Living in Niamey, Niger – My Experience

Niamey Niger Woman

I recently had the opportunity to speak at a Meetup event attended by fellow travel enthusiasts in Bangkok. I was asked to speak about a country that folks might find interesting. So I decided to speak about my previous country of residence, Niger. As nervous as I was to speak in public, I rather enjoyed the experience! Folks also seemed to enjoy the presentation and there were a few that were even interested in traveling to Niger.

Before moving to Niger I tried to do some research on what I should expect living there. There wasn’t much out there on the Internet that got me excited to be going. In fact, most of it was pretty scary stuff about kidnappings and terrorist activities. I recently looked online and there still just isn’t much information out there for folks interested in traveling to Niamey, Niger.

Since I lived there for 2 years from 2014-2016 I have some knowledge that I can contribute. It’s different than my usual food or travel articles–because I lived there. But it’s a story worth telling and this blog is my podium to an Internet audience. I do hope you find this useful.

Get a cup of coffee and strap in…

You will find this to be a much longer article than what I usually write. There is also a lot more pictures. That’s because there’s a lot of information gaps out there and I want to cover the topic thoroughly. There is a lot to see and do in Niamey that deserves some coverage. Even so, I couldn’t possibly cover EVERYTHING so it’s just the broad strokes. I am happy to cover any particular information gaps you find as well as provide more recommendations if you contact me.

Who goes there?

Niger doesn’t exactly have a booming tourist industry. But there are many folks who visit or live there that work in NGOs (Non-governmental Organizations). There are also travel enthusiasts who want to “cross off” Niger from their lists. For those who are traveling to Niamey, Niger for whatever reason this article can be your one stop recommendation source for things to do and see, places to stay, and places to eat.

Note that I have not included prices on food or attractions.  Those things may have changed by now and are sure to change in the future. 

But first a quick overview and introduction for those that may not have even heard of the country of Niger.

Where is it?

Most folks might not know where Niger is. In the course of my 24 years of military service I’ve received some orders to places that had me scratching my head, but when I received my orders to go to Niamey, Niger I really had to grab a map. To this day I still have family and friends that think I lived in Nigeria. Niger is not Nigeria (no matter how many times your iPhone tries to autocorrect it).

Map from:

If you’re not familiar with where Niger is you will find it located in that sweet garden spot of Northwest Africa. To the north it is  bordered by Mali, Algeria, and Libya.  Nigeria borders most of the country’s south. You’ll find Burkina Faso and Benin bordering the west, and Chad bordering the east. I joke when I say it’s in a sweet garden spot since it’s got some pretty unstable neighbors with some really nasty transnational terrorist organizations calling the area home. This landlocked country is also 80%  covered by the Sahara Desert. 

Niger lacks many resources…

Niger consistently makes the list of top 10 poorest countries in the world. In 2017 it was ranked as #6 with a Gross Domestic Product Per Capita of $1069 per person. To put that in perspective, Thailand has a GDP per Capita of $5901 and the USA has $52,194 per person. In a nutshell, Niger doesn’t seem to have much going for resources. But living there I found that there’s much more to Niger’s story. Though they may be lacking in resources, they are rich in other things.

For starters, nature enthusiasts will find that Niger has some pretty exciting opportunities to view wildlife in their natural habitat.

Amazing wildlife adventures…

Niger Giraffes
Giraffes at Koiré

Niger is home to the last remaining wild West African Giraffes. They are located within a protected area called Kouré which is located 60 kilometers outside of Niamey city. In order to see them you must stop first at the park and pay the entrance fee and pick up a guide (you must have a guide accompany you).

Though it’s considered a protected area for the giraffes to live in, there are also small villages of subsistence farmers which pepper the landscape. The giraffes live alongside the villagers who go about their day herding cattle, mending huts, and tending crops. The baked landscape in Kouré is so desolate and yet beautiful. I found myself wondering how people could live there when there was seemingly nothing there to live off of. Yet the villagers are quick to great you with waves and giant smiles as you pass by.

No guarantees!

The “giraffe zone,” where the animals spend most of their time, is about 40 square miles, although their full range is about 650 square miles. But unlike other nature reserves you shouldn’t expect these animals to come to your car wanting treats. You have to find them, and you never know how long that might take. I’ve gone twice. I was lucky the first time and found a small group of them within an hour. The second time I went it took nearly 2 and a half hours and I was growing concerned the trip was going to be a bust!

Luckily, the guides that must accompany you are knowledgable of the giraffes usual feeding spots and they have a cell phone network between the other guides to keep each other aware of where the giraffes are located.

Wild hippos!

Hippos Niger River Kanazi
Wild hippos in the Niger River!

For thrill seekers, Niger is also home to Africa’s most dangerous large animal, the hippopotamus. Despite their vegetarian diets, hippos have enormous jaws which can sport up to 50 centimeter canines capable of ruining your day. A person shouldn’t get a false sense of safety from being in a boat as the hippo’s large jaws and teeth are capable of splitting small boats in two, unless they decide to capsize the boat instead. The Niger River is very muddy, so these incidences do happen.

Now it’s not my intention to scare off anyone from seeing these beautiful albeit dangerous creatures in their native habitat. On the contrary, it’s a thrill to see them and seeing them promotes tourism which supports the local population as well as promotes the protection of the hippos. I only want to caution that folks shouldn’t grab a boat and just go looking for them on their own–that’s not a safe or smart approach.

Pack a picnic basket!

The best way to see the hippos from Niamey is to drive approximately 30 kilometers outside of the city you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view of the winding Niger river. Proceed along the rocky road to the river bank and you’ll find partitioned picnic areas. On weekends these areas are usually filled with folks picnicking and looking to get away from Niamey to see a bit of nature.

