Soi 81, Bangkok

Soi 81, Bangkok

Join Jill, as she gives us a bird-eye account of the life of people on Soi 81, in Bangkok City.

Jill's Scene

When I look out my window on to my street in my home town, more often than not, it’s empty of traffic and people. And now, as I’m typing, apart from the tap of my fingers on the keyboard, the only sounds are bird song, Tui mainly, and the quiet rustle of the trees in the southerly breeze.  Often I can hear the sea, and sometimes our neighbour’s lawnmower. But not today – it was raining earlier.

In Bangkok there’s always traffic, always noise. You get that in a city of 14,000,000. Love it or hate it, Bangkok teams with life. My very favourite place is Soi 81 on Sukhumvit Road. It’s near the On Nut BTS – the Sky Train. It’s a perfectly average, ordinary street. And now, after three, no, make that four visits in three years, it feels like home.

We favour a particular Guest House. They…

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Food, glorious Laos food

Food, glorious Laos food

Check out this wonderful post by Jill, about food and meals in Laos. Wonderfully written, and some great photography of the mouth-water delights she encountered.

Jill's Scene

There’s a small, unassuming restaurant along Kounxoau Road in Luang Prabang that’s my favourite place to eat in Laos. We discovered it one cold, wet evening after a day out and about in the rain. John had been biking. Ben and I’d been less adventorous, some might say soft by comparison. We sheltered in the Guest House until the rain eased to showers before venturing out, even so coats and brollies were required.

Rain on the Mekong, at Luang Prabang Rain on the Mekong

We all wanted something warming and homely for dinner that night and this small family run restaurant met the bill. Sadly, I don’t know it’s name. There was no sign. That large white sign to the right in the photo is for real-estate. I hope this restaurant isn’t for sale because for us it represents everything good about Lao food.

Our favourite restaurant in Luang Prabang and all of Laos. My favourite restaurant in Luang Prabang and all of Laos

The service here…

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Pak Beng gets a second chance 

Pak Beng gets a second chance 

Join Jill on the start of a nightmare bus journey which soon gets forgotten about when she arrives at one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Jill's Scene

Pak Beng, a small town on the banks of the Mekong, in Northern Western Laos, did not make a good first impression. We traveled there from Luang Namtha, via Oudamxay, to catch the slow boat down the Mekong to Luang Prabang. It marked the beginning of our return home.

In the back of the tuk tuk, on our way from the bus station to our guest house, I looked across at John. His face was still very pale. What on earth are we doing here, I wondered to myself.

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A walk in the jungle

A walk in the jungle

Take a walk in the jungle with Jill, after, that is, you discover what she finds could be on her supplies list.

Jill's Scene

All good trekkers know, no matter how brief the trek and ours was only a few hours long, supplies are essential. So we began the day with a visit to the  Luanga Namtha morning market.

Any special food requirements, Sing, our guide, asked.  We’ll try anything I said. In all the excitement I forgot about my recent tummy issues. Until I found him studying the fresh meat section!

No, Sing. I’m not killing it and I won’t be plucking it, either.  Sing, move away from that stall.

Poultry for sale Fresh means fresh!

And I’m not eating that either!

Dried frog at Luang Namtha morning market Dried frog is a delicacy – apparently

This is more like it.

Yummy taro Deep fried taro

Yes, fresh veggies and fruit!

Luang Namtha morning market Plenty of vegetables and fruit to choose from

Supplies obtained, Sing happy and me relieved, we’re ready to tackle our walk in the jungle.

Luang Namtha is close to the Nam Ha National Protection…

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Luang Namtha

Luang Namtha

More from Jill on her trip in Northern Laos. You’ll be amazed by what hangs from the rails on the bus!

Jill's Scene

When I stepped onto the local bus from Oudamxay to Luang Namtha in Northern Laos it looked full. I gesticulated my question and several of my fellow passengers smiled back at me and pointed out the last two empty seats.

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Join Jill in Oudamxay, Northern Laos where she takes a fascinating look into Laos city life.

