a cobra show in bangkok                     

    
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Fresh from a trip to the floating market at Damnoen Saduak, my friend Donna and I were offered the opportunity to watch a snake show, advertised as “the most exciting show in the world.” We couldn’t possibly resist, so we boarded a small air-conditioned van and off we went.

In the small arena, Donna and I decided to live adventurously and choose seats off to the side – not the seats tucked safely behind some shallow water and a glass partition, but ones completely open to the ring. After a brief introduction to “the most exciting show in the world,” an announcer began a play-by-play, while festive music filled the small building. The show began with cobras in brown sacks. Three men shook the sacks and then dumped the snakes into the ring. They kept provoking them, and then catching them with their bare hands, until the cobras were absolutely furious. The men then brought out four new snakes, more gigantic than the others, and provoked them as well – only this time, the snakes began lunging towards the audience, and the men would catch them by the end of the tail just before the snakes escaped. Needless to say, we were regretting our choice of seating at this point. Watching a livid, hissing cobra fly towards you isn’t something I ever want to experience again. After this scary display, a glass tank was wheeled in, which contained both a cobra and a mongoose. Now, from watching Rikki Tikki Tavi as a child, I knew cobras and mongooses are deadly enemies. (In case you haven’t had the pleasure, this cartoon movie is based on Rudyard Kipling’s book about a brave young mongoose; I would suggest if you’ve never seen it to find a copy). I never thought I’d see a live fight; however, that’s exactly what happened next. After an intense few minutes where the animals circled and lunged at one another, during most of which we watched with our eyes closed (no small feat), the tank was wheeled away and a tie declared, as the “snake men” wouldn’t allow either animal to be injured. The show ended with a man who promised us he could catch three vipers at once. As he only had two hands – unless he was hiding a third under his shirt somewhere - how he’d catch all three was a mystery, so Donna and I craned forward in our seats in order to catch everything. After a few tense moments, the snake man came up with a viper in each hand – and one in his mouth. I don’t even want to venture a guess as to how he did it, and I cannot imagine ever being so brave as to catch a live viper in my mouth. Adrenaline pumping, Donna and I left the arena and collapsed into our van.

Watch a cobra show on youtube!

               
    
       
                     
     
                

                        the floating market in damnoen saduak, thailand                     

    
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While bumming around Bangkok, my friend Donna and I decided it necessary to visit the floating market in Damnoen Saduak. From a friendly travel shop just off Khao San Road, we purchased tickets for a day tour beginning the following morning.

On the day of our trip, we woke early and were picked up by a small van, which delivered us a few kilometers from the market. We then boarded longboats to be taken for a fast ride through the canals connecting the Mae Klong and the Tacheen Rivers. Thai people live clustered along the canals, and you’ll get a great view of how they live, passing orchards, traditional teak homes, and people going about their daily lives while you gawk (politely) from your longboat. 10-15 minutes of this fast, zigzagging ride and suddenly, you’re in the floating market. It’s pure chaos – longboats piled high with vegetables, fresh produce, and homemade wares, paddled by stooped men and women wearing straw hats, ready to bargain the second someone eyes their boat. The sides of the canal are bustling with stalls selling everything from paintings to silks to carved wooden animals to clothing. It’s a riot of color, noise, and commotion, with so many things to look at you’d need at least a hundred eyeballs. It’s a bit touristy, but great fun.

Although you probably won’t notice (at least, I didn’t), when you’re being loaded into your longboat, a photographer will come round and snap your photo. As we were leaving the market area, a woman came running up to us and asked, in broken English, if we wanted our plate. Donna and I looked at each other – our plate? The woman gestured us to follow her, and so we did, right to a stall covered with commemorative plates. You know, those weird ones people sometimes have hanging out their walls? Well, Donna’s family home in South Africa now features one, two girls beaming (or in my case, bug-eyed and half-crazed looking) from a plastic plate.