The only inhabited island on the Niger River…

Here on the river bank you can see and visit the only inhabited island on the Niger river. Called Kanazi, this island is inhabited by less than 500 people (many children) clustered together in a village of small mud and reed huts. It’s a great place to visit especially if you can bring gifts. School supplies, basic foods staples, clothing, and mosquito nets are always appreciated. The children are especially enthusiastic, just watch out for the Casanovas who might try to walk off with your girlfriend!

Getting a boat operator to show you the hippos is simply a matter of negotiating a reasonable price which isn’t difficult to do. They’re also happy to combine the hippo expedition with a visit to Kanazi Island. Pushing off from the safety of the banks in a narrow, rickety, motorized boat can be a little intimidating especially when the goal is to encounter Africa’s most dangerous animal.

Fortunately the boat operators are intimately aware of the river’s topography and the habits and temperaments of its local hippo population. They won’t bring you if it’s not safe, and they won’t bring you so close that the situation can become unsafe. So make sure your camera has a zoom setting!

A bit of nature, Niamey’s nearby sand dunes…

Niamey Niger Sand Dunes
Niamey’s Sand Dunes!

If wildlife viewing isn’t your thing. You can still get in touch with nature escaping the city and going out to the sand dunes. The sand dunes are best enjoyed just a couple of hours before sunset so you can interact with the local kids who love to sled down the sandy slopes and also to witness an amazing sunset.

Make sure you have a 4 wheel drive vehicle or else you will get stuck, and bring plenty of drinks and food as there are no facilities nearby. Many expats from the city like to camp here overnight. This hasn’t been a problem for this area, but I would caution visitors that the security situation in Niger can be fluid so it’s important to ask folks in the know if this is good idea.

Check out Niamey’s Museum!

Niger National Museum Guide
Niger National Museim Guide

Another interesting thing to see is the Musée Boubou Hama also known as the Niger National Museum. Tour guide prices are reasonable and recommended to ensure you see all of the attractions and understand what you’re looking at, especially if you’re not a native French speaker.

The museum features a lot of cultural exhibits including arts and handicraft that are made on site, dinosaur fossil displays, giant horned cows from Diffa, and most unusual, the remains of what was once thought to be the loneliest tree in the world (sorry for the lack of picture).

An acacia tree, the “Tree of Ténéréwas once considered the most isolated tree on Earth as the nearest tree was over 400 kilometers away. It was a landmark in the completely barren landscape for caravan routes through the Ténéré region of the Sahara Desert. It’s life of loneliness was ended in 1973 by an intoxicated Libyan truck driver. But the tree was so famous and beloved  that it was brought to the Niger National Museum to be immortalized in display.  A metal sculpture was erected in its place in the desert to continue to guide travelers.

What about food?

Niamey Niger Farian Massa
Farina Massa Street Vendor

I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss my favorite topic, the food. Let’s be honest, if a country is on the top 10 poorest countries list then you can expect there’s not a feast on your average person’s table. Outside of the larger cities in the rural villages people are scraping by day to day and a dry rainy season or a heavy rain season can be devastating. 

In the city of Niamey food is not as scarce as much of it is imported through daily international flights from Morocco, Turkey, and France. There’s also produce brought overland from Burkina Faso, Benin, and seafood from Togo.

Because the Niger River divides the city there are plenty of riverbank gardens that spring up, as well as an abundance of Capitaine, or Nile Perch. Dried fish is a common staple, as well as fried dough called farine massa which is similar to beignets but with a spicy sauce, and it’s not unusual to see folks selling dried beans in small bags meant to supplement dishes with protein and minerals. As Niger was once a French colony they’ve pretty much mastered bread making and baguette bread loaves can be found everywhere and are very inexpensive.

Shop like a scavenger hunt!

That being said, shopping for food is a very different experience than every country I’ve lived in. There’ s no major supermarket there like Tesco. Instead there are a handful of reputable small markets which are usually reliable for stocking certain sundries. One market may have a decent meat selection, one may specialize in Western goods, another in fruits and vegetables, while another has the best bread and cheese selection in town.

Many weekends I found myself pin balling all around the city from various markets to stores until I’d finally crossed off everything from my shopping list. I found it most enjoyable during the rainy season as I could also use my shopping trips to go mudding with my little Toyota Rav 4!

Niger’s #1 dish!

Brochettes Niamey Niger

One thing that must be tried, and one dish I hadn’t expected to be so delicious is brochettes. It’s basically meat on a stick (chicken or beef usually) that’s open grilled with onions and a spicy dry rub. This is then dipped in mustard and devoured in mass quantities with Niger’s national brew Bière Niger or Flag beer (both are bottled locally in Niamey and it’s worth a visit to their brewery for a tour!). Niger has some of the best beef I’ve ever had. For a real treat get a baguette loaf and fill it up with grilled brochette meat, onion, and mustard!

I’m hungry. What are some places to eat?

During my presentation I got a lot of questions from folks about the food safety in Niger. Honestly, there’s no 100% guarantee that any place you eat in Niger is not going to give you issues. That being said, there are some places in Niamey that I would recommend as they offer delicious food, at cheap or reasonable prices (compared to Western pricing), and are the “safer” places that expats will often frequent.

My favorite place to chill…Cap Banga!

The picture of the brochettes previously was taken at Cap Banga. I have many happy memories relaxing on the wooden deck of Cap Banga, a tiny oasis restaurant in the middle of the Niger River, eating skewer after skewer of beef brochettes, crispy fries, and cold beers. 

This was a fantastic place to shed the stresses of work, enjoy the company of friends, cheer on the folks brave enough to tube and jet ski, and finally watch the sunset go down as fishermen paddled their dugouts on their way home with their nets and the day’s catch.

Where is Cap Banga located?

