Food Glorious Food

One of the problems with  rapid tourist growth on an island is that things get thrown up in an hurry to meet the ever growing demand. Here on Phu Quoc the “strip” from what was the old sleepy fishing village  down to the end of Long Beach is just that a strip lined with restaurants and travel agents selling excursions. The local catch here is squid and prawns plus some local king fish. The rest is brought in from the mainland by boat.  So the locals who threw up a shack with tables and chairs and a makeshift kitchen with the loo in the middle of it were somewhat hampered for choice. Some bright spark ( all puns intended) came up with the idea of cooking the three staples on a BBQ and then tossing some rice or noodles onto the plate and serving it. The rest quickly followed and that is the choice down almost the entire strip. Great for a backpacker getting a few days of rays after a long trek through Vietnam before heading off to Cambodia some 3 hours away but not so great for the two week holiday maker. Then try us on our 4th week here and you realise why we are leaving before planned and also heading off into Cambodia.

I really haven’t been good at recommending places to eat on this blog unlike many other bloggers. One man’s meat is another man’s etc etc. But let me assure you that we have had to kiss an awful lot of frogs to get to being able to say where we most like to eat and we have suffered during the night and often all the next day in that quest to find a prince. Most Vietnamese just don’t know how to BBQ and of course what they don’t use that night goes back in a freezer and then is defrosted again the next day and so on until it is sold. health and safety would have a field day here.

However before we eat we have to have a sundowner or three so where do we go for those? Most restaurants are happy that you sit and just have beer but the majority are on the increasing busy main road so we look on the beach.

This one should be the king of all bars

Headland bar

 

it sits on the headland between the two parts of Long Beach and gets the cooling winds as well as some great views and sunsets

Sunset on Phu Quoc

 

It should be packed but it is run by a gloriously inefficient Vietnamese lady who rushes about doing almost nothing. 20 mins to order a beer and then 20mins for it to arrive. Who knows where she goes or what she does. It is a fact of life and maybe an endearing feature of the local people that they have no memory at all. It is not even the last person they talked to syndrome. Ten paces from the table they took the order it has gone from the mind as if it were never there they wander away and start on some other task and you sit there expecting within minutes a couple of cold bottles of beer to arrive. 10 mins later they wander past your table without a flicker of memory that they ever took an order from you. So you need a bar where the bar person  is close to you and the supply with no distractions in-between. This one is rough and ready but hits the two key objectives

Sundowner bar

 

Yes those are infant school class room chairs and yes you sit on them. It is like being back at the parent teacher meetings where the teacher in oder to rush you along sits you in little Freddies chair so you can view his scribblings, but the beer cooler is 5 paces away and the guy sits within feet of you and has nothing else to do and no real distractions. You can even get squids and fish from him and his BBQ is clever

BBQ

 

a kitchen sink !!! Now before i discovered the delights of an outside wood oven I used to do a load of BBQ and have a Webber at home. I went one time to buy the attachment they sell that gives you a workspace on the BBQ and realised that to buy it i would need to take out a fourth mortgage on the house. This local lad has solved that problem instantly clever fellow.  I’ve never been brave enough to eat anything from him but have seen others do it though to be fair i have never seen them ever again.

So after the sunset and the beer to the restaurant

Canadianand there is the champion after 4 weeks of testing. It is just by La Veranda Resort if you are ever down this way. The place is run by a Vietnamese family but they have a Canadian ex restauranteur as an advisor. He sold his house in Vancouver at the height of the housing bubble and bought a motor home for the summer to tour around visiting friends in Canada and invested the rest to pay for winters in the sun on Phu Quoc. He stayed at one of the cottages the family rent and offered to help out in return for beer and food. He also bought with him his 250,000 tune music library and each day he compiles two playlists one for lunch and one for dinner. As he says the music therefore matches his mood or hangover and we have sat there some evenings feeling maybe he wants everyone to cut their wrists. However the food is good, not a BBQ in sight and because as he in a very unCanadian way boasts that his place is by far the most popular on the beach or on the strip the turnover in food is very rapid.

A second place mention must go to Ganesh the indian restaurant who not only serve great curries but prove that you can take locals and turn them into good waiters. They bring in teams of Nepalese managers, head cooks and supervisors and train the local workforce. it is an impressive organisation with staff eager to serve you and never once forgetting why they are in a restaurant and wandering off to look at the sky.

All this is making me thirsty and hungry so I’m off

 

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The Wheels on the Train

go round and round.

So last sunday morning we were deposited by taxi outside Hua Lampong Train Station in Bangkok. The train didn’t go till 0805 hrs so we were early, a very unusual thing in our household. The night before I asked the ever friendly reception staff at The Cabochon Hotel how long it would take by cab to the station. The three of them considered the question and then came up with , one hour, 30 minutes and 15 minutes. Sunday morning I said, yes but all stuck to their guns. 7 kms by road I said but they were not for turning. take the Skytrain and the metro said the guy in charge. you will carry the bags I asked and we were back on taxis . In the end we went with 7a.m. and 10 minutes later we were on the platform ! Mind you the cab driver obviously freed on a Sunday morning from the usual gridlocked traffic system decided to show us his Sebastian Vettel aggressive driving techniques and we took on all challengers including a few buses in our dash there. Still 80 baht ( £1.60 ) seemed a bargain and we had time for a coffee before the train left.

