I'm Just Here For The Food

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Fear of Fruit

I was in Sunshine grocery store today, and was walking through the produce aisle and found myself surrounded by all this great looking fruit. Living in the Napa Valley, we get a lot of good produce, yet I bought nothing. Not a thing...just couldn't do it. The reason? I wasn't sure any of it was good.

I think people don't eat a lot of fruit for the same reason, we're just not sure if it's going to be any good, and for the price stores are charging, shouldn't we have some assurance that the peaches will taste like peaches? If you keep buying lousy peaches you're eventually going to come to the conclusion that peaches just aren't any good, and will just avoid them. Consumers these days don't really care about seasonality. They want what they want when they want it, and stores have found ways to fill this need. This means we can by nice red tomatoes all year round, but most of the time they taste like crap. they're picked green,and treated with ethylene to turn them red, but they don't ever develop any flavor. The same can be said for most of the fruit found year round. The fruit is trucked in from around the globe, and while it might look pretty, the taste is usually lack luster, and so people just tend to avoid them even when they are in season.

As Ferran Adria once said, a great peach is always better than an OK lobster. But how do we know we're getting a great peach? I had some incredible strawberries when I was living in Davis a decade ago, and long to try some again, but do I really want to spend the money just to be disappointed? There were some great looking white peaches in the store today, but who knows how they taste, and at $6 a pound, am I willing to take the risk?

One way to get good produce is to shop at farmers markets, but unfortunately the St. Helena farmers market is on Friday mornings when I'm at school. There is always Napa, but sometimes I don't feel like driving 30 minutes just for the hope that there is something good. There are some fruit stands around, but even these tend to truck their stuff in and who knows how far its traveled. I guess there isn't certainty in any aspect of life, and the chance that I will get a truly great peach is enough to make me take the chance.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The World's Ugliest Soup

I've never had contempt for soup before, I mean really where's the point in that? But he soup I made the other night...sheer contempt. I detest that soup, this despite the fact that it tastes pretty damn good.

After school most days I work in the teaching kitchen, helping out, and helping prepare student meals for dinner. Usually we work with left over foods from production classes, and this invariably means that we get a mish mash of produce and meats that we have to some how combine together. Normally this is no big deal, I mean it's not hard to find a use for 20# of left over steak or chicken, and when all else fails we make soup. This job fell on me the other day, when I was told that I had to make soup with about 15# of left over red cabbage.

"But it's going to be purple" I kept saying, but alas that's what they wanted, so that's what I did. "Why can't we make Borsht?" I asked to anyone who would listen, "Well we have no beets" I was told. OK that's actually a fair answer. So I went and made the soup. This involved cutting up a bunch of carrots, onions and celery, and about 30 heads of cabbage. All the while in the back of my head I was thinking...why am I making purple soup? So after tending to about 30 gallons of soup for a few hours, I then had to blend the soup into a puree. This is when the contempt started. Not only was it a bit of a pain blending all this soup, but it was getting close to 7pm and we still had to cool the soup down, and then package it up, this takes some time, and at this point I just wanted to go home. The contempt was bolstered by the fact that I knew no one would eat this. Who would want to eat a bit bowl of Purple. But I stuck it out, and got to end up tasting pretty good, quite tasty in fact, but still it was a big ass mass of purple, and I have no idea who would eat it. I even ended up labeling the containers "Purple Soup", because who cares what's in it, anyone who saw it just said "Man that's one purple soup". So it's been a few days, and I still haven't dared going into the walk in to see how much of it is actually gone.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The DeCanadianization of Peter

Today I am officially an American. I tried to fight it, but it's done. I've been assimilated. Resistance was futile. The last vestiges of my Canadianness are gone, and it goes back to being a hidden little secret. I guess I can finally stop spelling words with extra 'u's. It's not like I'm ashamed of it or anything, in fact I tried to recreate the Canadian flag on my knife kit. I guess observant people will be able to still tell whether it be from my pronunciation of 'out', my references to Degrassi, or my acceptance of people from other cultures, all of which definitely label me an non-American.

So why did this happen? No I didn't buy a gun...although that would have been my first guess too. Today I finally switched over to California plates. I guess this means my car is American as well.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

So shall we try this again?

OK so it's been a year since I last posted, have you missed me? Is anyone still even there? Doesn't matter.

I figure that with all the life changes that have been going on, it might be fun to document everything again, especially since what I'm now doing is directly related to the title of this blog, so why pass it up. I always planned to move back to Toronto, Lenox was really just a detour, and never really was supposed to be for the long haul. A year later it was time to go. I gave Chez Nous Bistro the news, but I couldn't figure out what to do next. Move back to Toronto, or something else? Well that something else turned out to be Culinary School.

So now I'm in Napa...about as far away from Toronto as you can get, attending the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. I started in January, and am currently in skills one, which means that I chop a butt load of vegetables. Apparently learning to cut carrots into perfect 1/8" cubes is important. It is fun though.

Anyway I do plan on addign updates pretty regularly from now on, which I'm hoping will cut down on my email updates, and will hopefully help to put everything in perspective a bit. Plus you just know one of the posts in going to involve me chopping off a finger, it is me after all. I'm also hoping to figure out if I can do video blogs with my fancy new Macbook.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Real Men Don't Eat Quiche, but We Make It.

Since I no longer have a real job (other than baking for Firefly), I’m working a bit more at my Mom’s inn. Since all I really want to do is cook I’ve decided that I’m going to go through some of my cookbooks, and attempt some recipes that I’ve always wanted to try. The first on my list was the Quiche recipe from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cookbook, mostly because I could justify the time, if I served it for breakfast.

Now I hate rolling dough…that is to say, I totally suck at it. That’s why I served Apple cake at Firefly rather that apple pie, and why if I do make a pie, it usually has a crust I can just press into the pan (like the Bouchon nut crusts, which are insanely good). The crust for the quiche though was incredibly easy to make and even easier to roll, so it was no problem making two of them. That’s when things started to go wrong

My mother didn’t have enough beans to fill both pans for the blind baking, and I didn’t have a lot of rice on hand, so instead of baking them one at a time I split them among the two pans, and wished for the best. Well both kind of puffed on the sides creating some cracks. No problem I thought I’ll just use some of the extra dough to patch it up. Then I realized that in my over-zealous cleaning, I had thrown all of I away. The way Keller does Quiche, and apparently how quiche should be done, is making the quiche in a two inch high pan, so it’s quite thick. With this being the case any cracks could cause a large amount of filling to leak out. And that’s exactly what happened with one of them. Filling all over the place. Luckily I had put both pans on a larger sheet pan just in case, so it was more a pain to clean then anything. So one worked out well, and the other was about half the volume it should have been. Everything else though went pretty well, although cleaning cutting and sautéing 4lbs of mushrooms was a bit of a pain.