Cap Banga is not far from the the US and French Embassy. In the Google Map below if you follow the paved road to it’s termination it will lead into an unpaved road. Follow the Cap Banga signage to turn left to a parking lot. From there a small boat will ferry you to the island where Cap Banga is located.

An Oasis in the City: Côté Jardin

Côté Jardin has been operating in Niamey since January, 2014. It is the third restaurant of its name, with the first located in N’Djamena, Chad and the second in Lomé, Togo.

It has both a beautiful outside seating area, private outside straw hut seating, and when the weather becomes unbearably hot there is inside seating with air condition. In addition, they have a full service outside bar with seating available there. This is a great place to meet up with friends for food and drinks.

For pictures of their food check out their online menu. Not on their menu, but certainly worth getting is their duck breast with baobab sauce. They are also one of the few restaurants that have camel on the menu (in a cream sauce it tastes kind of like a stroganoff).

Where is it?

The road leading to the restaurant is not paved and can be very muddy during the rainy season. You’ll need to park outside the restaurant, but there is a guard there to watch the vehicles and assist with parking.

Feeling fancy? QG’s!

Niamey Niger Brasserie QG - Restaurant gastronomique Le BLEU
Brasserie QG – Restaurant gastronomique Le BLEU

If you’re looking for a place to have a fancy dinner, QG is the place to go. This is the place to go for white linen table cloths, shining silverware, and a focus on presentation and experience. There are outside garden areas, fine dining inside with air condition, and they even have a luxurious and well appointed cocktail lounge.

I personally would recommend their grilled capitaine filet with cream sauce, and their springrolls (nems) as an appetizer. It’s also one of the few places in Niamey that you can actually get sushi!

Where is QG?

Follow this map and you’ll find yourself there…

Where to stay in Niamey…

There’s actually plenty of lodging options in Niamey, but if you want safety and comfort you are going to have to pay for it. Safety translates to strict entry protocols and guards. Comfort means running water, electricity, and a restaurant on the premises or nearby (if you are lucky there may be working Internet as well). I can give 3 recommendations from my experience in Niger. Click the hotel links for pictures, pricing, and booking.

Niamey’s newest and modern hotel…

If you are really concerned about security then the recently built Soluxe Hotel should alleviate your concerns. When you arrive you will feel like you are entering an embassy–they take security seriously. They also have a 24 hour front desk, swimming pool, fitness center, and on-site Chinese restaurant (with international food as well). As it’s the newest hotel it’s very clean, modern, and has Internet (albeit a bit slow).

Niamey’s best view hotel…

If you want a hotel that has a great view, the Grand Hotel du Niger has an outside dining area that overlooks the bridge going from one side of the Niger River to the other. It’s a great place to load up on beers, brochettes, and watch the sunset.

They also have a gauntlet of security measures that vehicles must pass through to get to the hotel as well as metal detectors at the hotel entrance.

In order to book you will need to contact them by phone, fax, or e-mail (details on their site). You may also have some luck reaching them by messenger on their Facebook page.

Niamey’s hotel for safety, comfort, and budget…

Located within walking distance of the Grand Hotel du Niger, the Hotel Terminus doesn’t quite have the stringent security as the other two recommendations but they do have a guard controlling vehicle access. They have a fitness gym and pool on site (occasionally the pool is used for events). They also have a restaurant on site, and are walking distance from the Dragon d’Or Chinese restaurant.

Video time!

I lived in Niger for 2 years, but everything I’ve written about in this article can easily be experienced with a well planned visit. In fact, it’s pretty much the itinerary and pictures from the experience I had with my visiting girlfriend. Many of the photos in this article are happy snaps from our time together there, and a few gracious donations from friends there. She put together a little 2 1/2 minute video which captures the time we shared in Niamey pretty well.

The music in the video is a song called “Imidiwan” by Omara “Bombino” Moctar, an internationally acclaimed Tuareg guitarist and singer-songwriter from Agadez, Niger.

It’s the people!

Though Niger may be a country poor in resources, their greatest treasure is their people. During my brief time that I lived in Niger I made life long friends and I’m thankful the Internet enables me to continue to be a part of their lives. Your average Nigerien is kind, helpful, and they genuinely want to showcase their country in a positive light.

It’s a country that country that strives to move forward while struggling to maintain what they have. But a visit to Niger will help you to appreciate your life, refocus on the most important things in your life, and you’ll find the experience will enrich your life.

Niamey Niger Woman
This woman is fierce and can strike a pose!

I hope from this article you learned a little bit about a country you may have never have thought or heard of. If you’re truly interested in visiting Niger or just still curious about this country I’m happy to answer any questions you might have or get an answer to you.

Feel free to contact me. I still maintain a network of close and trustworthy friends that are able to assist travelers with drivers, translators, and guides. I’d be happy to put you in touch with them to plan out any travel goals you might have.

Sweden – Stockholm, Gothenburg, and Tjörn Island

When Qatar Airways had some troubles with their neighboring countries I took advantage of the panic sales and purchased roundtrip tickets from Bangkok to Stockholm well in advance for dates that would be good for me and my Viking Princess.

A few months later she transferred to a different department in the company. Unfortunately due to work requirements she wouldn’t be able to go to Sweden to visit her family during the dates that I booked. Fortunately for me I have a great relationship with her family and wasn’t at all feeling deterred from swapping sweltering Thailand heat for comfortable Sweden cool weather. In this article I will highlight some of the wonderful fun and food I experienced along with the loving hospitality of my other family.

Stockholm – One of the most beautiful capitals in the world!

I spent my time in Stockholm with my gal’s brother (Håkan) and his family. My first full day in the “Land of the Midnight Sun” was spent exploring Stockholm. Our first stop was the Vasa Museet (Museum).

