Thai Egg Custard in a Pumpkin

We had the pleasure of learning how to make this delicious dessert in Thailand at the Sompong Thai Cooking School. We definitely recommend attending their fun cooking class when visiting Bangkok. This dessert is light, easy and relatively fast to make. If you want to know what Thailand tastes like, try this recipe below.


 

Ingredients:

1 pumpkin (500-600 gram.)

4 eggs

1 cup coconut cream

1 cup palm sugar

1/2 tsp salt

5 pandanus leaves (or 2-3 drops of vanilla extract )

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  1. Clean the pumpkin, remove the top and scrape out the seeds and membrane, but leave the flesh intact. ( you can use a thai soup spoon for this process, which makes this process fast and easy)
  2. In a mixing bowl, combine eggs, coconut cream, palm sugar, pandanus leave/or vanilla extract and salt. Mix until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Pour the custrad mixture into the prepared pumpkin, filling until about 1/4 inches from the top. ( You can also use small custard cups, instead of the pumpkin to cook the custard. Pour the custard mix into the cups and add shredded pumpkin flesh on top.
  4. Steam low heat the pumpkin in a stacker steamer or other steamer for 45-50 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the custard comes out clean. It will look set but still jiggle a bit when shaken. The custard firms up as it cool ( about 10 minutes). ( If you are using small cups, steam for about 10-15 minutes.). To prevent your pumpkin from cracking, put it in a bowl that fits nicely around it, and avoid steaming with excessive heat. After the custard is done steaming, leave it to cool before you remove it from the steamer.
  5. Cut the custard including the pumpkin "crust" into wedges and serve! Voila!

RIDING OUT MEXICO'S BIGGEST EARTHQUAKE IN A CENTURY

Doctors recommended dose: take 2oz. per shake.

Doctors recommended dose: take 2oz. per shake.

It was probably 20 minutes after checking into our 10th floor Airbnb in Mexico City when Marta asked her obligatory, "can this natural disaster happen here?" question. This time it was earthquakes. Previous choices have been tsunamis, hurricanes, landslides and of course, volcanoes. 

"Yes, I believe Mexico does have earthquakes" I replied, but I couldn't say for sure. A quick google search by Marta and our question was answered as she stared in horror at photos of the devastation from the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. The death toll from that quake varies wildly from 5,000 - 45,000. Regardless of the actual number, it was catastrophic. 

Marta then expressed concerns about us staying on the 10th floor of a building whose design she questioned. Naturally I brushed her off and said everything was fine. 

A few days later we were exploring the city with our local friend Rodrigo and the '85 earthquake came up. He reassured Marta that most buildings since then were either built or retrofitted to withstand a powerful earthquake. I'm not exactly sure how much this reassured her, but throughout the next few days she kept talking about her feeling that there would be an earthquake. I of course thought she was crazy. 

Then on the evening of September 6th we heard a loud siren blare and a message in Spanish blasted over a speaker. It reminded me of the tsunami and hurricane sirens I heard growing up on Kauai. We had no idea what it actually meant so I began searching for "Mexico City sirens" and discovered that it's a sophisticated earthquake warning system that can give you up to 60 seconds to evacuate before the quake hits. At this point it was too late to leave but luckily nothing happened. I then read further that these sirens go off all the time as false alarms and residents of Mexico City now suffer from "alarm fatigue" and so basically everyone just ignores them. None of this reassured Marta any more while we lay in bed of our 10th floor apartment.

Moving on to the night of September 7th... it was probably about midnight and I had sipped a bit of delicious tequila that evening so I was just heading off into a mariachi slumber when.....

"RRRRREEEEEEEERRRRRRR...... Atención! Something, something in Spansish...."

I looked over at Marta and told her it was going to be another false alarm and that it happens all the time so she had no need to worry. Again, she was not convinced. So I rolled back over and closed my eyes and just as I did I heard her say, "the building is moving". I opened my eyes and I definitely felt something.... but was it the building, or the tequila? 

Then I saw the suspended light start to swing. Okay... it wasn't the tequila. No worries, it will just be a small tremor. Again, I was wrong. Then the building REALLY began to sway and you could hear the walls creaking and cracking. Marta ran into the living room to find our roommate there. She asked him if he had ever experienced something like this in Mexico and he said, "never". 

I threw on a towel and joined them in the living room. As the building continued to creak and sway, we lay on the floor next to the wall. Finally, as things began to ease up, we all decided to vacate. 

So down ten flights of stairs we flew and out onto the street were we were greeted by many other frightened people. As it finally became clear that the tremors were over, I got a few giggles and laughs from those passing by as I realized I was still in just my towel. Safety before clothing right? 

After returning to our apartment and finding paint chips from the wall everywhere, we saw the damage was minimal. Looks like Rodrigo was right! Our building held up well. 

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As we lay sleeplessly in bed watching the news unfold online, we would learn that Mexico City did quite well. But unfortunately the states south of us were not so lucky. Oaxaca and Chiapas received heavy damage as they were closer to the epicenter of the 8.2 earthquake. This was the largest earthquake to hit Mexico in a century!

I must say, I am now absolutely terrified of my wife and her confirmed ability to see disasters coming. Now if she ever questions a flight we take, or a place we go, I'm going to be left shaking in my boots. 

We have since sadly watched the death toll rise from a few to almost a hundred over the last few days and now seen the pictures of the catastrophic damage to the region. Unlike Mexico City, the construction in the south is not as sophisticated and I don't think they have the early warning system either. Many people were fast asleep when the quake hit. 

But what was most surprising to use was the chance to witness this warning system they have in place in Mexico City. Coming from Los Angeles we have heard the debates of trying to build a similar system for years, yet nothing has been done. And here we are in a FAR more impoverished country than America and yet they are LIGHT YEARS ahead of LA or even San Francisco when it comes to preparedness for this type of event. 

Seeing the potential it has for saving lives I cannot fathom how this hasn't been budgeted and implemented YEARS ago. And the only answer I can come up with is yet again, politics have trumped social wellbeing. And that of course, makes me sad. So I bid you adios until next time, as I I take another sip of Cazadores and go back to playing, "Is it Tequila, or is it Tectonic?"

 
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A STROLL THROUGH GLACIER NATIONAL PARK

Even the smoke from the largest active wildfire in the U.S. (at the time) couldn't completely hide the vies of Glacier National Park. We had a lot of fun exploring this awesome place (aside from almost getting eaten by a bear and her cub!)

Visiting the UXO Museum in Luang Prabang

We love to travel because we want to learn the history of other countries and understand its people better. And after visiting the UXO museum in Luang Prabang we were reminded of why it is so important to travel and learn from others.

We visited Lunang Prabang because we read that as a UNESCO heritage site, it was a beautiful and relaxed place to stay for a while. For the first 3 days we enjoyed biking, watching (respectfully from a distance) the florescent orange robed monks as they made their way to and from the temples, swimming in waterfalls, going to the night market and eating way too many French baguettes. But this post is not about that. It’s about the brutal history of Laos and it’s people.

We visited the small but very informative UXO museum in LP (pay by donation). For those who are not familiar with the term UXO, it stands for Unexploded Ordnance. It rarely seems to be more than a paragraph in high school history books, but Laos has had an extremely difficult and tragic history. It first was under the protectorate of France, followed by a Japanese occupation during WWII, and then briefly reoccupied by France, continuing into civil war after they left, and finally was almost obliterated during the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War in Vietnam, is a well documented and talked about event and everyone for the most part knows about the atrocities that took place there and the protests that ensued in the U.S. But what you don’t hear much about, even now that it is public information, is the secret bombing campaign the U.S. led on Laos that left it the most heavily bombed country in the world.

The majority of the bombings took place along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which during the war, the communist fighters never admitted its existence. So the U.S. followed suit and denied the existence of it’s bombing campaign, because if the Trail didn’t exist, there was nothing to bomb, right? Therefor, no one knew this was happening.

The United States forces flew more than 500,000  top secret bombing operations over Laos leaving over 80 million unexploded bombies and millions of other UXO’s that at it’s current clearance rate, will take at least 100 years to make the land safe again. That’s a long time for people to pay for a war that “never happened”.

On average, one person is killed every day by a UXO and many more injured and disfigured. Laos is a very poor country, with a lot of farmland and many of the villagers either die or get injured when working in the fields. It is extremely dangerous for kids to walk to school or play in the yard. On top of that, the land and water are contaminated with chemicals that were dropped too.

Luckily there is the UXO Lao program that helps to clear the land from these dangers but if it’s going to take another 100 years to clear them all, then the program is completely underfunded and understaffed. They also educate people and children about the danger of UXOs so they can take precautions to avoid them.

In 2016, more than 50 years after the Vietnam War, Obama visited Laos and the US government agreed to pay $90 million USD to help clear the UXOs.


To us, this isn’t enough. What was done to Laos should be considered a war crime and if individual leaders aren’t held accountable, then nations should be. $90 million is a drop in the bucket to the $700 billion per year or more that the U.S. spends on military. To leave such long-term devastation on a country that affects generation after generation of people who don’t even know what the Vietnam War was, is unacceptable.

After leaving the museum we were yet again, left with a bad taste in our mouth for our home country. As the “leader of the free world” and “spokesperson for human rights”, America really has it’s own poor track record on these issues and rarely will America properly own up to its mistakes.

