Sunday, June 23, 2013

London marathon 2013

The London marathon happened during my previous trip to London but I didn't take the time to post the photos. It was actually less than a week after the terrorist attack of the Boston marathon. I did wonder for a while if going was the best thing to do, but in true London spirit I decided that it's not because a few crazy people try to scare us that we would stay at home in bed!

So on a freezing but sunny day, I went to Canary wharf to cheer the very brave people who were attempting the 26miles run. I was on time for the people running it in 3h, there were very few women and they all look very fit!

Runners all run for a charity which they usually have on their tee shirt and it also display their names so the crowd can cheer them by their first name. (I discovered that after thinking for a good 5 min that the person standing next to me really knew everyone who had entered the race...)

After a good moment spent in Canary wharf, I went to meet my friend C to go to the Wallace collection, we made it back to the marathon later, after nearly 7h of race, 200m away from finish line on the Mall. It was this time a very different group of people, most walked but were trying a last attempt at running to cross the line, fancy dress were everywhere, a few American flags to pay tribute to Boston etc

It was a really good day, even the sun had decided to come out, and it nearly gave me motivation to start running! (I did say nearly...)


Saturday, June 15, 2013

This month's photo: Fire!

15th of the month, lunch time in Paris, it's time for this month's photo!
Theme of June: Fire

I was trying to find a connection between the theme and South East Asia and after having thought of forest fire in Borneo and national day fire works, I finally decided on fire in my mouth!
here is a photo from a cooking lesson in Thailand! This country has the hottest salad ever!
The color is as vivid as the chili was...

For more fire:
A bowl of oranges, Agrippine, A'icha, Akaieric, Akromax, Alban, Alexinparis, Alice Wonderland, Angélique, Anne, Anne Laure T, Arwen, Ava, Bestofava, BiGBuGS, Blogoth67, Calamonique, Cara, Carnet d'escapades, Carnets d'images, Caro from London , Caro JulesetMoa, Caterine, Cath la Cigale, Cathy, Cekoline, Céline in Paris, Champagne, Chat bleu, Cherrybee, Chloé, Christeav, Christelle, Christophe, Cindy Chou, Claire's Blog, Coco, Cocosophie, Cricriyom from Paris, Dame Skarlette, DelphineF, Djoul, Dr. CaSo, E, El Padawan, Elodie, Eurydice, Fanfan Raccoon, Filamots, flechebleu, François le Niçois, Frédéric, Galinette, Gilsoub, Giselle 43, Gizeh, Guillaume, Happy Us, Hibiscus, Homeos-tasie, Hypeandcie, Isa ToutSimplement, Isaquarel, J'adore j'adhère, Josiane, Julie, Krn, La Fille de l'Air, La Messine, La Nantaise, La Papotte, La voyageuse comtoise, Lau* des montagnes, Laulinea, Laurent Nicolas, Lavandine, L'Azimutée, Les bonheurs d'Anne & Alex, Les voyages de Lucy, Les voyages de Seth et Lise, Leviacarmina, LisaDeParis, Louisianne, Lucile et Rod, Lyonelk, M, M.C.O, magda627, Mamysoren, Marmotte, Mathilde, Meyilo, Mimireliton, MissCarole, Morgane Byloos Photography, N, Nicky, Nie, Ori, Photo Tuto, Pilisi, Renepaulhenry, scarolles-and-co , Sinuaisons, Solveig, Sophie Rififi, Stephane08, Tambour Major, Testinaute, Thalie, The Parisienne, Thib, Tuxana, Un jour, une vie, Une niçoise, Violette, Viviane, Wolverine, Xavier Mohr, Xoliv', Zaza


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Penang Unesco anniversary

Hmmm I'm not even sure how late I am with this post. What I don't understand is why I haven't posted it, the photos are there, the text as well (even if I have to admit that I have written better texts...)
So here we go, today, I'm pressing the Publish button!

Penang, like Malacca, is a Malaysian city with a lot of colonial history.
Actually, I should be more precise, Penang is the name of the island of the inland city of Butterworth . Penang's main city is called George town but is very often referred to as Penang. here we go, that was for clarity/confusion!

We visited on the WE of the 4th anniversary of Penang becoming Unesco world heritage, so luckily, there was lots of activities in the streets.

Arriving early on Friday, we had time to explore the town at dinner time. Not really knowing where we were going we ended up in a hawker for a local Laksa which is a specialty. It was indeed very different from previous Laksa we had in Singapore. Our sweet tooth then took us to an Indian outlet where we ordered some roti pisang (sort of banana pancake)
We bumped into a really big cycling tour where everyone was wearing the yellow jersey! Everyone is a winner out here. Rehearsals were happening all over town in preparation for the festivity of the WE.

Saturday, we toured the city, saw so many temples, kids playing drums or demonstrating taekwando in the streets.