Finished in 1628, the Vasa ship was the Titanic of its day. The most powerful ship in the Baltic sea, equipped with 64 cannons, it was HUGE. Similar to the Titanic it also sank on its maiden voyage–though 1,300 meters was the length of its maiden voyage. It was incredibly top-heavy, lacked enough ballast, and as a result it was capsized by a slight wind before the astonished eyes of the crowds of spectators. The story of this catastrophe isn’t atypical when great things fail–yet many are not surprised by the failure. What is amazing is the story of how it was raised from the deep and how well was preserved.

Kaknästornet – Lunch with a view!

Exploring the Vasa ship is hungry work. Afterwards we went to the Kaknästornet, Stockholm’s 155 meter tall TV tower for a bite to eat. Unlike Bangkok, Stockholm doesn’t have numerous 200+ meter buildings.  As a result the Restaurang Kaknästornet is able to combine impressive dining views of Stockholm with excellent food from its 28th floor vantage.

I enjoyed the view with a large cold Mariestad’s beer and Toast Skagen (shrimp salad with lots of yummy dill on toast). If you’re not drinking Mariestad’s beer when you come to Sweden then you’re doing it wrong.

Stockholm – Beautiful architecture

There’s a saying about modern minimalist Swedish architecture, which paraphrased  would be “take away until you can take no more then the design is perfect“. Newer buildings might appear “boxy” but they afford wide expansive windows to let in lots of natural light (something the Swedes crave during those times when there’s only a couple of hours of daylight), the spaces are very functional and open, and it’s quite cozy. Stockholm has found that balance between maintaining their historically significant buildings whilst erecting new construction without making an obvious contrast between the two.

Rag and Bone

Rag and Bone Statue

One interesting landmark is a bronze statue of a homeless fox wearing a tattered blanket. “Rag and Bone” is located near the corner of Drottninggatan and Strömgatan. When I first turned the corner and saw it I was taken aback. The statue was so out of place in this well to do area of Stockholm. It also took a bit to realize that it was, in fact, a statue. The purpose of the statue is to make you think about all those unfortunate–for those that live and work in a neighborhood of such wealth this statue can be pretty effective at providing a reflective pause.

Recreational public space…

Chess Anyone?

More than architecture, Stockholm also contains a lot of really nice recreational space. Parks, biking and  jogging paths, and well as public gardening areas. When the sun is out, so are the people of Stockholm. I thought this public chessboard in the park was pretty neat!

Drottningholm Palace

I was incredibly lucky during my time in Stockholm. Historically October can be a pretty wet and dreary weather period. Though there were a few showers, for the most part each day that I was there had beautiful blue skies with crisp air that a jacket easily compensated for. Our visit of the Drottningholm Palace couldn’t have happened on a nicer day, and since it was off tourist season we had many picturesque moments without crowds. The Drottningholm Palace is the private residence for the Swedish Royal Family (there are many palaces).

Monster Meals

Tunnbrödsrulle – The monster

One day Håkan and I took an “Under the Bridges” boat sightseeing tour. But before we began our adventure we grabbed a bite to eat from a little hotdog stand. I had no idea what was in store for my stomach. We each got a Tunnbrödsrulle. This GIANT meal contains two hot dogs, generous scoops of shrimp salad, mashed potatoes, relish, mustard, ketchup, and salad wrapped up in a flat bread. They give you a spoon as a joke I think because the only way to eat this thing is to wrestle it with both hands.

I don’t like to waste food but I just couldn’t finish it. For the next few hours of the boat ride I could feel it sticking to my insides and weighing like a brick. There weren’t many pictures taken on the boat ride…this is one of the few that actually came out well.

Pelikan – Historical food in a “new location”.

I had an authentic “old school” Swedish dinner with friends and family at the very famous Pelikan Restaurang. The “Pelikan” has operated continuously since opening it’s doors in 1664. It has moved around the city a few times and now sits at its new Blekingegatan location since 1904. What has not changed over time is its menu. Here you can try historical dishes of plain Swedish food. Pelikan is famous for its “golf ball sized” meatballs (note: do NOT ask for Swedish meatballs in Sweden. Just ask for meatballs.). They are also famous for their super tender fläsklägg med rotmos or boiled pork leg with mashed swedes (note the lowercase “s” as it is a root that looks a bit like a large turnip and tastes a bit like carrot and cabbage and is not mashed actual Swedish people). I also recommend their älgcarpaccio or moose carpaccio as an excellent starter.

A train with a beautiful view…

Räkmacka (Shrimp Sandwich)

Taking the train from Stockholm to Gothenburg is a comfortable 3 hour and 15 minute ride and a very affordable 198 SEK ($23 USD). I highly recommend traveling Sweden by the rails. Unfortunately for me, my window seat was commandeered by a very chatty elderly Russian woman. I didn’t have the the heart to boot her out of my seat (or maybe I had the heart to let her remain in my window seat?).  After about an hour of “chatting” with her via the Google translate app in both Russian and Swedish I finally made the bold decision to feign sleep until she actually fell asleep (with her mouth wide open, I might add). I then bolted to the dining car where I created this beautiful Instagrammable view. It’s Räkmacka (sweet shrimp piled on bread with lots of dill and mayonnaise) and a tall can of Mariestad’s beer. Yum!

Mats (my gal’s sister’s hubby) was awaiting me in Gothenburg. He was a bit surprised to find me weighed down with luggage and a large backpack–I was assisting the elderly Russian woman. Once we got her to the area of her next train we were off to the Island of Tjörn and a wonderful reception of wine and family!

A wine reception! (Mamma Lola, Mats, and Ann-Louise)

Gothenburg – Things to do on a rainy day.