At 8 a.m. there was no sign of the train as we and crowds of others stood looking expectantly up the line. This train goes all the way south to Surat Thani arriving there at about 5 p.m. so I expected something pretty substantial to come in with loads of carriages and some huge engine at the front. I was surprised when in chugged a three carriage little diesel train. you know the ones with the diesel engine under each carriage that do little commuter routes in the UK ? Can’t be it I said knowledgeably to Geraldine they must be changing the platform . No one else shared my view and belongings were being gathered as it came to an halt.

I don’t know if you have seen Dr. Zhivargo  but there is a scene in that when the train arrives at Moscow station and people start to rush to the doors to get on the cattle trucks . This was like that. You would have had no idea we all held tickets with seat numbers already reserved. People were throwing children up the stairs lobbing suitcases up there anything to get themselves on the train. It is of course infective and I almost threw Geraldine into carriage 1. Our reserved seats were taken by a couple of Scots who seemed reluctant to move to their allocated seats and spent the rest of  trip glaring at us from two rows back as if some how we had managed to get one up on them.

The train is air conditioned and each carriage has about 74 seats plus a galley with a stewardess . The ground staff load a microwave into each one and a load of pre packed food and by 8.15 we were on our way.

Like almost every main line station route out of any huge city this one is equally depressing. Rows and rows of shanty town wooden huts and small houses nestle right up to the track . Each however had a satellite dish on the roof. Quickly the trolley was out and coffee and water served . Not bad for £10 I said to Geraldine . Rail fares are cheap in Thailand.

The train cantered through downtown Bangkok stopping at unpronouncable stations and a few more passengers joined . Then once in the open countryside like the Master of the Titanic the driver obviously said to his three colleagues ( there is also some overmanning on Thai railways)” let her have her legs lets see what she can do first officer” or the equivalent in Thai and we increased our speed to some 45 MPH .

We chugged through endless paddy fields as the train slipped further and further behind schedule ( Thai trains don’t run on time) . Lunch was wheeled out on the trolley and everyone got an airline style meal cooked in the microwave. The carriage is  set up 2 seats by 2 seats and everyone has a fold  down tray except the bulkhead seats. No guesses where we were seating. Bulkheaders balance their meal, glass of water, hot coffee etc on their knees as the train sways along down the track. We declined the meal as I tend to drop that kind of thing according to Geraldine. The Scots continued to bore holes in our backs even though we clearly had the infirior seats. Train to Baan Krut

The view from the back and you can see the bulkhead seats, on the right is the galley.

The air conditioning is vicious and if you do the trip take a sweater to wear. in fact the only thing that prevents the entire train going down with frost bite is the that it only really works when the train is bouncing along at full tilt. Any change in engine pitch like slowing down or speeding up is clearly too much for the system and it goes off. Thank god I have to say as I hadn’t got a sweater and had no hot food to help either having declined the meal . Mind you I dread to think the mess I might have made.

By Hua Hin we were 40 minutes behind schedule. Loads got off there but all the seats were quickly replaced this time by mainly back packing foreigners heading south to Phuket and Ko Samui  I was somewhat amazed to find that Baan Krut our destination was still 90 minutes away. Where on earth had I managed to book. Still they said in the blurb it was unspoilt I said to a sceptical Geraldine.

The loo is not an hole in the floor but flushing is by using an hose which on a train rocking and rolling south can lead to a  rather wet pool like floor and fitments. Add to this the male propensity to stand even though the train is leaping about and it is probably not somewhere for girls to go.

the loo

But hey I’ve seen a lot worse than this one haven’t you ?

We arrived at Baan Krut 60 minutes late and were met by two hotel staff and stacked into the back of a small truck .The town was almost non existent and soon we were out on an empty road heading for the Ban Montra Resort ( can I find them ).

As we arrived a taxi was pulling up and from it came an Aussie and his Thai wife . ” Where the expletive are we ?” he asked . “jesus Christ this is the bloody back of beyond.” They had booked it thinking it was just outside Hua Hin and instead of the 3,000 baht they had agreed with  the cab guy in Bangkok he now wanted 8,000 baht ( £170 ). More good old Aussie expletives and they and we were checked in. The four of us were the only people in the hotel as it turned out. Well they said it was quiet.

Up and Running

For 7 months I have been writing a daily blog about life in Puglia at Here In Puglia whilst living in the heel of Italy. However I am now, with Geraldine, setting off on Wednesday to travel in South East Asia.

We plan to head from Hong Kong where we land to Thailand first and then over a five month period  work our way through Cambodia Laos and Vietnam to finish up in Hanoi before returning to Hong Kong to see the daughter again poor thing.

Planning is well in hand with a flight now booked to Hong Kong and some vague ideas about where we go after that beginning to take some kind of shape  which let me say before Geraldine says it is for me is the height of organisation. I have even ventured on to a few hotel booking sites and am already amazed at how full things are. Others clearly spend much longer getting their own trip off the ground than I do. Still I’m sure it is better to hang loose and see how things pan out. What is that saying about doing something in haste and repenting at leisure ?

I guess I’m having a very delayed gap year having missed out on one some 47 years ago. Mind you I went to sea straight from school and found myself sailing around the world on a P&O Orient line passenger ship which was probably as good if not better than many of todays actual gap year experiences.

I’ll be trying to post everyday and give you a flavour of the places we visit during this trip far away from the delights of Puglia. I shall miss my friends in Puglia my Italian food and more especially my Italian wine but probably won’t miss the cold and the rain and snow of a Puglian winter. Surprisingly it gets very chilly down here and neither the houses nor the bars and restaurants are made to cope with it.  Indeed a fair chunk of our spending money is made up from monies we are saving in gas, electricity and wood for the two log burning fires.

I hope many of you readers are gonna go my way too by just following me here on this blog