Don’t get me wrong; Laos itself has plenty to blame for when it comes to its current status as one of the poorest countries in the world. Because hand in hand with that title, it is also ranked as one of the most corrupt governments in the world, and that is their battle to fight.

But how can a country progress when its kids have to fear being blown up on the way to school, or if a farmer has to wonder if he will make it home from the rice patties because of the UXO’s that he knows are still buried out there? And these are issues we are responsible for.

We know it won’t happen but we’d like to see the U.S. do more. There are a lot of problems in the world that the U.S. sees fit to interfere in at a huge cost, but this one seems to be of little importance. After all, it was a war we lost and a region we since decided to ignore so why should we pay right?

How responsible to do you think a country should be for its actions? Is there a limit or cap to how much a country should pay? How much did you learn about the Laos bombings when you were in school? We’d love to hear your thoughts

 

Best Bars in Siem Reap

Aside from its rich culture and architecture, Siem Reap has one of the best drinking scenes in South East Asia. The most famous (or infamous) place to get drinks in Siem Reap is of course, Pub Street. Pub Street is exactly what it sounds like, a street full of pubs, but also some restaurants and massage parlors. Most of the bars on Pub Street are known for their cheap buckets, a mix of terrible bottom shelf alcohol and your choice of soda. A 20 year old backpackers paradise. Buckets are a fun and fast way to get drunk but sometimes you might want something a little more sophisticated. Every bar on Pub Street is offering the "best happy hour" in town and it can be hard to decided where to go. 

So we did the work. We drank A LOT. The Tipsy Gypsies got completely drunk (again), and although Pub Street is great, we also discovered a lot outside its neon glow. Therefor we've created this list of our favorite bars in Siem Reap, on and beyond Pub Street.

"You see we never ever drink

Nice and easy

We always DRINK nice and hard

We started the night nice and easy but finished it hard"

(thanks Tina Turner "Proud Mary")

Miss Wong

One of our favorites, Miss Wong has the best central location. It is situated in a small alley, just few steps away from the madness of the Pub Street, which is way more relaxing and classy.  Miss Wong is well know amongst locals and tourists, and it is well worth the visit not only for drinks but also the elegant atmosphere.  

We arrived at Miss Wong around 6pm, just when the bar opened and things were just coming to life. We were immediately impressed by the gorgeous interior: high ceilings, crimson red walls, glowing lanterns hanging off the ceilings, lots of paintings and moody lighting. This place is sexy! There were so many great details in this bar and our eyes were constantly traveling up and down the walls discovering new trinkets.

We were greeted by the super cool owner of the bar Dean, who is an expat from New Zealand and has been living in Cambodia for the last 12 years. Dean opened and designed the bar himself 8 years ago. The design is based on a paining that the owner's grandmother had in her home back in New Zealand. The painting is of Miss Wong, a beautiful, mysterious woman painted by a Russian artist, who became famous for his prints of Chinese ladies he painted. The painting was a great inspiration for an asian theme speakeasy and it also reminded him of his home.

When Miss Wong opened the idea was to offer something different from the popular and cheap buckets of alcohol. The owner wanted to serve a top shelve alcohol to his clients, but 8 years ago that was a problem in Siem Reap. The better quality liquor had to be imported and was very expensive. That is why he decided to infuse his his own alcohol. Dean's background is in biochemistry, and when you taste his infused vodkas you can tell that he knows his craft. The infused vodkas, also used in mixed drinks, are very unique flavors like Tom Yum (yes the famous Thai Soup), cardamon or pepper. Vodka has never tasted better!

The Tipsy Gypsies recommend:

Mixed drinks:

Jen Queens Ang-Pau

Jen Queen Year of the Cocktail

Apricot & Kaffir Lime Martini

Spiced Bloody Mary

The Elbow

Shots:

Pepper infused vodka

cardamon rose gin

Tom Yum Gin (so pretty much all of them)

They also serve delicious appetizers. Pictured below: dim sum

Georges Rhumerie

This place is all about rum, but not just any rum. This rum is made in house and to make it even better, it's all infused. This place is a MUST try in Siem Reap!

We arrived to Georges Rhumerie by rickshaw around 8pm and the place was not very busy. Perhaps because G.R  is located a bit "outside" of the tourist zone (aka away from Pub Street), and is why this place is not super crowded. If you want to hang out with some awesome expats and stay away from the crazy drunken tourists of Pub Street, this bar is great! The rickshaw ride was only $3 and it was totally worth the cruise outside downtown. Also, don't worry about getting back to your hotel. They have trusted rickshaw drivers waiting outside so when the bar is finally closed, they will help you get home safely. And after this journey through rum heaven, we definitely needed some assistance getting back.

We sat at the outdoor bar area, which is very casual, but if you need AC they also have an indoor restaurant. The relaxed atmosphere, very friendly bartenders, who joke around and talk with the customers is probably why so many expats (and us), love to hang out here. 

Our bartender served us a flight of rum shots to start with. The flight was 10 different infused rums, and if you think we can tell you what was our favorite, we would have to say all of them! We definitely recommend this sampling experience as all of the flavors are wonderfully unique.

We desperately needed to eat something after our "little" sampler of rums, so we ordered a delicious appetizers plate of samoussa, bouchon, baida and crackers with home-made delicious jams! Trust us, you will want to snack on something while you're sipping on one of their many delicious concoctions. The snacks were well paired with the drinks and we never thought that jam and crackers would go so well with rum, but we swear it's worth it!

We don't know when to say no to alcohol, and so when our bartender suggested that we try some of their cocktails we ordered not one, but two: Bokator and George's Grog, both very delicious, refreshing and light. 

Our master bartender, Houern, who was entertaining us the whole night told us that the staff likes to create their own drinks, and if they are popular they end up on the menu. He mixed us his latest creation, which was not yet listed on the menu, and we hope it has since been added because it was absolutely fantastic. It was hands down one of the best cocktails we've ever tasted. He called it a "Svay" or "Mango cocktail" ( ingredients: mango rum, mango juice, mint syrup, lime juice, milk). If you visit Georges you must try this cocktail!

Park Hyatt

The Park Hyatt is probably the most gorgeous hotel in Siem Reap, and we had the privilege of staying with them. We highly recommend that you go to and splurge at least one night with them and have a drink either on their patio surrounded by fire pits, enjoying a traditional dance performance (check schedule) or you can sip a cocktail in their gorgeous 'living room" lounge, decorated with pinks sofas, fresh lotus flowers, dimmed lights and soft music playing in the background. The design alone is worth the $10 plus drinks.

If you time your visit right, the traditional Cambodian dance performance is absolutely spectacular. Just sit in the patio and enjoy your drink and the show.

The Tipsy Gypsies recommend:

New York Sour

 Singapore Sling

Hemingways Diary

Victoria Angkor

This hotel has a great pool and if the day is hot, which is almost always the case in Siem Reap, there is no better way to cool down than by the pool while sipping on ice cold drinks. The best time to go is for brunch on the patio, overlooking the pool area or directly by the pool under umbrellas. There is also a bar inside the hotel and their drinks are very good, but there isn't much night life going on. 

The Tipsy Gypsies recommend:

Frozen Coconut Mojito

Passion Daiquiri

Mango "Caviar" Fizz

Angkor What?

Did we mention the buckets? Angkor What? is a very popular, if not the most popular bar in Siem Reap and it would be wrong not to mention it. It was probably our least favorite bar because it's a bit loud. Every time we went there to meet with friends they were blasting obnoxious music. We are not saying they should change what they are doing, just keep this is mind. If you are planning on conversing with friends at this bar, forget about it. But if you want to get some cheap buckets and dance your ankles off, this is the right place for you. Angkor What? is located on Pub Street and with it's grungy design and cheap drinks, it obviously attracts a younger crowd. The buckets are large and strong so be prepared to get shit faced or make some friends to share it with. And lastly, don't wear anything white as all those "invisible" stains will be shinning bright in their black lights. 

“The more I drink, the better I write and the more I write the better I drink.”

Disclaimer: We make sure to have at least few drinks before we start to write any bar or drink reviews! Because who wants to write about drinking when you're sober?

Cheers!

The Best of Laos

Before coming to Laos we didn't know where to go or what to do and we certainly didn't plan to stay as long as we did. In fact, we almost skipped Laos entirely because despite the many blog posts we researched in advance, we couldn't get a clear sense of why we should visit or what makes it so different from Cambodia or Vietnam.

Thank god we didn't skip it because it turned out to be our favorite country so far in South East Asia. Thailand is beautiful but it's extremely developed, westernized and crowded. Cambodia is also wonderful but is also growing quickly in western influence and development. 

Laos is like the gentler, softer sister of the other SE Asia countries. It is quiet, empty, tranquil and absolutely stunning. Upon arrival you instantly notice the hospitality of the local people, who constantly greet you in their local language saying with a smile, "Sabaidee!" Laos is full of natural beauty such as waterfalls, natural swimming pools, mountains and rice patties surrounded by small villages.

Although Laos is technically a communist country, people are allowed to own private businesses and practice religion. It seems as if life is moving at a slower pace here and that is what we loved the most about Laos. And did we mention the food?! Our favorite in SE Asia so far. 

Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is a UNESCO world heritage site. It's a joy walking around and admiring the well preserved architecture and religious sites. Even though Luang Prabang is a famous tourist destination, it hasn't lost its charm. The streets are dotted with young monks walking around in their orange robes, bathing in the river and chanting in the many temples throughout the city. The monks are highly respected by the locals and every morning at sunrise the locals gather on a street for Alms, a giving ceremony. Alms is an offering of food for the monks, typically rice and fruit. You can participate in the ceremony as long as you a respectful, which unfortunately many tourist are not. If you want to take a photo please do it quietly, from a distance and without flash!

Daily life in the village seems to be very laid back.  It's a place where you can truly enjoy being a visitor because you don't have to worry about being harassed by vendors trying to sell you anything. The city is on a curfew to respect the early rise of the monks, and after midnight, night life is non-existent.

This quaint village is situated by the mighty Mekong and the smaller Nam Khan river. The rivers and the surrounding mountains make this village absolutely stunning. On any day you will see the locals and tourists swimming in the river or watching the sunset.

Laos cuisine is amazing! They are especially famous for their love of sticky rice. Our favorite were the noodle soups, which come with plenty of fresh herbs, lettuce and other veggies. It sounds weird to put lettuce in a bowl of hot soup, but trust us, there is nothing better!

Besides the traditional food, you can also find tasty western dishes here. Laos was a French colony and the baguettes and pastries in Luang Prabang taste just like in France.

Another joy of the French influence are the Bahn Mi-like Laos sandwiches, which are everywhere and absolutely worth trying!

The night market in Luang Prabang is a fun place to visit and try some local cuisine. There are plenty of meats on sticks, grilled fish, sandwiches and noodle dishes. In our opinion the food at the night market wasn't the freshest. We saw the vendors packing all the meats after hours of sitting on a table, and placing in plastic bags to be sold the next day. We were actually shocked that we didn't get sick.

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: Want the freshest street food? Look outside the night markets and you will find they are cooking smaller, fresher portions, rather than creating mountains of food (which they could never sell in one night) to impress tourists. 

If you want to get out of town you can hire a tuk tuk, taxi or rent scooters and drive 30km outside to see the incredible Kuang Si Falls. This place is no secret, and if you want to enjoy swimming in the fresh pools of water you should be there as soon as it opens. We got there about 9 am and there were few other people around, but by noon it was full of tourists and locals.

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: We highly recommend you go by scooter as you can create your own schedule when visiting Kuang Si Falls. It only costs a little more but the freedom is totally worth it. We read a lot of blogs saying the road and ride out to the falls was dangerous but we found that to be completely untrue.

There are multiple waterfalls and the higher you are willing to hike up the stream, the less people you will see. The water is cool, and it's very hard not to jump into the turquoise water. But don't worry, you can!

There is also a small bear sanctuary on the way to the waterfalls. Most of these bears have been rescued from poachers, who either planned to illegally sell them as pets or kill them. One of the bears was missing a paw, but it was still very playful. The bears played together, cooled off in the pools of water and it was very entertaining to watch them.

Also make sure to stop at the small UXO Museum, which you can read more about here (COMING SOON). There are several of these museums in Laos so if you don't go to this one make sure you stop at one of the others as it's really eye opening and important to learn about the brutal history these people have survived and the problems they still deal with today.

 

Nong Khiaw

Nong Khiaw is a tiny village a few hours north from Luang Prabang. This place used to be a real off the beaten track place, but it is getting more popular every day. You can start to see the foot print tourism is leaving on this town with numerous restaurants and guest houses popping up.  

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: We scored an awesome river view bungalow for $9 by staying a 10 minute walk outside the main town. There is a small dirt road near the school and down by the river are a handful of awesome cheap bungalows. 

There is a nice but strenuous hike you can do to see a spectacular view of the valley and the town below but please, don't go in the middle of the day like we did! It was so hot we barely made it to the top. The trailhead starts about 50 meters past Temple of Ban Sop Houn.

Once you reach the top you are rewarded with a nice viewing hut that offers some shade and even a hammock!

Vang Vieng

We are only going to mention this town briefly as it's the one place in Laos we really didn't like. And why? Because it was one the town most ruined and destroyed by western influence. Viang Vieng was famous for many years as an insane, year round, Spring Break experience for young backpackers. Eventually it got so bad that backpackers were dying, doing stupid things that stupid backpackers do. So the government eventually shut everything down and now there are only a few bars left. We read the town has since changed and maybe it has, but to us it still reeked of its previous heyday and although there are some nice day trips you can do, we think the town is completely worth skipping.

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: If you MUST go to Vang Vieng, you might as well score some free drinks. We got pretty hammered completely for FREE thanks to the extremely competitive happy hours, (which is basically free drinks from 6-8) that the few bars in town offer to try and lure you in. 

 

Thakhek and the Thakhek Loop

This town is located between Vientiane and 4000 Islands. The town itself doesn't have much to offer but it is a must stop for the awesome Thakhek Loop which you can read in detail about here

4000 Islands

Don Det is located at 4000 Islands and just getting there was an adventure. We first took an overnight bus that dropped us in the middle of nowhere at 3am where we had to wait until sunrise, and then we traveled for another hour by a small boat to get there. The island itself is lovely. You can do some kayaking, biking, river tubing and read a book in hammocks overlooking the river.

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: Internet in Don Det sucks but if you seek out the restaurant/café with the fewest customers, you're much more likely to get a faster connection. 

We visited Don Det in the middle of March, which was good and bad. March is the hottest month in Laos and the heat was hard to deal with, but on a positive note, the island was empty and rooms were cheap. 

 

If you've never been to South East Asia, it's easy to assume that all these neighboring countries are going to be very much alike. But as we continue to make our way through the region, we are quickly learning and loving how different they all are. And just because we said earlier, that Thailand and Cambodia are more developed, it doesn't meant they aren't worth visiting as well. But again, what set Laos apart, and what made us fall in love, was the lack of urgency. In a world that is dominated by the aggressive pursuit of profits and status, the people of Laos, in the city AND the villages, seemed untroubled by these pursuits. It's truly the land of "it's nap time", when and where ever you want! Restaurants and stores almost always had an employee or two dozing in a corner somewhere.

And although we fell in love with the simplicity and slowness of Laos, we are also well aware of the countries tragic past, and the struggles it deals with today regarding it's extremely corrupt government and massive levels of poverty. 

Despite these hurdles, we saw nothing but smiles as we drove through village after village in the countryside. And although we hope for a more honest government and more access to education, healthcare and vital services for it's people, we hope they never forget that it's always the right time to sit back, relax, and take a nap. 

GET TIPSY ON: LAODI RHUM

Ever since the movie "Pirates of the Caribbean" was released rum has become our favorite alcohol. Ok, we don't discriminate on any alcohol (except for you Mr. Wine Cooler!), but rum is really freaking good. We have always associated rum with tropical islands and what we didn't know is that you can find an exceptional rum in Laos. Rum is made from sugar cane, and Laos is covered with sugar cane fields, which makes this country a perfect environment for rum production. On our recent trip to Luang Prabang, the UNESCO heritage village, we tried LAODI, a rum made in Laos by a Japanese man.

According to their website, what makes LAODI rum special is the fresh water from the Mekong river, which irrigates the land where their sugar cane grows. Only 3% of rum production comes from pure sugar cane, which makes LAODI a very small distillery with a unique taste. They also claim that because unlike other commercial rum, which is made with molasses, their rum won't give you a nasty hangover, which we have, um... thoroughly tested and can confirm is true. 

We first learned of LAODI rum at the Luang Prabang night market, where you can have a free tasting. The sales lady kept pouring generous shots of every rum and we left buying two of their classic bottles of rum: BROWN and WHITE. Our favorite, however was their COCONUT flavored rum. It is tasty just to sip on and you can imagine that it would the best liquor to add to any "beach/summer" inspired cocktail with pineapple or milk. Other flavors of infused rum include: passionfruit, sugarcane, coffee and plum.

Although Laos is a very beautiful, laid back country with a unique culture and some of the best foods we have tasted, if that doesn't get you excited, just know that LAODI rum is reason enough to visit.

Unfortunately, we didn't have a chance to go to the distillery, but we have heard that the tour is great. If you are in the area here, is the address:

 

Lao Agro Organic Industries Limited

47kms of the National Road No. 13

Naxone Village, Pak Ngum District, Vientiane Capital, Laos

Tel: +856 20 2829 8789 / +856 20 5233 9920

Mail: info@rhumlaodi.com

GPS: 18°04’28.8″N 102°58’01.0″E

www.facebook.com/rhumlaodi

A Year in Review

After one year on the road complete, it's time to take a look back on some of the amazing experiences we've had. This video also takes the form of a demo reel for Nate as a director. 

HONG KONG

We spent 4 days in Hong Kong and although the rainy weather was beautiful in the city, it made shooting a bit difficult so I didn't get as much footage as I hoped. Regardless, we had an amazing time and can't wait to visit again.

Three Days of Khmer New Years in Siem Reap

The day was finally upon us. Day one of three days of Khmer New Years celebrations. We had been pampered and prepped for the occasion, which you can read about here, but nothing could truly prepare us for the festivities ahead. 

Khmer New Years is a mix of spiritual enlightenment and good old fashioned party fun. The blazing hot days in the city are quiet as Khmer locals visit temples to pray and tourists go about their normal routines. But as the sun starts to set, everything changes.

Slowly you begin to hear music pumping from giant speakers on every street corner and buckets are filled with water as the city prepares for the oncoming war... a water war that is! 