               
    
       
                     
     
                

                        Scuba Diving on Koh Tao, Thailand: Ban's Diving Resort                     

    
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Photo Courtesy of Ban's Diving Resort

Three friends and I had been in Thailand for about two weeks when we took a ferry over to the nearby island of Koh Tao to take a scuba diving certification course. Famous for diving, Koh Tao has some of the most gorgeous, pristine waters in the area, and we could hardly wait to get our grubby little hands on some diving equipment – provided, of course, we passed our classes. Jittery with anticipation, we hopped off the ferry and were greeted with total chaos: the second we stepped foot on the dock, we were surrounded. People were shouting, running, hauling holding billboards, brochures, and signs this way and that – all claiming the diving resort they represented was the most luxurious yet the cheapest; the one that offered the most dive time, the most shark sightings, the best instructors, and safest equipment possible: in short, the one that made all your diving dreams come true.


Photo Courtesy of http://www.on-koh-tao.com/

Luckily, before we lost our heads completely in the sheer madness that was the pier, we remembered a few friends we’d met earlier had recommended Ban’s Diving Resort. Pushing our way through throngs of people, we miraculously located a representative from Ban’s. Without questioning prices or accommodation, we threw ourselves onto their tuk-tuk and away we went. We were warmly greeted, and before we knew it, we were settled into a large, airy room at an extremely reasonable price (as three of the four of us would be taking a diving class, we were given a generous discount).

Ban’s Diving Resort is phenomenal. Located on Koh Tao’s main beach, Sairee Beach, Ban’s is clean, bright, and open, full of lush flowers and vegetation their capable staff tends to regularly, with an open air restaurant featuring both excellent food and stunning views of Koh Tao’s famous sunsets. There are shops, restaurants and bars located nearby, pools for swimming and diving practice, friendly, helpful staff and loads of other travelers all ready to embark on diving adventures.


Photo Courtesy of http://www.taucher.net/

Ban’s Diving offers a full range of PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) scuba diving programs, from beginners who want their open water diver certification, to advanced dive master classes for those who want to become diving instructors. Ban’s offers courses in 15 different languages, and all instructors are fully certified, knowledgeable and incredibly friendly. An open water diver course, which is what I took and therefore am most familiar with, is a three and a half day course which involves a combination of lectures, DVDs, notes, quizzes and four carefully supervised dives. All students are required to take a final exam before receiving their certification. This class costs 9,800 THB (approximately $286 USD), and is completely worth it.

On your final dive, a professional cameraman will follow your class through the water. Students are encouraged to make fools of themselves for the film (as if encouragement were necessary), which will then be custom edited to a DVD. On the last day of class, everyone in your course will have dinner together and then watch the DVD as a group. If you like, you can then purchase one to take home - of course, it costs extra, but it’s fun to have, even if watching isn’t even close to actually being there. I made my family sit down and watch it as payback for all the home videos I’ve been forced to sit through.

A trip to Thailand isn’t complete without scuba diving. The water is too gorgeous, the fish too colorful, and the experience too amazing to pass up. If ever you find yourself there, visit Ban’s Diving Resort for an amazing underwater adventure you’ll never forget.

               
    
       
                     
     
                

                        Celebrate the 4th of July holiday weekend with these scrumptious national drinks!                     

    
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4th of July fireworks! www.petswelcome.com

The fourth is a day for family, friends, fireworks, and – you guessed it – food. From crab feasts to weenie grilling to full-fledged pig roasts (nothing says happy Independence Day, America, like a giant hog on a spit), Americans celebrate their national holiday with loads of tasty treats. Potato salad, hot dogs, hamburgers, ribs, and corn on the cob top the lists, among other traditional fares. But what about beverages? The usual Fourth of July celebration staples are bottled water, juice/soda for the kiddies, and beer. To be fair, that’s really all you need, but maybe this year it’s time to branch out a bit. Sure, it’s America’s Independence Day, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get festive and dazzle your guests with an array of beverages from around the world! Add a bit of spice to your cookout with these delicious drinks.

Soju – traditionally made from rice, this Korean liquor is clear in color and similar to vodka. Be wary – if you’ve never had Soju before, it sneaks up on you like a saber-toothed tiger and the morning after is the worst you’ll ever have.

Guinness – this heart healthy choice, hailing from Ireland, is one of the most famous national drinks in the world. Consuming more than five is guaranteed to give you an Irish accent.

Caesar – this Canadian bloody mary-esque concoction is easy to make, and perfect for breakfast. Have one while preparing your potato salad. For more, please see Hail Caesar!

