel.

Riverboat trip to ancient ruins.

Lady with lantern leading us to a cab after our final banquet in Vietnam.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Traveling in Vietnam

 I have arrived in Vietnam and was quite surprised as to the cuisine.  As I have traveled with Robert Carmack and Morrison Polkinghorne, the Globetrotting Gourmets before, I should have known that everything would be super .   I was well over an hour late arriving in Da Nang, but there they were awaiting me at the airport.  Dinner was scheduled around the corner from our 4 star hotel where we were entertained with  music and dancing. Course after course arrived of the central Vietnam cuisine and a wonderful birthday cake for Michael Pearce one of our group.  The cake was on a hat box stand complete with an orchid floral arrangement..  The next morning I was greeted with a wonderful sunrise out of my window overlooking the harbor.  We spent the morning at the Cham Museum which contains artifacts from the 5th century ruins that we will be visiting later this week.    Afterwards as we walked to lunch at the Waterfront Restaurant, we were greeted with cold coconuts to sip the refreshing coconut water. We had a 6 course lunch by our wonderful host, an expat from Sweden, who was “trying out” his Vietnam cuisine on us. We had grilled beef in lot leaf with a peanut sauce, grilled chicken on a bed of fresh banana flowers, pork in a clay pot with coconut juice, crispy calamari with a delightful dipping sauce of salt and pepper with lime juice, (try this, it is prefect with fried food). We had stir fried water spinach and then a wonderful assortment of regional fruits. After we rolled out of the restaurant we journeyed to Hoi An to the south where we were for 3 nights to celebrate the full moon and the moon cake festival.
 The first evening we had dinner at Mango. This is a delightful restaurant with all women chefs cooking with the owner, Duc Tran who is originally from Saigon, but was educated at TEXAS  A & M, in  environmental studies!!  He came to this city about 10 years ago and decided to open this wonderful restaurant.  We had so many courses - some with fresh tuna, squid, snapper, duck  all served with great sauces  containing  passion fruit/mango, mild peppers, tomato and local  fresh herbs. (we did not like the mint that tastes like fish!!! ) 
The next day we walked thru the market and to the town well. The water from this well is used to make the local special noodles.  Morrison tried to bring up a bucket and dropped the village bucket and rope into the well!! Guess there will be no more noodles for this village!!  Then we went to the Rose and learned to make rice flour dumplings.  Afterwards we went to the Japanese bridge which is really the home of several generations of great artists especially in hand embroidering.
 The next day we spent the morning until into the afternoon cooking at individual stations with the chef from the Morning Glory cooking school.  Come to Pirates Point and you can taste some of the wonderful dishes we learned. 
That evening we had dinner with Duc at a beach restaurant, with a wonderful view of the full moon over the ocean.   This time with a French chef who served his pate as a beginning course but the rest came right out of the sea.!!   The next morning we checked out of our hotel and went to the Cham ruins. These were damaged by the bombings during the Vietnam war. Afterwards, we rode the longest cable car to the top of the mountain to spend the night at a French hotel.   Great view!  We had a vodka tasting of the locally made vodkas, but……being I am not a vodka drinker they did not need my opinion!!!  Once again we were served numerous courses including wild boar, which was somewhat tough.
 We are eating greens, having ice in our drinks, as our tour guides are very careful in picking places that they trust, no jelly belly with our group!!!!  Actually, our group is very small, only 4  persons with Robert and Morrison and a local guide and driver.   This is the way to go!  We all travel together in a 7 passenger van, stopping when we see something we desire to investigate with no fuss and enough space for all of our luggage!! Which is getting heavier at each stop!!! To be continued. Cheers, Gladys

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More from Lembeh Straits

Gladys with Larry Smith Trained DMs
Blue Ringed Octopus
Mototi Octopus
Gladys and Lisa
Gladys and Tracy
Today I did my 40th dive in Indonesia.  The last 19 have been here at  Lembeh Straits. This morning I went with Danny, the owner, as he has great respect of Larry Smith who was responsible for establishing Muck diving in this area.   The dive masters that Larry trained here all call me “Larry’s Sea Mom!! After the dive this morning  I  was asked to have my picture taken with the dive masters Larry certified and all the children and grand children that have been trained by those dive masters

 This was the second day in a row that we saw the blue ring octopus (which happens to be the most toxic creature in the entire world, if it stings you,  you have 8 seconds before you are dead!!!   We also saw the mototi octopus, also the colorful frog fish and a total of 6 white-eyed moray eels. We also saw a lobster but it was about a ¼   the size of the ones we have at Little Cayman.  The amazing bat fish that have  fins about  a foot long each (twice as long as their body ) are everywhere, but today  we saw a baby that was about a inch in .size.  The amazing small cardinal fish run in schools and are a great contrast to the anemones that they always inhabit.  The clown fish that are usually on the leather soft coral are very  protective of their territory.  One actually swam up to me and became rather aggressive. Yesterday while I was checking out some beautiful fire urchins I felt a nip on my sleeve ,only to realize I was being attacked by a flamboyant 
Giant mantis shrimp.  I was too close to his hiding hole!!!
This has been one of the most amazing trips with critters that are mostly on a sloping black sand sea floor that is covered with all sort of trash, very little coral where they actually are located.  The coral that does exist here does not contain many of the critters we saw.