Sunday was another scooter adventure, but definitely not as crazy as lake Toba!
The first item on the itinerary was Penang hill. As the main highlight of the island outside of Georgetown, you would have thought there would be signs? Not really, following buses and looking for high points and after quite a few U turns, we finally made it to the bottom of the hill where we were taking the train up. (It was train vs 3h hike, i went for train!). It is indeed a fairly impressive journey, very steep!
From the summit, we could clearly see the current bridge between Geogetown and Butterworth and also the new built being built south of the island closer to the airport.

Back down the hill, we continued north and got to the floating mosque and the beaches in front of all the big resorts. We enjoyed a lime juice and it was time to head back to the airport, back to Sg!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Vang Vieng, previously capital of tubing...

Reading the lonely planet, VV is where hordes of backpackers ride the quiet Mekong river on caoutchouc tubes, stopping on a very regular basis at bars along the river. Except that the government recently got fed up with the number of accidents and the amount of drugs and decided to close all the river bars and that killed the tubing as well! (Apparently tubing sober was not that much fun)
So we arrived in a town that used to be a major party place and which has recently turned back to being a quiet little Lao place.

We had a lovely room with balcony looking over the Mekong and the impressive limestone rocks, a bit of a reminder from Krabi or Halong bay.
The area is also known for its caves so we rented our first motorbike of the holidays and started exploring. We were assisted by a local who took us around, no choice there is not a single sign and finding the entrance of the caves requires to cross (dry) rice paddies and climb over gates!
The caves are really bare, no sign, no handrail, no light but they are huge, massive stalagmites, columns and a few Buddhas here and there as well.  After a rather long walk in the cave, our host points at a really small opening explaining that we could go on for 2 km on our knees in the water and I think he really expected us to go! We politely declined and decided to go for a well deserved lunch (and a nap, after all we are in Laos, it's a national sport)

The second location for caves was more touristy as there was a lagoon to go for a swim. I'm actually not sure people were making it to the cave.
No local to take us around the cave and we actually had to give up. There were a couple of red arrows on the wall, but it was wet, we were wearing flip flop (as you do when you go caving...) and following the way was quite an exercise, we had to go over, under rocks, pull ourselves through small gaps, not sure how long we could have safely gone on...

After that rather sweaty and dirty (it was difficult to tell that my shorts were originally cream) exercise, I decided to take the next day off and just watch R climb. Limestone cliff= climbing!
My take -it-easy day was actually not that easy as we had to walk through the jungle and climb the first part of the cliff before getting to the climbing routes, I should have worn again this not so cream anymore shorts...
The view was actually breathtaking from the starting point so it was well worth coming up.

And that's the end of our VV experience, after climbing it was time (for a shower) to move to Luang Prabang through the so pleasant 6h drive in a mini bus... (See previous post on transport)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Laos, intro

Before going into posts detailing our 2 weeks trip in Laos, I feel like I need to throw my thoughts about the country and it's very likely to be in a random order...

1. French colonialism
Laos was a French colony for a while as part of IndoChina. I haven't checked history books but it seems like it came as a package with Cambodia and Vietnam without the strong will from the French to take over.

Anyway, I just wanted to point out what is left of French colonialism:
- a lot of baguettes! Lao people are quite good at making bread, I found it better than in Vietnam (where it is super light)
There are sandwich shops everywhere.
- yellow mailbox, ok they nearly look cream or very pale yellow now but they probably haven't been painted for a very long time...
- dairy products, that's another thing we had discovered in Vietnam, getting yoghurt for breakfast is pretty common in Laos as well.
- driving on the right side, an exception in south east Asia!
- all official building's name are in both Lao and French.
- the sacred lunch break! Every museum, temple, administration closes for lunch, with a bit of luck it's only for 1h sometimes more... (Everything also closes really early, we have been kicked out of museum at 4pm several times!)
- the locals play pétanque! But they don't seem to be drinking pastis while playing... What a waste!

2. Laos transport system
Transport is not Laos best selling point but to be honest, it was better than expected!
There are no trains so traveling is done by buses (or internal flight when we thought it was really going to take too long), but buses can take all sorts of form in Laos. They also require a lot of traveling to bus station in the 4 corners of each town and then a lot of attempt at communicating as nothing is indicated...

First we went from Vientiane to VangVieng by a local bus but with A/C. We were the only tourists, it was old but relatively clean and very spacious. Not a bad choice (despite our taxi driver to the bus terminal telling us that it will be terrible with no A/C...)
Our bags and R made the bus easily but I nearly missed it as the driver was not keen on letting me make a quick run for the toilets before leaving!
It made frequent toilet breaks where I was explained by an old Lao guy that women had to pee on one side of the road and men on the other, very organized...:-)

Then for the journey to LuangPrabang, we looked for a VIP bus after hearing all sorts of horrible stories (6h drive in the mountains on a not so flat road...), unfortunately there were none available at the required time so we settled for a mini bus. Full of tourists (only 9 but that's full) it was cramped,  really small we couldn't fit our legs, kept on banging our head on the ceiling, but no one was sick and apparently that's worth mentioning on that route!
During the trip, we heard even more terrific stories about people traveling from Thailand to Laos with bags of (live) snakes under their seats!!!