One of the few rainy days during my visit was the day that we went to Gothenburg. But that didn’t stop us from having a good time. Our first stop was to get out of the rain and grab some lunch at a cafeteria style restaurant near the Saluhallen. Here I feasted on a plate of GIANT kottbullar or meatballs in a delicious rich gravy, mashed potatoes, and lingonberry sauce.

Swedish Meatballs
Meatballs with gravy, potatoes, and lingonberry sauce.

Universeum – Feed your mind!

After feeding our bellies we did the next best thing on a rainy day, we fed our minds. We went to the natural museum, an indoor zoo really, called Universeum.

The museum is several floors of wildlife habitat with an impressive aquarium that has a glass tunnel for sharks to swim over the heads of guests, and a large aviary where you can interact with winged friends. After walking about and building an appetite we went back to the Saluhallen for a fika.

Wait….what’s a “fika”?

Good question. I wondered what a fika was when I first heard about it, too. First off, it has nothing to do with feces. Fika is some point in the day when Swedes get together with friends, colleagues, or family and enjoy a cup of coffee and a snack (usually small cakes or desserts). This particular day happened to be kanelbullens dag or Cinnamon Bun Day. These tasty buns are easy to be found normally, but on this particular day they were EVERYWHERE. So of course we had a few kanelbullar with our fika, and I also wanted some chokladbiskvier (chocolate biscuits) with the fika because they are awesome. These little chocolate domed pastry disks are filled with a custard like filling which I suspect is cocaine based. After a few, you kind of get the shakes but you still want more.

I’m on a boat!

Me and Mats

I was lucky to have arrived to Tjörn in time for the lobster fishing season. That’s about as far as my luck went as far as catching lobsters go. Not a single sign of the “black gold”. That being said, I’m a freaking crab magnet! What we couldn’t find in lobster we made up for in loads of crabs. After awhile we had to start throwing them back in. Deadliest Catch…pshaw!

Partying with the ladies of Tjörn…

I spent a lovely afternoon partying with a couple of ladies from Tjörn, Lola and Ann-Louise. We did some shopping to prepare for the upcoming crayfish and crab party (our recent catch providing lots of crab guests). We did the shopping and then had lunch at the Hotell Nordevik, a hotel where many of the furnishings and decoration are original since its opening in 1952. It’s a great place to step back in time. Every day they have a lunch special and on this day we got the salmon filet with cream sauce and potatoes.

Salmon Filet Nordevik Hotel
Salmon Filet Lunch Special (Nordevik Hotel)

After lunch, and the food put away, we enjoyed some beers with a view, and took the dogs for a walkabout. When Mats got home we did some boozy experimentation with a new snaps and invented a new drink with the peppermint snaps, cranberry juice, and soda water. After several of those we were pretty certain they would be a HUGE hit (make sure you use cranberry juice and not orange juice-it’s pretty gross with orange juice).

Lola made boiled pork knuckle with mashed swede (fläsklägg med rotmos) and it was well received by all.

Salt and Sill

We had a lovely dinner at a restaurant and boatel called Salt and Sill. This restaurant faces the sea and dishes out some pretty tasty seafood. I had the herring board which was a sampler of 6 different herrings with accompanying classic accessories and boiled potatoes, the catch of the day (I believe it was flounder) with a rich butter sauce, a chocolate mouse with marinated cherries for dessert. I was excited to try Tjörn beer–it’s always nice to try the local brew.

Crayfish party!

September was the time for crayfish parties in Sweden. Fortunately there’s no such thing as a “bad time” to have a crayfish parties and my family was super kind enough to put away buckets of langoustine (also known as Norway lobsters). The langoustines with the fresh crabs we caught and plenty of Swedish snaps and other drinks made for a fantastic evening.

Time to say goodbye!

The trip had gone so fast and the day to say goodbye seemed to come so quickly. I had a long way to get back to Bangkok, though. First I had to take the train from Gothenburg back to Stockholm, then overnight there before an early flight home. But before I left the Land of the Midnight Sun I had just one more mission to accomplish (aside from the getting all the stuff on the extensive and detailed shopping list provided by my Viking Princess). I had to have a Max Burger. It might seem strange to end this travelogue of amazing food and experiences with a fast food burger. I’m not proud but it is what is.

I had a couple of hours to spend at the train station in Gothenburg. My gal’s always talking about this Max Burger thing. I thought why not? For once Googlemaps actually guided me directly to the nearest Max burger joint without routing me through a mine field, neighborhood of warring gangs, or shark tank. I ordered a Max Burger Classic with fries. It’s not a gourmet burger, mind you (if a gourmet burger is your thing go here), but for a fast food burger it’s pretty good! The patty is a bit like salisbury steak, but the bun and veggies are good (the processed cheese is forgivable as it’s fast food).

Final thoughts…

I had a wonderful time in Sweden. I’d spent a few months acquiring some Swedish language skills through a free online site called Duolingo. Though I certainly wasn’t a fluent speaker, it was nice to be able to speak some simple phrases and also hilarious when boozing it up. I’m glad I did it.

Though I am sure I could have had a lot more fun with my gal being there I’m glad I did get an opportunity to go alone. It gave me time to get to know the family a little better and for them to better know me. I’m super grateful for the time they took take such great care of me. All I wanted to do was eat good food, drink good drinks, and laugh (a lot). They made sure I got all of that plus much, much more.

I know that there’s a popular misconception that Sweden is a cold and expensive place. That wasn’t my experience (though I admit I was pretty lucky with the weather). I will say that whatever the weather be, the Swedes can be very warm and welcoming to make up for any chill you feel. The Land of the Midnight Sun is also able to accommodate most any travel budget and if yours is pretty tight then ride the rails and take advantage of the korvkiosk  (hot dog stand). A Tunnbrödsrulle ought to have enough calories to last you an entire day and you will feel it for most of the day!