Tequila – olé! Mexicans drink their tequila straight, but I think its best served with a wedge of lemon and lots of salt. Watch out for the tequila worm – I’ve heard it's good luck to eat it, but I’ve serious doubts.

Sake – although Sake day is officially October 1st, as declared by the Japan Sake Brewers Association in 1978, there’s no reason to deny yourself a cup of the tasty liquor. It tastes best served warm.

Absinthe – if you’re in the mood for a little wormwood, drink some of this Switzerland originated spirit. However, if your guests begin complaining of having tulips on their legs (perhaps channeling Oscar Wilde), chances are they’re on something else. While absinthe has widely been berated as hallucinogenic, there is no concrete evidence it is any more dangerous than an ordinary spirit.

Ouzo – this Greek liquor is traditionally sipped slowly with appetizers and friends over a period of several hours in the evening. Perfect if you’ve a lawn chair and lots of catching up to do.

Mojito – this refreshing rum-based drink from Cuba is perfect for a hot, sunny day. It’s traditionally made with 5 main ingredients: white rum, sugar, lime, ice, and mint. Use fresh mint from your garden if you’ve got – it’ll work as a breath freshener, as well.

Cachaça - this sugary Brazilian liquor is often used as the main ingredient in the Caipirinha cocktail, which is Cachaça mixed with lime and sugar. Its alcohol content can be up to 48% proof, so please don’t drink much if you plan on functioning properly for the evening.

Happy 4th of July! Please drink responsibly.

               
    
       
                     
     
                

                        Lonely Planet - a backpacker's bible                     

    
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Photo Courtesy of http://worldnomads.com

“Lonely Planet is best for curious and independent-minded travelers.”
The Wall Street Journal

A backpacker’s bosom buddy, Lonely Planet guides are among the most amazing travel books ever written. Extremely well organized, Lonely Planets are ruthlessly researched and written by freelance authors who’ve loads of travel experience and specialized knowledge of certain cities, countries or regions. These authors have personally traveled to foreign countries to do research without the internet, exploring thousands of both popular and obscure temples, hotels, restaurants, bars and more - they are passionate, curious people dedicated to discovering exotic, unique places for travelers to visit on their next trip.


Unlike other travel guides, where one might merely find long lists of sights, restaurants, hotels, and shopping destinations, Lonely Planets have highly extensive information on the countries between their covers, written in an engaging, informative way. Their pages are peppered with information an average travel guide might leave out, including metric conversions, necessary vaccinations, time zones, country codes, tourist seasons and a daily ‘budget’, which tells you approximately how much money you’ll spend a day in that specific country. My favorite Lonely Planet is “southeast asia on a shoestring” because it contains information on eleven different countries in one travel-handy volume. Traveling to Thailand? On those particular pages, you’ll find highlights, current events, a detailed history of Thailand, maps, sections on the culture, popular sports, religion, art, and the environment – and it doesn’t stop there! Next, the country is broken down into different regions. Bangkok and its surrounding areas have 24 whole pages devoted to giving an adventurous traveler all the information they’ll need, including details about sights, tours, festivals, hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs, entertainment, shopping, and transportation; small asides on safe and responsible travels, dangers, bargaining, hints, and border crossings, along with trivia information which, while not exactly necessary for traveling itself, is fun to learn and will allow you to impress other backpackers you meet along the way with your lofty brain powers.


Photo Courtesy of www.globalnanpa.com

Although some might scoff real backpackers can find their way around without the help of a guide, for most people, it’s intimidating to find yourself in a new place without knowledge of, well, almost anything! What to do? Where to go? You might have read a book or two to prepare for your trip, but those books feel far away when you step out of the air-conditioned comfort of the airport into a new, exotic country where adventures are waiting just around the corner … if you know where to find them. That’s where Lonely Planet steps in. Wouldn’t you sleep easier knowing you’ve a selection of hotels in hand? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a variety of restaurants to try, ranging from the upscale and gourmet to the tiny hole in the wall places that grill your meal outside on the beach while you wait? Do yourself a favor and buy a Lonely Planet for your next vacation. It’s worth it.

Visit the Lonely Planet online and order books for your next trip today!