By nightfall the city has turned in to a giant water gun fight as people walk the street and attempt drive by shootings with oversized super soakers. But it's not just water, there are the clouds of baby powder. We have not found a clear answer as to why, but everyone has a container of baby powder and either dumps it on your head, or smears your cheeks with the soft soothing powder. 

This might sound like an activity that gets out of hand and causes fights and riots on the street but it did nothing of the sort. It was one of the most peaceful and fun events we've ever attended. From the hours of 6pm to 3am you get to be a kid again. 

These festivities go on repeat for three days. Quiet daylight hours, insane water fights and partying at night. The epicenter of this in Siem Reap of course, is Pub Street. Every bar is bursting with water drenched, powder chalked patrons, who are singing, dancing and laughing. Drinks are flowing and music is blasting so there is nothing but fun to be had. 

Apparently there are similar New Years events that go on throughout SE Asia which we can't comment on but all we can tell you is that Cambodians really know how to throw a New Years celebration.

Due to the insanity and wetness of this event, we were hesitant to take our cameras out so we only have a few pictures. All we can say is if you're looking for something amazing to do for new years, forget Times Square and January 1st.                                                                                  Mid April in Cambodia is where it's at!

Khmer New Years at the Victoria Angkor

When we arrived in Siem Reap after 12 hours of travel from Laos, we were tired, hot and sweaty. Luckily for us, we were about to enter the garden of eden. 

We had come to Siem Reap to celebrate and witness the Khmer New Year so we needed to get refreshed and ready to party! After a month on the road in Laos, we decided to pamper ourselves with a pre New Years rest at the Victoria Angkor, located in the heart of Siem Reap. The hotel is conveniently located near the famous Pub street, but far enough from it to escape the traffic and bustling streets of the city.

When we arrived, we were greeted with their delicious welcome drink, made with sugar cane juice and served in a bamboo cup with a bamboo straw. We later learned the hotel management makes a conscious effort to minimize the waste they produce so they replaced plastic straws, which are terrible for the environment, with a natural bamboo straw. The drink was delicious and refreshing and we liked it so much, that we requested it a few more times. We also recieved chilled towels soaked in jasmine water to cool ourselves off as we checked in. That was a welcome well done and right away we fell in love with this hotel.

Although only about a decade old, the hotel has been designed in a 1930's french colonial style and the esthetic perfectly reflects the nostalgia and romantic vibe of that era.

For the next few days we had the fortune of staying in one of their beautiful Maharaja suites. We laughed when we walked into the room because we had just spent almost 6 months in India and the suite was decorated accordingly with Indian flavors and in some ways, felt like home. Of course the hotel management didn't know that when they put us in this suite, but somehow we just can't escape India.

The suite was huge: living room, master bedroom, dressing den and a specious bathroom.  The large living room was full of light with it's windows facing the Royal Park, and it was our favorite spot to read the daily news while sipping on coffee or one of their delicious cocktails. Our favorite design detail from the living room was the french windows with louvers looking into the garden.

The bedroom was clearly built for royalty. Whether you've had a long flight or have been on the road for while, nothing feels better than falling on a king size bed full of soft pillows and letting all the stress melt away.

Every day, after we came back to our room our bedsheets were perfectly dressed down with the blankets folded back, the slippers and robes were laid out and they even left delicious chocolate treats for extra sweet dreams. We loved their attention to details and we definitely felt spoiled.

The hotel has the most amazing international breakfast buffet we've ever had. The buffet was huge, and it filled two rooms! You can choose between asian food or a western breakfast (or both!) with fresh pastries and breads from their bakery. Having been away from home so long, we couldn't pass on the french cheese, eggs, cured meats and fresh smoothies. To make the mornings even more jolly they also served bottomless mimosas with your choice of fresh fruit. Ahh Europeans know how to live!

In the morning, before this huge breakfast we actually joined a free yoga class in the park across the street. The yoga instructor was a young Cambodian girl, and she was great at correcting your posture. It was fantastic! If you don't like yoga or it is too hot for you, they also have a small AC gym near the pool, which was empty most of the time.

Of course, our favorite was the bar or more precisely the drinks they serve at the Victoria Angkor. The menu constantly changes but all the drinks are delicious and they are continually making new cocktails you can't get anywhere else.

Here are our two favorites: Passion Fruit Daiquiri and Mango Caviar Fizz.

The Khmer new Year is the biggest holiday in Cambodia. Before we hit the street scene, we and other guests were invited to join and participate in the local games in the hotel's courtyard. Although most of us were shy at first to dance to the most popular Cambodian hits of the years, after a few minutes of watching the fun from a distance, we joined the party. Oh and did we mention the water and baby powder? Yeah the cheeky Cambodians first spray you with water and then they throw baby powder on you. It was so much fun and gave us a great taste of what to expect later on the streets, which you can read about here.

What really made the Victoria Angkor great, wasn't just their attention to detail in creating a truly luxurious yet at the same time, unpretentious experience, but the way they made you feel a part of the family, and at home. And no, it wasn't just because we were there to review them. We saw every guest being treated with the same sense of local hospitality; and that leaves you with an experience you'll always remember.

 

Specials thanks to Cedric & Patric and their wonderful staff for hosting our stay at the Victoria Angkor. Our opinions regarding our stay are completely our own. 

Cheers! 

Our First 24 Hours Driving a Rickshaw Across India

This article was originally a guest published feature but we are now sharing on our blog as well. 

When we first arrived in India, a simple task of crossing a busy street seemed impossible. Freeways and roads are full of not only vehicles and pedestrians but also wild animals like pigs and the famous holy cows. The most convenient and exciting form of transportation in India is of course the “fast” and furious auto rickshaw. These little 3 wheelers can drive almost anywhere.  In India, everyone and everything is moving in different directions and many times, insanely, against the flow of traffic. It's nuts and there are no rules, but somehow this functioning chaos works.

The first time we had to cross a street in India, we just tagged along and followed a group of locals. When they stopped, we stopped, and when they walked, we walked. We observed, learned and eventually we became experts in street walking. Trust us, it is a skill and you must learn it to survive here. This is how to cross a street in India. There might be some slight variations depending on weather conditions, your teacher, or your fitness ability but it goes something like this:

One: Quickly stick out your hand towards the oncoming vehicle that might look like they will kill you, signaling, "stop mother f$*ckers, I am trying to get to the samosa stand across the street!"

Two: When you see a small gap between moving cars you mustn’t hesitate. Continue with step one and go for it. Hopefully you'll make it and the samosa will be hot and delicious. Mission accomplished!

Soon after we got comfortable with walking like locals, we discovered the fun of riding in a rickshaw. In fact, we had so much fun that we decided to buy and drive our own rickshaw. Yes, the idea was absolutely nuts but we wanted to try it and it sounded like a lot of fun doing a road trip across India in our own rickshaw.

The only way you can understand what it’s like driving a rickshaw in India, is if you’ve ever played a car racing video game. The goal of the Rickshaw Game is to avoid various obstacles on the road such as humans, animals, vehicles, crater size potholes and giant rocks in the middle of the road etc. You do that to get from point A to B without hitting anybody or getting hit. You will never know when some object will suddenly try to “attack” you, so knowing the rules of the game is important. And the rules are, there are no rules! Constant honking helps to make the objects stay out of your way and therefor decrease your travel time and increase your chances of winning the game, aka reaching your destination.

After a few months as passengers and studying professional rickshaw drivers, we decided we were ready to “take the controller”. We didn’t have a real plan, but we figured we would drive as far as we could and have fun along the way. We decided on a general direction and we started driving north from Kerala, towards Rajasthan.

Our first day of the journey, we set an ambitious goal to drive about 150 km from Cochin to Munnar. This isn’t a long distance but the locals warned us about narrow and steep roads. We almost reconsidered but we felt strongly about driving to the most famous tea region in India. Rickshaws are known for easy breakdowns so after hearing about the treacherous roads we prepared ourselves mentally and hoped for the best.

In the morning, right up until our departure we still didn't feel confident about our driving skills or how far we would make it. Starting our rickshaw was never easy, but on the morning of our launch, she purred to life right away telling us everything was going to be okay.

Our first challenge was boarding a ferry. The ferry made you back on and getting our rickshaw into reverse wasn’t the easiest thing to do. The engine died a few time before we were able to board, which was extremely embarrassing because EVERYBODY kept starting at us. When Indians stare they have no shame and they won’t look away when you give them stink eye or try to stare back.  There is even a term used here by tourists called ‘the Indian stare”. This was going to be something we would have to get used to while driving across India.

Once we started driving it wasn’t so bad. One thing we wanted to avoid at all costs were major highways. (yes, highways exist in India). We decided to take the road suggested by our local friend but unfortunately we ended up on the biggest highway from Cochin to Munnar. The freeway was congested with big trucks and was not what we pictured as a fun road trip. We think our average speed must have been about 30-35km/h, but we can’t say for sure because the speedometer was broken. We also almost ran a red light on the biggest intersection on the freeway. In our 4 months of traveling in India we hadn’t seen any intersections with working lights or people obeying them until then. We knew something was wrong because all the cars were slowing down while we kept passing them. This caused severe hyperventilation and lots of cursing as we skidded to a stop in the nick of time.