Sukhothai – An Exploration of Thailand’s First Capital

Originating during the 13th century, Sukhothai was the first capital of the Kingdom of Siam. Much has certainly changed over 800 years. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site this once magnificent city left a large collection of ruins that are absolutely worth exploring today, as well as recipes passed down through the ages for unique noodle soups and pad Thai dishes that are both delightful and delicious!

Anna and I decided to travel there via train and return back to Bangkok via air flight. The train ride there was a very comfortable 5 hour journey to Phitsanoluk on a Special Express train (they have the western style restrooms!) for 509 baht net ($15.28). From the Phitsanoluk train station we caught a tuk-tuk (it looked like the green offspring of a motorcycle and little Smart car) to the bus station for 60 baht ($1.80). We took a local bus from the Phitsanoluk station to the Sukhothai City station, an hour long ride for 39 baht ($1.17). From the Sukhothai City bus station we arranged for a songthaew truck (a truck where the flatbed has been converted to accommodate two side benches for passengers) for the 30 minute ride (dropping off passengers along the way) at 100 baht ($3) per person to take us directly to our guesthouse in Old Sukhothai.

I had debated much about whether to stay in Sukhothai City or Old Sukhothai. From what I saw of Sukhothai City I was thankful we’d arranged to stay in Old Sukhothai. Old Sukhothai is much sleepier, and everything is within walking distance including the historical park.

I found an excellent guesthouse called Pottery Street House through The guesthouse is very well kept, clean, and with spacious rooms. The location is perfect for walking to the Sukhothai Historical Park, and to all of the restaurants nearby. Additionally, we found that the pottery shop that they had on the premises had the best prices on pieces than the other places we looked at. We just had to do a little dusting to find the pieces we wanted. The family that runs the guesthouse was very welcoming, and being able to rent bikes from them for 30 baht (less than $1) a day really helped us to get around!

By the time we checked in it was early evening and we were both pretty hungry. We walked up to the main street and found several restaurants which were clearly geared towards tourists. We picked one that had a varied selection of dishes. I was surprised to see “Crocodile Larb” on the menu! Larb is a spicy minced meat dish from Northern Thailand which is usually made with beef, chicken, or pork. It was pretty tasty. All of the dishes we ordered were pretty tasty, actually, with one exception which is a funny story.

On the restaurant’s menu noodle page they had an extensive list of different noodle types but one really caught my eye: “Mamma” noodles. I was thinking it was a homemade noodle, mother’s family recipe kind of thing. When it arrived I was disappointed because it was basically instant ramen noodles. I just didn’t get how all their other dishes were so good and then they use a nasty shortcut like instant ramen noodles in preparation for a dish. Later I found that “Mamma” is a super popular brand of instant ramen noodles here in Thailand! I basically got what I ordered!

After dinner we took a stroll through the only active temple that is located within the ancient Old City walls. Wat Traphang Thong, also known as the “Temple of the Golden Pond”, is surrounded by a large pond filled with hungry carp and catfish (a quick purchase of bread from the nearby 7-11 will have them surface–I swear they can smell the receipt!). It was the first day of Khao Phansa (Buddhist Lent), so the temple was very active with monks praying and worshippers making merit. The original bell shaped chedi was lit making it an extraordinary sight. After our little tour of the temple area we called it an early night and returned back to the guesthouse. After all we had an early morning pick-up scheduled to begin a full day of bicycle touring!

Anna and I never would have thought to book a bicycle tour. While we were on the train ride in the beginning of our adventure, a friend of ours messaged us on Facebook suggesting to us and connecting us to her friend, Khun Siri, who operated her own bicycle touring company called My Way Sukhothai Bicycle Tour. Khun Siri was kind enough to take us on a private tour.  It began with a tuk-tuk pick up service from our guesthouse to Sukhothai City. There we mounted up on mountain bikes and took the scenic countryside tour back to Old Sukhothai. Along the way we stopped to visit with a family of bamboo basket weavers, and a teakwood furniture factory (they will deliver!). It was a gorgeous morning that soon heated up once the sweltering sun rose overhead. Fortunately, on a bicycle you can make your own breeze.

We had an opportunity before arriving to the ancient city walls of Sukhothai to be able to explore Wat Chang Lom. It was wonderful having the site to ourselves while Khun Siri explained its significance. Afterwards we went straight to the historical park to view the major attractions. 

After biking the country backroads all the way from Sukhothai City to Old Sukhothai, and then exploring the outlying ruins of Wat Phra Phai Luang, as well as several other sites, we felt very ready for some lunch. Khun Siri took us to a lunch of phad thai, fried chicken, and som tum salad. 

During lunch I learned that the Pad Thai in Sukhothai is very different from how it is prepared in other parts of Thailand. Khun Siri said that the pad thai noodle dish originated from Sukhothai and that it is made with palm sugar (instead of white sugar) which gives it a creamy and more subtle sweetness. They also do not use dried shrimp or fried bits of tofu–good riddance, I say.  Additionally, they included chopped long green beans to the dish. The menu board was chock full of funny–I think I could make a fortune spell checking menus in Asia. All of the dishes weren’t bad–though they were certainly seasoned for the average tourist. But it was exactly what we needed to reenergize our biking legs and continue on to more historical site discoveries.

Khun Siri was an excellent tour guide throughout the entire experience. She provided lots of details about the sites and their history while also suggesting excellent photo opportunities. By the time we wrapped up all of the major attractions within the park, our legs were pretty worn. We were thankful not to have to ride the bikes back to Sukhothai City as Khun Siri accompanied us back to our guesthouse and then arranged to have the bikes picked up. Anna and I napped–I mean one of those deep slumbering naps that lasts a couple of hours and you wake up confused and wondering where you are!


