Archive | Cooking Class RSS feed for this section

Thailand – Bangkok and Chiang Mai with the grandfathers

1 Feb

How lucky we are as a family to still have all four grandparents enriching our lives, able to enjoy Emile & Filou growing up. It goes without saying that the kids miss their grandparents very much during this year away and it was important for us that, where possible, they join us on our world tour.

So the idea came about that it would be a unique experience for all of us to have both grandfathers come at the same time! They were quickly game (my Dad ADORES Thailand and was dreaming of travelling there one more time, and Jichan just took his first trip to Japan which he LOVED, so was eager to travel to Asia again)…..and so Opa jumped on an aircraft in Düsseldorf and safely reached Bangkok via Abu Dhabi , and Jichan boarded a plane in Toronto and headed to Bangkok via Seoul. Here in the capital city, we were delighted to see our Dads and Granddad’s again!

Image 1 

Reunion in Bangkok

It was an interesting time to be in Bangkok.  Demonstrations against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government and the upcoming elections in February, led opposition camps to block off the streets, and march to express their dismay about the current political situation.  The Sunday we were there, two explosions and some gunshots killed 1 and injured 28 people (which is rare for the very peaceful Thai people!).

We are not easily scared, and went about our way to enjoy the city. With Opa we took a nice boat tour of the Klongs (the waterways that snake through the city) during which Emile and Filou were thrilled to see a huge water monitor lizard.

IMG_3035

Demonstrations on the blocked streets of Bangkok.  Declared “State of Emergency”!

IMG_3106

IMG_3023

This demonstrator was all over the news the day I took his picture. He was leading the pack and near the explosions that went off.  We were close to the action, for sure!

IMG_3003

With Opa through the “klongs” of Bangkok

IMG_3014

A huge “water monitor lizard” (komodo dragon family), on one of Bangkok’s riverbanks

And the next day, when Jichan had arrived – we all took the local mode of getting around – a transport boat that grazed the canals at high speeds (fun experience of boarding this busy vehicle that only stops several seconds to let people on and off – kudos to the granddads for joining into the jumping on and off madness!)…and went to Siam Ocean World (http://www.siamoceanworld.co.th). 

This stunning aquarium houses 30,000 different species and is located in the basement of the equally beautiful Siam Paragon shopping complex (http://www.siamparagon.co.th) The boys were super excited to see the many unique, aquatic species like the humongous octopus and giant crabs.  As well, the aquarium houses a 270-degree glass tunnel where the many, large sharks seemingly swim right towards you!

IMG_3086

Big sharks at Siam Ocean World, Bangkok

IMG_3071

IMG_3072

After a fun night of exploring the Bangkok local night markets and eating delicious street food – we were all happy to leave the “troubled” city and head for the northern city of Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai or “new city” is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. This “Rose of the North” has several hundred historic “wats” or temples, intriguing diversity among hill tribes, many cooking and massage schools, numerous elephant camps, a variety of cultural performances and fun shopping at its famous night bazaar.

So, we were excited to make this city our home base for 2 weeks and stay at the lovely Villa San Pee Seua (http://www.villasanpeeseua.com).  Our large, 3 bedroom, 2 level “hometown” bungalow with view over the river (at a calm location on the outskirts of the city), was the perfect place for us all.  Prae, the lovely owner certainly helped at making our stay as wonderful as could be!

Emile’s burning desire (he couldn’t talk about anything else for days….) was to have a fishing trip with both his grandfathers – as each one of them has taught him some angler tricks and ignited his passion for this sport!  So the three of them went off for a day of fishing with Big Game Fishing (http://biggame-fishingthailand.com) – expecting and hoping to catch some giant Mekong catfish.

The day, guided by Suvit and his capable team members, was beyond their wildest imagination – together the boys caught a total of 130 kilos of catfish – with Emile catching the biggest one of all – a 35 Kilo/77 pounder!  This fish was as big as he was… and so heavy, he could not hold it standing up.  From the smile on his face, you can tell – this is not an experience that can be topped easily!

Image 3

Emile’s all smiles; with the big one, a 35K/77 pounder (that he could only hold up sitting down!)

Image 2

Memories for a lifetime: Emile’s dream to have a fun fishing day with both his grandfathers! 