After a few hours, we finally veered off to a smaller, more picturesque road and we felt like we were finally on a road trip.  We stopped consistently every 50 km, making sure we didn't overheat the old engine and also every time we saw fresh coconuts or cold beers (a privilege for passengers only). As we approached the mountains, the views got more beautiful but the roads began to rise and our little rickshaw had to work a lot harder. Our poor rickshaw moaned and cursed as we constantly grinded the gears on the climb up. We even stalled a few times. And let us tell you, it is not easy to get a fully loaded rickshaw with an engine the size of a lawn mower moving again from a complete stand still on a 45 degree incline. Most of the time we had to roll down to the bottom of the hill and try again.

About 20km from our destination, while driving up a big hill the engine started making a terrible sound, and even after switching it off and taking the key out it wouldn’t stop screaming. We started to panic thinking it might catch on fire or worse. We took our backpacks out of the back as fast as we could, hoping that the whole thing wouldn’t explode. Luckily, the engine finally died and we rolled it to a safe spot. It turned out that we were driving on a nearly empty tank and the clutch was somehow temporarily jammed and after the engine cooled off, we refilled it and continued our journey towards Munnar.

The few times we passed any police on the side of the road, by the time they realized that two tourists were driving past them in a crazy painted rickshaw it was too late for them to stop us. We just waved and hoped they were not able to chase us.

Finally after a full day of driving, we reached Munnar without any serious mechanical issues. The weather was much cooler since we were at a higher altitude and after finding a cheap hotel and eating some amazing street food, we were tired and ready for a cold beer and bed.

Cheers!!

To read the rest of our story you can continue the journey here!

 

The Rickshaw Diaries: A Road Trip Across India

The Tipsy Gypsies Cruisin'. Illustrated and animated by Felix Roos.

The Tipsy Gypsies Cruisin'. Illustrated and animated by Felix Roos.

It was nearly Christmas Eve and we were four months into our journey through India. We had arrived in southern India in the state of Kerala, famous for its backwaters and we had reached the point in our trip where we felt like we'd seen enough temples, tombs and forts for a lifetime. We had run out of the "Top 10" same (bullshit) things to do and we needed some serious balance of sightseeing and real adventure. So after much discussion, we decided to ask Santa for a rickshaw. This is the story of how we managed to explore nearly half the length of India in a rickshaw and not kill ourselves while doing it. 

After a few days of frantically trying to buy a rickshaw and an additional 5 days of finalizing the paperwork, fixing major mechanical issues and pimping our rickshaw, we were finally ready to leave Kochi on new years and start our wild road trip. We had no plan of how far to drive or where, so we just picked a direction and started driving north. These are our favorite places that we visited in our rickshaw.

Alleppey, Kerala

This is the famous backwaters country of South India. You can rent a houseboat for few hours and cruise around or sleep on the boat, which is what we did and highly recommend it. If you show up last minute during the middle of the week or off season, you can negotiate a pretty decent price for an overnight stay.

These traditional wooden houseboats with thatched roofs, were traditionally used to transport various materials and people. It was also the fastest way of transportation between the 5 lakes connected by canals. Nowadays the house boats are a big hit and a big tourist attraction. Staying overnight on a houseboat can get quite pricey, especially during the high season. Because we booked same day, we paid about 7,000 rupees for the whole boat, which is extremely cheap since it was around the holidays. Typically these boats cost anywhere from 15,000 to 50,000 per night.

We left the main harbor around 3pm to cruise and watch the sunset on the backwater. The boat was very comfortable and the crew was extremely nice and cooked us amazing Kerala style food. At night the boat parked on a quiet bank of the backwaters, far from the other boats we watched the stars and drank beers until the stars got blurry. 

In the morning we enjoyed a few more hours watching the sunrise, drinking hot chai and eating spicy Kerala style breakfast with eggs, appam (coconut pancakes), sambar (vegetable and lentil stew) and fruit.

 

Munnar, Kerala

Munnar is absolutely breathtaking and its hills are covered with vibrant tea plants. Many of the tea plantations in Munnar were started by the British, who loved this region for it's cool climate and natural beauty.

A lot of the Indian tea is still produced here. Every time we drove through the hills we could hear the clipping sound of the fresh tea being cut. It also smells incredible! 

Munnar is situated in the Western Ghants mountain range with an altitude of 1,600 meters (5,200 ft), so getting there in the rickshaw was not easy, but it was absolutely worth it. We spent 2 days driving around the tea plantations and visiting the hill stations. Unfortunately, we couldn't find any plantations that offered tea tastings, which was odd, but if you want to taste the regional tea you can visit the Munnar Tea Museum.

Karnataka

Not many people know that the state of Karnataka has some of the most beautiful beaches in India. We were shocked how pristine and remote the beaches were here. This is also probably the only place in India where the beaches have white sand. This coastline is not developed and you can only see small local huts near the beach and there are not many places to stay near the beach We found one hotel with a beach view near Mattu village, but the security guard turned us away. We returned to the hotel the next day and insisted on speaking to the manager. Eventually the manager told us the same thing, that they were booked and they didn't have any future available dates. It was a very strange response. Perhaps we weren't welcome because of our unusual form of transportation and we didn't meet their typical guest profile. We will never know. Honestely it was for the best because we would never stay in a place that is so snobbish.

When we asked the locals on the road about some simple guest houses they mentioned one but we couldn't find it. The nearby town Udupai (about 15km away), has plenty of accommodations though. We slept there and we hung out on the beach for few hours the next morning before we left

One day we would love to come back to Karnataka with a tent and sleep on the beach near Mattu.

 

Our favorite area was the stretch from Kapu till the end of the peninsula. The beaches on the peninsula are absolutely amazing and unlike anywhere else you will see in India!

Goa

Goa was probably the easiest place for us to drive our rickshaw. This state is one of the busiest tourist destinations in India and at the same time is very laid back. Most of people who live or work here are in the tourist industry, therefore, are accustomed to western habits like the love of strong coffee, eating pizza, women in bikinis or women driving a rickshaw for that matter. Just kidding about the women driving rickshaw, that still totally freaked everybody out.

 We drove through many towns in Goa and here some of the places that we liked the most.

Palolem: A Hippy's Paradise

Palolem seems to attract mostly young hippy types and for some reason lots of Israelis. Tourists come here for yoga and spiritual trainings, to master fire dancing and hula-hoop skills. Palolem is one of the most westernized small towns in India that we have visited. You can actually eat an authentic pizza here at Magic Italy restaurant, drink perfectly brewed coffee, that has not been diluted and sweetened with 10 spoons of sugar, from Mika Mocha. The beach in Palolem is very popular during the day with people trying to sell you boat rides and at night the atmosphere is quite charming with candle lit tables on the sand and fresh seafood being grilled. With no shortage of places to eat on the beach, we always tried to time our dinner around sunset so we could take in the amazing view. 

 

Agonda: the Holly Cow beach

Agonda is the smaller and more quiet sister of Palolem. There are a few decent restaurants on the main road and the guest houses seem to be the cheapest here. We rented a bungalow, on the beach for 800 rupees/12 USD. The beaches although less crowded and relaxing are full of cow shit, so be careful where you walk, especially at night. If you want something even more remote, visit the nearby Cola beach, which is gorgeous.

Morjim: a Russian Paradise

We actually like Morjim a lot mostly because the wide and well kept beaches and the sunsets are incredible!

Although this area used to be known as a heavy party town, it seems like things have changed these days. We had a relaxing stay at Xaviers with their restaurant and great food situated right on the beach (the service is a bit slow, but the food was worth the wait). At Xavier's, they also screen movies every night, but in Russian. Morjim is a popular tourist destination for many Russians and almost everything has been translated into Russian including menus in the restaurants and movies, which have a Russian voice over. We heard some rumors from the locals that a while ago this town was owned by the Russian mafia. It has since changed and nowadays you will come across many Indian and western tourists who don't know how to order from a Russian menu.

Malvan, Maharastra

Malvan has a really special place in our hearts. We first came to this town before we started the rickshaw road trip and we fell in love with it's people and atmosphere. We've made some very good friends, ate some amazing food and so we had to come back for more.

Unlike touristy Goa, the beaches in Malvan are almost empty. You wont find any obnoxious, loud bars on the beach here, but you are welcome to chill with a cold brew. 

Malvan is known for it's unique blend of spices and the seafood is great here. This town has the best Thali restaurant that we have tasted in all of India.  The name of the restaurant is Love kick and it is run by the Kirtane family. We ate there everyday. The Veg Thali came with a fresh green leafy salad mixed with raw coconut, chana with a unique mix of coconut, aloo (potatoes) mixed with cabbage and a sol curry, which is to die for! Sol curry, also known as Solkadi, is a popular Konkani curry made from coconut and kokum fruit. It is a staple of Malvan, eaten with rice or drank after a meal. It's mildly sour flavor and light texture not only tasted delicious but it helps your mouth cool off from the spices and also helps with digestion. So many benefits from one fruit!

If you are polite when you arrive, the owner of the Love Kick restaurant will help you with a secret BYOB section. You might have to sit in the VIP room, aka the back of the house, so nobody sees you drinking. Also please don't embarrass us by asking for a fork. Make sure you eat your Thali like it was meant to be eaten, with your hands!

Besides the food and beaches in Malvan, you can visit the Sindhudurg Fort by a small boat, buy some fresh fish from the market in the early morning, and make sure you try the local drink made from coconuts called Madi.