As always, sweet Lisa acted as my dresser and undresser!!! It has been great to have Tracy as my dive buddy on all of my dives except this morning!!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Lembeh Straits - Diving with Critters

Met Lisa and Tracy Norris at the Bali Hyatt. (this is the second trip with them as they were in Galapagos with me when we went with the Buzzard Bay divers  of Onsat, Mass. in June of 2009.)  We then traveled to Lembeh Straits which t took the entire day of Sept 8 to get here!
Yellow Hairy Frogfish
At this time I have done 11 dives and on the very first dive I saw a Hairy FROGFISH!!! The diving here is primarily muck diving and was introduced to the area by my friend Larry Smith.  There is only about 10 to 15 feet of visibility and mostly on black sand. But under every leaf are amazing SMALL critters.  We saw 4 seahorses on one dive. I personally discovered a STARGAZER which seemed to everyone to be very special.!!!! 
Gladys, Dimpy and Tracy at Lembeh Straits
Gladys winning at Dominoes again!
The second day Tracy and I went on the twilight mandarinfish dive - just the two of us with a dive master. This was quite amazing as the male mandarinfish was darting about trying to convince about 5 small females to do the mating dance. He did succeed with a couple of them.  Beautiful colors, as they went twirling up!
We have a wonderful dive master assigned to just the two of us. Dimpy has a marine biology degree and writes out everything that we see on each dive.  We have seen the long arm octopus, the mimic octopus, coconut octopus, and the mototi octopus which has blue rings but is not the actual blue ring octopus. We are still looking for the real blue ring and the wonderpus octopus which is striped and quite large.  We have seen a lot of lion fish of all descriptions.  The pipefish are also all sizes and colors, as are the ribbon eels. The giant mantis shrimp wander around as if they own the place.   The flamboyant cuttlefish are amazing in color changes and size, Tracy seems to think we saw one that was about 2 feet long. Sometimes I think he is a fisherman with all of his tall tales. More later, as we are about to eat dinner. The food is definitely not up to the standards we had  on the Damai  and does not touch the food we had in Ubud.  Now I know why Pirates Point Resort is the number one resort with food!!!! 
Thanks to Tracy Norris for all these photos. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Continuing Travels in Bali

The continued visit in Ubud Bali.  Ari left very early on Sunday, and I decided to take a day of rest as I have been traveling, diving and touring for like 3 weeks now.  That evening we returned to La Cinta for some of the best pork spare ribs and said goodbye to the Cowen family who were leaving to return to their home.
On Monday, Eddie our driver met us again to tour toward the western part of Bali.  Our first stop was a wonderful well kept Temple,Mengwi,  between 2 rivers , then we proceeded to the mountains to the north and the northern sea of Bali.  Beverly and I enjoyed the hot springs at Banjar while Harris looked after our clothes ( we did wear suits as per photos!) We went thru the clove growing region and stopped at a fruit stand and bought a duriean, which is just coming on the market at $100,000 rupies about $10 US  The lovely lady at the stand opened it up for us even though I had brought rubber gloves to do the task.  The skin of this is the smelliest perhaps in the entire world, whoever opened this first fruit had to be very hungry!!!!.  We tasted it there at the fruit stand and brought the rest back to the hotel and had it with toast and wine.  The rest went into the Harlan’s refrig only to be told by the hotel staff that it had to be removed from the room, so we told them we had our taste and they could have the rest, they were very grateful, so were Harris and Beverly!!!!!
Tuesday was spent shopping and in the evening we ate chili crab at the Batan Warui and then enjoyed a Brong performance .  This is one of the dances about their beliefs of good and evil.
 Wednesday , Eddie is back to  drive us to the Southern area and we found the most beautiful fountain that I have been looking for ever since I built my new home at the resort 10 years ago.  You must come to Pirate’s Point soon and enjoy it with me. 
Thursday, back to the fountain factory to complete details and while there a street vendor came by selling Sesame Balls which are one of my favorite sweets.  They were fantastic and we all enjoyed them.  Back to Ubud where we spent the remainder of the afternoon at the City Market.  Dinner this evening at the Pundi-Pundi Restaurant next to the rice field and lotus pond.  Great food.
Gladys and Bev enjoy a dip!
Friday, spent much of the day dealing with the shipping agent being sure all of the details were accurate for getting the fountain to Little Cayman.  Went downtown Ubud to the Oka Restaurant for one of the area lunch treats (Roasted Pig --baby Guling).  It was great and the lunch for the three of us including 2 huge beers was USD 15.  A little more City Market shopping and back to the hotel for a short rest before having dinner at the Restaurant Bibiania which had been highly recommended by an Australian tourist staying in the room near me at the hotel.  The meal was perfect for all three of us and we highly recommend the restaurant. 
Saturday,  found a new place for breakfast just a short walk from the hotel,  Kakiang Bakery.  A few pennies less than the hotel and excellent pastries.  Contrary to what happens so often, they Looked AND Tasted Good.
After breakfast, walked a block down the street and made arrangements to attend an Indonesian Cooking Class Mon morning at 7 am.  Visited with the chef and discussed several dishes that I would like for him to prepare for us.  Had dinner again at the Bibiania Restaurant and although the service was a little slow, all of the meals were excellent.
Sunday,  back to the Kakiang Bakery for breakfast.  Enjoyed eggs Benedict on smoked salmon, ham and cheese croissant with lettuce and tomato, mango tart, cinnamon roll and a couple of cups of cappuccino.  Back to the City Market for some last minute shopping and then to the SPA for a little relaxing pleasure.
Dinner tonight at the Café Lotus for another Ubud specialty -- Smoked Duck. Bev and Harris are celebrating their 52nd wedding anniversary tonight.  

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

More pictures from around Bali

Large bat in the park

Beverly pounding Civik Cat coffee beans
Roasting Civik Cat Coffee beans
Eddie playing a bamboo instrument
Gladys with a sculpture made from a single tree
Great Silver Fish Picture
Wild Pointsettia