After some fun times walking the colourful streets of Chiang Mai, buying souvenirs for those back home at the lively Night Bazaar and enjoying some great, local Thai massages, we set off for a day of cultural sightseeing.

IMG_3182

Street vendor at Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

IMG_3185 

Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a Theravada Buddhist temple that is still very sacred to many Thai people. The temple is located high up on a mountain called Doi Suthep, and although getting there was less fun (the ½ hour drive on sharp, curved roads combined with gas smell, made half of us feel like vomiting for a while), it was worth getting there.  At its base, we had the choice of climbing the 309 steps to reach the pagodas or take a tram (you can guess which one we chose!).

IMG_3200

Once inside the temple grounds, we took off our shoes and started to explore the site that has many pagodas, statues, bells and shrines. I think Emile was taken by the serenity and spiritual vibe of it all and joined the Thai women in prayer – perhaps a conversion to Buddhism is in the works?

IMG_3226

Emile converting to Buddhism?

The copper plated Chedi (the most holy area of the temple grounds) – together with the five-tiered golden umbrella, were truly impressive (and shiny!).

IMG_3222

IMG_3245

The copper plated Chedi and five-tiered golden umbrella at Phra That Doi Suthep

The Wat draws many Buddhist that come to serve, bring food offerings and pray. Even though they are not of the Buddhist faith, Emile and Filou were welcome to receive a blessing from one of the monks, and receive a string tied around their wrist for good luck (together with the monks’ blessings from Angkor Wat, Cambodia, they are gathering quite the collection of blessing bracelets!).  Also, my Dad had a lovely chat with one of the monks, who came to pray and rub a large bell for good luck.

IMG_3240

IMG_3253

Rubbing a bell for good luck, a monk is praying at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

After enjoying some graceful, dance performances by beautiful Thai girls, we headed further up into the mountains.

 IMG_3210

IMG_3201

Thai dance – starting at an early age

There are a number of different hill tribes living in Northern Thailand such as the Thins, Lawa, Karen and Meo for example.  They live about 4-6 hours north of Chiang Mai in the mountains although several hill tribe tours are offered in and around town.  Apparently those close by are Burmese refugees posing as tribal villagers so we weren’t going to engage in this kind of tourism– but the Meo Tribe Village happened to be close to the temple and the grandfathers thought it interesting, so we made a stop.

The Meo Tribe, also called Hmong come originally from Western China and claim their name from the word Mongol. Their village consisted of a large centre surrounded by several commercial areas, where they displayed their craftsmanship – mostly needlework and sewing, jewelry (fake diamonds and all) – and weaponry (bow and arrow).  The boys enjoyed some archery, learning from the local experts and we visited the small Tribal museum where we learned about the history of these people.

IMG_3270

Bow and Arrow shooting at Meo Hill Tribe Village

On top of the hill, in a large, beautiful garden – Thai tourists dressed up in Meo tribal costumes and took pictures of each other (and us with them!).  And little children in tribal costumes stole our hearts – especially the one in the bathroom that was trying to spray me with water as I was attempting to take a picture of him (who could blame him?). He was full of laughs till his mother came barging in and gave him heck!

IMG_3283

IMG_3312

Little Meo tribal villager in the bathroom – having a ball trying to spray me as I was attempting to take a picture of him 

The boys also enjoyed some great times with the grandfathers at the Chiang Mai Zoo (http://www.chiangmaizoo.com), where they saw many colourful flamingos, hippos, giraffes as well as the amazingly beautiful white tiger and panda (we missed the pandas in China, so they were happy to have an opportunity to see one up close).

And Jichan was so nice to take the bus with the boys (45 minutes north-west of Chiang Mai), and go for a day of zip lining. With The Flying Squirrels (http://www.treetopflight.com), the boys had an absolute thrilling day of biking high in the sky, sliding down the trunk of a massive ancient tree and of course flying trough the tree tops.  The longest zip line was about 600 metres – so long that they had to put the boys together in one harness to have enough weight to reach the other side!  Of course, our daredevils loved every minute of this adventure!

