Thursday, September 27, 2007

Nothing Like the Flavours of Home

Was having dinner at my favourite Cantonese restaurant, Hengshan Cafe (on Hengshan Lu) when I noticed that the diners on the next table were having something that looked suspiciously like kangkong. I was suddenly struck with this overpowering craving for kangkong belacan. Called the manager, and with fingers crossed enquired if they had it. Was crestfallen when he replied with a 'no'. I spent the next WEEK (i'm not kidding) thinking about kangkong belacan and Malaysian cuisine. JJ (bless his heart) searched, and FOUND, a Malaysian restaurant that claimed to serve authentic Malaysian food. So decided to give them a try. Spoke to some guy who WHOA! turned out to be Malaysian, and I was quite taken aback to realise how THRILLED I was to speak to a fellow Malaysian... from Melaka!! He couldn't speak Malay ironically enough... (lousy Malaysian!) but knew EXACTLY what I was craving for... When asked if he served kangkong belacan, he answered "No belacan how to eat!!" oh my god I could've kissed him! Then he asked if I wanted Nasi Lemak rice! Walau, I can't remember the last time I had Nasi Lemak man!! I was so 'into' the moment of being in the presence of Malaysian food that I wouldn't eat it any other way but with my fingers... Otherwise where got 'shiok'!! The kangkong was great, the rendang was OK, the spicy assam prawns was 'power', chicken curry even more 'power', the eggplant was damn nice, and the yong tou fu was so-so... was never a big fan anyway... Next I wanna try their Bak kut teh. Better not be like Singaporean bak kut teh... It's been YEARS since I've had proper Malaysian style bak kut teh with 'you tiao'. Looking forward!!

And then Add in a Spell of Chilled Holidays...

Every time I tell people that I'm gonna be camping in -6 degree C (night time) temperatures, their reactions are always the same... "Damn that's cold! Are you sure you wanna do that?" I've heard that so often now that I'm gradually starting to doubt if it's such a great idea to camp... me, a camping virgin at that! I can't help but wonder if we're just really adventurous or have absolutely no clue what we're getting ourselves into! If you think about it, we're gonna be in some forest somewhere and therefore not have a source of light at night save the torch - so I won't be able to read, or write much. Secondly, it's hard enough knowing that i'm gonna have to (finally) pee in a bush, and now I have to do it in -6 degrees and in the dark?!?! Hmmmmmmmmmmmm.... I'm sure I'll survive it, but the thought just seems so unwelcome...

C seems to think that if I survive -10 in Mongolia I'll survive -30 in Harbin and so has proposed that we all go up to the Northern province of Heilongjiang next January for the Harbin Ice Festival followed by a skiing trip. I can't even bloody roller-blade properly!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

T-4 Days and Counting!

Godammit! i think I blew my entire October salary already on camping gear and windproof / waterproof attire. Bought sleeping bag suited for -17 deg C, waterproof hiking boots and a whole bunch of knick-knacks. Decided to rent a tent once we get to Mongolia. I still need to get my travel insurance, rabies shot, heat pads, film, water purifying tablets, more Cliff Bars (I seriously don't think JJ bought enough... I can get rather ravenous when it's cold :p), AlkaSeltzer, mild laxatives (all we'll get is meat, meat and more meat... but come to think of it, those Cliff Bars should have SOME form of fibre in them!!) and I bet a long list of other styff that I can't remember right now... sigh... But FUN FUN FUN!!!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Frolicking with Reindeer!!!

Or so I'd hoped I would be when I get into Mongolia. Unfortunately, because we only have a total of 6 days including flights in and out, we were advised by a guide against doing the whole reindeer idea. I'm sorely disappointed. Was really looking forward to riding one of those beasts! I forget just how huge the country is and even 3 weeks wouldn't get you even close to finishing the Northern region (if you were to do a proper exploration). It would take us 24 hours in a jeep along dirt roads to get to the Khovsgol National Park (bordering Russia) and another 9 hours 'crazy driving' to get to the Dhuka (reindeer herders). We had the option of flying directly into Moron (just South of the National Park) but the available flights just didn't suit our schedule. Chartering a helicopter was out of the question due to rental prices (US$1,670 per hour and it's a 9-hour flight up!!) Furthermore, we wanted to camp and get around on horse-back and that would require so many more days. So we had to scrap that itinerary.

Itinerary #2 seems more do-able. Due to the fact that public transportation is almost non-existent and hitching appears to be the norm, we're considering hiring a 4WD and a driver... to help us maximise our time there. Hitching depends alot on luck and I'd much rather be hiking up an extinct volcano than sitting on my backpack by the side of the road waiting for a vehicle going by. So from Ulaanbaatar we'll head out to Khustain National Park (100km) to check out wildlife (
takhi- wild horses of Mongolia and the last surviving ancestor of the modern horse. Extinct in the wild, the takhi are slowly being re-introduced thanks to the park's Takhi Re-Introduction Project) wolves, red deer, Mongolian gazelles, marmots, birds, etc...) and do a spot of hiking and horse-back riding. We'll stay a night or 2 (we're gonna be camping btw!!The not so fab thing is that temperatures are forecasted to fall to about -6 deg C. BRRRR....!! Plus, the last time I came even remotely close to building a fire was when I went camping with the boyscouts in 1994... since then it's been charcoal-barbecue fires and I really don't think that's gonna help :p).

Next day, we'll head out to Tsetserleg, the capital of the Arkhangai aimag (province)400km from UB. Apparently a great place to stay the night. We can also stock up on food and water. (Heard that mongolian instant noodles aren't too bad at all.)

From Tsetserleg, we'll push on to Khorgo-Terkhiin Tsagaan Nuur National Park - home to The Great White Lake and Khorgo volcano. Great for fishing, trekking, and 'dramatic' sunsets. Will probably do more horse riding (though JJ's not jumping for joy at the idea) and try to get in at least one yak ride!! Stay a night. This time maybe in a traditional 'ger', the nomadic mongolian tent. Stay a night or 2 then head back to UB.

Stop by Karakorum - ancient capital of the Mongol Empire founded by Chinggis Khan. Stay a night.

Head back to UB.

So that's the rough plan but as in all holidays, you'll never know what's gonna happen particularly when you're in a country where the only paved roads you'll see are in the towns. But excited none the less!!!

Saturday, September 15, 2007