SpiceRoads Blog

Eating like a local in Thailand

Posted on: April 3rd, 2017 by Sujittra
Posted in: Thailand

Table manners can be an issue in social situations if you’re new to a country or a culture. Most Thais are forgiving (and entertained) if visitors are at least trying to be polite, but here are some pointers so when you “eat like a local”, it means more than that you can handle spicy foods!

Step away from the chopsticks


A major misconception, especially in the West, is that all Asians use chopsticks. We don’t. In Thailand, chopsticks are normally used for noodle dishes or in Chinese, Japanese, or Korean restaurants. Typically, a spoon and fork are the main utensils. The spoon goes in your dominant hand, and the fork is used to push food onto the spoon to create the perfect mouthful. No need to chase rice around your plate with a fork or chopsticks. Also, don’t expect to see a knife among the table setting since Thai dishes are normally prepared with bite-sized cuts of ingredients.

Know how to share properly
One of the joys of a Thai meal is that you get to share a variety of dishes with your companions, family style. While having a greater selection for your meal is terrific, Thais are very hygienic, so seeing you dig into the main bowl of “gaeng kiew wan” with the spoon that was just in your mouth may put them off their meal, or from eating with you again. So, refrain from using your own spoon or fork to scoop food from the centre dishes onto your plate. Serving spoons usually come with shared entrées, but if there isn’t one, ask for a “chon klang” (center spoon).

There’s no need to pile up your plate
You want to make sure you have room to try everything, so only take a spoonful or two (remember, the serving spoon) from each entrée. You may want to keep your rice separated on your dish – plain rice is a good add to the mix in your spoon if you think it may be too spicy or to eat on its own if your last mouthful was a little too fiery for your taste. Also, keep in mind that there’s really no concept of “courses” in Thai meals. Dishes are often served as they’re ready, unless you request for something to come out first.

Pass the salt?


Salt and pepper are not condiments you’ll find at a typical Thai table. Some dishes have their own sauces you can add (with their own little serving spoon). The main condiment is “naam pla prik” (or some say “prik naam pla”). Either way, that’s fish sauce with chilis. With this, you can add saltiness or spiciness. Normally, just add a little to the section you’re working on. No need to sprinkle it all over your dish. You may find that you don’t need more than a few bites with it. And beware, fish sauce can be quite pungent, so try not to get any on you.

Keep the noise down
Another misconception is that eating noisily is how you show that you’re enjoying your meal. Not in Thailand. All those typical scoldings from childhood stand – chew with your mouth closed, cover your mouth if you must burp, don’t talk with your mouth full. This goes for utensil use. Try not to clang your spoon against your plate too much.

When in Rome…. (Or Bangkok)
Thais are known as easy going for a reason. We love to share our food and culture and are happy when others take an interest, so as I said at the beginning, as long as you are good natured and are trying your best, you’ll be given a lot of leeway for any missteps. Don’t worry – feel free to ask, or take a moment and watch what others are doing. But, no matter what, enjoy!

Riders of the month – 4 Cyclists from Norway!

Posted on: March 21st, 2017 by Sujittra

March 2017 features not one, but four riders! Introducing four cyclists from Norway: Margot Lothe Pedersen,  Mia Johanne Marie Lervik, Sverre Lervik, and Hildur Aase.

  • Tell us about your earliest experiences as a cyclist…

Hildur: My first experience as a cyclist was in France in 1996 when we were 4 friends cycling together.

Sverre: My first experience was in Ireland in 2013 when Hildur and I had a week cycling trip using the tour operator’s map.

Margot: My first experience abroad was Cycling Coastal Thailand with SpiceRoads last year.

Mia: As a “long trip rider” my first experience was in Cambodia, in March 2015, with SpiceRoads, together with my brother, Sverre and his girlfriend, Hildur.

  • Tell us what you most enjoy about cycle touring and why you like to see the world by bicycle?

Hildur: I like cycling in a warm climate with guides that are sympathetic and know their culture and profession.

Sverre: I like to experience the world slowly.

Mia: There are several reasons for me to like to see the world by cycling:
1) It takes me to interesting areas where I’d never dared to visit on my own, or even together with the other guys.

2) It makes it possible to meet local people and learn about their lifestyle and conditions.

3) I like to do some training, and cycling long distance is a great opportunity to do it combined with a lot of other experiences.

4) I learn a lot about the history and culture in the lands we visit.

