Nan by Liesl Pfeffer

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Nan, Thailand
May 2018

Our last stop in Thailand was at Nan, a lovely small town near the border with Laos. My favourite memory from Nan is when we rode bikes at dusk just after a rainstorm and puddles of water reflected the colours and lights of the streets as we flew past.

Chiang Mai by Liesl Pfeffer

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Chiang Mai, Thailand
May 2018

We spent five days in sleepy-feeling Chiang Mai, eating, seeing live music, walking around the markets, having a wonderful strong massage and learning how to make some Thai dishes using galangal, lemongrass, sticky rice and ginseng.

Lopburi by Liesl Pfeffer

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Lopburi, Thailand
May 2018

We caught the train to Lopburi at dawn, and watched the sun rise out the windows. We walked for a while to find a restaurant open in Lopburi, where we ate soup noodles between other sleepy-eyed people on their way to school or work. At the market we bought sticky coconut rice with corn, tiny crepes filled with shredded durian, bananas and cookies - snacks for the long train ride to Chiang Mai later that day. Then, probably still before 9am, we headed out to look for the monkeys, which is what Lopburi is famous for, because there are so many of them. They sit on cars, climb electrical wires, generally take over the whole town (one came into the restaurant and was given some fruit to eat). They scrunch their wrinkly old man faces and show off their bright pink bums. Baby monkeys cling to the backs of their parent monkeys and generally look adorable. The monkeys could tell Nico had bananas in his bag, and they went pretty nuts over him whenever they had the chance.

Ayutthaya by Liesl Pfeffer

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Ayutthaya, Thailand
May 2018

We rented bikes for the day to ride between the temples at Ayutthaya, which was the capital of the kingdom from the 1400s to 1700s. Most of the temple ruins are on an island that is also a thriving city, which makes it a very different experience to other temple sites we visited, such as Angkor Wat. We watched the sun set at the last temple and the temperature finally cooled a little for our long ride back to our hostel.

The Grand Palace, Bangkok by Liesl Pfeffer

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The Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand
May 2018

Where the Kings of Siam have lived until about 100 years ago, and still a working palace (though not the home of the current King). The palace is so incredible, with all the mirrored tiles and painted murals and gold details. The day we visited was about 38 degrees, and I was suffering from a new bout of food poisoning, so I mostly loped around, drenched in sweat with my back aching and no amount of water being enough to make me feel okay.

Chantaburi by Liesl Pfeffer

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Chantaburi, Thailand
May 2018

Crossing the border from Cambodia to Thailand was a fun, unplanned journey that worked out perfectly. We got a share taxi from Battambang to the border at Prum, which took about two hours, then (after stopping to eat some fried bananas and rice cakes, and to change our Camdodian riels into Thai baht at a liquor store) we walked across to Thailand and applied for visas. We then jumped on the back of two motorbikes for about five minutes of fast riding, now on the left hand side of the road, and were dropped at a waiting open back minibus with bench seats, which immediately left once we had climbed in back. We were soon joined by a monk and a young man. A storm came and went as we drove through beautiful green mountains. We were then dropped in Chantaburi at the bus station, where we caught a taxi to our hotel overlooking the river.

Chantaburi is peaceful and pretty with a fast river and very old Chinese houses along the riverfront. The shops along the ground level of the houses blend public and private space. Peeking in the open doorways you see people watching tv and eating in their shops, surrounded by shrines, old clocks, incense and pictures of the old King.

Battambang by Liesl Pfeffer

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Battambang, Cambodia
April 2018

Apparently the second biggest city in Cambodia, but Battambang feels a world away from Phnom Penh. It has beautiful domestic architecture and shop houses, quite a few contemporary art galleries and a lovely market to explore. We ate incredible noodles with kaffir lime leaves at the market, and a delicious corn kernel dish with teeny tiny dried shrimp and coconut milk from a street vendor. We swam in the pool at our hostel, and walked for an hour through the fields to visit a school with an incredible traditional dance program.

Siem Reap by Liesl Pfeffer

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Siem Reap, Cambodia
April 2018

I cannot say a great deal about Siem Reap, because even though we stayed there for 5 nights, we only spent our evenings there after Angkor Wat closed for the day. There were some nice sides to the town, but for me, the tourists have ruined huge sections of it with their nonsense such as fish foot massages and ridiculous happy hours.

Angkor Wat by Liesl Pfeffer

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Angkor Wat, Cambodia
April 2018

There’s already more than enough pictures of Angkor Wat in the world, so I won’t share many. Our three days visiting Angkor Wat were really lovely and surprisingly calm in my memory despite there being a lot of tourists there. The place is unfathomable and amazing. We got caught in a storm and spent an hour sitting inside an ancient temple watching the rain. We ate mangoes, bananas, and other fruits we don’t know the names of. We watched the sunrise and the sunset over the ruined temples, several times.