But most importantly, make sure you make some friends. The Malvan people are some of the best we have ever met! 

If you come to Malvan we INSIST you stay at Vicky's Guest House. We can't recommend this place enough. The whole Fernandez family is so lovely and Vicky who runs the guesthouse, is the best unofficial guide in town. He will give you many tips and will go out of his way to make sure you are a satisfied customer. 

Malvan was our last stop on the rickshaw road trip. We drove about 1,500 km and we covered 4 states in two weeks. We originally planned to drive all the way to Rajasthan but at the end we had to change our travel plans and we left our rickshaw with a friend in Malvan, who helped us sell it to a local who will use it for his business. The small profit was then distributed amongst our friends who helped us along the way.

Final Thoughts

Buying and driving the rickshaw wasn't just fun, it was also educational and eye opening. Traveling at a top speed of 40km/hr on mostly backroads gives you a perspective of India you can't get in any other way. It doesn't matter if you go by train, bus or car, you're moving too fast. And there is no better ice breaker than a crazy looking rickshaw to make new friends in every town you go.

But like many things in India, driving a rickshaw can be quite dangerous. They are slow, unreliable and have questionable balance. So if you ever decide to try this, please make sure you get lots of practice beforehand and do not overestimate your or the rickshaws abilities. Vehicles drive fast and with little regard to the rules of the road so driving defensively will be your best chance of survival.

The legality of what we did is also somewhat questionable but we had no issues, even when we were pulled over by police. 

And finally, the most important take away from this trip was how humbled we were by everyone that we met. It didn't matter what village or city we were in, when we broke down, people went out of their way to help us get back on the road. When we were lost, people gave us directions with a smile. And when we were just stopping for fun, there was always someone with the kindness and sincerity to make us feel truly welcome. 

We wish we could take the rickshaw with us to every country that we visit because the experience was so much greater. But since we can't, we will continue to seek out other adventures that allow for these types of connections. Because to us, that is what travel is really all about. As great as the beaches or mountains are, in the end it's always about the people. So India, we thank you for that. Thank you for welcoming us into your home and and treating us like family and thank you for teaching us what unconditional generosity really means.

We look forward to seeing you again soon!

If you have any questions about the trip or want advice on doing something similar, feel free to ask in the comments below.

Motorbiking the Thakhek Loop

There are road trips and then there are road trips… this the latter. Although merely a 3 – 4 day loop, the majestic views and the multitude of caves and villages to be explored make it a must for anyone traveling through Laos.

We at The Tipsy Gypsies have a great appreciation for temples, museums and guided tours but after so many months on the road, what really tickles our pickle, are trips that involve adventure and allows for the amazingness that is known as, The Unexpected.

Marta taking her first ride!

Marta taking her first ride!

Although we have embarked on far more adventurous journeys such as driving a rickshaw across India, or exploring remote villages in the Himalayas, we were thoroughly excited when we arrived in the town of Thakhek and picked out our rides for this journey. Marta had never ridden a motorcycle before yet she already knew her favorite of the two wheel family, is the dirt bike. Therefor it was natural that we rent a Kawasaki 150cc for her to get her feet wet. Since this was a learning experience, we decided our second bike would be an easy, cruising, fully auto, Honda scooter. That way we could take turns on the more rugged, not designed for road trips Kawasaki, and after a few hours of ass sore, find relief on the cushony Honda cruiser.

We arrived in Thakhek late the first evening so little was to be done. But our next day we rented the dirt bike and stayed in town so Marta could get her bearings on riding the (for her petite size), beast of a two wheeler. Thakhek as a town doesn’t have much to offer but they do have a cute tiny night market at the city center square where you can sit at children size tables and nibble street goods, while watching some projected Lao soap operas.

The next day we set out early. Within minutes of leaving Thakhek you see yourself surrounded by those beautiful steep cliffs iconic to South East Asia. There are a slew of caves you can visit within the first half of your day but after our first, we decided to skip the rest.

There are a slew of caves you can visit within the first half of your day but after our first, we decided to skip the rest. They are pretty, but honestly it felt like (understandably) they were built just to attract tourists to these villages that otherwise, have nothing else. The locals we met were friendly and inviting but the cave we visited left a lot to be desired. Preferring the view from the road, we decided to just continue towards our first days end destination at the town of Thalang.

The drive was spectacular and ascending to a higher altitude, we made some steep winding climbs. Eventually you see the terrain drastically change as you pass the Nakai-Tai Damn. The landscape suddenly takes on a surreal, beautiful and yet post apocalyptic feel as you’re suddenly driving between unnatural islands formed by once-upon-a-time hilltops and surrounded by unnatural lakes filled with barren and dying trees.

The Tipsy Gypsies Thakhek Loop

The town of Thalang itself is tiny and situated on one of the hilltop-turned-islands. There are two companies operating bungalow guesthouses and although Mad Monkeys recommended the first called Phosy Thalang, we decided on the second, which is right before you cross the bridge and is called Saibadee Guesthouse. We still walked to Phosy to compare and we were very happy with our decision. We got a great but modest bungalow for 50,000 kip ($7 dollars) and the family who runs the place is awesome. Really friendly, welcoming and they do an all you can eat BBQ every night which was worth every penny of our higher than normal dinner expense of 50,000 kip/person. Everyone sits at a long communal table and it’s like having a big family cookout.

The next day we took our time and we were on the road by 9:30am. The drive out of the lake area is spectacular and eventually the terrain will change as you reach the junction town of Lak Xao. Not much to see here but a good stop for lunch if you had a light breakfast.

Beyond Lak Xao the terrain again becomes more mountainous and jungly, sprinkled with little villages and picturesque rice paddies.

About an hour out of Lak Xao, just past the town of Phontan, you will see a sign that says Pool Spring, or something to like that. This is a must stop. After hours on the dusty hot road it’s a gorgeous natural swimming hole with a vibrant blue and cool refreshing water. When we first arrived things were quiet and peaceful, but within an hour of getting there, scooter after scooter of local teens from the local school began arriving and the atmosphere turned into a spring break party. We weren’t sure if this was a normal, every day occurrence or school was out for holiday or summer… but regardless, we were happy we got there before the music started blasting. No stress to us though because it was time to hit the road again as we still had another 150km and a hike ahead of us before the day was done.

Eventually you make another climb and then finally a descent into a massive valley. The viewpoint you’ll pass as you descend is totally worth a stop. After you finish your decent you’ll reach the town of Nahim, which mainly exists for the large hydro plant in town. But just past the turn you’ll later make to head to Konglor, is a trailhead and a hike to a waterfall (also clearly marked). There is an entrance fee of 10,000 kip and it’s a beautiful 1.5-3km hike depending on where you park, but we were so bummed when we reached the waterfall.

We've seen better...

We've seen better...

We did this hike in April, which is not the rainy season so the waterfall was merely a trickle. Nonetheless we were still grateful to find a swimming pool large enough for us to cool off before heading back.

After the hike we hit the road fast and furious to make our final stop for the day before the sun went down. This was honestly my favorite part of the day’s trip. The road into Konglor is spectacular as you pass through farming village after farming village. And as the walls of the valley grew narrower and narrower, it only became more spectacular. If you can time this  part of the ride during dusk you won’t regret it. I was smiling from ear to ear at the scenery, back dropped by the pastel colors of the famous Laos setting sun.

We arrived at the end of the road and the town of Konglor, right as it got dark. And we scoped out every guesthouse in town. We can say with certainty, stay in the very first one! The rooms again are only 50,000 kip, which is cheaper than most, and spotlessly clean. Their menu left a little to be desired but you can easily walk to any of the other guesthouses, or the one restaurant in town for dinner.

The next morning we were out by 8:30 and heading to the ferry dock for the main attraction on this trip: the Konglor Cave. Although we had grown less than enthusiastic about the previous caves, this one is worth every penny. And if you share the boat with the max passenger capacity of three, that’s pretty much what this awesome experience will cost you (2,000 kip into the park and 130,000 kip for the boat, which you can divide by the three passengers).

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: Caution, you will get a little wet and have to walk in some water so bring flip-flops if you have them. If not, you can rent them.

The boat ride is amazing and takes you through the massive 7km long cave, out the other side and then back again. Aside from one small Disneyland, gimmicky section where they’ve lit the cave with colorful lights, your only light source is your headlamp. As you emerge from the other side you’re greeted by lush green jungles and even if only for a moment, you and your two companions feel like real explorers. After a quick break and a cold Laobeer at the other ferry dock, you head back and experience it for a second time. After saying goodbye to our awesome guide and momentary fellow explorer, it was time to hit the road again.

From this point you have two options. Head back the way you came, which takes most people an additional two days, or do what we did because of time, continue the last section of the loop, which connects to the main highway and speeds you back to Thakhek.

Final view before descending towards the main highway.

Final view before descending towards the main highway.

Our recommendation, if you have the time, head back the way you came. Although we hit a couple amazing and quite memorable viewpoints before reaching the main highway, once you get to the busy road, the ride sucks. It’s dangerous and nothing to see. Buses, trucks and cars will fly past you and you’ll be bound to have a few heart attacks along the way.

