Thursday, October 16, 2014

Walk up Jebel Akhdar

Jenny and I have both been pretty busy over the summer and we have neglected getting out into the countryside. Our friends Gil and Amy had been given a book on trekking routes in Oman so we looked through and selected a grade 1 walk up in Jebel Akhdar as we thought that it would be nice and cool up there.

Jebel Akhdar, which translates from Arabic as the "green mountain" is part of the Western Hajar mountains. It takes about two hours to drive from Muscat and requires a 4x4. The road up the mountain is probably one of the best roads I've ever driven, but for some reason there is a police checkpoint at the bottom of the mountain which only permits 4x4 vehicles to drive to the top. 

The start of the trekking route is just outside the village of Al Aqur at an altitude of just over 2,000m.  This meant that the temperature was around 25C, a noticeable 10 degrees less than Muscat. We couldn't plan to go for a walk without taking Ralph, but even out of the city he attracts a lot of attention. As soon as we parked up, the car was surrounded by Omani gentlemen all looking to take pictures of Ralph. As a sign of their appreciation (it was a huge effort on my part!) they gave us some pomegranates which are one of the local delicacies. 

Jebel Akhdar is famous for its green terraces, where all the local market gardening takes place. It's obviously early in the season, but you can get the idea from the pictures above. Apparently Spring is the best time to visit, as all the roses are in bloom, but still pretty impressive views at this time of year.

We walked through the village, watched the kids playing on the roof and then down through some of the terraces. Even though it was considerably cooler than Muscat, it was still pretty warm and Ralph enjoyed cooling off in the falajes.

After about an hour of walking down through the terraces, doubling back because we'd missed one of the route markers, passing through a couple of smaller villages, meeting more locals who very generously wanted to give us more pomegranates, we arrived at the village of Sayq, the end of the trek. We stopped for a little picnic, before turning around back to the car.

According to the guide book this was only a 1km walk, but that must have surely been as the crow flies, because even with the back tracking, it shouldn't have taken that long.  The walk back was a bit more tiring as we had to climb back up the terraces and of course, this was right at the hottest part of the day. Anyway, it was nice to get out and have some exercise in somewhat fresher air and we all, especially Ralph, slept pretty well that night.

As a bonus, at least now I know if it ever comes up in a pub quiz, that pomegranates grow on trees!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Thai Cooking Class

Anyone who knows me, knows that I love food and especially dabbing in the odd bit of cooking. So it seemed appropriate whilst we were in Thailand to go and take a cooking class. After a bit of research online we selected the Silom Cooking School.

The day started off with an early morning visit to one of the local markets with our chef for the day, Hung. One of the market sellers very kindly showed us the live chicken that we were going to be cooking, but fortunately for us we didn't need to watch. 

The Chef had a wicked sense of humour alongside an amazing ability to cook some amazing dishes in a very simple manner. This is pretty much the essence of Thai food and fingers crossed some of the lessons we were given have sunk in so I can try and replicate some of these fantastic dishes. 

Making the Pad Thai

Spring Rolls with sweet chilli sauce

And yes this is Jenny cooking. First time for everything I suppose!

Chef selfie time!

Chicken Mussaman curry

Deep fried banana with coconut batter and coconut ice-cream


The final stop on our trip was three nights in Bangkok. We crammed quite a lot into these few days with a river trip, market trip and a lot of shopping. Overall I was very impressed with Bangkok and found it to be a city definitely worth visiting again. Some brilliant restaurants and cafes with plenty to see and do. 

We stayed in the W Bangkok which was a pretty cool place to hang out. Jenny seemed impressed with the cushions as you can see and took the opportunity to work out some of the anger she had built up.

This was the sky bar at the top of the Lebua State Tower. One of the coolest bars I have been to and was the same bar they used in the Hangover movie. What an amazing view!

Mekong Delta

After leaving Nha Trang we flew down to Ho Chi Minh (formerly known as Saigon), where we took a day trip down to the Mekong Delta.

We travelled to the city of My Tho, about a two and a half hour drive from Ho Chi Minh where we  took a long tail boat to an island on the Mekong Delta. Here we got to sample some of the local coconut candy and a very sweet honey drink. The very strange delicacy that I also got to taste was snake wine, pictured below with a snake and a scorpion in the bottle. It sounds much worse than it tastes!

After lunch and a ride around the villages on a motorised tuc-tuc, we took a further boat trip around the coconut swamps before heading back to town. Whilst it was a nice day out, it was all a bit too touristy for me.

Relaxing in Nha Trang

Sometimes travelling around exploring new countries can be very tiring, so when planning our trip we decided to arrange a few nights somewhere nice just to relax and recuperate - it is supposed to be our 10th anniversary trip after all.

We booked into the An Lam Ninh Van Bay villas. This was a lovely little resort with only 32 villas. We drove for about an hour North of the airport to the hotel's welcome lounge. We were then escorted on a private boat for about 15 minutes to the island itself, where we were met by the hotel manager and our private butler Hung.

Our mountain villa was spread out over three floors, the first having the private pool, the second the living room and bathroom and on the third floor was the bedroom complete with four poster bed.

The most amazing thing about this part of our trip was that coincidentally it fell exactly over the Eid holiday, so we had no emails and no phone calls to deal with - we were able to completely relax.

After a couple of days of pure indulgence, we decided that we should at least try and experience the local area, so we took a day trip into the town of Nha Trang and explored the temples and pagodas.

The hotel offers free bicycles to get around the island and runs daily treks into the jungle. We managed to drag ourselves out of bed one morning to go on the beach hike, which was definitely worth the effort. 

I can not recommend this place highly enough. It has to be one of the best hotels we have stayed in and the staff here were top notch. But unfortunately all good things must come to an end and we had a flight to Ho Chi Minh to catch so we had to wave bye to this little piece of paradise.