Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Archive for October 2016

Bangkok & Chiang Mai

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Last month I went to Thailand, for the second time this year.

I was in Bangkok for about a week in total, and several days in Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second city and about an hour away, by plane, north of Bangkok.

Jungle and hills surround it and it doesn’t feel like a city at all, more like an overgrown village with a temporary leasehold over the jungle.

Quite a few of my friends told me about their love for Chiang Mai. It’s a very chill, laid-back place with lots of cafes and guesthouses. But for me it was too chill. I prefer the raw energy of Bangkok which feels alive and visceral — intense — like life has been crammed into every inch.

In Chiang Mai I happened to meet up with Brent Crane, a fellow freelancer, who was on a journey traveling overland from Cambodia, where he’d spent a year at the Phnom Penh Post, to Nepal. Brent’s a prolific freelancer (and a guest contributor to the site) and by the time I’d met him in Chiang Mai he’d already sold features to The New Republic and Men’s Journal, making more than enough to cover his travel expenses.

I was taking it easy; reading and writing more of my novel. In Chiang Mai I didn’t do much of the things you’re supposed to do (elephant riding, trekking, jungle zip-lining, etc). I didn’t really have the appetite to do them so I didn’t.

If you’re there though try Counting Sheeps (sic) hostel. It’s comfortable, centrally located, and very good. Say hi to Goieurh too, who taught me how to play checkers. And you really should check out the Sunday evening market in the old town.

In Bangkok, I made a new friend who I came across playing Pokemon Go. It was on the steps next to Paragon, a shopping mall in downtown.

I also spent a couple of nights in Sofitel Bangkok, a five-star hotel. Having written for travel publications such as Wanderlust, CNN Travel, and NineMSN, I got a deal.

The suite they gave me was grand and lovely. It was the biggest hotel room I have ever stayed in. I was chauffeured to and from the airport in a Mercedes, which had WiFi and hot towels. I had my own personal butler and access to the VIP lounge, where there was served wine, canapes, fruit, cakes, cheese, prawn cocktails, and other beverages. There was a cool swimming pool, and breakfast buffet with a rack of honeycomb. The bathroom had Hermes toiletries.

It was the best I’ve ever been treated — a truly luxurious and memorable experience at the┬áSofitel Bangkok. Did I mention dinner on their rooftop restaurant L’Appart? It was elegant French fare — delicious scallops — and I had great company.

Having twice stayed in five-star hotels this year, the experience is rather agreeable I have to say and checking online the expense for these hotels in Asia isn’t as extravagant as you may think so it’s worth spoiling yourself sometimes. The experience really does linger long in the memory.

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Strawberry shake in Burma, and other food memories

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It was the middle of the day and very warm. Up the road from where I was staying (the Remember Inn) on the banks of Inle lake in Myanmar was a shack cafe.

The owner chef had drawn strawberry shakes on a board. They were made with small, sweet, fresh strawberries, mixed with cream. I ordered one and a lunch dish and went to sit at a table under thatched parasols that shielded the white sun. Burmese teenagers sat at other tables, flirting and passing the brightest part of the day. I read and wrote in my notebook.

The owner proprietor for whatever reason made her strawberry shake the best of its kind in Inle, perhaps in all Burma. She put lime juice into her recipe. Stirred up in the glass the strawberries, softened by the warmth in the air and some still whole, entwined with the cream and sugar, mixed with the sharp lime juice and slight bitterness to make it a superbly rich dessert drink. It was the best strawberry shake I’ve ever tasted.

20150901_214719It had been a long day, and I spent a part of it frantically coordinating with a news assistant based in Beijing. In the evening I stalked the corridors and hallways of a giant casino, hotel, and shopping complex called The Venetian, in search of a plug socket for my laptop so I could file a report for The Independent newspaper. I’d left my travel companion while I did this and she was understandably pissed when she eventually found me again.

But after dinner we made for a destination that offered a dream-like experience. Macau is famous for lots of things — roulette and high-rollers, tropical afternoon tea and bargain hunting, colonial architecture and sea-marooned culture. It’s also famous for Portuguese egg tarts. Finally biting into one of these was an emotional experience. It’s perhaps the closest I’ve come to perfection.

When you’re a writer abroad and traveling around Asia, and then you come home, to the family home in Sussex, England, it can be quite comforting. When I am at home I like to make a comfort dish. It’s very simple. Grab a bunch of little tomatoes (has to be the little ones) and cut them in half. Fry them in olive oil with a little salt and garlic, and toss them into a pile of tagliatelle. Tear up some proscuitto into the dish, drizzle a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil, garnish with salt and pepper and stir it all up. So simple but so good.

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Written by Lu-Hai Liang

October 7, 2016 at 3:01 pm