Honestly I think we could have slept the entire rest of the day away if it weren’t for our stomachs. We woke up pretty hungry (and a little sore). We walked up to the main road and found a different restaurant that advertised their “famous” Sukhothai Noodle Soup. I got a bowl with mixed meat and it was pretty good. I learned that they also use palm sugar instead of white sugar in their soups–surprise! Our bodies were craving protein big time so a nice order of pork chops with Thai spicy dipping sauce rounded out the dinner. Since it was still the first couple of days of Buddhist Lent, alcohol sales were still forbidden. As there was no way to self medicate our sore muscles we called it an early morning. This turned out to be a great idea, as the next day we awoke refreshed and even rented bicycles for the day from our guesthouse!

This was our last day in Sukhothai as we had scheduled a return flight departing at 6:45 pm. So off we went with our rented bikes to explore all of the side streets and outlying smaller ruins unattached to the main historical park. For each of these ruins we had the entire place to ourselves. It was wonderful being able to explore without worrying about compromising someone’s camera shot or having a gaggle of people walk through your own view lens. It was also amazing just how green everything was. After a little time in Bangkok I kind of forget about greenery, unless I’m looking at life through the bottom of a Chang beer bottle!

Speaking of which, on this last day the ban on alcohol sales was removed. After biking about all day we had worked up quite an appetite. Our final meal turned out to be the absolute best meal we had during the trip at a roadside restaurant called Ploy Champu Kitchen. So good in fact, I wrote an article about it here. Maybe it’s a coincidence that we had beer with the meal and it turned out to be the best meal we had…read the article and judge for yourself!

After lunch we returned to our guesthouse. They were kind enough to let us have a very, very late checkout (4:30 pm). This was great for us as it allowed us to keep our luggage in the room through the day, and even shower and clean up before we went to the airport (for a reasonable fee they also took us to the airport). 

The Bangkok Airways Sukhothai Airport

We decided to fly back to Bangkok instead of taking the train simply because of the times that the trains were leaving from Phitsanoluk. We would have either have had to wake up super early to catch the train in Phitsanoluk or we’d have had to take a later train and would have arrived back to Bangkok in the early morning hours–no fun! Bangkok Airways operates direct flights from Sukhothai Airport. The price was 2,290 baht ($68) for the 1 hour and 15 minute flight. Doesn’t the airport look like a resort?

To view more photos of our weekend getaway, and to listen to an awesome Northern Thailand 60’s folk song that is sure to make you want to visit, click the below video.

If you’re looking for a weekend getaway from the Big Mango, or interested in Thai historical sites, I would definitely recommend a visit to Sukhothai. It can be done in a weekend if you plan your transportation wisely. The people of Sukothai are very kind (and delighted if you attempt to speak in Thai to them), the food is absolutely wonderful, and it’s very easy to get around to see all of the major sites (especially if you rent a bike or take a bike tour). 

Dear Reader,

This blog is a labor of love, and love is all I can afford to put into it (not advertising dollars). I really hope to have an active audience reading my articles. If you enjoyed this article, and feel that others would as well, please consider sharing it on your preferred social media platform.  Thank you!

Luang Prabang, Laos: A Restful Vacation with Many Wonders

Nestled between the Mekong and Nam Kham rivers, Luang Prabang, once the ancient royal capitol of Laos now a UNESCO World Heritage site, provides a restful getaway with activities sure to please everyone and accommodate any budget. A tiny town which is easily walkable, it packs several gold gilded Wats (Buddhist temples), impressive river views, and a myriad of criss-crossing streets with varied foodie opportunities ranging from fine French dining to Fear Factor foods like jungle rat. Nearby activities include jungle treks, waterfalls, bear and elephant conservations, as well as boat journeys up the Mekong River to explore sacred caves and whisky villages.

A worry-free, pampering accommodation…

Normally we like to stay at mid-range hotels, or no frills guesthouses (so long as I’ve seen reviews that they are clean and have comfortable beds), but in this instance we decided to spoil ourselves with a more upscale accommodation at The Belle Rive Boutique Hotel. It is a French colonial style hotel, with large rooms with hardwood floors and Lao decor, giant walk-in showers, and soft beds with plush comforters. The staff was incredibly friendly and attentive, and there were many perks such as free bicycle rentals, and complimentary evening sunset cruises on the Mekong River. But one of the really enjoyable things about the hotel is that you can have your made to order breakfast on a large wooden deck overlooking the Mekong River!


River breezes cool down the town…

We were nervous about what the weather would be like because all of the reports predicted constant rain showers and oppressive heat and humidity. Basically the same weather we were seeking to escape from Bangkok. When we arrived it was hot and humid, but as soon as we got into the sleepy little town the river breezes immediately cooled us down. We found a little Mom and Pop riverside bar/diner (the Mekong River has plenty to choose from) and settled in for some cheap ice-cold large Beer Lao bottles and an incredible sunset over the opposing jungle riverbanks.

Night time Mekong River View Luang Prabang

Feats of strength and determination!

The next day was a marathon for me. I’d broken my ankle in 3 places a few months prior (falling down the stairs in my house or a Muay Thai fight with a great white shark whilst saving a baby from a burning building (if I’ve had a few beers)). If you’ve ever broken anything major that really affects your life, then you know how that first month and a half of convalescing gives you plenty time for painful refection. You have time to think on how your life has been and what you want it to be.

I wanted to take more advantage of the traveling opportunities in my life. We had Luang Prabang already booked so I could only hope that I’d be well enough to enjoy it. As the days came closer to my travel, and with my doctor’s optimism with my healing progress, I began to fantasize about grandiose achievements such as climbing (conquering!) the top of Mount Phousi (okay….it’s actually better described as Phousi Hill but in my imagination and so as not to diminish the effort, I prefer the impressive Mount Phousi (which is recognized by Trip Advisor!).