The taste though made it all worth it, and changed the very idea of a quiche for me. The filling was like a custard and cooked slowly to keep it some and silky. The crust was also pretty thick, so the egg didn’t soak through and turn it soggy. The guests seemed to rave about it as well, and my Mother said it was the best quiche she ever had. So over all I think it went quite well, and definitely something I would do again (and better). So far every recipe I make from this cookbook turns out incredibly. The recipes are finiky, but the extra steps really do make a difference in the refinement of the dish and really elevates the dishes to a different level.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Take This Job and Shove it...

So my hours at Firefly are nearly non existent, so it was time to find another kitchen job. After visiting a few to some local restaurants, as well as some not so local, I realized that finding a new job isn’t so easy when it’s winter in the Berkshires, and the tourists are few and far between. I had a cook friend that worked at a local ski resort though, so I phoned him up and tried to see if they were hiring. He wasn’t there, but they did say they were hiring, so one Monday I had an interview, and I started on Tuesday. Wednesday I quit.

The place just wasn’t for me. I knew the tavern would be serving simple food, but I figured it would be at least a good place to get some basic cooking skills. Boy was I wrong. All they served was pre-packed frozen SYSCO food (purveyors of fine cafeterias everywhere). All I did was reach into a freezer pull out some food, and throw it into the three huge deep fryers we had. The fries were frozen, the fish was frozen, the chicken was that preformed patty crap with the grill marks already there, and the burgers were those burgers you buy for huge BBQ. I just couldn’t cook that stuff. It’s just everything I find wrong about restaurants. You could do almost every single dish on that menu, abut make it fresh, and it would be great. I’m not trying to be a food snob, I mean I love that type of food, but come on….make something! That combined with the fact that I had to wear gloves all the time, I just knew it wasn’t for me.

The place wasn’t actually a bad place to work. The people were nice, and it was well run, but it just wasn’t for me. Not the type of food I want to make. The entire time I was there I was trying to figure out when to quit. I even left the place on Wednesday night thinking of quitting the next day, but when I got to my car I found my car had been broken in to, and my iPod was stolen (although the robbers in return left me their huge flashlight). This pissed me off enough that I walked back to the restaurant and quit.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Live from New York it’s…The Daily Show

After an unsuccessful attempt to get tickets to The View (I know). Ayla’s Mother got us tickets to see the Daily Show instead (WOOOOOO!!!). So a few weeks ago we headed down to NYC for a few fun filled days hanging out in the big city. The train ride went a lot better then my previous week’s trip to TARCon, where I missed the train by minutes (it literally pulled away, as I was running towards it). After trying to meet up with Ayla’s friend Hilary at Grand Central, while Hilary was trying to meet up with us at Penn Station, we eventually met up and went out for sushi with Ayla’s father. The dinner can be summed up in one word…Awkward.

After dinner we headed over to Queen’s and went for some drinks at Hilary’s neighborhood bar. The night started innocently enough, as we sat there chatting, while some regulars played some darts, but as the evening wore on, the locals took an interest in us, and we ended up drinking the rest of the night with them, and it was a blast. They were an unusual group of characters, but it was a great time (although my liver might disagree). The next night was even weirder as we ended up spending the evening drinking with this Icelandic guy we met on the Lower East side. Always a weird time in NYC.

Now it wouldn’t be a trip to NYC if I didn’t eat as much as I could. We got the standard awesomely crappy hotdogs as well as a street pretzel, but it doesn’t stop there. Now I would love to say that I got to eat at Per Se (Thomas Keller’s NYC version of The French Laundry, who is a personal idol), but that place is a bit out of my price range, I did get to see it though. Looks nice. They were featuring a truffle tasting menu that looked incredible. In the same building however, Keller did open a Bouchon Bakery which was more in our price range. I love the Bouchon cookbook, and cook from it quite a bit (the macaroons from ‘The Most Expensive Cookies Ever’ post were from there), so it was exciting to get to see even just a few things from the book, and I did get to try the macaroons.

On Tuesday we headed off to see the Daily Show, and the taping was awesome. The set looks a lot more bleak and small in person, but just seeing Jon Stewart up close was pretty amazing. The show was a good one, and it was interesting to see all the stuff he said which wasn’t written on the teleprompter. I wish I could show some photo’s from the taping, but we weren’t able to shoot in the studio, so oh well. The one thing I was amazed at was the fact that there were no screw ups; I figured there would be at least one. I guess at this point they’ve all pretty much gotten it down.

After the taping we headed back to our hotel room to rest up, but around 10pm we were feeling hungry again, so set out to look for some sushi. Now in Lenox, good luck trying to find a restaurant in Lenox that serves after 9 pm, so even having the option was a fun experience. We wandered around the Time Square area, and finally found a sushi place called Kodama sushi, which turned out to be amazing. It was pretty cheap by NY standards, but the fish was incredibly fresh and tasty. Highly recommended. They even had cool T-shirts.

The best meal we had though (at least for me), was at Momofuku, a noodle joint in the Lower East side. The place was incredible, and really elevated what a noodle shop could be. The steamed pork buns were tasty, and the pork was incredibly moist and tender. It has an open kitchen so it was fun to just saddle up to the bar and watch the whole process. The owner David Chang was voted one of the best new chefs of 2006 by Food and Wine Magazine, and he recently opened a new place on 2nd Ave, which I’m going to have to try next time.


How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Working 65 hours a week that’s how. So sorry I haven’t updated lately (Ok, in like forever!), but the summer was pretty crazy, and then I just got lazy. But I swear I’ll be better from now on.

