Discovering the Portuguese vineyards in the heart of Lisbon [myths buster!]

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau

Set in the heart of Lisbon on the famous Comercio Square, a small door leads to an unexpected journey through Portugal’s most secret vineyards where small producers work their sunny lands to produce beautiful wines. Gathered at Vini Portugal, a non-profit governmental organisation promoting the native grapes of Portuguese varieties, these gems are waiting to be tasted.

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Smiling samlor driver in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Discover Chiang Mai by [fast disappearing!] samlor

Text: Marcella van Alpen & Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alpen & Claire Lessiau

As I am passing by the train station of Chiang Mai, I recall the 1937 photograph I was looking at a bit earlier. It has not changed much, but the samlors – or bicycle taxis, often referred to as trishaws in China – with their proud drivers awaiting travellers to take them into town are long gone. Tuk-tuks have taken over, hassling tourists. In the streets of Chiang Mai, the samlors are hardly anywhere to be seen, and I feel even more privileged to be seated in one of the last few to take in the atmospheric “Rose of the North”.

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Helsinki Cathedral from the harbour with a sail boat in the foreground

Why Helsinki should be your next city trip

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The capital of Finland, Helsinki, just like the capital of its southern neighbour, Tallinn, might be missing at the top of your bucket list when it comes to must-visit European capitals. However, the modern and hip Nordic city is the ideal place for an off-the-beaten-path getaway full of pleasant surprises and great discoveries. Get inspired and explore the capital of the happiest people in the world!

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The Portuguese gazpacho at Cooking Lisbon

Something is cooking in Lisbon!

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau

It is still morning when Chef Sara Verissimo takes us for a stroll to the 31st of January market, far away from touristy Lisbon. Locals have been shopping here for their fresh vegetables, cheese, meat and fish since 1878, and so do we on this sunny day to get the best ingredients for some typical Portuguese dishes.

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The secret entrance to the alchemist's lab, Speculum Alchemiae Museum, Prague

Unravelling Prague’s underground from secret alchemists’ labs to nuclear bunkers

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

As the Old Town developed in Prague during the Middle Ages, the multi-annual floodings of the Vltava River were so destructive that the whole city was raised by one floor: ground floors became basements and new ground floors were built on top of them. This has created a whole network of underground tunnels throughout the Old Town that can be explored today…

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Women walking by the fountain of the Kiliç Ali Pasa Hammam, Istanbul

Traditional hammam experience in Istanbul

Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

I follow the call of the muezzin directing me to the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque in Beyoğlu on the European side of Istanbul, a stone’s throw away from the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. Opposite the grand mosque, I enter the namesake hammam: the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı. Sailors used to gather here to wash before praying, and sometimes only, they would also pamper in a treatment that I am about to experience.

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Relaxing in the hot tub at Prague Original Beer Spa

The beer culture in 3 authentic & unusual experiences in Prague

Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The Czech Republic has been topping the charts of beer consumption for years. On average, it is a 33-centiliter beer bottle that is drunk every day by every woman, man and child in the country! Actually, ordering a pint is very often cheaper than a coffee or water to the point that now restaurants and bars must propose a cheaper non-alcoholic drink by law. However, the beer culture in Prague goes way beyond cheap beer enjoyed by locals and tourists in one of Europe’s top destinations for bachelor parties. Keep reading to find out how to experience it through authentic and unusual experiences!

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Atmosphere of the III Draakon medieval restaurant, Tallinn

What to do in Tallinn: through time & across town [3 days]

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia between 2006 and 2016 sums up Estonia beautifully: “Estonia is like a wild strawberry: pristine and small, difficult to find […] but once it is ours, then it is one of the best things of all.” Its capital, Tallinn is a real gem, from its well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage Old Town to its remnants of the Soviet era, from its spa culture to its intimate speakeasy bars. Let’s travel through time and explore Tallinn!

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Whisk treatment at Pohjolan Pirtti sauna, Finland

The Finnish sauna culture: relaxation, spirituality & health

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The Finnish sauna culture is definitely one of the reasons why the Finns regularly rank first in the yearly polls about the happiest people on the planet. Cleansing and relaxing, saunas are very anchored in the Finnish daily life, and have been exported and modified all over the world. Join us on a trip through Finland in order to dig deeper into authentic Finnish saunas, a 9,000-year-old tradition that has been recognized as a UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, and experience some of the best saunas of Finland out of the 3 million of them (for 5.5 million inhabitants!).