Needless to say, we were all smiles when we got back to Thakhek. After two weeks of “sight seeing”, it gave us at least a little adrenaline boost and reinvigorated our travel spirits. And on top of that, Marta is now a motorcycle rider! I must say I’m extremely proud of my wife for yet again, wanting to do something ambitious, and kicking ass at it. At a height of 5’1”, a 150cc bike is the MAXIMUM size she can fit on. Her feet barely touched the ground, yet she took it on fearlessly and with determination. I can’t wait to see her ride a bike more her size as I know she will love it even more.

Thanks Mad Monkeys!

Thanks Mad Monkeys!

In Thakhek, we were thoroughly pleased with our experience renting from Mad Monkey who had great customer service and good prices. We were also happy with our stay at the Thakhek Travel Lodge, offering dorm rooms, affordable simple doubles as well as some more upscale rooms if you want something a bit nicer after the long ride.

Two important notes. First, if you are trying to decide between this loop and the Pakse, choose this one! Although we have not done both our selves, we talked to multiple long term riders who have done both and they say the Thakhek Loop wins hands down. Second, if you read some of the other popular blog posts on this loop, most are completely outdated in pictures and details. For example, the loop is now completely paved! We were expecting major sections of road to be dirt and muddy but aside from small side roads to reach caves and swimming holes, the main route is as smooth as butter.

We can’t wait for our next two-wheeler road trip, maybe South America??? Maybe sooner??? Who knows, so stay tuned!

If you have any questions or think we missed something awesome from your trip, please share in the comments below!

GET TIPSY ON: LAO RICE WINE

 

One of the biggest struggles for us backpackers, is that you can't buy any cool handcrafted souvenirs to bring home with you. Our backpacks always seem to be too small and too damn heavy. But we have a solution for all y'all. Look for portable and consumable souvenirs like... alcohol!

On our recent trip to Luang Prabang in Laos, we went to the night market and found some awesome rice wine sold by a local lady. She was sitting on a floor matt between other vendors, who were selling the typical tourist tchotchkes like t-shirts, statues and clothes, which we don't care for too much. She made us an offer we couldn't refuse; a free tasting. We tried a couple bottles of different wines and we decided to purchase a small bottle of the most mild flavored fermented rice wine.

The taste was unique and it reminded us of the health drink called kombucha. If you love kombucha you will like this wine. Naturally, rice wine tastes excellent with asian food. We got a bowl of spicy noodle soup and drank the wine with it. It was delicious! 

This rice wine was easy to drink. It is alway dangerous when alcohol tastes like juice because it's hard to know when to stop! If you're ever in Luang Prabang give it a try and you won't regret it.

Cheers!

 

How I Almost Lost My Ear in India

The Addiction

I got my first piercing when I was 14. Like many other teenage girls in the 90’s, I chose to pierce my belly button. It was my summer break and my parents were away on holiday. I had about $8 in my pocket and I chose to spend it on a piercing. My mom was furious when she found out, but the piercing stayed and everybody forgot about the whole thing. At one point when I got older I took the belly ring out because I thought it was uncool.

Fast forward to 2016, when I was 33 and together with my husband we started our travel adventure. Call it a midlife crisis, but I wanted to get some cool piercings. So when we arrived in Lisbon, Portugal I instantly started to look for a piercing studio. I found a perfect place and I scheduled an appointment for placing a new piercing in my bellybutton and new upper lobe piercings.

The procedures were done in a very sterile environment by a professional, and I never expected to have any problems with it.

First signs of infection

A few days after the piercing, we arrived in Morocco. It was hellishly hot, about 45 C. My ear started to hurt and the color resembled a sunset on a desert. Perhaps it was the hot, dusty weather or not having been properly cleaning my fresh piercing but a small infection started. I got some over-the-counter medicine and continued to properly clean it for the rest of our stay in Morocco.

Indian Healers

By the time we got to India, I knew that my infection was not going away. I had to take some antibiotics. The day we started our journey in the Himalayas my year was better, but it was still bothering me. It had been almost 4 months at this point since I had been dealing with this chronic infection. As you can imagine lot of people told me to take the earrings out, but I desperately wanted to keep them. I believed it was just taking a while to heal and soon any signs of infection would be gone.

After few days of traveling in the Himalayas we arrived in Mudh, a small village. There was no pharmacy in the village, and the closest medical center was about 10 hours away.  In the evening my ear turned red/purple, doubled in size and I was in pain. At the dinner table I met a doctor who insisted that the earrings be removed. He explained that the bacteria was trapped inside and the infection would not go away. Because the ear was so swollen I wasn’t able to take the earrings out myself. I turned for help from our host lady, whose name I am unsure of but I just called her Tara. India is famous for piercings and most Indian women have at least their nose or ear pierced. Tara looked at my ear, made an “ooouch” noise that confirmed all my worries. She told me to come back in the morning.

As soon as I woke up, I ran down the street to the guesthouse to have my piercings removed. Tara was in the kitchen prepping food for the arrival of the Lama. It was a big day for Mudh, but she still had time to help me. We walked outside the house where I sad down on the warm, sun soaked cement stairs. I could not wait to have the earrings removed already! The screws from the earrings where jammed so tight, that no matter how hard Tara tried to unscrew them it wasn’t doing anything. Then Tara's husbands decided to bring some old rusty plyers from the garage and used some force. Do you see where this is going? Yeah… Mind you this was all happening very fast and I didn’t understand anything these people were saying. I didn’t resist the use of the plyers at first. I thought Tara’s husband was going to unscrew the stubborn piercings, but instead he decided to pull on both ends of the earrings as hard as possible, which caused extreme bleeding and almost tore my ear off. I swear the Lama, who was about to visit the town heard me screaming my heart out. I can usually tolerate high levels of pain, but this was beyond what I could handle. I started to cry, the blood from my ear was dripping on the ground and Tara was screaming at her husband for causing this mess. When I finally calmed down, a few young girls from the village showed up to help. It was funny because when they came over they still had pieces of dry dough on their hands from making rotis. I think they must have heard me screaming and crying and came to the rescue. One of those girls, with her tiny hands very quickly removed the earrings one by one. The relief was almost instant.

The Indian girls also put small pieces of neem wood where my piercings had been. That way the holes would not close. Neem wood has natural antibacterial properties and it is widely used in medicine. They also told me to apply hot oil with turmeric. For the next few weeks my ear was oozing with puss, blood and crust, but it finally got better. This time for good!

I seriously don’t know what I would have done without the help of these girls from Mudh. I felt like maybe they saved my life and my ear for sure!

One Night in Bangkok

Bangkok is a modern city thriving with culture, art, music, food and anything else you could ask for. 

When we landed in Thailand's capital we didn't even know where we were going to stay. The trip happened so spontaneously we hadn't figured out any details. Luckily our good friends and fellow bloggers HandZaround were already there, and they booked us a room in a great little hotel where they were already staying called Eco House. Small but clean and private rooms with shower go for 500 baht or $15 in a great central location. 

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: If you're traveling through SE Asia, Agoda.com is your best source for online bookings. Better deals can always be arranged in person, but unlike India or Europe Agoda beats Booking.com on prices almost every time.

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: Public transport is an easy and convenient option but it doesn't always work out to be the cheapest here depending on where you are going and how many you are traveling with. Auto Tuk Tuks are a must try experience in Bangkok with their neon lights and lavish decorations but also know that Uber is available. Sometimes you don't want to haggle or have to explain your final destination so having this option is nice. And unlike many other countries, we tested and found that normal taxis were typically the same price as an Uber so don't be afraid to flag one down either.

Our arrival in Bangkok was unlike many others foreigners experience, as we had just come from nearly 6 months in India. Most people who arrive in Thailand from the west feel overwhelmed with exotic and foreign excitement. We felt like we had just returned to the U.S... and that was a good thing! As our other blogging friends YesKamp once said, Thailand is "Asia Light". 

The city was so clean, organized and people actually followed the rules of the road! We saw our sheets were actually clean when we checked into our budget hotel. We couldn't believe it!

All the stress, that had built up from the awesome insanity of our previous adventures in India melted away instantly. 

Having been on the road so long we skipped many of Bangkok's "must do's". Bangkok has more beautiful temples than you could ever want to visit. And having filled our thirst for temples months ago, we agreed to visit one but that was it.

We visited Wat Pho with two amazing new friends Karol and Agnieszka from Poland we had met at our hotel. The temple is absolutely beautiful. The architecture and the giant statue of sleeping Buddha are breathtaking. It's a huge temple too so if temples get you hot and bothered, there is plenty to explore at Wat Pho. But again, we've already seen so many temples in India, we pretty much dine and dashed.

What made us fall in love with Bangkok was the street food. From Chinatown to Chotochok weekend market (both must do's), to a hundred others we can't remember the name of or didn't have time to visit, there is an endless supply of new and exciting markets and dishes to try. 

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: Spend an evening in Chinatown stuffing your face with as many dishes and beers that you can manage, and then proceed to digest your horrendously gluttonous consumption with an hour long foot massage for 150 baht or about $4.

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: People touching your feet not your thing? Then after eating, settle down at Chinatown's Soulbar for a drink at let the sweet jazz melodies serenade you.

