Cooking School in Luang Prabang

For my birthday, celebrated in Luang Prabang, Laos, we all went to cooking school. It was such fun, and of course very, very delicious. Any good cooking school starts with the local market–in which we had an extensive visit. It was so fascinating, super colorful, and full of smells, both good and bad! The actual school was set in the jungle outside. Laos cooking involves two major components: a mortar for the mixing and a fire for charring. Laos food is surprisingly smokey in flavor and this would explain why. We each made our own food, so we could each decide how much spice we’d add; I usually added three red chili peppers. The food was so good as was the company. It was a really neat way to spend my birthday. And speaking of cooking school, all this week, I’m away on a school trip with 20 students in Chang Rai, Thailand for some Masterchef classes. I love cooking, so I think I scored with this school trip. I’ll try document some of what I learn. In the meantime, enjoy these colorful pictures of the market and some family fun from our trip to Luang Prabang. And if you travel there, make sure to take the Tamarind Cooking Class.

*Warning: there are A LOT of pictures in this post!

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Angkor Wat: Day 2

One day at Angkor Wat doesn’t suffice. In fact, Vincent and Kevin went back a third day on mountain bikes just to cruise around. Unfortunately on our second visit to Angkor Wat Gigi wasn’t feeling well–at all. She was such a trooper, continuing on, but by the fourth temple, she lost it. Literally. We had managed to see three though which was plenty for me. I immediately returned back to the hotel with my sick little Gig while the fellas stayed on. Momentarily, I got sick approximately 8 hours later. It was a nasty but quick flu–thank goodness. But boy, Gigi was such a trooper. In any of these pics you will notice how pale and non Gigi-like she was.

See that hole in the middle–that’s where the bamboo pole would go. In this way two people were able to take either side of the bamboo pole and transport the bricks that were used to build these temples. Amazing, huh?

This is a regular market scene. It actually could be anywhere in Southeast Asia!

We had two really great tuk tuk drivers both days. They were so sweet with us. There was this older guy, and then a younger one that I really wish I had captured. I guess I must go back….

See how totally ill Gigi looks. She couldn’t even smile her real self into the occasion. I felt so bad after she got so sick!

Again, it just isn’t the real Gig.

Gigi isn’t the only photographer in the family. When Gigi allows Vincent to borrow hers, he takes some pretty good shots too. Hmmm, his birthday is in May…

Once I sweated my way through this cute blouse with just a touch of yellow–yes, you will see me trying to attempt this spring! I bought myself an “I <3 Cambodia" tee which after this trip is completely true! Again, we will be back....

This is Kevin’s blogger pose. Pretty good eh?

Adventure Travel in Yunnan: Lijiang and Shangrila, China

We made it to Yunnan! Usually, our family trips consist of idyllic beaches found around Asia: for example this year we went to Bali in October and December and then Boracay in February. Beach trips are just easy; everyone’s happy. But, sometimes it’s important for the four of us to venture out of our comfort zone, and we did just that with this trip to Yunnan Province in China. Specifically we travelled to Lijiang and then later spontaneously went to Shangrila. Oh! It was such a fantastic adventure. Despite being terribly cold, we just embraced the entire experience. There were temples to see and monasteries to visit. We rode both bikes and horses. We hiked snow capped mountains and meandered through cobblestone villages. We toured hard in the day only to return to a wonderful hotel rooftop to relax layered up before dinner. We ate all sorts of Chinese food, and then finally, right when we needed it most, we found a wonderful Western establishment in Shangrila named Compass (once there ask for the cutie below in the animal hat named Eileen). We slept well on top of electric blankets that kept us warm and a fire with embers smouldering all night. The kids drummed, we listened to glasses of wine, and over meals we played a Chinese poker game called Big 2. The trip was jam-packed yet rewarding all the same. We had such an amazing time that I would highly recommend this trip to other families. Down below (after all the pictures) I’ve included more particular details. Seriously, take this trip! It was adventure travel at its best, and the Yunnan and its people are truly spectacular.









Adventure Travel to Yunnan

Getting There:
It’s a little tricky. The main city you want to fly into is Kunming. From there, you can choose to travel to Lijiang, Dali, or Shangrila. We chose Lijiang and then drove 4 hours to Shangrila. Tiger Leaping Gorge is on the way from Lijiang to Shangrila which makes for a nice little pit stop. Basically with Kunming as the port of entry you have three charming towns (well, cities with old towns) to choose from.

Best Time to Travel:
This is a super busy place! It wasn’t too bad when we went, but it would be best to avoid traveling to the Yunnan during Chinese holidays. Also, to escape the crowds of Lijiang Old Town, we stayed in Shuhe Old Town. Shuhe is referred to as what Lijiang used to be like before it became so popular and built up.

Staying There:
We stayed in Shuhe instead of Lijiang and it was perfect. In fact we never actually went to the Lijiang’s Old Town because we Shuhe totally sufficed. We stayed at Lijiang New Huifeng Resort Hotel. Kevin had to call for our booking, and after the initial contact, an email correspondence ensued. Patti is the (only) individual at this establishment that speaks English. Giver her a call: +158 8756 9046. I would highly recommend the room we stayed in for a family with older kids: the kids had a loft upstairs with two large twin beds. Kevin and I had a gorgeous king that was so cozy next to the sitting room complete with a fireplace. The entryway had an outdoor tub that was used daily. This room was our perfect haven! Plus, we spent many later afternoons on the rooftop.

