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Category: Asia Ramblings (page 2 of 4)

Vietnam Trip: Part 7

Day Six

We started day six at our new hotel’s breakfast buffet. We’re staying at the Ana Mandara in Da Lat. It’s gotta be one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in. It’s not a “hotel” but more of a resort. There’s like 20 villas with 5-7ish rooms in each. The buffet was solid. Yes, that’s the best word I can find ATM. I’m exhausted and we’ll get to why in a moment.

Dumplings, pho, Brie, slightly undercooked bacon and hash browns make for a hearty breakfast.

Yesterday we booked motorcycle tours of Da Lat. The company is called Dalat Easy Riders and I can’t recommend them enough. Btw Da Lat and Dalat are interchangeable from what I can tell.

Our guides for me, my wife and her dad met us at our hotel. And then we were off. The six of us, two to a motorcycle. This was my first time being on a motorcycle too.

The tour started at 9:00am and our first stop was a temple dedicated to the bombings of Da Lat in the 1960s. Next on our way out of downtown we stopped and Ph and I hiked up this large hill/small mountain. At the top you get a gorgeous view of downtown Da Lat. No joke, it was a bit of a climb for two people who don’t hike.

After the hike we jumped back on the bikes. About 30 minutes later we arrived at a coffee plantation famous for it’s “weasel coffee”. Basically weasels eat the coffee beans, then they are excreted, beans are cleans then roasted. Yes, it’s pretty darn weird. We ordered one of each of the three weasel coffees for cafe su dat (traditional Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk). Yes, the coffee was really good. The views were splendid as well.

Back on the bikes. A few minutes later we were at Elephant Falls — a giant waterfall. Ph and I hiked down and behind the falls. It was a tricky hike. Btw this is the most nature I’ve been a part of in years. Getting behind the falls was the most difficult part. After watching a few others do it we got the courage to do it too. And it was so worth it.

Back on the bike and off to a silkworm farm. We learned all about how silkworm create silk for clothes, shoes, bags, etc. At this point I was beat but Ph enjoyed it.

Last stop was a monastery my father-in-law requested to go to. By then I was tired and sunburnt so I was just going through to motions.

Then we were off on our way home some 5-6 hours later.

I can’t say enough good things about Dalat Easy Riders. Seriously, these guys are fantastic. They speak very good English. You always feel safe on their bikes. And they make sure you have an experience to remember.

In fact we loved them so much Ph’s parents booked them for a tour by car tomorrow and they’re going to drive us to our next destination in two days — Nha Trang.

Each tour is customizable. They are affordable at $30/person.

One note on booking. Go to their storefront and book. Hotels will upcharge the heck out of you. Our trip would have been closer to $80/person instead of $30.

After being dropped at the hotel we changed and me, Ph and her parents went downtown for dinner. We got Nem Nuong (might be a misspelling). TL;DR I finally got to sit on one of those plastic stools and eat for dirt cheap. This place only serviced nem nuong and beverages. 4 orders of nem nuong, 4 beers and a coke came out to ~$10.

Getting back to the hotel my wife and I went over to the pool, ordered some drinks and now I’m here. Two “Tokyo Iced Teas” in for $5. Might be an early night. Calling this writing complete. Zzz…

Vietnam Trip: Part 6

Day Five

Last day in Saigon. Started as usual at the hotel buffet breakfast. Added 3 more egg rolls to the count bringing it up to 22 total.

We were checked out and on the road with Ph’s cousin’s driver by 6:30am.

It’s about 185mi (300km) from Saigon to Da Lat. You would think that this journey would take 3-4 hours. You’d be wrong. It takes close to 7 hours. Most of the drive you are topped out at 35-40mph. Between dodging motorcycles and water buffalo on the side of the road you also have to pass slow cars/trucks/buses or be passed by them on a busy two-lane road.

There’s only a couple miles of windy mountain roads which was a huge surprise to me. The rest of the trip is peppered with businesses, homes and bustling small towns. It wasn’t quite Saigon busy but the idea is the same. There’s something always moving.

Btw once you pass the halfway point there aren’t a ton of places to stop and fill up or use the restroom even with all those homes and businesses.

We arrived in Da Lat around 1:00pm. Grabbed some lunch downtown because our room wasn’t ready yet. We got back and finally got to see our “villa”. It’s baller for lack of a better term. Build in the 1920s. French influence. Wood everywhere. Claw foot tub. All of it.