Our next activity is not something you necessarily need to do in Bangkok, but we do feel it's a must at some point during your trip. The Thai cooking class in an awesome experience if you are a fan of Thai food. From going to the markets to learning about the ingredients, to making your own curry paste to finally cooking and eating your freshly made dishes will most definitely inspire your cooking creativity for when you get home. We went, per a friends recommendation, to Sompong Thai Cooking School and they were fantastic. The teachers were really friendly and spoke great English. For a budget traveller it was a little pricey at about $30 per person, but we found it worth the cost. 

with Hanna and Zach from HandZaround travel blog

with Hanna and Zach from HandZaround travel blog

Our last great adventure was again, thanks to our friends HandZaround. They had interviewed a local artist who was also in charge of what are known as Trasher parties. These are events thrown in large venues for Bangkok's LGBT community and they are awesome. Through a special invite we all attended one of their concerts and it was an amazing night. Gay, straight or anything in between, the people and community are amazing and we highly recommend you see if an event is happening when you are there as you'll have the best night partying possible.

After recovering from our Trasher party hangover we said goodbye to our new friends and headed south for amazing island adventures you can read about here. Bangkok is most definitely a city worth exploring as it has a lot to offer before you head to the beautiful Thai countryside.

We look forward to visiting this city again some day and can't wait to discover what else it has to offer. 

 

 

 

 

A Weekend in Kuala Lumpur

KL, short for Kuala Lumpur, is a modern city full of tall skyscrapers, shopping malls and surprisingly, a small population. But between the new modern skyline, there are also some old treasures that allow you to take a look into the past of this fast growing city. Here are our recommendations as well as some things we tried but think you can probably skip.

The Petronas Twin Towers

These towers need no introduction and are an obvious stop to anyone visiting the city, but we had to mention them because they're f*#king amazing. We went to see the Petronas Towers multiple times on our stay in KL. That is how beautiful they are. They are particularly magnificent at night with the lights showcasing the truly stunning architectural design. Also at night, the KLCC park behind the towers, has a colorful fountain show much like Bellagio in Vegas.

The best free view of the towers is from the Grand Hyatt KL located at Grand Hyatt KL, Jalan Pinang, KL. Just take the elevator to the 39th floor and enjoy the beautiful view of the Towers. 

The best free view of the towers is from the Grand Hyatt KL located at Grand Hyatt KL, Jalan Pinang, KL. Just take the elevator to the 39th floor and enjoy the beautiful view of the Towers. 

The towers themselves have an interesting history when you read about the design, construction and some significant obstacles that almost stopped the entire construction because of a poor site selection and a batch of bad concrete at one of the towers. Needless to say, we're happy that all these hurdles were overcome because it was truly a memorable experience.

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip:  Public transportation is a great way to get around the city. We used the monorail to get to all the tourist sites and it's quite cheap.  You can also use Uber and another similar app GrabCar, which is more popular in Asia.

Kampung Baru

Kampung Baru is the last village in KL city with low rise, traditional Malay homes. The village is very controversial because of the aggressive construction that is happening in the neighborhood. Unfortunately it won't be much longer before the value of this prime property outweighs the value of the locals lively hood and they will be forced out. The land is said to be worth more than 1 billion dollars. It has been an ongoing and a difficult fight between the owners of the land trying to preserve it and the government having different plans, so despite the protests, it's disappearing fast. 

Visiting the Kampung Baru was the highlight and most fun tourist activity we did in the city. We joined a great free walking tour hosted by the mayors office. The guide was excellent, spoke perfect english and knew everybody in the neighborhood. It was more like walking around a new town with a local friend, who knows all the cool spots and whom you could ask everything. It was partially a cultural, historical and culinary trip. Kampung Baru is also famous for it's night market. We stopped to try many traditional Malay delicacies for free. Sometimes it can be intimidating to order foreign food, but not with a native who will tell you what you are eating.

We definitely recommend you register for this free tour with Jalan- Jalan @ Kampong Bharu. The tours are every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday.

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: We actually almost stayed in Kampung Baru village because we've read so many great things about it. There is a nice guest house there called Bagasta that is not quite the cheapest for a budget traveler (about $25/night), but our tour guide confirmed it's worth the stay. They have a roof top patio with an amazing view of the towers and there is tons of great food within walking distance.

China Town

Chinatown in KL is like every other chinatown in the world, except probably for China. Even during a hot day it was crowded with people and many vendors selling the same cheap junk: iphone cases, fake gucci bags etc. However, the most disappointing was the food. It wasn't terrible but definitely not the best and there were few options compared to other food markets. If you are a foodie, there is way better to be found.

If you're staying near Chinatown then you might as well check it out, otherwise we would not recommend going there.

The Tipsy Gypsies Tip: Despite our lack of enthusiasm, Chinatown is great for cheap hotels and in general is a good central location. If you are planning on staying in Chinatown we've read the Lantern Hotel is nice and moderately priced. We walked by it on our visit. It is located in the heart of Chinatown right next to the market, and it looked very hip from the exterior.

 

Bukit Bintang

Bukit Bintang is the new trendy neighborhood where the "cool" kids hang out. It has everything teenagers love: big shopping malls, mini malls, cute cafes and trendy bars. Unaware of all these "great things", we stayed in this neighborhood and we actually loved it. It's conveniently located right next to the most famous night market in KL, Jalan Alor and also has some very convenient metro stops nearby. This night market is a very lively place to get food and people watch. It stretches several blocks and after 7, is bustling with hungry patrons sampling all of KL's specialties. 

Our hotel, the Hotel Paloma Inn was quiet and the staff was extremely friendly.  We're sorry to say though if you want some decent wifi, it sucks at this hotel, so consider yourself warned.  On the other hand, the location was great. We were in close proximity to the metro, Chinatown, the night market and all the trendy western restaurants. We found this really amazing brunch spot with killer food right around the corner from us. If you are craving something fresh from the west, VCR is the place to go. We could talk for hours about how tasty the food was but on top of that, the design was cool and the crowd was hip. This might sound bad if you haven't been away from home long, but it felt like we were eating food somewhere in the arts district in LA and for us, that was awesome. 

 

Brickfields, Little India

If you've never been to India, there's nothing wrong with visiting Little India. But since we'd just come from India, we're sorry to say this was probably our least favorite part of town. We went there around lunch time looking for some good Indian food but when we got to the recommended food market, all we were served were some cold flavorless "leftovers" that tasted nothing like in India.  

After lunch we wandered on the streets of little India. All we could find were the "iconic" arches painted with bright colors, a small flower market and a lot of cheap, low quality Indian clothes. 

We feel it was not worth buying the metro ticket to come here. There is supposed to be a free walking tour of this neighborhood too and we tried contacting them without any luck. If any of you ever do the free walking tour or find something cool to do in Brickfields, definitely let us know. Maybe we were lousy at finding the good stuff. 

We only had a few days in KL but we would love to come back and explore some more. There were definitely things that we missed on this trip that sounded very interesting and we would love to try them in the future. Here is our wish list we didn't get to. If you try any of these please let us know how they are!

  • Dialogue in the dark: what started as an art project by an artist, is now a life changing experience, where you walk through a complete pitch black space guided by a blind person. They also do "Dinner in the Dark." It's a project to make the general population aware of diversity and disability. It sounds so interest and we would loved to meet the guides.
  • Go to Publika, the hipster mall, on Monday for a free movie screening.
  • This Kul city discovery walk: for the next 18 months you can participate in another free walking tour of KL focusing on "specific cultural and heritage sites of the city" with guest speakers and more. This just sounds like a great way to discover the city.

Cheers!

 

RICKSHAW ROADTRIP

The Tipsy Gypsies decided to buy, paint, repair and drive an old auto rickshaw over 1200km from Kochi, Kerala to Malvan Maharashtra. Unfortunately we didn't film as much as liked, (we were too busy driving and fixing things!) but here are a few shots from our adventure along the way.

Get Tipsy on: Purple Gin

Although Thailand is known for wild parties with lots of alcohol and drugs, it's mostly tourists who do the drinking. When we asked the locals about some native drinks we were told that the locals prefer drinking rum or beer and the youngsters are the ones starting to take an interest in cocktails culture.

We were trying to find a cocktail that is not too sweet, refreshing and is unique to Thailand. We didn’t want to drink anything that came in a coconut or with unnecessary umbrella decorations. We visited Sarojin resort in Khao Lak and asked them for their recommendation. Per their recommendation, we agreed on a Purple Gin, also known as Disco Sour or Blue Magic.

Purple Gin is purple/bluish in color, hence the name and it’s color is 100% natural which comes from the butterfly pea flower that it is infused with. The Butterfly pea flower is widely used in Asian cuisine and now bartenders are also making trendy blue or purple drinks with it. Apparently this drink became quite popular recently on social media after the actress Margot Robbie drank something similar on her honeymoon.

The main ingredient of this cocktail is gin infused with butterfly pea flower, combined with sprite and a splash of lime that gives it a fresh, fizzy taste. The acid from the lime also helps to turn the blue tint from the flowers into a vibrant purple. Purple Gin is a light and refreshing drink that's perfect to sip on a hot afternoon.

We shared the ingredients of the cocktails here, so you could try to replicate it and taste a bit of Thailand at your home.

Try it at home Manual: You can use a powder or tea leaves of the butterfly pea flowers to make this drink. If you are using the tea leafs just add about 6-8 flowers directly to the gin and let it infuse in the bottle for couple of days.

 

Ingredients

Gin

(infused with butterfly pea flowers)

Sprite

Triple Sec

Sweet and Sour

Fresh kaffir leaves for decoration

1 Lime/lemon ( the acid of this will turn the color from blue to purple)

Ice