So I spent the summer working my ass off at Firefly Restaurant, working my ass off on the cold side (or as Garde Manger, if it was a fancier restaurant). This basically involved making all the salads as well as a few of the hot appetizers. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard in my life, essentially I was on my feet for 7-12 hours a day, but it was also the best job I’ve ever had. Sure I’ve worked 12 hours in the lab (or 36 hours that one time), but with all the coffee and internet breaks, that number drops considerably. But now it’s the winter, and we’ve done from doing 200-300 covers a day to somewhere in the 20-50 range (or less some nights). I guess that’s the fun of living in a seasonal area. I have gotten to work the line some nights, which is pretty fun. My hands have huge cuts and burns on them from grabbing hot sauté pans, but it’s still pretty fun. I’ve also been made the pastry cook, which means that I’m responsible for coming up with and making the dessert menu. Laura’s been pretty good about letting me have the freedom to do what I want, so it’s been pretty fun. Sure, she nixed my crème brulee napoleon since it was a little outside the norm, but over all it’s been good. The weird thing is, is that I’ve always considered baking to be my weakest cooking skill. Luckily my Mom is an insane baker so any questions usually go through her. I even stole her Apple Cake recipe, which was one of our best selling desserts (and according to one her guests, mine was a bit better).

Now that winter is here though, my hours are drying up, and it’s time to find another job. Unfortunately most of the restaurants here (or at least the ones that I would want to work at), aren’t hiring. I’m thinking of going to culinary school in the fall, but I think I need to get a bit more experience before I can seriously consider it. Stay tuned and we’ll see how it works out.


Saturday, July 01, 2006


So for those of you haven’t heard I’ve had a bit of a career change. The whole science thing is on hold for a bit (forever?), and I’ve taken a job in Lenox working in the kitchen of Firefly . Most of you know I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but I was never sure if it was something I wanted to do as a job, or if it was even something I could do as a job. There is a big difference between making dinner for friends and working the line at a restaurant. Luckily, even though I had zero experience the owner Laura decided to give me a shot and gave me a job.

So far it’s been going pretty well, it’s definitely a change, but it’s kind of fun. It’s a pretty mellow kitchen for the most part, no yelling or screaming for the most part. Right now I’m working the cold side which means that I make all the salads, and some of the cold and hot appetizers. So technically the food is easy to prepare, it’s just the volume and the timing that I’m trying to get a handle of. You can’t believe the amount of lettuce I go through a night. Luckily everyone’s been pretty nice about everything while I get my bearings. Still not sure if this is something I want to do forever, but its been a great experience so far, and definitely a learning experience. Plus, I usually don’t have to work until 11am, so the no early morning things are great. Sure I usually don’t finish until 10-11pm, but late nights never bugged me. Plus after work the bar is just right there. I think one of the first things I leaned was to always be nice to the bartender, and they’ll take care of you at the end of the night.

I think the weirdest thing is just being in Lenox. This wasn’t really a place I ever thought I’d live in, and I still haven’t resigned myself to the fact that I’m living here now. Currently I’m staying at my Mom’s inn, but once the summer picks up I’m either going to have to find my own place or move to the couch in my Mom’s apartment. The town is pretty nice though…at least I believe it is, all I seem to do is work, and it’s raining constantly, so I really don’t get out much.


Sunday, June 25, 2006

My Most Expensive Cookies Ever

So one of my jobs at my Mom’s Inn is to make something for afternoon tea. My mother is pretty much happy not to have to cook anything for a change, so I can usually do whatever I feel like doing. So I use this opportunity to make something I’ve been wanting to try. The other week I starting making my own ice cream, and after success with Vanilla, I decided to try making Mojito ice cream. Now I can’t say it went over all that well, but it tasted exactly like a Mojito, so counting it as a success. I thin it might be better served on the side of something, or maybe the world just isn’t ready for it yet. I do want to try to replicate the Chili ice cream I had in Thailand though.

One of the things that has gone over well is my Lemon Tart, which I first made for one of Barb and Ferns famous BBQ’s (which I miss terribly). It’s a really nice lemony tart, with an awesome pine nut crust. Pine nuts though are expensive, so I don’t make this too often. It’s from the Bouchon cookbook, and they tend not to do things on the cheap. All of that was just to say, that there are these cookies in the cookbook, that I‘ve been dying to try, and they turned into the most expensive cookies I’ve ever made. I didn’t know that at the time, and since I had already decided to try it, there really was no going back.

First off they required 5 cups of Almond flour (about 2½ lbs). So I went to Guido’s and it turns out almond flour is like $15 a Lbs!!!! Luckily you can make your own by grinding up almonds into a fine powder. This took the better part of an hour, as it could only be done in some batches. The other expensive ingredient was real vanilla beans. Guido’s had two choices 2 for $10 or 3 for $15. That’s some fucked up shit. For Vanilla? Damn. Needed to be done though. So after grinding up Almonds, and tracing 40 2 inch circles on parchment papers, the cookies were actually pretty easy. It took the better part of the day (as you had to dry them for 3 hours before baking), and I made a total mess of the place, but the cookies turned out awesome. The cookie itself was like a meringue, all crisp on the outside and soft and chewy in the middle, and the vanilla butter cream was great sandwiched in-between two cookies.

Luckily I managed to snag a few before the guest got to them.


Wednesday, May 31, 2006

New York City

So I went in NYC the other week for TARCon 9…and to get the hell out of Lenox, and I ate my ass off. I know NYC is chalk full of fine dining establishments, but there’s also the other spectrum; the cheap eats. While in South East Asia some of the best meals I had were on the street, or in some little shit-hole restaurant and NYC isn’t all that different. There are tons of options for some really good food for very little money.

Now the first thing I did (as I usually do when in NYC), is go to the Museum of Natural History, which is like my most favourite museum ever. Unfortunately I only had a little bit of time, so after checking out the Dinosaurs (which was a stupid thing to do all things considered), I had no time left for anything else. I need to go back though, as there’s a Charles Darwin exhibit that I NEED to see.

Anyway after that I went to go check out a Tehuitzingo. This place is a Mexican Grocery store in Hell’s Kitchen (no not that awful TV show), but in the back they have a little kitchen with two little ladies cooking up some of the best taco’s in NYC. They had everything from Beef, pork and Chicken to the more strange tripe and tongue. I decided to play it safe and just get a beef taco and two spicy pork tacos. They were great taco’s, and sure beat the hell out of Hot Harry’s (although those do do well when the craving hits). If you like taco’s, and find the place, it’s definitely worth a visit.