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Colourful street in Riga, Latvia

Riga in 11 fun & interesting facts

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Sandwiched by Estonia to the north and Lithuania to the south, Latvia is often assimilated to its neighbouring Baltic states, mistakenly. At the crossroads of east and west, and close to Scandinavia, Latvia is still building its identity and its capital Riga is an off-the-beaten path gem waiting to be discovered.

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Empty street in the Small Béguinage at dusk, Leuven, Belgium

A city trip to off-the-beaten-path Leuven

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Only 26 kilometres from the Belgian and European capital Brussels, Leuven is a compact student town of 100,000 inhabitants, plus another 60,000 during the school year! Nicknamed the Oxford of Belgium, it competes – gently – against the 2.5-times larger university city of Ghent. Off-the-beaten path, the authentic and historical Leuven is vibrant, young and international, characteristics not often found in such compact towns: all the more reasons to spend a weekend in Leuven between discovering its brewing culture in one of its 240 pubs, exploring its interactive museums, and venturing by bike to some of its picturesque abbeys. For a perfect 48 hours in town read on to find out which places must be on your list!

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The City Hall of Leuven in the sun, Belgium

13 fun & interesting facts about Leuven

Text: Claire Lessiau& Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

1. The beautiful architecture of Leuven’s picturesque squares is not original…

In 1914, Leuven was burnt to the ground by the occupying German forces: they set fire to the historical city centre to retaliate against the Belgian resistance.

The whole city centre was rebuilt. Leuven’s Oude Markt and Groot Markt are amongst the most picturesque squares of town, reconstructed in a similar style as to prior to the fire. On the other hand, the local Champs Elysées, the former residential Bondgenotenlaan Street that runs from the train station to the city hall, showcases a more eclectic architecture today.

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Leuven University Library reading room, Belgium

Have you heard the Big Bang! in Leuven?

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The Big Bang theory was formulated in 1931 at the University of Leuven by Georges Lemaître (1894-1966). It was not the first ground-breaking discovery made in the Belgian city. Some of the illustrious alumni and professors of the University of Leuven are the 16th century, Andrea Vesalius (1514-1564) who produced the first complete description of the human body, the cartographer Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594) who invented the projection that allows to properly visualize the globe in 2D, Jean Pierre Minckelers (1748-1824) who invented gas lighting and the linguist and great humanist Erasmus (1466-1536), to name the ones who have had the greatest impact on our lives.

As such, the off-the-beaten path student town with its picturesque centre, has been a melting pot for innovation and intends to remain so. On its cultural stage, a biennale festival takes place highlighting not only scientific discoveries, but also the arts, bridging themes in a universal and humanist approach. Between October 2021 and January 2022, the BANG! Festival will challenge you through three excellently curated exhibits and many engaging events!

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Characteristic yellow fishermen rorbuer on turquoise water in Lofoten, Norway

Authentic Lofoten

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Hamnøya, Lofoten, 1900s

The ice-cold winds howl through the planks. The fishing nets and gear hanging in the adjacent room make the whole cabin humid. The stinking cod liver oil lamp provides a gloomy light. There is no escape from the pungent smell of cods hanging on the wooden racks everywhere outside. Through the window, the small harbour is packed with fishing rowing boats. As least, they are well protected here in this natural harbour close to the Moskstraumen, one of the strongest ocean currents, running between this island of Moskenesøya and the small island of Mosken at the western tip of the Lofoten Archipelago in northern Norway. Looking at the direction the king cod hung from the ceiling is pointing, the weather is not about to better anytime soon. With another eleven fishermen sharing the four-bedded 20-square-meter room, the snoring is non-stop and covers the lapping of the waves against the stilts and the loud squeals of seagulls. Today is going to be another day getting busy building a mock up fishing boat to pass time.

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The colourful wood warehouses on stilts of Bryggen in Trondheim reflecting in the water

The vibes of Trondheim & its must-visits

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The third city of Norway, and the first significant one in the North, Trondheim remains rather small and easy to discover over a couple of days. The innovative student town showcases different gentrified areas that are enjoyable to stroll, past the must-visit Nidaros Cathedral that attracts thousands of pilgrims, believers and curious travellers every year.