Ph and I ventured back downtown to book a motorcycle tour for tomorrow and explore downtown a bit. We ending up stopping at a coffee shop call Windmills (or something like that). Their cappuccino creamy (a cappuccino with whipped cream) was to die for. Sweet on top. Bitter on bottom. A perfect combo.

We walked some more and eventually grabbed a banh mi (traditional Vietnamese sandwich) for back at the hotel. It’s the first one we’ve had over here. And for $0.88 it’s better than any banh mi I’ve had in the States.

That’s where I’m at with today. Think we’re just hanging around the hotel and relaxing the rest of the night. Big motorcycle tour tomorrow…

Vietnam Trip: Part 5

Day Four

Actually let’s rewind real quick to Night Three.

After dinner my wife and I headed out to BiaCraft — a craft beer bar. Thus far I’ve only had light lagers in frozen mugs served with ice. Sigh. I needed some good beer.

I want to do a full review but will later because it’s 10:45pm, I’m exhausted and we have to pack and be up by 5:00am to leave for Da Lat.

Anyway. So BiaCraft the quick down low on it is that it’s a great spot to find a lot of craft beer. There are some 20 taps and 20+ bottles. It’s reasonably priced — cheaper than US but expensive for Vietnam. They do flights but the glasses are like 8oz so they’re pretty worth it IMO. Last thing, don’t get the hummus. It’s ridiculously tahini-y.

Day Four began like the other ones — breakfast at the hotel. Got my third bowl of pho in four mornings. My wife (btw, I’m just going to start calling her Ph for short okay? That’s how I write her name anyway) and I ventured out to go see the cathedral again. We could only see the outside when we went the other day. This time it was open for visiting hours so we got to walk around and think about her parents going to mass here.

We wandered a bit further and stumbled upon this unique store that sold small movie posters among other oddities. We ended up buying six of them (two are presents). These things are so cool. Maybe you’re reading this and if I ever remember to go back and post a picture of them once I’m back home then you’ll be like, “Yeah we have these at every store.” But we had never seen anything like these before. I think we spent around $20-25 on the six of them. Pricey for Vietnam but we didn’t mind.

We headed back to the hotel to meet up with Ph’s other cousin and went out to lunch with him and Ph’s parents. Had some BBQ pork with wontons soup and two egg rolls. The count went up to 14.

That evening we wanted to take advantage of our hotel’s super cheap massages. For around $50 combined we each got a 90-minute massage. Her’s was a hot stone massage and mine was a Thai massage with hot herbal compress thing. So good.

We’ve passed this place called Wrap and Roll a dozen times on this trip. We even tried to go a couple nights ago but it was closed. Tonight we made it over there in time. We ordered a million things on the menu (including adding 5 egg rolls to my count bringing it to 19) and went back to the hotel and feasted in bed.

As I wrote earlier we’re leaving very early tomorrow to head to Da Lat. Ph’s cousin’s driver is taking us on the 6-7 hour trek. Alright, getting told it’s time to pack.

Vietnam Trip: Part 4

Day Three

Day three began at the hotel buffet. We stayed out late the night before (1ish) so we had a late jump compared to the other days. After breakfast, no egg rolls, we went up to the hotel spa. We booked appointments yesterday for 9:30am.

We were both in the same room and the massage was really good. Especially since it was $26 a person and 90 minutes.

Then we ventured out to see the biggest Catholic Church in Vietnam and the “Post Office” which is another famous building directly across the street from the cathedral. These were cool and I’m glad we went. However for as high as they rank on things like TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet I think you can skip them if you’re short on time.

Near this area is “book street”. Literally 10ish bookstores in a cute, clean alley. This place I recommend if you know Vietnamese or just want to see what Vietnamese books look like. We picked up a handful of children’s books for whenever we have a kid.

From book street we jumped in a taxi and $1 later were at the restaurant my wife’s parents and Vy were at. I tallied 3 more egg rolls which were the best so far. Also ate Ben Xeo which is a great food for people new to Vietnamese cuisine.

Then we headed back to Ben Thanh market. My wife haggled for some kitchen supplies. Grabbed a pineapple and carrot juice on the walk back. Now I’m here. Tired. Resting up before we head out to see more family for dinner.

Vietnam Trip: Part 3

Day Two: Thanksgiving in Saigon

One word: exhausted.

We got up around 5:00am. It’s the jet lag’s fault but we wanted to be up by 7:00 so no real harm. We ate at the hotels complimentary breakfast again. Similar food to the day before. There were no egg rolls though. My egg roll count still remained at 7.