After going to see some live music, I just happened to pass a White Castle on the way home, and bought a sack of burgers. Now I don’t know what it is about White Castle, but these are things I can only eat drunk. Sober, they suck, drunk…awesome.

The next day I went to probably my favourite place in NYC, the Shake Shack. The shake shack is a great burger joint set up in Madison Square Park, and they serve truly awesome burgers, and concretes. In this day and age where most places cook the hell out of ground beef, so it’s dry and crappy, this place will still cook it up nice and pink of you ask. Plus the park is a great place to grab a bite and just walk people. They even have a licensed part of the patio if you fell like a drink.

The next place I ate was Puglia’s in Little Italy for the TARflies lunch, and had some great Italian food, including Cannoli’s which you almost had to wrestle people over. For some reason, I didn’t eat much else that day, which was a big mistake given how much I drank. Jon and TJ went to Gray’s Papaya for a snack, and why I didn’t join them is beyond me. I first ate at Gray’s during one of my first trips to NYC back for TARCon 4. Darcie and I just happened to stubble into the place, and decided to have a Hot Dog, and I’ve been going back ever since. You get 2 dogs and a drink for something like $2, so it really can’t be beat.

After dragging my ass out of bed I headed down to China town, but not before stopping at the shake shack for another burger. Then it was off to Jin Fong’s for some tasty Dim Sum. There is no dim sum in either Kingston or Lenox, so I was happy to be back in place that actually had good Chinese food. The price can’t be beat either since I ate a ton of dumplings for only $10. Plus, the tea and water helped get rid of the hangover.

After Dim Sum; Kris, TJ and I went wondering around China Town and went to New Beef King which sells Beef Jerky, and only beef jerky, and holy do they do it well. It’s not that dry leather stuff you find at grocery stores. This stuff was still pretty chewy and meaty. I think I bought too much though, as I’m still eating it now.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Ashtray Says, You've Been Up All Night

So I'm back! So now what? I wish I could say life was good, and I'm settling down into a routine, but honestly life kind of sucks right now. It also doesn't help that I've been having a difficult time sleeping since I got back. At first it was just the jet-lagg and stuff, but now it's the everything else that's going on. There are a few things I'm trying to wrap my head around (well one main thing, and then a few other little things), and all it's doing is keeping me up. I wish I could just turn off the brain before going to bed, but other than knocking myself unconsious, I don't think that's going to happen. Oh well hopefully it will all work out soon.

It doesn't help that I just have no idea what I want to do now. Do I stay in Science, or try something else? I really like food, but I don't think I could ever be a chef, so what else is out there? Suggestions?

So as for this Blog, well I'm still here, and food is still here, so I'll probably just keep it going, and see what it develops into. I just wanted to thank everyone for the comments they made, and the emails I got on the road. It was pretty lonely out there sometimes, and the messages from home really helped that out. I tried to keep this Blog fairly positive, and like 90% of the trip was insanely amazing, but traveling alone for that long, was really wearing me down at times. At times I was just sick of meeting new people every few days, and having the same "Where you from? How long have you been traveling?" conversation. I got tired of meeting really reat people, and then having to leave them. I got tired of consantly deciding where I would have to eat, and where I would have to stay with out having someone to bounce ideas off of. Mostly though, I just got tired of me. Sometimes I would be trapped with myself for days, with no one else to really talk to, and quite frankly there were times when I would have walked out on myself if I could. I mean fuck, I just wouldn't shut up most the time. Give it a rest buddy, just let me eat in piece.

Honestly though, I had a great time, and met some of the greatest people I'll ever meet. So if any of you are out there reading this, thanks. You all made this the trip of a life time, and hopefully we'll meet again. The food was great, the sights were great, but it was the people, both travelers and locals alike who really made this trip for me.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

36 Things to do in the Hong Kong Airport with a 14 hour Lay-Over

1. Walk through heat sensing security check point to see how healthy you are.
Check periodically for updates.
2. Watch heat sensing monitor to check out fellow passengers
3. Smoke
4. Smoke more
5. Walk around the airport
6. Check out the cover of every magazine in the book store. Try to decipher the
one’s in Chinese
7. Play the ‘name the destination’ game for your fellow travelers
8. About time for another cigarette don’t you think?
9. Watch planes take off
10. Hate every single one of those people on the planes
11. Watch departure screen for flights leaving for interesting destinations
12. Watch the date change on your watch
13. Watch departure screen to figure out which planes are going to land before
you even leave the airport
14. Hate all of those people
15. Consider buying cheap Dim Sum magnets
16. Consider buying anything with Hello Kitty on it
17. Eat at McDonalds
18. Make themed play lists on your iPod which such themes as; Songs with airport
themes, songs with the word ‘waiting’ in it, sons you can only stand for 25
19. Watch the ‘now arriving’ video monitors for people you know
20. Anticipate the opening of the ‘Lost City of Snacks’
21. Go to the 7-11 to buy more cigarettes
22. Forget to buy cigarettes and instead buy the weirdest snack you can find
23. Go to the trash and dispose of said snack after taking one bite
24. Consider calling your mother collect ‘just to chat’
25. Ride escalator and have a conversation with the friendly voice telling you to
“Hold the hand rail” and “Watch your step”
26. Stop doing that after you hear her giving the same greeting to other people.
That two-timing hussy.
27. Actually buy cigarettes this time
28. Watch CNN and make up your own captions
29. Consider going to the prayer room just to have something to do. Consider
praying for your plane to leave early
30. Go to the bathroom
31. Consider buying pornography and masturbating in the bathroom
32. Not do that
33. Watch the airport for any signs of TAR contestants
34. Consider buying the sausage in the cellophane wrapper next to the candy
35. Not do that
36. Settle for a package of malteaserrs

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

McDonalds in Asia

Ok I’m sorry. I said I wasn’t going to do it, but I did it. On my last night in Bangkok I went to McDonalds. I’m sorry. I feel like I let you all down. I did have a nice dinner at a Thai restaurant that night, but after spending the evening at a Muay Thai match, I was hungry for something quick. Plus, after Pulp Fiction I think we’re all curious about the differences between McDonalds in different countries. Do they call it a Quarter Pounder? Are there different menu ideas? I needed to find out. Damn you Vincent Vega.