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Lofts at the Kviteseid open-air museum, Norway

Meeting romantic Norway deep in Telemark

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

Many travellers skip the Telemark region, shooting for more arctic landscapes while visiting Norway. However, it is mostly this southern region that helped shape the country’s national identity: slow down a little bit and explore Telemark, the romantic idea that most Norwegians have of their own country…

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Colourful warehouses of Bryggen with boats in the foreground, Bergen

72 hours in Bergen

Text: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

Once past the cruise tourists who tend to stick to the UNESCO World Heritage Bryggen and to the funicular that takes them up Fløyen, Bergen is a charming city with many hidden gems waiting to be discovered. This harbour town has retained its cosmopolitan character and the second city of Norway after its capital Oslo, is very welcoming. This student town is vibrant, surrounded by beautiful mountains and spread around the water: an easy access point to the North Sea that has made Bergen what it is today.

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Taking in The Death Cleopatra by Giovan Francesco Barnieri in the Palazzo Bianco, Genoa

72 hours in Genoa [your guide to experience the city]

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photos: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

With about 1.5 million inhabitants, the capital of Liguria, squeezed between the Gulf of Genoa and the mountains, is the 5th city of Italy and the busiest of the Mediterranean Sea extending for 15 kilometres along the coast. Off the beaten path destination more known today for its industrial and logistic sides than for its tourist attractions, Genoa was nicknamed La Superba when it used to rule as one world’s most powerful Maritime Republics. Known since the Middle-Ages for its ability to navigate the seas, to build alliances and to develop trade networks, Genoa had greatly developed as Europe’s main port and financial centres. Today, its past wealth emanates from its no less than 140 palaces built by its ruling families, its many richly adorned churches and its art collections. From the palaces, narrow and dark medieval streets, called caruggi, lead to the Ligurian Sea, composing the largest medieval historical centre in Europe after Venice. Genoa is an authentic city that fascinates by its many layers and contrasts and that is definitely worth spending time discovering.

Keep reading for the perfect and authentic itinerary to discover Genoa over three days, from must-dos to hidden gems!

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View from Cucina restaurant at night on the high-rise buildings of Hong Kong Island during the laser show, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Hong Kong in 5 days

Whether you like shopping, museums, beach going, the outdoors, history, architecture or you are a foodie, Hong Kong has much to offer in a rather compact territory! We have compiled the best of Hong Kong in an eclectic 5-day itinerary taking you from the must-go Victoria Peak to remote fishing villages while experiencing the best dim sums and grasping the challenges that the territory is facing. Keep exploring

Man and woman having dinner outside on a wooden deck on stilts, Tai O fishing village, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

The best of Lantau Island in a day!

Bird songs fill the cabin of the gondola taking us to the Big Buddha. Through the glass bottom we observe the South Chinese Sea which we smoothly pass over towards the mountains of Lantau Island. Behind us Hong Kong airport, world’s largest cargo airport, where we have just landed gets smaller as we fly over the jungle. Sometimes we notice hikers in bright coloured T-shirts which like small dots move through the greenery on various trails beneath our feet. Keep exploring!

72 hours in Cape Town

Article updated on November 10, 2022
Text: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

With its jaw dropping geographical location between Table Mountain & the Atlantic Ocean,  you will need at least three days to explore its ins & outs and soak up its vibes. Spread the activities based on the weather as the ocean can be rough (for Robben Island) and Table Mountain is often covered in a table cloth of clouds. We can assure you one thing, after spending a few days in the “Mother City”, you will want to come back for more!

This article focuses on the city area where all is reachable by cab or Uber.

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Planting the seeds for concentration camps and segregation [The Anglo-Boer war]

“I visited the camp at the Springfontein railway station in the Southern Free State. What I was about to witness here… haunts me until this day. The mother sat on a little trunk, with a sick child across her knee. She had nothing to give it, and the child was sinking fast. Her plea for medicine fell on deaf ears. There was nothing to be done. And we watched the child draw its last breath in reverent silence… A friend standing behind the mother cried and called upon heaven to witness this tragedy. The mother neither moved nor wept for her only child. Dry-eyed but deathly white she sat there motionless, looking not at the child but far… far away into the depths of grief.” – Emily Hobhouse, May 15, 1901, what is now South Africa.