There’s a ton to do in these old villages. Biking is a very common activity. We rented bikes one morning and one afternoon. There are bike rental vendors all over; they’re scattered about Shuhe’s alleyway corners. We easily biked to another little village called Baisha. It’s was a cinch navigating there.

Horseback Riding:
There was another hotel in Shuhe that we referred to often since this establishment caters to English speaking visitors. It’s called the The Bivou–it is lovely. Even if you don’t stay there, stop by. We almost switched to this hotel, but in the end our room at Huifeng was better where our family suite had a fireplace! Go to this little hotel immediately. They all speak English and will totally help you sort out your itinerary–even if you are not staying with them. We booked our horseback riding trip with them that included a (very random) boat excursion on a (super shallow) lake. (We will forever chuckle about that weird boat ride–think Venetian oars but your driver taking over because the little Chinese woman doesn’t know how to work the boat!) The horses are small little beings with a thick, shaggy fur. We rode up a a hill for about an hour and then worked our way back down. At the end, we stopped at a local’s home and enjoyed an experience of hot pot. It was actually very tasty! Again, The Bivou organized this for us. You can see all their itinerary plans here. On our final night in China, we arranged to eat here, and enjoyed such an amazing Yunnan cooked meal. It was reminiscent of our dinner with Pei in Beijing. Again, we highly recommend this cute little boutique/adventure hotel.

Jade Mountain:
One day we went to the jagged mountain you can see in the distance. It’s called Jade Mountain. Basically, we simply booked a driver. We had such a good driver that he knew exactly where to drop us and for what. It’s a very controlled expedition, so you can’t just drive in and look around. There are tickets to pick up and lines to enter. In the end we abandoned the main site because the line for the bus that would take us to the gandola was going to be over an hour. It all seemed a little pointless in the freezing cold. We created a back up fast! Alternatively we took a gandola up to the backside of the mountain where things were less populated. It was still so lovely, and luckily I had rented a red, long, puffer coat, so I was fine. Our advice for Jade Mountain would be to take the path less beaten. It’s all beautiful and majestic, so there’s no need to wait around for hours anywhere. Also, we saw the show–it was good. In hindsight, I would have seen the show after sightseeing, but timing wise a later show wasn’t an option for us. Definitely make a trip to Jade Mountain, but don’t be afraid of trying out alternatives field different from the norm.

Tiger Leaping Gorge:
We weren’t planning on venturing to Shangrila, but we had enough during the trip to deviate away from Lijiang, and I’m so glad we did. Shangrila is a four hour car ride away, and we split it with a stop at Tiger Leaping Gorge. We had ordered an extra pizza from the night before and brought that for a picnic. There are many steps to take down to the water, but it’s worth it. The views are so extraordinary you hardly notice an increased hearth rate on the way back up. There are a couple of different options for accessing this gorge; we simply chose the drive up one; it was the perfect pit stop.

It’s so very sad, but in the winter of January 2014, the Shangrila Old Town burned to the ground. This almost stopped us from visiting, but slowly and surely they are building the old town back up. We stayed at . It was very nice with a super spacious room. I did not appreciate the smoking that may occur in the common courtyard, but smoking in China is everywhere! Aside from this inconvenience, the room was huge and very, very cozy–which was needed since it was FREEZING there. This is where we had snow!

If I could have my way, I’d stay at one of the Songstam Hotels–there’s one right in the monastery village and another a short kilometer walk away. Whow! Decadence!! But unfortunately this luxury boutique hotel was out of our price range. Instead we had a lovely meal at the one that looks down on the Songzanlin Monastery. It was delicious!

Best Restaurant in Shangrila:
Another completely pleasant option in Shangrila is Compass. If you do not decide to stay there, you will definitely end up eating there. The food is soooooo good! They are by far the best restaurant in town with fresh baked goods daily. We had three meals there. We just kept going back. Plus, everyone at the Compass speaks English which was a nice relief as it’s hard to come by English speaking in Yunnan Province. (Don’t get me wrong. We got by, but it’s definitely part of the adventure!) We were able to plan our time in Shangrila thanks to Eileen who is a baker at Compass. She’s such a cutie. Tell her hello!

Activities There:
Aside from strolling around the town being built up, there is a gorgeous temple right in the center of the Old Town. Also, though, a trip must be made out to Songzanlin Monastery. Wow! What a site!! And what was so neat about it was the monks just going about their business despite tourists traipsing around their home. I really enjoyed this excursion–even though it was snowing and I was freezing my buns off. The kids too loved it!! Everyone took a turn with the camera.

Kremb de la Kremb says “Go to Yunnan!”

Our family thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Yunnan Province. If you are planning on going and have any questiosn, please do not hesitate to reach out and ask me. I’d be happy to help you out! Go!! It was phenomenal!!