Well they do call it a Quarter Pounder, and there were some unique menu items. There were spicy chicken nuggets, and my choice for the evening; The Sumo Pork Burger which is a lot tastier than the McRib. Other than that everything was pretty much the same. The fries were still tasty and such Blah, Blah, Blah.

To make matters worse though people I ate at McDonalds AGAIN! During my 13 hours at the Hong Kong airport. I had to eat again at McDonalds, and had the weirdest burger. I think it was called the ‘BeefTastic’ sandwich. It had sliced beef in this nice sweet sauce, but the interesting thing was that the bun was made of rice. It was almost like a rice cake, but not crispy. Not the best thing ever, but it was interesting.

So how about the Whopper? I don’t know I didn’t go to Burger King.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Border Run

Thailand will only give tourists a 30 day visa, but it’s free, so it’s not too bad a deal. This means that if you want to stay longer than that you need to extend your visa. This means high-tailing it to the nearest border, exiting the country, and then re-entering. Simple processes as long as you’re near a border. Unfortunately my Visa expired 4 days before I actually had to catch a plane home, and the fine for over staying is 500 Baht a day ($12). Fortunately Ranong is right across from Myanmar, and so doing a border run is pretty easy to do.

I don’t know why I got excited at the idea of a border run, but it just seemed so thrilling. Maybe I was just reminded of Cannonball run or something who knows. It just seemed to have this air of mystery that I found exciting. So I left Koh Chang, caught the boat to Ranong, and then went and talked to the pier workers about doing the Border Run. The guy exchanged bath for a crisp clean $5 which is what the border people want. If you don't have one, then it’s almost double the cost. After that he took me to the immigration office to get stamped out of the office. Then it was off to another pier to catch the boat to Myanmar. On the way we stopped by the Thai Border guard and then made our way to Myanmar. The boat trip was actually pretty nice as ther are statues and Wats on a few of the islands, and Myanmar seems to have a lot of Green to it. Once there I checked in at the immigration office, was offered cheap booze and cigarettes from a 9-year old, and then got back on the boat for Thailand. Then it was back to the immigration office to officially enter Thailand again.

All in all it cost around $10, and took about 1 ½ hours, 15 of which was in Myanmar. Was it thrilling and exciting? Kind of actually, but I think that mostly came from not knowing what the hell was going on. Plus, there is something exciting about borders. I feel like a drug mule no matter the crossing is like. Are the guards going to be tough? Am I going to have to bribe someone? Am I on a list somewhere? All these things go through my mind as I’m crossing. Not exactly sure why, but it does. Plus, now I have a Myanmar stamp in my passport, so that's kind of cool.


Monday, April 17, 2006

They Call Him Mr. Kai

After Tonsai I started to make my way back to Koh Chang. I made it back to Ranong, but missed the last boat to Koh Chang, which meant I had to spend the night in Ranong, which turned out to be a good thing, as it was Songkran (Thai New Year), and it was quite the celebration. The celebration of Songkran involves the washing of the Buddha,, and this as evolved into a water festival, where people roam the streets with bowls of water, water guns or even a garden hose, and drench each other and passersby where. This wasn’t so great as I was making my way to the guesthouse, as I really didn’t need my pack getting soaked, but I managed to only get myself wet, and saved my pack. At the hotel I ran into a few people from the Dive Safari, and after checking in we hit the streets, and once again got a lot of water poured onto us. It was actually really fun, and since it was so hot, the water was actually pretty nice.

That night I tried to find the bar my friends were at, but as I was walking by on bar I got called over by this Thai guy and was asked to join this group for a beer. I tried to tell them I was looking for some friends, but they were having none of it, and after the guy made a comment about Canadians not drinking beer, I felt I had to save my countries honour and joined them for a few drinks. After that I found my friends just down the street, and continued to celebrate with them. The bar we were at wasn’t officially open, so we had to keep running to the 7-11 to buy more beer and Whisky.

The next morning I headed back to Koh Chang and man that place had really cleared out. The island seemed empty, but all the regulars were there, and it was a nice relaxing time. The reason I was returning to Koh Chang was to see Mr. Kai, the resident Bamboo tattoo artist. I’ve been wanting to get another tattoo for awhile now, and figure a traditional Thai tattoo was the prefect way to always commemorate my trip. Bamboo tattooing basically uses a bamboo stick instead of a machine and it was quite the experience.

First off, Kai is an interesting man. He has a hut set up on the beach, and you would be hard pressed to find a nicer man, or a nicer location to get a tattoo. I had visited him a few times to talk about the design, and it was a little hard to get my ideas across with my limited Thai (OK none), and his limited English, but he had a book of Thai art, and I showed him what I was kind of looking for, so I just pointed and hoped for the best.

It must be said that he starts to prepare for the tattooing, but smoking a bowls of pot form his bamboo bong, and then starts to prep the instruments. The bamboo stick looks an awful lot like a chopstick which he files down, and then attaches the needle, using string and wax. After that he spent a while drawing the design on my arm. Mr. Kai, when he’s drawing on paper isn’t really that good of an artist, but when he gets to your skin it all changes. His girl friend and him create a really relaxing environment with pillows, and coffee, and well bong hits if you so choose.

The tattoo I got was of a lotus, which Hindus associate the lotus blossom with creation, and with the gods Vishnu, Brahma, and Lakshmi. In Buddhist symbolism, the lotus represents purity of body, speech, and mind, floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire. The lotus, as well, can have several meanings, often referring to the inherently pure potential of the mind. In the middle of the lotus I have a Buddhist symbol that offers good luck and protection. I took it from two pieces of art, depicting the Buddha which was part of the head dress worn by the Buddha. The middle part is a more stylized version of a traditional sak yan tattoo, which is usually done by monks as a form of protection for the wearer. I loved watching Kai work, and the man is a true artist. His precision and creativity with the bamboo was just amazing, and there was very little pain.