Down south, to get from Pakse to the 4000 islands I had planned everything, I wanted a Cambodian bus, apparently newer and more luxurious, guess what?
I ended up on the back of a truck, it's a bit of an upgrade from a tuk tuk but it does look terrible. It can get packed with way too many people for the space, animals, and as we saw refrigerators, and other random items. We even met with a Spanish guy who had just come back and told us he had travelled on the roof! That's where he got more space...
Finally when we got going we realized that we must have picked up an unpopular time as ours was pretty empty, no chicken, no snakes!  It was fairly comfortable, the drive was 1h quicker than planned, and really apart from the dust, it was one of the best drive!
I could continue but after that, history repeated itself, more local buses with A/C, more traveling on the back of trucks...
Conclusion, tourist buses are not always the best, may be these enigmatic VIP buses that we never took were the best option, I guess we'll never know...

3. Life in Laos
Again I don't have figures, data or facts to prove it but I'm ready to bet a lot that the rate of heart attack due to stress in Laos is one of the lowest on the planet!
Sure, it's not a rich country but everyone seem well fed, we only saw a couple of begging people in Vientiane and after 3 days, we noticed they were always the same 3 ones!
People seem to live following the Carpe Diem philosophy. Napping is a national sports (so is re-re-re-making roads), work hmm I'm not sure really, as per usual in this part of the world, there always seem to be 10 times the required number of people to do one thing and we observed no Monday morning rush to go to back to the office...

4. Lao prices
We had been told Laos was a very cheap country and in many places it's true. But from time to time out of nowhere, there is a rather significant price (for Laos) tagged to something and it's impossible to negotiate (actually negotiating doesn't seem to be something they do in Laos)
First we found out that renting a motorbike is LuangPrabang was around 15$ a day when we had payed 5$ 2 days before in VangVieng. Then the stamps for postcards were tagged at 1.5$ when it's 0.3$ in Sg.
After that it was the boat to cruise the Mekong...

It appears that some prices have been fixed by the government to target tourist wallet and as it's government orders, no negotiation and no one would offer anything lower!
Suck it up tourists! Let's hope it goes to the people at some point and does some good!

That was a summary of my first impressions of Laos, I'll now move on to tell you about the different places we visited. Talk to you soon!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Bali rev 2 and cross over to Kawah Ijen (late, very late)

This post is really old, we are definitely talking over a year or may be just a year, I think it was in May 2012!
C and S were visiting us for the second time (that's to put to shame the ones who haven't made it yet to Singapore or SE Asia!;-) and this time we were going to Bali and East Java. (because Bali is the easiest way of accessing east Java)
First, Lovina, northern Bali, a part we hadn't been to in our previous visits to the island. It's famous for being a very volcanic area, the sand is black and the Gunung Batur can be seen from everywhere.
We still managed to make it a cultural tour by visiting a few of the local temples and introducing C and S to the concept of 3 people on a motorbike (not sure C is convinced after badly burning her leg on the exhaust...)
The temple was beautiful, a little reminder of Borobudur (if you fancy a walk down memory lane, the article is in the Indonesia section with Yogyakarta and another hindu temple I have forgoten the name of, P... something)

As 3 on a motorbike is not that comfortable (despite what the locals can say), we hired lovely pink little scooters that the boys enjoyed showing off..

Next step was to cross over the narrow channel to Java by ferry to climb the Gunung Kawah Ijen. This volcano is not a big climb (just over 1h), but it's famous for the sulfur. Some guys climb the volcano everyday, go down in the crater, collect huge yellow rocks which weight a ton and then make it back up and down.
Obviously, on the day we went, things did not exactly happenend as planned... After an early pick up, our 4*4 starting the climb on a very (very) rough road. an hour or so later when it was still dark, we heard a big noise, the driver stopped and with the light of the useful Nokia checked under the car, he then took one of the boy out to conclude: broken!
Despite 4 engineers and 3 phD (note that there were only 4 of us in that car), I'm not sure anyone was completly sure of what was wrong but anyway it was wrong.
A few words of english later and our driver (and the car) were abandoning us in the middle of nowhere, apparently someone would come and pick us up... mmh
We stopped a few cars before one accepted to take us to the start of the hike, but we finally made it!
(Note that this is not really a trip for pregnant women, thanks C and little M for having survived this one...)
So now, here are the photos to show that it was worth all these troubles!
Sulfur comes out of the ground on a liquid form and becomes solid pretty much instantly. It also gives an incredible color to the lake at the bottom of the crater .

The boys made an attempt at carrying the baskets and could barely master standing-up, another incredible job being done there!
On our way down, we met our driver who was waiting for us with another car, we did wonder for a while if he was going to be there...