               
    
       
                     
     
                

                        Dok Suni: delectable Korean cuisine                     

    
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After spending a full two years living in South Korea, I returned home to the United States, where I was shocked to find most everyone spoke English and I could eavesdrop shamelessly on conversations, of which I took full advantage (and I’m not ashamed). Although exciting to be back at home, it was a difficult transition. I love South Korea, and I loved living there. I missed the crowds of people thronging the streets of Seoul, jostling and pushing for that extra half inch of space on the sidewalk. I missed the packed subway cars, the gorgeous cheap clothing, the vendors selling meat on sticks and spiky french-fry wrapped, deep fried corndogs; I missed sitting at a table in a Korean bar with friends, surrounded on all sides by older Korean gentlemen who were putting us to shame with their Soju drinking skills. I missed hot summer days where Korean kids would run for hours through fountains that spouted out of the ground in the middle of the city, and I missed seeing tiny dogs with their ears and tails dyed bright, fluorescent colors. Most of all, though, I missed the food: fabulous, aromatic and full of spice and flavor.

After I spent a few weeks whining and moaning about how I missed my beloved Korean food, it dawned on me I could just learn to make it myself. And that is where my wonderful Korean cookbook, Dok Suni, comes into this story.

The recipes in Dok Suni I’ve tried have proven to be not only authentic, but incredibly tasty. With recipes ranging from classic noodle and rice fares, robust, spicy soups and flavorful barbequed beef to refreshing treats, chicken and fish delicacies and scrumptious side dishes, the cookbook has many Korean favorites, including: spicy chive salad, fiery-hot beef soup (yookgaejang), Korean barbequed beef, ginger and cinnamon punch, beef-stuffed chili peppers, rice cakes in spicy sauté (dukbokki), and many others!

Dok Suni means “strong woman” in Korean, and this book is a testament to just that – filled with not only delicious recipes, it is sprinkled with stories and photos from author Jenny Kwak’s childhood which reflect her life with her mother, whom she describes as a self-sufficient, resilient woman who raised her children to believe nothing was more important than being strong and independent.

This fantastic cookbook is a must-have for anyone who truly loves Korean food, anyone wanting to experience an exciting new cuisine, and for anyone wanting to learn how to make simple, authentic Korean dishes.

Ms. Kwak’s mother, Myung Ja, regularly prepares all the food in the Dok Suni cookbook at her popular New York City restaurant, also named Dok Suni. This Korean restaurant, which has been featured in New York magazine’s Best of New York issue, has been described as “the hippest Korean restaurant in town … [Dok Suni’s offers] the most delicious Korean food and a cool vibe” by Paper.

Buy a copy now on Amazon!

               
    
       
                     
     
                

                        The temples of Angkor – featured in the film Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie (as Lara Croft)                     

    
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Tomb Raider Movie Poster

The little I knew of the temples of Angkor was from the popular movie Tomb Raider, in which Angelina Jolie goes skulking through Cambodia in the search for the “Triangle of Light”, and of which I’ve only seen approximately 20 minutes. I’d switched the TV on for background noise while I was running around my tiny studio apartment, trying to find clothing appropriate for teaching kindergarteners about animals (my preferred method was to yell out an animal name and have the little guys act it out, then walk around and correct their interpretation: “a little more roar. Your lion sounds like it ate a canary”). Angelina Jolie was smart mouthing some colleagues, and I was instantly intrigued – I love watching daytime movies, and this one looked like a beauty. Alas, my tiny students were waiting and to this day, I’m not entirely sure what the triangle of light was, and why Lara Croft was searching for it.

Scenes from Tomb Raider had been running through my head since my friend Donna and I had arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The temples of Angkor are among the most spectacular in the world, inspiring and unforgettable, where thousands of people flock yearly to pay respect to their astounding beauty (according to our Lonely Planet, which we had come to consider a crucial text, akin to a space traveler’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”). We couldn’t wait. We’d already decided to hire a car and driver, as some of the temples are spaced widely apart, from our guesthouse. Hiring a car and driver cost us $20, which is standard. We’d also decided to hire a guide, which cost an extra $10. Having someone to explain the history of the temples and the surrounding area is amazing and well worth it, so if your budget isn’t too tight, splurge on a guide. Most guesthouse and hotel staff will be more than happy to help you arrange for this sort of thing, and if not, there are many storefronts along the main roads that advertise Angkor tours. It is also possible to approach a driver on the street and try to arrange something.