5) I love to cycle in Asia because people are so friendly. As we cycle, we get a chance to enjoy the beautiful views and breath in fresh air.

6) The routes are nice and the supported van is very functional and useful, especially when we have to take highway to avoid traffic.

7) In winter time in Norway it is cold, sometimes snowing or heavy raining, therefore it is great to visit Asia and cycle, light-dressed in the nice weather and temperature.

8) On the first 2 tours we were cycling together with people from different parts of the world, and we appreciated that very much. Some of them have become good friends and we are still keeping in touch. The last trip was arranged for our group separately, which had some advantages too, for example we were free to choose alternative routes, restaurants, and pauses without big discussions.

9) The food has been extraordinary. On the Cambodian tour, it was sometimes a little too simple, due to the lack of restaurants, especially in the northern part. But overall it was ok. On our last tour, our guide Yo was extremely clever to compose rich, savoury and various meals, always telling us what was in the different courses and how spicy it was.

Margot:I think Mia – in a good way -has expressed what we all feel!! (Thanks to her!!)

  • How many cycle tours have you been on with SpiceRoads and which has been your favourite?

Hildur: 3. Cambodia for their dramatic political history and all the children that welcomed us all the time.

Sverre:3. Same as Hildur

Margot:I have been on 2 tours with Spice Roads – Coastal Thailand and River of Kings Ride. They are both my favourites !!

Mia: I have been on 3 tours with SpiceRoads: Cambodia (from the Thailand border via Siem Reap to Phnom Penh), Coastal Thailand ( Bangkok to Khao Lak) and Kings of Rivers (Chiang Mai to Bangkok). It is very difficult to say which one has been my favorite. On every tour I was thinking the same thing “This is the best tour ever”. The last trip though “Chiang Mai to Bangkok”, I have to say, had the most beautiful scenery, great routes and very nice and clean.

  • Where would you like to cycle next?

Hildur: Croatia

Sverre: Croatia (with Hildur)

Margot: I should like to come to Asia or Thailand once more!!

Mia: Difficult to say, but someplace in Asia I hope. Our group has an average age of 72.5 years, so we are not able to choose the heaviest tours. The tour grade of 3 suits us best, and that means there are some tours we don’t have capacity for. Burma, Laos, Vietnam could be interesting, Sri Lanka too, if the tours are not too tough. Maybe SpiceRoads are willing to look at that problem?

  • In your opinion what is the benefit of travelling by bicycle?

Hildur: Bicycling makes me happy and I have to exercise before I go.

Sverre: Exercising is fun and it is good to be away from a dark rainy winter.

Margot:Travelling by bicycle is amazing!!

Mia:In my opinion I have already answered this question. I just love it!

  • Anything you would like to share with us?

Hildur: I had an accident this time and your guide and driver did an excellent job taking me to hospitals as we went along.

Sverre: local production of different produce is fun.

Margot: SpiceRoads as a company doing is a good job for their clients!  Thank you!

Mia: My experience with SpiceRoads is very good. Both booking and paying system works perfect, and we also are very pleased with the contact with the company from beginning to end.

 

Thanks Mia, Margot, Sverre, and Hildur for sharing your experience with us! The four of you are testament to how much fun traveling by bike can be when you’re in good company!

 

You can’t bike through the mall

Posted on: March 8th, 2017 by Sujittra
Posted in: Southeast Asia

Going to the mall does have its place in our lives, more about health but don’t let the lure of the food court and luxury goods make you forget the joys of exploring the myriad markets that have been and still are an integral part of life, especially in South East Asia.

Each SpiceRoads trip is designed to bring you up close to the local cultures and landscapes of every location visited. There are reasons why malls aren’t included on the itineraries!

Local life in action

While some markets may feel like tourist traps, we visit markets that are still hubs of local activity. Before the advent of supermarkets and shopping malls, the local market was where people went to find whatever they needed or to buy that special something to commemorate a holiday or occasion. This is still the case in many places today.

Zegyo market in Mandalay is an amazing network, heaving with life and trade. Although there is a nod to the coming of malls with several modern buildings of wholesale shops, there is still so much going on in the streets outside. A major centre for the people of Mandalay, you can find everything from fresh ingredients to cooked meals, from fabric to ready to wear clothes, from gems to jewellery.