Image 4

Jichan took the boys zip lining; a thrilling day with The Flying Squirrels

With Opa, Filou and I were happy to join in with an international group of backpackers and learn the unique style of Thai cooking. With Smart Cook (http://www.smartcookthailand.com) we learned to put together some delicious local dishes (as well as pick the ingredients from the nearby market) – from Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken to Pad Thai and Sticky Rice with Mango – it was all fun to make and scrumptious!   Ps: Mam, make some room in the kitchen as your hubby is coming back with lots of enthusiasm, some local spices and a Thai cookbook in hand!

IMG_3349

The two master chefs at work, learning to cook Thai style…

While the grandfathers were having some one-on-one bonding time with their grandsons, Anthony and I took advantage, rented a scooter and ventured out to drive the Samoeng or Strawberry Loop; a 100KM rollicking circuit through the mountains of Chiang Mai (well-known by motorcycle and bike enthusiasts as it claims to be the best ride in Northern Thailand – in a region, known for its delicious strawberries!).

Our first stop on this breathtaking ride through lush greenery was Doi Suthep-Pui National Park in which the well-known Mae Sa Waterfalls are located. Mae Sa are actually a series of 10 small waterfalls and cascades spaced anywhere from 100m to 500 m apart from each other. We hiked the winding road up the river and made it as far as level 5 – which was a great location for a rest, a chat and selfie on the bridge!

Image

From there, we stopped at the restaurant of the Pong Yang Ang Doi Resort (http://www.pongyangangdoi.com). This eating establishment is located high up, amidst lush greenery, overlooking the slopes of Pong Yang mountain. With a beautiful waterfall as our backdrop, this was a wonderful little find with incredible views! The food was pretty good too – I tried a banana flower salad that was really unique in taste.

The next day, we did it again! We took the whole family for a picnic lunch at the waterfalls and enjoyed the spectacular views at Pong Yang Ang Doi restaurant, while having a refreshing beverage.

Ps: We also quickly saw a crocodile show, both to please the grandfathers and to instill a teaching moment.  Emile was so taken by the animal cruelty (the animals looked like they were drugged and were pushed around and stepped on), he left crying within 5 minutes.  We are proud of how he’s developing his critical thinking skills.

IMG_3373

IMG_3384

Good times at Mae Sa Waterfalls, Chiang Mai

So, after having enjoyed a multitude of great “adventures” with the grandfathers, it was time for one last Y.O.L.O experience.  I took my Dad on a motorcycle ride through the back roads of Chiang Mai.  Probably, not something he would ever do at home, but he LOVED it!

En route we stopped at a beautiful estate (we are nosy and wanted to explore a little!) and found out that a Thai princess was living there with her family. She had just given the rights to a British-Thai couple to open up an upscale restaurant on the property.  It was gorgeous and I am sure they will do well. The owner was happy to chat with us and we enjoyed a delicious, complimentary coffee.

It is these kinds of unique experiences that you have while touring around – and the exact reason why travelling and experiencing the world is so great!

IMG_3365

Cruising the back roads of Chiang Mai, with my 75-year old father on a motorbike. Y.O.L.O!

It was amazing to share some of the incredible experiences we are having on our Regeneration Tour (http://the-regeneration.com), with our Dads-Granddads!  Together we created some very dear memories! Thank you Opa and Jichan for your love, support, many laughs and great conversations. We had such a great time and will miss you both.  Safe travels back home!

IMG_3331

We will miss you Grandfathers….It was an incredible time of creating priceless memories together!

And now it is time for some poop and scoop as we are off to the Elephant Nature Park for a week of volunteering.

 

Advertisements

CHINA, The mountains and rivers of YANGSHUO

4 Nov

 CHINA, The mountains and rivers of YANGSHUO

Yangshuo, a small town in southern China, most known for its beautiful KARST mountain scenery (karst topography is a landscape shaped by the dissolution of layers of soluble bedrock such as limestone or dolomite.  South China is a major Karst area in the world), was our next destination in China.  The major appeal of this area is three-fold – to cycle the area, float the gorgeous Li River while taking in the breath-taking mountain and rice field scenery, and to climb the peaks (Yangshuo is one of the top 5 climbing destinations in the world and many climbers hang out here for months to perfect their skill).