Sophorn Ke! Photo Courtesy of Donna K.

Our tour guide was a short, slender man from Penom Pehn named Sophorn Ke. He was our age, 25, soft spoken and extremely friendly. He was wonderful. Before we’d even arrived at the temples, he’d not only introduced us to our driver (a smiling, bright eyed man with a wonderful deep chuckle), he had given us 20 minutes worth of background information on the temples, including colorful stories about the Hindu and Buddhist gods we would see decorating the temples. As we drew closer to our first stop, Angkor Thom, we were drooling with anticipation, craning our necks to be the first to glimpse the temple amidst the trees. We had no idea what we were in store for!

               
    
       
                     
     
                

                        Sick? On a diet? Try Yookgaejang, a spicy Korean soup!                     

    
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Yookgaejang! Photo Courtesy of Donna Knoesen

When I first moved to South Korea, I had no idea what to eat. Food being something I’m intensely passionate about, it was a horrifying discovery. I would wander the streets, peering into restaurant windows, trying to figure out what on earth I could eat without giving away the fact that I knew nothing at all about Korean food. Many restaurants didn’t offer English translations on their menus (understandably so), and although I tried finding restaurants that had pictures, the food remained aloof and mysterious.

After a couple hungry days where I was eating nothing but dumplings (mandu) from a street vendor, I eventually went into a restaurant, pleaded ignorance as best I could (using hand gestures, mostly, as my Korean was nonexistent at this point), and a kindly old woman took pity on me and served me a delicious soup called yookgaejang (you-kay-jong). A friend of mine described it as tasting similar to Campbell’s vegetable beef, which is true, but yookgaejang is spicier and much more delicious (I’m sorry, Campbell’s, your vegetable with alphabet letters is still my favorite). Yookgaejang is usually served in a stone bowl, which keeps the soup boiling ferociously up to 10 minutes into your meal. The soup also comes with a bowl of plain white rice on the side, to cut the spiciness a bit. Some Korean people dump the whole bowl of rice into their soup, turning it into a sort of stew.

Described by Korean people as extremely healthy (and good for dieting), yookgaejang is fairly easy to prepare, keeps well, and it’s just mouth-wateringly delicious. It’s spicy, though! The first time I ate it, I broke into a full face sweat. Who knew soup could make you sweat from your eyeballs? Keep a tissue handy.

Yookgaejang

1 ½ lb flank steak
½ lb bean sprouts
8 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 ½ teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons salt
2 scallions, chopped into 1 inch pieces

1. Cook the steak in the beef broth for 2 hours on low heat. Skim the fat out as you go. The broth should simmer until it’s been reduced to half. Remove the beef from the broth and wait for it to cool down, and then shred. Save the broth.
2. In a small pan, combine garlic, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 2-3 minutes over low heat.
3. Soak the beef in the sauce for 5 minutes.
4. Mix the leftover beef broth with the beef, sprouts, salt, and scallions, and bring to a boil. Serve hot.

Optional: most Korean restaurants serve yookgaejang with eggs. If you like, add two eggs in step 4, when the soup is boiling.

               
    
       
                     
     
                

                        Flying tips for you, that nervous wreck boarding the airplane.                     

    
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Oh, the joys of flying. Small chairs, cramped legs, tiny bags of peanuts (if you’re lucky, these days) and awkward conversation with the person trapped next to you. Then there’s being stuck in the middle or window seat, where you must tap the person next to you on the shoulder then squeeze past them, jamming your buns in their face every time you need to use the bathroom. And I don’t know about anyone else, but I personally love sitting next to that one person who ate too many beans before the flight.