Come see for yourself and join us on an exploration of Zegyo market and much more on Mandalay’s Monasteries by Bike 

Inexpensive shopping

Photo by: AsiaWebDirect

No trip is complete without buying a little something for yourself (or maybe as gifts for friends and family back home). A t-shirt from the mall could be a little too generic and probably costly when compared to the bargains you can find at the market.

Less “floating” and more “by the water”, Bang Nam Pheung market is tucked away in an area of Samut Prakarn known as Bangkok’s “green lung” for the abundant, lush plant life flourishing in the community. The market is a popular stop for city denizens needing a breath of fresh air, and for bargain hunting for local fruits, foods, housewares, and clothing.

Discover a quieter aspect of Bangkok on a trip to the Bangkok Jungle 

Traditional handicrafts

Some shopping malls may reflect local cultures, but, let’s face it, the usual suspects like the Gap, H&M, and Body Shop, are what you’re likely to encounter. Most traditional artisans probably can’t afford the rents. But they do converge at the local market.

The Night Handicraft Market on Sisavangvong Road in Luang Prabang is an incredible destination if you’re looking for indigenous arts and crafts. Here local artists and craftspeople from all over the region congregate to hawk their wares. You can find delicate silver trinkets, homespun textiles, handmade wood utensils and carvings and so much more. The shopping fun begins around sunset, so you’ll be saved from the sun’s heat while exploring these treasures.

Cool down and pick up some local Lao handicrafts on the Luang Prabang Night Ride 

Local delicacies

McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks may be a familiar sight with offerings you know well, but is that why you’re on holiday? Eat like a local and visit one of the many markets where you can find exotic fruits at their peak of freshness or where you can try a dish that you’ll never see on a Dean & Deluca menu!

Wandering around Klong Lad Pli and Damnoen Saduak floating markets will not only give you a visual feast, showing you how life in Bangkok once relied on merchants travelling by boat to sell their products to communities along canals and waterways, but you can also literally feast on mouth-watering foods like nowhere else. Don’t just look for mango and sticky rice — have some Kuay Teow Reua (Boat Noodles) fresh off a boat or try a grilled coconut patty (kanom paeng jee).

Visit two floating markets and other quaint sites on the Floating Market ride 

Incredible people watching


In some places, people go to the mall to be seen as much as to shop. This may lead to an artificial ambiance, although that might just be the lighting and the air-conditioning. But a visit to a local market can provide not only singular shopping and eating opportunities, but you can observe people in their natural habitat, so to speak, while most likely being observed yourself as well by bemused locals!

The road to Sankampaeng market offers remarkable insights into the lives of artisans in Northern Thailand. The market itself is a bustling centre for locals buying fresh fruits and vegetables. Then, you can visit various craft centres and watch craftspeople at work, creating the wonderful handicrafts giving you a better understanding of what went into each piece and hopefully an engaging story to share when you get home.

Find out how those works of art and souvenirs are made during a trip to the Lanna Countryside 

Different times and places

Malls are reliable. We know what shops are there; we know when they open and close. But sometimes, you may get a late-night shopping urge that can only be met at one of the many markets that don’t start going until sunset and stay open very late. No need to wait for that extended hour sale like you would for your favourite mall.

In the centre of Chiang Mai, the Night Bazaar on Chang Klan Road is a fascinating panoply of local arts and crafts, often sold by the local hilltribe villagers that made them. All of this occurs under starlight (and streetlight and market stall light), so you don’t have to hurry through dinner to get your shopping done. This place is open until midnight!

Enjoy an evening of market fun with the Chiang Mai Night Ride 

Every market has so much more to offer

Please don’t get me wrong, just because I mentioned one market under one description doesn’t mean that that market doesn’t offer the joys I discussed in another section (call it writer’s prerogative). Each and every one of these markets exude an intriguing local charm, with its own local delicacies, wares, and riches that all deserve a visit. And the best part, all these featured trips are either one or half a day, so you can fit any of these into your holiday schedule (or if you live nearby, for a quick getaway).

Rider of the month – Megan Hassett

Posted on: February 21st, 2017 by Sujittra

Tell us about your earliest experiences as a cyclist…

For as long as I can remember I have always cycled. Pictures of me riding date back to me are still in nappies! But I’d say my first vivid memories are of when I was a teenager. I grew up on a cattle farm in rural NSW/Australia that while not exactly remote far enough away from anything to need either a car OR a bicycle! I’ve always been naturally active and inquisitive about exploring and the world in general. In being active I gravitated towards the bicycle. I think, dosage reflecting back, it would have given me as a child a sense of freedom to go further than what I could have on foot. I enjoyed the independence of being able to visit friends on neighboring properties at an age when I couldn’t drive. I even started cycling to high school, 27 km, a few times.