IMG_0659

We stayed at the most perfect eco-friendly, home-style run villa called The Stonebridge Inn http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/The-Stone-Bridge/Yangshuo/53001?sc_sau=sfab&sc_pos=5 This super bright, clean and inviting hostel was located in the valley – just outside the busy town centre – overlooking farmers’ rice paddys, mountains and pomelo orchards (a pomelo is a type of large, delicious grapefruit).  This inn is run by the nicest and most hospitable husband and wife team you’ll ever meet.  ahLong (Australian) and his wife Jess (Chinese) know what foreigners and first-time visitors to China need; a delicious breakfast (with best Muesli ever!), some good directions on what to do in and around town (ahLong will even drop you off at the bus station or ride into the mountains to see that you are going in the right direction), help with translations and your laundry, that quickly starts to pile up, and even play “mommy” and take care of you when you are feeling a bit under the weather (Thanks a bunch Jess!)!

Image 2

Jessie and ahLong, our wonderful hosts at The Stonebridge Inn, Yangshuo

Our first day there, we were excited to take the 1.5 hour ride on a bamboo raft down the Li River. This outing did not disappoint as the scenery was gorgeous – unfortunately the kids were a little tired from travelling and the calm movement of the raft put them to sleep for most of the ride! But no sweat – this gave Anthony and me the chance to chat alone a bit, take lots of pictures and have two cuddle bunnies on our laps. The end of our raft ride was in Xing Ping, a little, historic town where we had a nice lunch by the river (the green, local vegetables with garlic sauce has quickly turned into the boys’ favorite dish!).

IMG_0646

IMG_0634

Li River Bamboo Raft Ride

 IMG_0685

Delicious green vegetables with garlic

Next it was onto cycling into the mountains. Unfortunately, we chose a slightly wrong day for this activity, as it was the first day of China’s Golden Week (a week of holiday for the Chinese where everyone travels!). It took us over an hour to get out of our small town as bikes, motorcycles and cars where whizzing by us – and coming directly at us from all directions!!!  Emile very quickly pointed out that if he could ride his bike in this kind of holiday traffic in China, he could ride it anywhere (so true!). It was a miracle we made it out unharmed– and so quickly, we needed a break to recoup. We stopped at mountain village attraction that showed the life of local aboriginals. At the dance performance finale, the boys were “attacked with kindness” by the girl performers who didn’t want to let them go until they all had a picture taken with them (much to the chagrin of the boy performers who moved Emile and Filou along once they felt they had had enough attention – too funny to watch this male dominance at work!)

IMG_0600

Little aboriginal Chinese children

Photo Booth Library

With Chinese gong

IMG_0606

Boys styling it the Chinese way

Image 1

Emile and Filou with Chinese girl performers!

Among other attractions in this cycling area were Moon Hill Mountain, a hill with a natural arch through it that Filou and I climbed (800 large steps)! Filou was convinced there was jade to be found on this mountain so in true adventurer style, we stopped several times to dig! We didn’t find anything but our reward was a motorcycle ride back home (a first and thrilling experience for Filou who had never been on one, let alone together with his mom and driver all stuck together, and without a helmet – o the things you do in other countries)! And then there was the Mud Cave & Hot Springs that I indulged in with the boys one afternoon – slightly smelly but super fun to float on mud in a beautiful cave!

I have quickly come to love and appreciate the members of a Facebook group called, Families on the Move – a group of avid travellers that take their families on the road for 6 months or more and provide advice to one another about travel in various countries (some have sold all of their belongings and travel continuously – and because of it, are the best travel guides you’ll ever find!).  Through this group, I got to meet Sonja and her lovely family from Vancouver who, like us, set out to travel for a year with their children.  When Sonja, her husband Mike and their children Emma and Jacob arrived in Yangshuo we were all very excited to meet them (the kids were keen to have some English playmates) – and we all clicked instantly. Sonja invited me to a Chinese cooking class she was taking and of course I was game.

We met a sweet, 20-year old girl Chinese girl called Mona in the heart of town. She first took us to Yanghuo’s local farmers market to guide us through the many varieties of Chinese vegetables, fruits, fish and meats. And that is not all you see –if you dare to go to the end of the market, you see all kind of animals being killed on the spot – and when I was pointing to an skinned animal that hung up side down – thinking it was a small pig, I was explained it was a dog.  So, yes indeed the Chinese eat dogs and cats – and even the local water rats.  ahLong explained to me that he lost three of his pet dogs in three weeks! – as poachers were targeting the area and would come over lunch time – when the Chinese sleep –  to scout for dogs to kill and sell at the market!  We were told that people are hungry here so that this is indeed a reality (ps: I will spare you the picture of the dog)!