These things, coupled with an acute fear of flying, make me a nervous wreck anytime I board an airplane. Luckily, there are several things I do to reduce stress and calm my nerves, so I don’t go shrieking down the cabin aisle in panic and end up back in my seat in chair restraints.*

1. Drink water instead of coffee, soda or alcohol. Alcohol will dehydrate you and make you feel worse (although there’s something to be said for drinking enough to knock you out so you’ll wake up just as your plane is taxiing the runway). Caffeine will usually make you jittery and more apt to lose your gourd if the plane hits turbulence.
2. Bring something to keep your mind off flying. A good book, an electronic video game, an mp3 player. Try to avoid listening to songs about death and mayhem, if at all possible. If you choose to read, stick to something light, like a book you’d take to the beach, and not Chesley Sullenberger’s upcoming life story.
3. Take a stroll. If your body cramps up after awhile, you’ll be even more miserable. Even if you don’t have to go, walk to the bathroom just to stretch your legs and do some people-watching.
4. Wear comfortable clothes. If your waistband isn’t digging into your skin, you’ll feel a whole lot better. If you must emerge from the gate looking fresh and gorgeous, tuck a spare change of clothes into your carry-on and change in the bathroom before the plane’s final descent. Though be careful – one time my plane hit a spot of turbulence while I was changing my clothing in the bathroom, and I ended up looking like I’d peed my pants.
5. Choose your seat wisely. Seats in the middle of the airplane are affected by turbulence the least. Statistically, seats at the rear of the plane are safest in the event of a crash, according to the US National Transportation Safety Board. Exit aisle seats are also roomier, as long as you’re prepared to help out in an emergency.

Nerves or not, flying is arguably the best way to get around if you’re traveling long distances. Either make peace with it, and try to learn to sit back and enjoy, or be a miserable wreck on every flight. So far, I’m stuck with the latter, but trying hard to change. Instead of being nervous, try to instead focus on how incredible human flight is, like Comedian Louis CK, best summed up by his dumbstruck exclamation on the Conan O’Brien show: “You’re sitting in a chair … in the SKY!”


*As far as I am aware, air flight attendants do not physically restrain passengers just for being scared of flying. I took a bit of poetic license.

               
    
       
                     
     
                

                        Kimchi: the cure-all Koreans crave                     

    
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Photo courtesy of asianfoodgrocer.com

I love kimchi (??). I love it plain, wrapped in lettuce, in my soup and hot from the grill (although apparently no self-respecting Korean would grill their kimchi). Kimchi is also written as gimchi, kimchee and kim chee, so if you see one of these written on a restaurant menu, it’s still the same thing: a pickled dish made of various vegetables. Most commonly, the veggie of choice is cabbage, which has been soaked in spices and fermented (known as baechu), although kimchi is known to pop up in radish, cucumber or scallion forms. I personally favor the baechu variety.

As one of the major stapes in a South Korean’s diet, kimchi is a huge part of Korean culture. It is usually served as a side dish (banchan), and is also used in many other Korean dishes, including kimchi jjiggae (spicy kimchi soup) and kimchi bokkeumbap (kimchi fried rice). Both are absolutely delicious. Korean children, who have a very different idea of what constitutes a good breakfast, usually have a bowl of rice and kimchi first thing in the morning. Kimchi is so ingrained in Korean culture that living without it is not an option. The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) developed space kimchi to accompany the first Korean astronaut, Yi So-yeon, on her mission with the Russian ship Soyuz.

Korean people are quick to assure foreigners that kimchi is a vital food. Not only is it present in everyday life, but it’s also a cure for, well, everything. An elderly Korean woman once told me (in the back alley of an open air market) that kimchi is good for weight loss, a common cold, stomach problems, and headaches. It supposedly works on various mental disorders, as well. As I rarely took ill while on a steady kimchi diet, I’m convinced there’s something to it. Although to be fair, I’m personally inclined to believe anything an ajuma (elderly Korean woman) tells me. In my experience, ajumas seem to mysteriously know all kinds of things.

Most foreigners who’ve sampled kimchi grow to love it. Not only does it give you a spicy burst of flavor with a very satisfying crunch, it helps you learn to wield your chopsticks in a manner that will impress any South Korean you happen to meet (a necessary advantage while living in their country). The one drawback to kimchi – and ask any foreigner who’s lived in South Korea for awhile – is how, if eaten often enough, the odor will seep through your pores and, unlike pheromones, will not attract a member of the opposite sex.

Eat kimchi! Try Nak Won, one of the best Korean restaurants in Baltimore.