So now I have another tattoo (which I’m sure my parents will hate), and just seeing it not only reminds me of my trip and all the adventures I’ve had, but keeps serves as a reminder of how I want to be living my life.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Island of Climbers

After a day in Ao Nang, it was time to hit Tonsai Beach. Tonsai is part of the mainland, but due to all the rock formations it is only accessible by boat. It’s also connected to Railey beach which is more of the resort beach, while Tonsai is more of the budget accommodation place. I was told that Tonsai and Railey were the Mecca for climbing in Thailand, and they weren’t lying. The place is a climber’s paradise. There are 600 routes scattered around the area, and I think 75% of the residents on Tonsai were climbers. There is something amazing about being able to leave your bungalow, and be climbing within 10 minutes. The beach is full of good climbing walls and overhangs, and there are even places where you can free-solo (no ropes or safety devices), and when you’re tired you just drop down into the ocean.

So I figured that for my first day I should probably get a guide, and so I headed to Wee’s climbing school, since he was close to by Bungalow, he’s been climbing on the island for years, and he helped write the latest climbing guide book for Thailand. He convinced me that it was about time that I did some lead climbing, and for some reason I agreed. For those of you who know nothing bout climbing, there are basically two types of roped climbing; lead and top-rope. With top rope, the rope is already set up and the belayer takes up the slack so that if you fall, you only drop a few inches. With lead climbing you bring the rope up with you, and hook it through anchors along the way. This means that if you fall, you fall twice the distance of the length of rope between you and the last anchor, so if you’re just about to attach another anchor, you can fall quite a distance. I’ve always been afraid of lead climbing because the falling freaks me out. I have a bad fear of heights, and the only thing that lets me be able to climb is my trust in the safety equipment. Wee just said “Well you trust the equipment, now it’s time to trust yourself” and really who can argue with logic like that.

Well it was scary as hell, but it was also quite fun, and it was a good skill to pick up. My guide was awesome, and such a nice guy. The climbing though was amazing. It’s like all those Karsts and rock formation were put there just to be climbed. And unlike the other places I’ve been, when we got a little tired or hungry, we just went to the closest restaurant and had a drink or snack. And that’s pretty much how I spent the rest of my time in Tonsai. Wake up, climb a bit, eat, relax, climb some more, eat drink, bed. It was quite the life, and I’d return there again in an instant. The only sore point was that for the first time all trip I got a little sick and spent one day just throwing up every few hours, which kind of killed the whole climbing thing. Oh well at least I got a few days in. My last day I was still feeling a little ill, so I decided to head back to Krabi town early so I could try to catch a bus to Ranong the next day.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Behold the Power of Cheese

One of the things I missed most from home was cheese believe it or not (the other one is a secret). I love cheese. Stinky cheese, soft cheese, hard cheese, fondues, I love it all. Heck even that processed cheese that you put on nachos I have this weird obsession with. I love that crap (although legally I don't think you can call it cheese). The cheese in South East Asia though is a little lacking. It's not their fault really though, I mean cheese just isn't a part of their culture. It's hard to find milk, and yogurt is a pretty new thing to find, but who can blame them, refrigeration isn't that common in most homes.

There is some cheese though. The unfortunate part is that it’s that crappy La Vache Qui Rit, or Laughing Cow Cheese. You know that crap in the foil wrapper that comes in a wheel? Yeah, you can get that anywhere, and I hate it. I did love it after Tet when it and a loaf of bread was all we could get to eat at 6am, but that was a one time only love. Again though, who can blame them, it requires no refrigeration, and its pretty conviently packaged.

This longing for real cheese though is why I completely flipped out in Na Trang when in a Super Market I found some Emmentaler. I bought a package and some crackers and rushed up to my room to eat the whole damn block. It was not the best quality, but man was it good.

Then as I strolling along the boardwalk in Ao Nang I spotted this:

A Swiss restaurant? In Thailand? Maybe they have Fondue! They didn't but they did have other Swiss dishes, and then I saw it: Assortment of Swiss Cheeses.....170 B. An assortment! Of cheese! Awesome! And that when the drool started. So I walked in, and ordered some, and received a plate of Appenzeller, Emmentaller, and some Edam (which isn't Swiss, but whatever). Man, I just stared at it for awhile before digging in. I have to say, I don't think I've ever been happier eating cheese. I mean I've had much better cheese, but this came at jus the right time, so it's definitely one of the best cheese experiences of my life. That right folks, I actually have cheese experiences which I keep track of. I'm Swiss, what can I say. I refuse to apologize for it. All that being said, if the restaurant did have fondue on the menu, I think I would have had am orgasm, so I think it's best for all involved that they didn't have it.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

TAR Flashback #4 - Chicken Island

After two days in Krabi Town, I made my way to Ao Nang, which I heard had some great beaches, as well as good snorkeling (since I could no longer afford any real diving). The town was your typical beach town (interpret that as you will), with lots of tourist stuff for sale, and a bunch of seafood restaurants, and lots of over priced accommodations. I ended up getting a cheap room in an alley, and it was kind of a hole, but the room was clean and the location good, so who cares if my view was a concrete wall and I had to share a bathroom.

I decided to do a four-island boat tour, which included a trip to Chicken Island, which was one of the places the teams had to go in TAR 1. As much as I hate to admit this, this was the sole reason for going on this tour. Oh who am I kidding, I’m not ashamed to admit that at all. The boat trip was rather fun though. All the islands were nice, and the snorkeling was actually pretty good. There were corals around and a few Anemones so it was almost like diving, except there was the added fear that the boats were going to run you over at any moment, but dangers fun right? The beaches and views (both Flora and Fauna….OK, the karsts and women) were great, and it was a pretty fun day. I have to say, Chicken Island actually did look like a Chicken. We ever got to see Pai Plong beach which was the Pit Stop on leg 10. It was at this point in the race that the Frats and Guidos effectively got screwed out of race. The only weird thing about the race was that there was this Asian guy, who I swear was trying to pick me up. It was the oddest thing, and not just because it showed his complete lack of taste in men. When he walked by me he would grab my arm, and not in a “Oh excuse me let me squeeze through” kind of way but he would actually grab my arm and squeeze it a few times. Then on the last leg, he changed his seat and sat right next to me, and kept on grabbing my leg. Finally after my millionth WTF look that I was giving him he stopped, but man what a weird thing to do. Oh well at least it past the time.