Jill's Scene

Oudamxay, in Northern Laos, was never on my must visit list when it came to planning our trip. And that’s most probably the case for a lot of travellers. But at only three hours by local bus from Muang Khua it was a convenient place to stop and for me to rest up before continuing on to Luang Namtha. The lack of tourists, and all the infra-structure that goes with tourism, provided a fascinating insight into Laos city life.

Oudamxay Oudamxay

Oudamxay is mainly a trade centre. It’s close to the Chinese border and it shows. Many of the signs are in Chinese as well as Laos script. (I’m showing my ignorance here – I don’t know which particular Chinese language.) According to the Lonely Planet 25% of the population is Chinese.  And we wondered if the towns on the other side of the border might in fact be very similar.

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Muang Khua, and a forced change of plan

Muang Khua, and a forced change of plan

Join Jill, on a trip to Muang Khua.

Jill's Scene

Not many people visit Muang Khua and those who do don’t stay long – usually. What once might have been a quiet town felt to us like a staging post. People pass through on their way either to Vietnam or further into Northern Laos and Phongsali.

There’s lots of construction happening. Two large bridges now cross the Nam Ou and the Nam Phak rivers. Heavy trucks rumble through the town. I guess all the activity is, at least in part, connected with the construction of the dams on the Nam Ou.

I was immediately struck by the huge diversity in affluence. Women carried panier baskets filled with mandarins or vegetables to sell at their road side spot, others set up grills over stone pots and sold chicken kebabs, and then others drove by in large Lexus four wheel drives with tinted windows.

The main street from our balcony The main street from our balcony

We wandered through the…

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hsa ba – burmese recipes from miki

as a bit of a fussy eater, i’ve always been wary of weird foreign foods, even burmese ones. as a burmese kid myself, it’s slightly embarrassing to be eating mashed potato in burma, because i can’t bring myself to eat something new. i do try, honest, but sometimes i just can’t. however, there are some burmese food i absolutely love, and this chicken curry  is very similar to one my mother makes, and it’s absolutely delicious! the book and website this recipe is from, hsa ba (which means ‘please eat’ in burmese) by tin cho chaw, is chock full of authentic burmese recipes that i would love to learn to make myself, and of course eat :3

here’s the recipe itself! it serves 4-6 and takes about an hour to cook.

for the spice mixture

3 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
3 whole cloves
2 tablespoons chilli powder*

for the ground paste

8-10 shallots or around 250g
3 garlic cloves
3 dried chillies, soaked in hot water
15g fresh turmeric root
15g shrimp paste, roasted**

100ml peanut oil
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
2 sprigs of curry leaves
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces or use 8 thighs
8 new potatoes, peeled and halved
1 lemongrass stalk, bruised
250ml water
270ml coconut milk
1 teaspoon palm sugar or brown sugar
salt to taste

To make the spice mixture, dry roast each spice separately (except chilli powder) in a saucepan over moderate heat, until fragrant or just beginning to smoke. Roasting spices individually means you are less likely to burn one that takes less time to roast.

Leave to cool before finely blending in a coffee or spice grinder then mix in chilli powder. I usually triple the quantity above and store leftover spice mixture in an air-tight container until the next time I cook this curry.

Using a pestle and mortar, pound the shallots, garlic, dried chillies and turmeric to a fine paste. Best to do this in small quantities so it is more manageable, then add in roasted shrimp paste. Alternatively blitz small quantities of the ground paste in a food processor.

Heat the oil in a saucepan or wok and throw in cinnamon stick, star anise and curry leaves. Stir until fragrant then add the ground paste and spice mixture. Reduce the heat and cook the paste for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Don’t skimp on the oil as the mixture will burn and become bitter.

When the oil has separated from the paste, it is time to add the chicken, potatoes and lemongrass. Stir through before adding water. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally until the chicken is cooked through.

Add the coconut milk and simmer a further 20 minutes. Finally add the sugar and season with salt.

*look for Kashmir chilli powder, as the intense red will give the curry a great colour
**wrap shrimp paste in foil and roast in oven at 180C/350F/Gas4 for 15 mins