               
    
       
                     
     
                

                        Traveling in Cambodia (part two)                     

    
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Photo Courtesy of TripAdvisor.com

I was staying with my friend Donna at the Popular Guesthouse in Siem Reap, Cambodia, for $5 per night (for more information, contact the guesthouse at chom@camnet.com.kh or see the link below). The room was spacious, with enough room for me to empty the contents of my entire backpack on the floor and shovel through them at will. We’d arrived just that morning, and due to exhaustion from an extremely long night (we’d spent the previous night in the tiny library of a hostel in Vientiane, Laos, so we could catch our 4:30am flight), the two of us promptly collapsed in bed and ‘napped’ for a good seven hours. In the interest of saving money, we’d been getting rooms with just one bed and sharing it. Fortunately, neither of us snored and even I, a restless bed hog, was able to share nicely.


Photo Courtesy of Worldisround.com

When we woke up, we changed into our evening wear, which I’m sorry to say wouldn’t allow us entrance in anything swankier than a dive, and headed out to forage for food. It was pouring rain, so we decided to venture no further than our own hotel. One of the reasons the Popular Guesthouse is so, well, popular, is their rooftop restaurant. The food is tasty and cheap, there are usually other backpackers lounging about so it’s easy to make friends, and the waiters there are fast and friendly. Donna fell in love with the pumpkin soup, which smelled amazing. I had the feeling it was the start of a long and delicious relationship. After dinner, we intrepid adventurers set out to explore.


Photo Courtesy of Donna Knoesen

It was a beautiful night, and we waved and exchanged a few pleasantries with several local people as we made the short trek into town. It was bustling, especially the main streets. People were out and about, anxious to get some fresh (albeit thick and muggy) air. After prowling the streets under the guise of people watching, Donna and I stopped at Temple Bar, one of the bars along ‘Bar Street’. Temple Bar has a club downstairs and a large balcony area upstairs with a great view of the rest of Bar Street. Their menu features Khmer, Western and Thai food, and they offer cocktails and cheap beer. Informed that it was happy hour with buy two, get one free specials (apparently happy hour turns into hours at this fun place, and is from 4-9pm), we decided on a bucket of mojitos, which might be one of the most delicious drinks ever invented. Several hours later, after a lazy night of drinks and chitchat, we retired to our guesthouse to prepare for the next day.

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                        Traveling in Cambodia (part one)                     

    
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Photo Courtesy of The World in Photo, www.twip.org/

Hello, Cambodia! As the fourth stop on our several month backpacking excursion, my best friend Donna and I were stoked to finally be in Cambodia, home to Angkor Wat and Angelina Jolie’s adopted son, Maddox. We’d flown in from Vientiane, Laos, and arrived at about 8:45am. The Siem reap airport is simply gorgeous; it’s very small, just a simple, open building with lush, fragrant gardens surrounding it and a teeny courtyard filled with flowers in the center. Having already obtained our visas while in Bangkok, we bypassed the arrivals line and went straight to passport control. We scooped our bags from the single revolving baggage carousel (surprisingly, no luggage had yet been lost) and went to negotiate transportation into town.


We snagged a taxi for $5, sharing the fee with two girls from an indeterminate European country we’d met in line at the taxi stand. Our little foursome was friendly at first, but once inside the taxi, the girls lapsed into their native language and Donna and I were forced to converse with each other in plain old English. The first hostel our driver took us too was a tad expensive (a notion very subjective at this time), so we decided to push on to the next. Armed with our trusty Lonely Planet (Southeast Asia on a shoestring), we arrived at the Popular Guesthouse, near Pokambor Avenue.


Using my superior bargaining skills, I haggled the hotel 'maître'd’ down from $6 a night to $5, meaning Donna and I each paid $2.50 per night. What bargaining prowess! The room was actually quite luxurious, much more so than Donnie and I were expecting. We could have snagged a dorm room for $2, but we figured a private room was well worth the extra 50 cents. And when I say luxurious, keep in mind we'd been staying in places that didn't have flush toilets, so the sight of indoor plumbing was enough to make us flush with success and high five each other in delight. We’d made it!

               
    
       
                     
     
                

                        Bungee jumping the Bloukrans: South Africa                     

    
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I was standing on a cliff side, overlooking a valley whose unfathomable depths were broken only by a single bridge suspended across it. That bridge is the Bloukrans Bridge, located along the Garden Route in Storm’s River, South Africa, and home to the world’s highest single span arch bridge and highest bungee jump – a 216m free fall drop.

