Archive for October, 2013
Most visitors to Thailand are struck by the obvious spirituality of the place, a paradox in a way, because life, particularly in Bangkok, is as frenetic and modern as anywhere in the world. Over 93 percent of the population in Thailand practices Buddhism, according to the Pew Research Center, and this religion permeates almost every aspect of life there – from the culture to the architecture to the people.
So it’s no surprise that visiting Thailand was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Liz Hutchins, a member of the Friendly Planet Travel Reservations Team and our resident SE Asia expert, and you’ll see why when you read her account of her trip to this fascinating destination.
“My trip to Vietnam last year helped me realize that I absolutely love traveling to Southeast Asia. Once I was advised I was being invited by the tourism board to see Thailand, I literally jumped at the opportunity. The spiritual side of Asia has always been a big part of its draw for me. I was brought up as a Christian, but I have always appreciated and respected all religions, Buddhism in particular. Getting to immerse myself in the Buddhist culture was very eye-opening, and as you can see, was right on time, for I was about to enter a new chapter of my life …
Our tour started in the busy city of Bangkok. Here we saw popular sites like the Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha. Because of their enormous significance, each site had more tourists than the last, which made our experience feel very fast-paced and exciting. But my favorite temple that we visited was Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep.
If you’ve never visited this part of the word, it’s a juxtaposition of new and old, modern and traditional, exotic and familiar. The languages of Malaysia and Thailand, however, are usually difficult for travelers from the West to navigate.
Consider, for example, that there are virtually no similarities between English and Thai or Malay. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn a few key words and phrases that will help you get around and earn you lots of smiles and big-time approval from the locals when you test your skills.
We’ve put together a chart of some of these common words and phrases. Click on them for an easy-to-print version and keep them in your wallet for easy access on your trip! (more…)
To everyone who loves travel, exploring local cuisine is one of the best aspects of visiting a new place. And as we’ve been covering all things South Africa because we’re giving away a free trip for two to this fascinating locale on our Facebook page (now closed), we couldn’t help bringing you our take on the “hit list” of South African foods in this installment of our South African Explorer Series.
South Africa’s cuisine has Malay, Dutch, French, British, Indian and Eastern European influences, which, when combined with locally available food, results in a unique assortment of tasty treats. Here are seven of the most popular and delicious foods available in South Africa.
Braai (Pronounced as in “rye”). The most popular type of food in South Africa is braai, which is Afrikaans for “barbecue” or “grill.” It also refers to the social custom of gathering friends and family over for a pot-luck style meal that focuses mainly on barbequed meat. Chicken, pork, beef, lamb, mutton, or “boerewors” (see below) is prepared over an open flame made with wood, charcoal, or briquettes, although using gas has also become more common in recent years.
Braai is often served with pap, a thick type of porridge, along with various sauces, such as Mrs H.S. Ball’s Chutney, a bottled chutney sauce brand that is wildly popular with South Africans. In South Africa, “ketchup” as we know it is referred to as “tomato sauce.” Chutney is used by many South Africans the way Americans use ketchup.
Braai is a very important social custom in South Africa. It’s how locals celebrate Christmas, birthdays, graduations, and special events in their lives. You’ll get plenty of chances to taste Braai when you visit South Africa.
Boerewors (Pronounced bur-eh-vors). This is the most important meat for your braai and practically a national institution. It looks similar to Italian sausage with a very distinctive flavor. But don’t call boerewors “sausage” in South Africa, or you’ll get a hot dog! No self-respecting South African would consider a braai without boerewors, and here’s a tip. You can brush your ‘wors’ with Mrs H.S. Ball’s Chutney before putting it on the braai!
Rusks. You’ll certainly encounter these hard pieces of bread if you travel to South Africa. They’re most commonly served with tea or coffee before a game drive. When you return after your game drive for a hearty South African breakfast, you’ll likely see them on the buffet again. (Rusks taste best dunked in coffee or tea.)
Rooibos tea (Pronounced roy-boss). The rooibos plant is native to South Africa, and the leaves are used to make one of the country’s most popular drinks — rooibos tea. It’s often served in the same fashion as black tea with milk or sugar, although it is caffeine-free. Rooibos tea is becoming popular around the world for its health benefits, including its antioxidants and phenolic compounds. It’s said to help with tension, allergies, and digestive issues.
Bunny chow. The recipe for bunny chow is simple: curry with mutton, lamb, chicken, or beans in a hollowed-out bread loaf. It’s a delicious treat unique to Durban that dates back to the 1940s. Here are a few tips for ordering your bunny chow: It comes in a quarter, half, or full loaf. According to local slang, simply ask for the size and the kind in one short phrase. If you want a quarter loaf of mutton, say “quarter mutton.” Oh, and yes, Mrs Ball’s Chutney goes well with bunny chow, too!
Biltong (Pronounced bill-tong). This is the national snack of South Africa, and is similar to beef jerky, although it can be made from a variety of meats, such as beef or game. This is eaten at sports games, at home, and anywhere.
Bobotie (Pronounced bor-bor-tee). This is a dish of minced meat with egg topping, similar in consistency to meatloaf. It was among the first dishes created in South Africa that takes influences from both the East and West, and the result is a spicy, flavorful dish. Bobotie has a mild curry flavor and is eaten with rice and Mrs Balls Chutney. If you’re getting the idea that Mrs. Balls Chutney goes with a lot of foods, you’re right! South Africans are known to put it on everything, from bobotie to scrambled eggs.
Braai, bunny chow, bobotie — I’m hungry just thinking about it! Which would you want to try first in South Africa? Let us know in a comment below.
Check out this week’s Friday Funny from cartoonist Dave Blazek!
Most of us work our regular jobs so we can afford life’s special pleasures, like exploring unknown destinations through travel. But what if your job was to explore those unknown destinations every day? That’s what Darryn Murray gets to do as Head Game Ranger at Entabeni Private Conservancy in South Africa. He spends his days taking travelers on safari through the bush in search of the Big Five game and other wildlife that call South Africa their home.
We wanted to get a glimpse into what Entabeni is like through the eyes of a game ranger, so we asked Darryn to answer a few questions for us, and he was happy to oblige. Read on for our Q-and-A with him!
Q: How did you become a game ranger?
A: Well, it started off with my parents. I grew up in Johannesburg, and I was very involved in taking holidays on game reserves and things like that. So it was just a natural thing that I got into when I finished schooling. I did a two-year course studying game ranging and lodge management at Damelin West Rand, and then we did our practical at Entabeni Nature Guide Training.
Q: What’s a normal day like for you?
A: No two days are alike at our job. A day could be anything from getting up at 5:30 in the morning and taking travelers on a morning game drive or bush walk. Or I could come in around noon for an afternoon game drive. We also do night game drives along with star gazing. It all depends on what the guests are looking for, and what’s the best way to spend their time that day.
Q: What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever seen in the reserve?
A: We’ve seen two or three lion hunts with guests on game drives. We’ve also seen cheetahs hunting. But I think probably the most memorable thing is the time we got up close and personal with a lion while on a bush walk with guests. It was kind of scary — a 200 kg male lion coming that close — but everyone was OK. It was a great source of adrenaline, and a fantastic memory — once it was all over! (more…)