Tell us what you most enjoy about cycle touring and why you like to see the world by bicycle?

Oh my goodness seriously! Is there any better way to see the world other than on a bike? I didn’t think so either. When exploring another country on a bicycle I feel like I’m featuring in a live stream documentary that is unraveling before my very eyes. While walking offers a similar sensation the bicycle takes one further and allows a deeper up close and personal experience with a new culture. I honestly feel like I have been naturally injected with adrenaline while exploring the new lay of the land by bike saying hello in a new language (albeit a butchered attempt) to all my thousands of new local friends in between marveling at new vistas that sweat up an appetite to eat the local cuisine and enjoy double the quantity than those on a bus would need or deserve. Cycling connects the individual with nature combined with a human element. It also better connects the traveler with another culture and bonds the companionship of the pack also riding in the peloton. Often the greater the challenge the richer the reward in many senses. Overall the best of us cyclists become bored with our daily routes at home and crave, well I do, new roads to explore.

How many cycle tours have you been on with SpiceRoads and which has been your favorite?

Two. I enjoyed Sri Lanka the most. It was the perfect mix of cycling, cultural experiences along the way, incredible lush beauty, boutique hotels, beyond surplus sumptuous local cuisine and on site massages!

Where would you like to cycle next?

I’d be quite keen for Italy. Think pizza and pasta carbloading washed down with quality wine and coffee. The ideal cycling diet. That and the scenery. “WOW FACTOR” scenery is a must as well and Italy, especially the alps, would deliver with the pizza!

In your opinion, what is the benefit of travelling by bicycle?

*Stress reduction.

*Natural endorphin.

*Platform for thinking/creativity – my best lesson plans (I’m currently teaching) are planned when I’m out cycling.

*Health and healthy appetite.

*Associating with authentic people. I rarely find that cyclists are pre madonna type individuals!

 

A Circus that is ‘Same Same But Different’

Posted on: February 7th, 2017 by Sujittra
Posted in: Cambodia

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A popular expression in Asia is “Same Same But Different” and this perfectly describes Phare, the Cambodian Circus show in Siem Reap. It is held in a big top, but there are no animals performing, marking it different from your traditional circus. It is similar to Cirque de Soleil in the acrobatics performed, but the difference is all the performers are young people from the streets, orphanages and struggling families of Cambodia.

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The shows rotate often and the one I saw, “Same Same But Different,” explores the different habits and ways between Cambodians and western tourists. In the different situations portrayed, there are funny encounters and opposing perspectives, but in every situation they find understanding and connect at a human level. The performers are incredibly talented and one very impressive moment is when two of the artists play tourists stuck in a monsoon, dance out of the mud and are lifted into the air by rigging and they fly in a beautiful sequence of aerial acrobatics.

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All of the shows use theater, music, dance and modern circus arts to tell uniquely Cambodian stories; historical, folk and modern. The performers are graduates of Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPSA), an NGO school and professional arts training center in Battambang, Cambodia.

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PPSA was founded in 1994 by nine young Cambodian men returning home from a refugee camp after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. At the camp they took drawing classes and found art to be a powerful tool for healing. When they returned home they began offering free drawing classes to street children. Soon they opened a school, eventually offering formal education and professional arts training in the areas of visual arts (illustration, painting, graphic design, and animation), theater, music, dance, and circus. Today more than 1,200 pupils attend the public school daily and 500 attend the vocational arts training programs. All programs are offered for free.

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In 2013, with the aim of financial self-sufficiency, PPSA created Phare Performing Social Enterprise (PPSE) to create meaningful employment opportunities for Cambodian artist, create financially sustainable social businesses that provide a reliable income streams for Phare Ponleu Selpak and to revitalise the arts sector in Cambodia.

Phare, the Cambodian Circus opened in February 2013 and there now nightly professional shows under a 330-person big top, 365 days a year with 75% of profiting PPSA. The shows do sell out so be sure to book in advance.

Riders on our Angkor Family Explorer tour experience the big top and we also offer the option of participating in a workshop with the circus before the show. For any of our riders in Siem Reap we are happy to arrange tickets and transport to and from the show.