In addition to the bungee jump, Face Adrenalin (the company in charge of the whole shebang) also offers a “Flying Fox”, a 200m cable slide that propels you through the air like a trapeze artist to the underside of the bridge, where you can then, if you choose, hurl yourself off the bridge for an additional thrill (bungee, not death). They also offer a Bridge walk as an alternative to actually jumping; while remaining safely on solid ground, you can enjoy a ‘live bungee’ show. An informative guide will give you incredible facts about the bridge itself, as well as directing your view towards a spectacular view of the mountains and ocean.

So, there I was. Instead of paying money for what I believed would be a spectacular demise (death by bungee), I’d have much rather been nice and cozy on the Bridge walk. Well, that’s a complete lie; I’d rather have been safe in the car. Unfortunately, my friend Donna is a crazed fiend (I believe the politically correct term is adrenaline junkie) and she’d already convinced the third member of our little group, a brave Canadian named Andrea, that should we not jump, we would return to our home countries in a state of disgrace, our shame written all over our faces. Despite the horror of being labeled a complete wuss, I was not convinced. I am horribly afraid of heights, and the thought of setting one toe on the bridge was more than I could bear.

Yet, somehow, I was shamed into flinging myself off the side attached only to a long rubber band, plunging towards a certain death, for the bargain deal of R620 (about $74US). Even whilst signing a release form, paying for and receiving a receipt for my jump, I’d been loudly protesting. Unfortunately, I was already strapped into a yellow full-body harness, and couldn’t quite remember how it had happened.

We were herded onto the specially designed catwalk which hung below the bridge, leading to a concrete platform where loud dance music pulsed and would-be jumpers huddled in small bunches. To properly document the event, staff members were hopping around taking photos which could be purchased after jumping, if your bungee didn’t snap and send you hurtling to the river below.

Deadly pale and quivering, I was led to the edge of the bridge and secured to the bright yellow bungee cord. Two men, one on either side, hopped me to the edge. My breakfast was doing the conga in my stomach. Firmly placing their hands on my back, so I would know they were there to push me off if I hesitated, the two staff members led me in the chant that would be the last thing I ever heard … 1 … 2….3… BUNGEE!

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                        Hail Caesar!                     

    
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Attention Bloody Mary drinkers: your favorite drink is now obsolete. There’s a new drink in town – well, if you’re in Canada – and it’s called a Caesar.

A Caesar is made with vodka, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce and – the special ingredient – clamato juice. Clamato is a mixture of tomato and clam juice. Before trying my first Caesar, I imagined drinking it would be like pouring clammy seawater down my throat. Fortunately, I was wrong - while drinking clam juice sounds rather unappealing, the mixture is actually quite tasty. I fell head over heels in love.

Clamato hasn’t always been so refined. The first Caesars were made in Calgary, in 1969, to accompany the opening of a restaurant called Marco’s. Those drinks consisted of tomato juice and mashed clams. Imagine getting your drink from the bar, holding it tenderly in your hands, taking your first swallow and … blech! Clam chunks in your mouth.

To polish off the Caesar, which is served on the rocks in a celery-salt rimmed glass, the bartender adds a large celery stalk and a wedge of lime as a garnish. An intrepid bartender might mix things up a little and add a pickled green bean or a toothpick full of olives instead. I personally favor two or three toothpicks chock full of olives, with a couple pickled beans and lime on the side. I surveyed my several Canadian Caesar experts (who doesn’t have these sort of experts on hand??) about other variations on this ambrosial cocktail, and they informed me there is no limit to what tasty tidbits can be tossed in. Along with the pickled green beans and olives, Caesars have been spotted with large shrimp, asparagus stalks, or – believe it or not – pieces of beef jerky. What will they think of next?!

In honor of the Caesar’s 40th anniversary, the mayor of Calgary, Dave Bronconnier, is making a new holiday – Caesar Day. This day also marks a launch to petition for the Caesar to officially become Canada’s national drink. Hopefully by this time next year, May 13th will be a day full of deliciousness, debauchery, and national pride.

In the wise words of Molson, “Here’s to Canada.”

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