Phnom Penh by Liesl Pfeffer

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Phnom Penh, Cambodia
April 2018

We spent four nights in Phnom Penh, most of them with mild food poisoning, but it wasn’t Phnom Penh’s fault. Rather our tendency to eat anything that looked delicious. I regret nothing.

Outside Kampot by Liesl Pfeffer

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Kampot region, Cambodia
April 2018

We hired a motorbike and Nico drove us through dirt roads surrounded by rice fields. The drive was a bit wild after it rained all night; there was mud everywhere and we had to go slowly. A truck overtook us and splashed us head to toe with mud down our left sides. We bought a few bottles of water and washed some of the mud off ourselves, and some friendly guys on the other side of the road washed our motorbike for 2,000 riel ($0.50). We stopped for lunch at a roadside stand next to Secret Lake and ate the spiciest green papaya salad that I have ever eaten. We ate with tears pouring down our faces, constantly sipping sugar cane juice and breathing heavily. We visited a cave with green moss-covered walls and stalactites hanging from the ceiling that surrounded a 1,300 year old temple. Our guides were two local kids (literally kids) who pointed out shapes in the cave that looked like a turtle, an elephant, an alligator and a pig. We drove home at dusk, the highway full of trucks and rickshaws.

Kampot by Liesl Pfeffer

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Kampot, Cambodia
April 2018

I loved our days in Kampot. It’s a smallish town with beautiful old houses, a wide river and tea plantations all around. We found a lovely small cinema that was screening films and documentaries, many of which were about Cambodia.

Kep beach by Liesl Pfeffer

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Kep Beach, Cambodia
April 2018

We arrived in Kep on the last day of New Year celebrations. People had come from all around to spend the holiday at the beach, and we jumped in the ocean and swam fully and modestly dressed like everyone else, and ate intensely spicy papaya salad dotted with chopped blue crabs.

Kep by Liesl Pfeffer

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Kep, Cambodia
April 2018

After a quiet day reading and staying out of the sun, we rode bikes up to this temple just before dusk. It was still extremely hot, and the roads were steep. I had to stop and crouch on the side of the road and put my head between my knees because I had a wave of lightheadedness from the combination of heat and exertion. We rolled our bikes to this temple and I lay on a park bench watching the leaves in the trees overhead, pouring water from my bottle onto my hair to cool down. Eventually I got up and walked around this amazing place of pinks and greens.

Mekong light by Liesl Pfeffer

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Chau Doc, Vietnam
April 2018

While we were walking along the waterfront in Chau Doc, a mother brought her two young girls over to practice their English with us. They asked us our favourite colour, and our favourite food, and what time we go to bed, and what time we get up. They were very nervous, with wide eyes. We asked them in return their favourite things, but they were too struck with the anxiety of speaking English to be able to answer clearly. It was strange, and sweet. Their grandfather was recording the conversation on his smartphone.

Chau Doc daily market by Liesl Pfeffer

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Daily market, Chau Doc
Vietnam
April 2018

We ate so many delicious things in our 24 hours in Chau Doc. Deep fried rounds of sweet dough. Rice and banana wrapped in banana leaf and roasted over coals. A whole pineapple cut into a sculptural shape. A somewhat scary bowl of noodles that had large chunks of congealed blood floating in (which we avoided picking up with our chopsticks). A spicy bahn mi sandwich on crusty baguette. 

Mekong days by Liesl Pfeffer

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An Binh, Vietnam
April 2018

We arrived on the island of An Binh in the late afternoon. We were met by our hosts who gestured for us to jump on the back of their two motorcycles for the quick ride to their homestay. (Sure, why not, let's hope I don't fall off with my 15 kg backpack strapped to me). We traveled quickly (but safely) along narrow paved paths surrounded by palm trees and fenced houses. Our homestay was a big open plan structure made from dark timber, strewn with hammocks and surrounded by plants, flowers and a pond (from which we ate a delicious elephant ear fish for dinner). In the yard, our hosts' ancestors were buried with small but elegant tombstones.

We borrowed bikes and rode around the island, stopping to watch a soccer game in a dirt field, and later to photograph the beautiful slanting golden light at dusk, when everyone burns their rubbish in their yards.  The next morning we woke up early, met our guide and walked quickly to a longtail boat which our guide deftly directed through narrow canals and out into the Mekong Delta proper. The light was weak but still hot, and we watched the river coming to life. Soon it was scorching. We ate baguettes with cheese and bananas as we very slowly moved across the Mekong, stopping and changing directions now and again to visit a bonsai garden and a candy maker. Mostly we just slowly cruised and let our thoughts drift as we watched the river: big boats transporting huge mountains of rice, young kids playing naked in the water at the shore, a man washing his boat in shorts. 

Ho Chi Minh City by Liesl Pfeffer

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Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
April 2018

Ho Chi Minh City was the first stop on our 12 week trip through South-east Asia and China. It was extremely hot (high 30s in the day, low 30s in the night), loud, thrilling, full of motorcycles, cheap strong iced coffee, home to some of the most consistently delicious street food I have eaten anywhere.