Saturday, July 11, 2015

Cooking Class: Laos

As what you expect in most Asian destinations, there is an abundance of cooking schools to choose from. We based our choice off the actual restaurant itself that the cooking classes were attached to.

The restaurant was Tamarind  and the cooking class was called Tamarind Restaurant's Cooking School. Every time we walked past the restaurant it was always full and reservations were highly recommended. The day we put our deposit down for the cooking class we also put our name down for one of the last open spots during their dinner service.

The restaurant itself had a great atmosphere, attentive staff and delicious Laotian meals. If the cooking class was as this high a standard, then we were in for a treat. This restaurant was definitely a higher standard than  most that were in the area, but price-wise it was very reasonable and didn't break the bank.

The cooking class:
This cost us 280,000 KIP, which, back then, was equivalent to USD35. We did end up reserving our spot online first via their website, but required a deposit no later than a couple days out from the intended date. It looked like the max number in any group was about 12 to 15. We had 12 in our group. 

We were told to meet at the restaurant by a certain time. Here we paid the balance of our class and then was served Laos Iced Tea. We were then taken by tuk-tuk to the morning markets; the largest markets in Luang Prabang. They sold all sorts of things from vegetables and spices to toys and socket plugs. We were taken to certain stalls, ones that the restaurants directly deal with, and here there were explanations of what each spice, herb or vegetable was- how it could be used in cooking.  We were also introduced to local Laotian snacks and taken through the meat section where our chef explained how locals eat nearly all parts of the animal. For example, buffalo meat. They will eat the skin, all the meat and the insides. Typically, the meat is quite gamey but the insides (being the liver, kidneys etc) are fleshier, healthier and tastier and thereby are more expensive than the meat itself.

Once we were finished with the market, the actual location of the cooking school was another 15 to 20 minute drive away through local farm lands and fields. The set up is pretty brilliant and here they grow their own vegetables to use for the classes itself. The owner of the Tamarind empire, Joy, was actually on site with us, which I thought was very neat. The chef did majority of the explanations but Joy was there to help on the side. They also gave us a quick background as to who Joy was and how he came to start up the school and restaurant. It was a very humbling story.

The class consisted of us cooking 3 main Laos dishes: Buffalo mince, Lemongrass stuffed chicken and Tilapia wrapped in banana leaves. For dessert we made purple sticky rice. The whole process was very interactive and the chef was very helpful and hands on. It was all explained very well and I think everyone in our group had a great time. Also, I think everyone was able to cook all the dishes without any disasters and we were all very satisfied at the end, and our hunger satiated. 

We were told to meet at 830am at the restaurant and we got back around 3pm. A very long day but well worth the time and money.  They do also have a shorter option where it is their evening cooking classes and you just make one less dish.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

5 Caving Adventures in One

I am super surprised I'm still awake after the adrenaline rush I had earlier today!

My finance's stint in New Zealand is slowly coming to an end and he had not done one adventurous thing while here.  I was told bungy jumping and sky diving was out of the question, and we had missed out on the shotover jet in Queenstown so I told him the other thing he could do was blackwater tubing in the Waitomo Caves. He was keen on this idea, so I did some research as to which company was best to go with (and which had discounts as we were on a tight budget) and I came across a company called Kiwi Cave Rafting. They offered the traditional glowworm tubing but also upped the anti. This wasn't your typical tour of the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. This company offered a 5 hour tour which involved:
- abseiling 27 metres down into the cave,
- blackwater caving and tubing through glowworm caves,
- squeezing through some tight crevices, and
- a moderate rock climb back up to the service.
Also, they treated you to a nice, hot cup of soup at the end of the tour to help warm you up while you viewed the photos your guide took while on the trip.

I think the normal price for this tour was around $200-250, but, we managed to find a good deal on which definitely saved us a bit of money. No matter though, it is definitely worth the money you pay for. The whole tour is interactive and the guide is great. They are friendly, approachable, informative and most importantly- they make you feel like you're in great hands.

We went in July which is nearing the end of Winter. After a week of terrible weather we got a beautiful, clear day. Never the less it was still chilly, especially in the wind, but funnily enough it was much, much warmer in the caves. Plus they give you great gear which keeps you quite warm despite the crisp water. Also, after a bit of exploring our guide (Rachel) sat us down for a bit of a break and handed out hot juice and some chocolate to keep our energy levels up. This was unexpected as they didn't mention this on any brochure so I thought this was a nice touch.

We would definitely recommend this to anyone wanting a  bit of adventure. It does test your fitness a bit, but in saying that, this tour is for all levels of athleticism. The guide is great and they will do all they can to make you feel comfortable and safe.