We started our day with an exploration of Wat Xieng Thong, a Buddhist temple, located on the northern tip of the peninsula nearby our hotel. Afterwards we headed directly to Mount Phousi so I could conquer it’s 355 steps to reach its 150 meter summit!

You can’t keep a good man down!

I know these pictures don’t adequately capture the feeling I had at the top of Mount Phousi so I have added this (poor quality) video clip to give you an idea of how it all went down.


A lucky chance encounter!

During our walk to Wat Xieng Thong we met a boat driver who offered his services for a private tour. Normally I do not accept unsolicited offers, but after chatting with him for a bit I really got a good vibe from him. We settled on a payment of around $50 ($30 cheaper than other quotes I’d seen). We arranged to meet the following morning for a private half day boat tour up the Mekong River to Pak Ou Caves and a little whisky village stop on the return. It was absolutely one of the highlights of our tour. If interested I would be happy to provide his contact details to anyone interested in his services.

A perfect day for a cruise…

There is no finer feeling than cruising along the muddy waters of the Mekong River on a cool, quiet morning. This river is in many respects the primary transportation pathway to many of the little villages and outlying sites. We experienced it before it had fully come to life. It was so serene with only the wind on our faces and the sound of the boat motor pushing us through the current as the driver guided us past jutting rocks and little whirlpool jetties. We watched children playing, water buffalo grazing, and people fishing or going about their morning rituals on their own boats.

All to ourselves…the joys of private tours.

Because we left earlier than the tour groups we arrived to both the Pak Ou caves and the whisky village to find that we had the place entirely to ourselves.It was wonderful to be able to explore the cool depths of caves that have for thousands of years held such religious experience for travelers that it has accumulated over 4000 Buddha icons. We were free to take our time and explore without hassle or selfie stick obstacles. In fact, as we pulled away we witnessed a stream of boats pulling up to the main docking areas…suckers

Next stop, whisky village!

After the caves we headed back to Luang Prabang with a brief stop at a whisky village to do some shopping. I assumed it was a tourist trap so I was prepared to be disappointed. Actually it’s a good experience for shopping. The prices were very fair and there was quite a selection. If you’re interested in buying Lao Lao (the local whisky) or rice wine then you should definitely stop there. The prices are much much cheaper than what’s available in Luang Prebang. I grabbed two bottles of purple rice wine, two big bottles of Lao Lao whisky (don’t you judge me!), and a small bottle of Lao Lao for our boat driver, Mr. Kham. I made sure not to “sample” too much as I knew walking back down the muddy riverbanks steps could be challenging if I did.

Lunch with trainees!

We arrived back in town just in time for lunch. I’d researched on TripAdvisor for possible places to eat and we settled on a place called Khaiphaen. They have an interesting story in that it’s a restaurant “in training”. Basically the folks that run it use it as a tool to train the local population for entry level positions in the tourism/restaurant industry. It’s actually nice because you get a wait staff that’s super attentive and focused on making sure you get what you ordered and have a pleasant dining staff. It was a fantastic meal, too! I’m not sure if the cook staff are in training, but if they are then they are getting excellent instruction and have really honed their craft.

You really can’t go wrong with anything you order on their menu. I recommend a sampling of local dishes, but make sure you’re hungry as they don’t skimp on the portions!

The joys of cooking!

That evening we had the opportunity to learn how to cook some Laotian cuisine through the Tamarind Cooking School. I wrote all about it in a separate article here. I try to learn something about the local food when I travel as it is nice to be able to bring those new ideas to my own home kitchen. This was an excellent experience for us, an evening learning how to prepare amazing dishes in a jungle kitchen which ended with a huge feast of our results! 

Early to bed, early to rise.

Luang Prabang is a sleepy little town. Things close early at night–there are options for late night revelry but for the most part things are pretty well locked up before 11:00 pm. As they are early to bed, many are also early to rise. Every morning, if you’re willing to wake up at 5:00 am, you can witness the giving of the alms. Because there are several Buddhist monasteries in Luang Prebang there is a high concentration of monks that rely on the locals to make merit by offering food. This offering is supposed to sustain the monks through the day as they study. It really is something to witness the long procession of orange robe clad monks lined single file collecting rice from kneeling locals who woke up early to make merit and do their part. 

Giving Alms Luang Prabang

Some etiquette guidelines…

If you decide to view the alms giving please be respectful:

  • Wear respectful clothing, not skimpy, tight shorts.
  • Silence is appreciated–loud chatter/laughter is not.
  • Stay out of the way–don’t interfere with the procession for a better photo opportunity.
  • If you’re not a practicing Buddhist, you have no reason to be making merit or “participating”. It’s tacky.

That being said, you will probably see all of the above behaviors from others; pat yourself on the back for being a good tourist.

The last day…

Our final day was spent walking about the town taking random photos of daily life. We let the day take us where it wanted to. A cup of coffee at a little cafe, some nibbles along the river, capturing the contrasting view of an old colonial town through the glass of a well made Old Fashioned as the sun sets and the main streets shut down for the Night Market–the perfect place to shop for gifts and then hit the street food market for our dinner. 

Our 4 days in this sleepy little city were absolutely amazing. So impressed was I that I’ve already booked a trip back to spend Christmas there. This time I’ll get to cover the waterfalls and elephant sanctuary (I wasn’t comfortable with my ankle to attempt either). If you are looking for a quick getaway from Bangkok, this hour and 20 minute flight is what you need. If you’ve been traveling all over Asia and are just looking for a restful place to cap off your journey then you should seriously consider Luang Prabang as a destination!


Dear Reader,

This blog is a labor of love, and love is all I can afford to put into it (not advertising dollars). I really hope to have an active audience reading my articles. If you enjoyed this article, and feel that others would as well, please consider sharing it on your preferred social media platform.  Thank you!