After two days in Ao Nang I finally went to Tonsai and Railay Beach, which was the location of King Climbers, another task on TAR. I did go climbing, but not with King, so I’ll save that for another post.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

TAR Flashback #3 - Tiger Cave Temple

So after spending a few more days in Ko Chang, I decided that it might be time to move on. I mean I loved Koh Chang, but really, there wasn’t much to do there, and you can only read, and play volleyball for so long, before you feel that it’s time to see some more of Thailand. I had heard that there was some good climbing in Krabi, so I took the boat back to Ranong, and headed to the bus station, where I found out that I had missed the last bus to Krabi, and would have to spend the night in Ranong. Now if there is very little to do in Koh Chang, then there is even less to do in Ranong. They do have a really good market, so I wandered around that for a bit trying various foods from the stalls. All the signs were in Thai though, so I just had to point to things and pray for the best. More often than not it was damn good.

The next day I got onto the bus for Krabi town, and spent the night in the Chan Cha Lay guesthouse that was one o the nicest I’ve been too. It really reminded me of a Cape Cod kind of guesthouse, with the whole place done up in whites and blues, and the people were super friendly. I went for dinner at one the most beautiful restaurants in Thailand, and had an amazing seafood meal. The place was a bit out of town, but definitely worth the walk.

The next day it was off to the Tiger Cave Temple, which was the pit stop in leg nine of TAR. The Place was amazing. We never really got to see it on the show, but it was one of the most beautiful Wats I’ve been to. It’s in the woods, and there are paths all through out the jungle, with caves to explore, and some of the weirdest trees I’ve ever seen. The Highlight (or low light maybe) was the statues on the top of the mountain that you access by climbing over 1300 stairs. In 45-degree heat, I was sweating like crazy by the time I got to the top. Along the way there are a bunch of monkeys, and signs warning you that the monkeys steal things. And they do! One little bastard tried to steal my water bottle out of my backpack, and let me tell you it freaked me the fuck out, since I didn’t see the bastard coming, and then just felt a tugging at my pack. The climb was really nice though, and the view from the top was well worth the effort. You could see all of Krabi Town, and since it was a clear day you could even see the ocean. Even the Buddha statue on top was great.

One of the only bad things was the lack of respect the other tourists were paying to the Wat. In all of South East Asia, the dress at Wats and Royal places is supposed to be respectful. This means long pants, covered shoulders, and no sandals (although this isn’t such a biggie). Heck in the Royal Palace in Bangkok, they usually have to give clothes to people to fit the dress code. Yet all over the place there were people breaking these rules, and it’s really a shame. The monks hate it, and really consider it disrespectful to what they do; yet usually they are too nice to say anything. The rules are clear, and they’re in any guidebook you see so there really isn’t a reason to break them, except that people just don’t seem to care. Heck in the tiger cave temple I saw people walking around without shirts on which is just ridiculous. I mean would you go to church with your shirt off? I know it’s hot, and everything, but come on at least try and respect the culture.


Friday, April 07, 2006

Amazing Race Flashback #2

Remember that awesome fast forward in season one. You know the one where Momily and The Guidos faced off in Bangkok, that eventually led to the demise of both teams. Remember how nerve wracking and tension filled that fast forward was? Well guess what I got to do? I didn’t even realize it was the same place until I walked into the room and saw this huge reclining Buddha, with a row of pots that people were putting coins in. Let me tell you the Buddha is impressive. It’s massive, and really beautiful. I mean the thing just dominates the room, and it even has the most impressive souls you’ve ever seen on anyone’s feet.

So after staring in awe for some minutes, I donated some money and got my own pot of coins, and began reenacting the fast forward. Now of course I give it at a much more sedate and respectful pace, but it was still quite fun. Wat Pho itself (of which the reclining Buddha is just a part, is one of the most beautiful Wats I’ve visited so far. There are statues everywhere, and was a really nice place just hangout and relax, especially amongst the hustle and bustle of Bangkok (and considering this was the day I got lost). What made it even more relaxing was the fact that Wat Pho has one of the foremost Thai massage schools in Thailand. So after wandering the Wat for awhile, I went to get a relaxing herbal massage (1 hour for only $4). You know I could really get used to getting a massage every week.

After that I went across the river to Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), which was the site of Kevin and Drew getting screwed by the good old hours of operation. That Wat was insane as well. It was much smaller, but so unbelieveably intricate. I mean the detail was astounding. I was again in awe. I may have been Wat’ed out before I got to Bangkok, but these were too amazing not to get through my cold bitter heart.


A Tale of Sunglasses

So I scratched the shit out of the pair I brought, although I think most of the damage was done long before the trip. Anyway, I couldn't wear the things. So in Bangkok I bought a pair of "Oakleys" for $3. I had them almost a whole two days, before leaving them on the Bus in Ranong. So in Ranong I bought a new pair for $3. I had them a whole 2 hours, before they slipped off my head while getting off the boat in Koh Chang, and got taken away by the waves. Now I'm in Krabi (AMAZING RACE FLASHBACK COMING SOON!), and bought another pair, and nearly lost them within a day after leaving them in my Guest house bathroom.

Yeah, never let me watch your kids people. Gee, I just don't know where I left little Billy?

UPDATE: Yeah, so I lost that pair too. Left them on another fucking bus, in the exact same location as last time. So I went out an bought two pair this time...just in case

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The Life Aquatic

Now I've always wanted to go diving. Those Jacques Costeau (sp?) films were always so amazing. However, Diving in Ontario...well kind of sucks. The water is murky, and what are you really going to see in Lake Ontario? Oh, a Bluegill....Oh a Pumpkinseed...Wow, an old beer bottle. So why shell out hundreds for certification just to freeze your ass off in polluted waters. Then I came to Thailand.

I had heard about Aladdin Dive Safari from my tree mate, Ede (can I tell you how much I love saying treemate). He was going to Little Koh Chang for a 4 day diving excursion to the Similan Islands, and suggested I go. Luckily by the time I made up my mind there was still room, so after hitting Bangkok, I made my was to Ranong to catch a boat to Koh Chang (This by the way for all of you following along in the atlas, is Koh Chang on the Adaman Coast, not the one on the other side of Thailand). Well I should say I tried to make my way to Ranong, the bus company had other ideas. I had bought a "A/C, direct bus" from Bangkok to Ranong, but instead ended up in Surithani, which is 3 hours south of Ranong, and on the complete other side of the peninsula. So this meant I had to backtrack 4 hours to get to Ranong, then catch a boat to finally make it to Little Koh Chang.