IMG_0789

Yanshuo’s farmers market

So we quickly moved on from the market and drove 20 minutes out of town. In the beautiful countryside, the Yangshuo Cooking school had a lovely set-up in a farmhouse where we learned to cook the most delicious dishes; bok choy in garlic sauce, spicy cashew chicken, beer fish (a local speciality), stuffed mushroom caps and tofu balls, eggplant in oyster sauce and some delicious pork stuffed dumplings!  So much food we made in a very short time (as cooking in a wok is all about timing, temperature and speed!).  So with very full bellies, recipes in hand and a great satisfaction, we went home that night!

IMG_0813

IMG_0822

Chinese cooking class creations

During our days in Yangshuo, Anthony went to a rock climbing café, where he met the real nice owner called aBond. It turned out that aBond is the number one rock climber in China, sponsored by Adidas to climb all over the world (with his girlfriend Ting – also a force to be reckoned with and sponsored by the same brand).  This goal-driven 25 year old has the big mission to turn China into the number 1 rock climbing destination in the world (something that one day is achievable as the country has fabulous mountains and a growing interest in this sport – with still so many potential local followers).  Abond is building a great community with his rock climbing café, rock climbing hostel and adventure company & gear.  Needless to say, Anthony chose him and his girlfriend to take us on our first rock climbing expedition.

IMG_0725

Filou at the RockAbond climbing wall

 Image

Picture of Anthony with rising climbing superstar Abond

Our beginner mountain was called Swiss Cheese – you can probably imagine why – the many holes make it easier for beginners.  After the initial explanations and equipment checks (ABCDEFG – A:    B: belt, C:  D, E:   F: Friends, G: Go) Emile was eager to be the first to try, and with little effort reached the first mountain top. Filou needed a little more encouragement and Ting proved to be a brilliant coach – she just wouldn’t take no for an answer or bring him down.  After several “I can NOT do this”, he also reached the mountaintop – and was flying with pride (and a high five and candy from Ting). Now, he cannot stop talking about climbing and wants to do it more!  While I was quite happy to be the official photographer, Anthony also really loved his first experience and climbed three different climbs at the hands of aBond….There is now talk about more climbing in Vietnam (where we are as I write) and in Thailand over Christmas!

 IMG_0892

Filou with Ting, his fabulous climbing coach

IMG_0896

So with this great experience we say good-bye to the lovely little town of Yangshuo.

We will remember you for:

– Your most amazing scenery of mountains, rivers, rice fields and yaks.

– Your wonderful markets where you sell many delicious snacks (especially vegetable dumplings) and beautiful things (the best were your scarves and $7 RayBan glasses) and the craziness and charm of West Street where we savored many a coconut drink, smoothie and passion fruit.

IMG_0452

–  Café China where enjoyed wonderful food and made great friends (the daughter of the café owner was crazy about Emile!  Note to Marsha: Emile gave her one of your Canadian penny necklaces and she is still jumping for joy!)

IMG_0721

 –  Your killer $12, one-hour massages that brought such relaxation and comfort

–  Your people that seem to be able to sleep anytime and anywhere (see the guy spread out on his motorcycle sleeping by the road at rush hour – sound asleep!)

IMG_0787

– Your insane traffic that comes from everywhere – but somehow everyone knows how to share the road!

–  Your squatting toilets, some without doors and almost all of them without toilet paper

–  Your (to us), crazy eating habits of dogs, cats and water rats!  We are sorry you are so hungry.

–  Your gorgeous karst mountains that we had the pleasure of climbing (hard to find a second climbing spot more beautiful!)

–  Your beautiful Li River that we loved cooling down in, after a 33C day!

IMG_0830

–  The kindness of your people – we thank you for making us feel so safe, welcomed and treated like stars! (our Chinese cooking instructor told me that children that major in English get the mandate to practice the language with foreigners, and are instructed to take a total of 100 photographs of those they chatted with!).

And with Yangshuo, we say good-bye to a wonderful month in China. Via bus, train and 2 planes, we will arrive soon in Vietnam!