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A night at the opera in Oslo

Article updated on October 21, 2021
Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Inaugurated only in 2008, the Oslo Opera House has already become the landmark of the Norwegian capital. Its architecture intrigues. Like an iceberg floating in the Oslo fjord, locals and tourists alike climb it to reach its roof via soft inclines or explore its warm and modern foyer. Far from the elite image of most opera houses, the Oslo Opera House is an open space decisively. It has revolutionized its area, a former shipyard cut off from the rest of the city by an ugly highway that was forced underground, and made it a favourite promenade attracting recommendable neighbours like the new Munch Museum or the bar code urbanization project. The building fascinates, and the temptation of exploring its ins and outs only grows bigger as one approaches it.

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Guernica unravelled

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

“No, painting is not made to decorate apartments. It’s an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy” said Picasso.

And it can be such a powerful weapon that it can transcend the specific conflict to reach a universal status as a symbol of fight against barbarism. Such is the destiny of Guernica, Picasso’s most famous painting, an art and history icon showcasing strong artistic and political commitments.

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Soweto, way more than a township: an identity

Lungile leads the way and with a huge smile on his face he greets basically everyone we come across. “Sawubona! Unjani?” Zulu for hello, how are you. “Ngiyaphila“, I’m fine. “Chap chap“. “So you were born and raised in Johannesburg?” I ask him as I push hard on my pedals, biking uphill under the South African sun. “No!” he answers clearly offended to add with pride: “I was born and raised in Soweto!”

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Fish traps in the Kosi Bay Lake, South Africa

The best of Kosi Bay in 5 unique adventures

Article updated on March 10, 2022
Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The north eastern corner of KwaZulu-Natal is one of South Africa’s most remote destinations. Bordering Eswatini and Mozambique lies a hardly populated land with scenic yet less famous game parks and a unique ecosystem of four lakes flowing into the Indian Ocean where the Tsonga people have passed down their sustainable fishing traditions for over a thousand years. A land where world’s largest leaves can be found, with rare bird species and different types of mangrove trees. An ocean with bull and whale sharks, rock salmons, hippos and manta rays, wetting South Africa’s most stunning and desolated beaches, on which endangered sea turtles lay their eggs in season and turtle hatchlings run for their lives into the ocean. Join us to explore the best of Kosi Bay in five different adventures!

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Travelling back to the gold rush, South Africa

Article updated on May 3, 2021
Text: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Sabie in the North East of South Africa is an outdoor paradise and the perfect base to explore the Blyde River Canyon, the Kruger National Park and the picturesque villages that made the gold rush history like Pilgrim’s Rest. Let’s dig more into it!

Digging for gold in the area started way before the 19th century gold rush. A long time ago, Indians landed on the East Coast of Africa pushed by the monsoon winds and started trading routes with African tribes to exchange eastern goods against gold, gems, ivory… Keep travelling!

Experiencing the Emirati culture in Dubai

Understand the Emirati culture while in Dubai, and also learn how to decrypt a mosque, with which hand to eat to not appear dirty and uneducated, what the five pillars of Islam are, the Emirati dress code…

Laying down on Kite Beach, I am admiring the ballet of colourful kites dancing in the sky which is turning orange as the sun sets behind the iconic Burj Al Arab building. The muezzin is calling for the sunset prayer as some women swim in burqas next to others in bikinis among the kite surfers. I am overhearing Keep travelling!

Modern buildings with water and a honeycomb roof, sunlight piercing through. Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Louvre Abu Dhabi unravelled

Imagine one dome covering all continents, all countries, and all civilisations, shining its light on all of them equally, unique as they are. A stroll underneath the ever-changing calligraphic shades of the dome, crossing oceans from one theme to another leads the visitor to all corners of the world in a search for universality where human concerns and evolutions are central. The specificity of Louvre Abu Dhabi, a universal museum at the crossroads of civilisations is to put these civilisations in regards. Keep travelling!