Once there I was told I was a little late for the prep course, but if I was willing to watch 3 hours of video, and read 3 chapters and do three tests I'd then be caught up. So that's what I did my first day in Koh Chang. The second day? More studying. The third day we finally hit water, and did some dive training. The next day we left for the Similans. Now Koh Chang is an amazing place and I knew that I would love it since nobody I talked to before hand had even heard of the place. The Beaches aren't great, and the water is murky, but it has such a great vibe. You live in these bamboo huts, and there just aren't very many people there. In total I didn't wear shoes for almost two weeks.

The Aladdin people were also amazing. My instructor was Phil, a former Brit who splits his time between Thailand and Alberta. My other instructor was Estaban (who looked at me weird the first time I laughed at his name, and I had to explain that it was because of 'The Life Aquatic', which he had never seen, so I have to get it for him), who is a fellow Swiss and one of the best guys you will ever meet. His girlfriend Poo was equally amazing, but she got pregnant near the start of the season so she can't dive any more and didn't go on the trip unfortuneately. Honestly, I can't tell you how much I loved these two, they're just about the best couple ever. There were also 5 other people taking the open water course, so it was fun not being the only new diver.

So now I'm just going to skip to the diving. First off breathing underwater is weird. On our first open water dive at Richilieu Rock, as we were descending to 18m I couldn't understand why I was getting short of air. Then I remembered to actually breath (I'm an idiot), and all was well. So diving....IS FUCKING INSANE!!!!!! At the start of the dive I was like "I wonder if we'll even see any fish" We only saw about a million of them. It's like a whole different world. The water was clear, the coral was so many different colours (OK all coral is white, it's the algae that makes it colourful for those nitpicky biologists among you), and the fish. TONS OF FISH. Schools just swim by you, sometimes you can't even see the coral for all the fish (I seriously doubt though that "You can't see the coral reef for the fish" will ever replace "You can't see the forest for the trees" anytime soon though. If it does catch on though, I want credit in Bartletts or Websters or whatever.).

So the first dive was amazing, but I soon learned that I'm a complete hoover with my air supply. Oh well what can you do? After that it was back to the boat, and off to Koh Tachai, which was equally amazing. I'm trying to get pictures from the trip form the few people who took their underwater cameras, but they'll have to wait. So just to sum up the way the trip worked so that I can just move on to the highlights is this. First Day: two dives. Second day: 4 dives (including night dive) Third day: 4 dives (including Deep dive to 30M). Forth Day: Two dives. So in total 4 days on the boat and 12 dives. So now the highlights.

1. MANTAS!!!! we first saw a Manta on our third day, it was jumping, almost flying out of the water. When we arrived at Koh Bon, the Mantas appeared before we even got into the water. Now supposedly Mantas are rare, and the dive instructors were flipping out, because not only did we see one Manta, we saw at least three. They Are the most amazing creatures. They're so graceful an elegant, it was just to much to see. One swam right towards me before arching up and swimming overhead. The thing was huge too, at least 5 m. I still relax and picture them swimming in my head.

2. Sharks!! We saw a Leopard shark, and a nurse shark, and man the rush of seeing a shark. I know they're not going to attack, but there's this little survival instinct in your head that goes off everytime you see a shark.

3. Finding Nemo! We saw quite a few Clown fish and other anemone fish. I couldn't resist shouting Nemo! everytime I saw one. Yes I'm 12 shut-up. They were fun to watch, because you can see the anemone from a distance and then as you swim closer you can see a few fish just living in the thing. It was mesmorizing.

4. Sleeping on the top deck of the boat. For some strange reason only Nadine and I did this the whole trip. It was like the best place to sleep ever. We just lay there and talked looking up at the stars, while all the other people were down below in cramped quarters. Sure as soon as the sun rose you were awake, but it was so nice and relaxing. It was also nice to get to know Nadine, since we hadn't really got a chance to talk much in Lao.

5. The Night Dive. This was incredible as well. Just diving down in the dark with only a flashlight. The conditions weren't the best, but the experience was too much fun. We even turned our light off at one point so we could see the Sea Lightening (Phosphorescent Plankton). It was erie at times, but so different than a day dive.

6. Barracudas. These things are BAD ASS, and I think they know it. It's almost like they strut through the water in packs, going "just try to fuck with me...I'll cut ya" They really should have BMF tattooed on their bodies.

7. The rest of the trip. Honestly from start to finish the drip was amazing, and definitely one of the best things I've ever done. Now I'm hooked on the Manta Juice though, so I guess I'll be returning to Thailand every year.

The only down side (other than the fact that the trip had to end) was all the course work we had to do on the boat for the advanced open water diving course. It seriously cut into nap time, and that nap time was sorely needed after a few dives.


Border Run piperdown1313's Border Run photoset
Koh Chang 2 -Tattoo Bugaloo piperdown1313's Koh Chang 2 -Tattoo Bugaloo photoset
Tonsai/Railey piperdown1313's Tonsai/Railey photoset
Ao Nang/Islands piperdown1313's Ao Nang/Islands photoset
Krabi/Tiger Cave Temple piperdown1313's Krabi/Tiger Cave Temple photoset
Bangkok piperdown1313's Bangkok photoset
Chiang Mei piperdown1313's Chiang Mei photoset
Gibbon Experience piperdown1313's Gibbon Experience photoset
Muang Ngoi Neua piperdown1313's Muang Ngoi Neua photoset
Lao Cooking Class piperdown1313's Lao Cooking Class photoset
Luang Prabang piperdown1313's Luang Prabang photoset
Vang Vieng piperdown1313's Vang Vieng photoset
Vientiane piperdown1313's Vientiane photoset
Siem Reap piperdown1313's Siem Reap photoset
Phnom Penh piperdown1313's Phnom Penh photoset
Saigon piperdown1313's Saigon photoset
Mekong Delta piperdown1313's Mekong Delta photoset
Nha Trang piperdown1313's Nha Trang photoset
Hoi An piperdown1313's Hoi An photoset
Hong Kong piperdown1313's Hong Kong photoset
Hanoi piperdown1313's Hanoi photoset
Ha Long Bay/ Cat Ba Island piperdown1313's Ha Long Bay/ Cat Ba Island photoset
Hue piperdown1313's Hue photoset