Uncovering a time capsule at the tenement museum, NYC

While Henry Clay Frick and John Pierpont Morgan were amassing their art collections with the millions they made during the industrial revolution and setting the basis for the USA, a different story was taking place in the low income areas of New York City, like the Lower East Side where newcomers to the USA flocked by hundreds and also shaped the country.

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Angkor off the beaten path & on the single track!

The majestic temples of Angkor are victim of their own success: with 4 million visitors a year mostly during the dry season focusing mainly on three temples, the atmosphere can be lost. Still, it is possible to experience the Angkor temple complex off the beaten path for a fantastic and authentic discovery, unravelling the splendour of the great Khmer civilisation.

I skilfully steer my mountain bike along a few pointy rocks on a narrow single track through the jungle of Cambodia. In front of me appears a desolated ruin, half swallowed by tree roots of strangler fig trees. Birds sing, butterflies flutter around reflecting the strong sun rays peeping through the dense vegetation on their brightly-coloured wings, and a cat yawns while stretching its front paws on the step of the almost-millennium old Khmer temple of Preah Khan in the temple complex of Angkor.

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Rope-skipping tricks, Phare the Cambodian Circus, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Phare the Cambodian Circus, Siem Reap, Cambodia

 

A mind blowing blend of drama, dance, modern circus techniques and real-time painting on live music tells the true story of how art could empower a generation marked by the Khmer Rouge regime and the Cambodian genocide.

Sokha, an elderly bent woman slowly walks towards me. Her legs are shaky, her pace slow. Once close, she carefully sits down, opens a thick book and cautiously Keep traveling

From refugee kid to Cirque du Soleil star

Battambang was a flourishing city before the horrific Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, dramatically jeopardized the lives of its inhabitants. Many of them ended up slaughtered in the killing fields or neighbouring killing caves for no reason, whilst others were luckier and made it to close-by Thailand. Most of them spent years in refugee camps under harsh conditions. Kids grew up traumatised with hardly any access to proper education. In 1986, Véronique Decrop, a French art teacher, volunteered at the Site Two Refugee Camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. She used drawings as a therapy to help traumatised children express themselves. That was the spark to what will become Phare Ponleu Selpak (Cambodian for the brightness of the arts), a non-profit organization improving the lives of Cambodians through arts and education, its highlight being one of the best circus schools in the world. Keep reading

Meet the Akha tribes of Northern Laos

A young woman with a peculiar headdress enters the smoky dark room. She brings in a big tray covered with breakfast dishes: fried morning glory, fried noodles, a bamboo woven basket filled with steamy sticky rice, some chicken, and the homebrewed whiskey! A fire burns next to me in a small clay pot on the dirt floor, and despite the smoke that stings my eyes, I stay close to the welcomed heat source. Reluctantly, I move my little stool closer to the very low table on which the tray is set, joining our guide Sivangxai, the Ban Peryenxangkao village chief and his nephews. Here, in the ethnically diverse Northern Laos, Akha tribes live according to their ancient traditions far from modern civilisation. Keep reading

Rubber tapping in Thailand

Tall thin trees with only very few leafs are planted in perfectly aligned endless rows that cover hundreds of hectares of Thai soil. They provide a little bit of shade during the hot summer months, give off a slightly offending smell and supply their owners and their farmers with an income. We are talking rubber trees and are about to discover the ins and outs of rubber making.

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Traditional crafts of Cambodia (5/7): fish paste, Battambang

“Smell like the hell, eat like the heaven”, Mr. Ola tells us with a mesmerizing smile while explaining his mother’s signature recipe for the traditional prahok, a Cambodian fish paste dish. I uncomfortably move from one leg to the other trying to carefully listen to his story but holding my breath at the same time, avoiding the offending foul smell. We are about to discover how the unmissable and key ingredient for many Asian dishes is made on the fish paste market of Battambang, Cambodia. Keep reading

Traditional crafts of Cambodia (3/7): Rice noodles, Battambang

Rice noodles are a favourite in many Asian countries. A pho for breakfast or rice noodles as a base for lunch or dinner are common. To serve this high demand, most noodles are produced in factories. However, it is still possible to buy them fresh and hand-made. In Battambang, a few families living in the rice noodle district have been passing on this know-how for many generations.

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