My wife’s cousin’s driver came and got us. He drove us to My Tho – a bustling little city about an hour outside of Saigon. My wife’s parents used to live there. We saw some of the places they used to hang out and walked through their old house which is now a toy and nicknack store.

My wife, Vy (wife’s cousin’s daughter), Vy’s sister Nghi (pronounced ‘knee’) and I got lunch at a place I’d expect to see Anthony Bourdain at. We all got shakey beef with some kind of orange rice. It was decent. Definitely authentic. The bathroom was a bit of an adventure. Basically you can only pee in this small spider-filled, 3/4 walled room in the kitchen of the restaurant. #yolo

After lunch our gang of four did a Mekong River tour. TL;DR rode a couple boats including a canoe. Saw some local small businesses. Drank honey tea. My wife held about 500 bees. Saw crocodiles. The girls sat in these inflatable balls on the river and kept falling down. Ate some coconut candy and fruit. Then returned back to the My Tho after around 3 hours. The cost for all of us was about $60.

My wife and I ventured out to the night market at Ben Thanh. She haggled with every vendor and were able to buy a handful of inexpensive Christmas presents. We got back around 11:00 and realized nothing was open for food. We eventually found a place on a discouraged walk back to the hotel. For <$12 (270,000 VND) we each got a dinner meal, split egg rolls (I had 2 so the count is up to 9), she got a smoothie and me a beer. It was a Tiger Lager. Tasted like Natty but it was refreshing after a long afternoon out in the sun.

Alright. I’m ready to pass out. Day Two done!

Vietnam Trip: Part 2

Day 1

Two things *almost* prepared me for Saigon. The first is having been to Asian countries before (Japan and Korea). The second was watching hours of YouTube videos on Saigon. However nothing will prepare you for Saigon. Saigon is an endless ocean of motorcycles, horns and vendors. It is a flowing chaos of noise and humidity. Saigon is one of a kind.

I’ve been here less than 24 hours. We arrived around 10:30 last night. Getting off the plane and over to the hotel was an adventure after 20 hours of flight but that story is for another day.

Today was the real first day of our trip. As I write this it’s only 5:40pm and the evening is young.

We started the day around 8:00am with breakfast at our hotel — the Silverland Jolie Hotel. The buffet was quite good. I had nothing to compare it to it being our first meal in Vietnam. They even made us pho. My mission to eat 100 egg rolls began and I had 5 with pho and miscellaneous breakfast food including dragon fruit and passion fruit.

My wife’s cousin’s driver picked us up and me, my wife, her mom, my wife’s cousin-in-law and her daughter Vy (pronounced V, like the letter) went out to get my wife a traditional Vietnamese dress. How to spell it slips my mind ATM. After buying the fabric we went to the seamstress. Total cost of two one-of-a-kind dresses custom made: ~$70.

Fast forward to lunch. Vy and her mom took us to a restaurant with just about everything on the menu. My wife and I let them order. I got my first traditional Vietnamese iced coffee and it was perfection. Seriously. I coulda drank 8+.

At this restaurant they do this weird smashing clay pot and throwing rice thing. Idk why but here’s how it works. They cook rice in a clay pot. They smash the clay pot while holding it in one hand wearing an oven mitt. Then they toss the baked rice across the room and a customer catches the rice on their plate.

We watched someone do it, an older white man, and he dropped the flying rice biscuit! The restaurant was cool and made them another one for their table. We ordered one to pretty much to make me look dumb. However I manned up and caught my rice frisbee. Then proceeded to get high-fives from multiple tables. It was pretty cool…

We all split a handful of dishes — a spicy tofu dish, chicken of some kind, beef with pumpkin blossoms (yeah I don’t know what those are either but I liked them) and a shrimp dish. Oh and we got egg rolls. I had two more. My total egg roll count is up to 7.

For those dishes, the baked rice thing, and drinks for everyone lunch came out to around $60. Not “cheap” but definitely affordable for what we got for 6 people (the driver ate with us too). I’m not complaining one bit. That meal would have cost $150 plus tip and tax back home.

Next we went to the Ben Thanh Market. This place is well known. It felt pretty touristy IMO. That’s the most white people I’ve seen in any one place in Asia before. We bought a couple souvenirs. My wife’s cousin-in-law haggled for us. She ended up cutting all the costs by 2/3. No joke. And Vy bought us sugarcane juice which was OUT OF THIS WORLD GOOD. I’ve had sugarcane juice probably 25 times in my life. I like it. It’s never something I crave. This juice today though, I’ll crave everyday for the rest of my life.

Now we’re resting until dinner at my wife’s cousin’s house. We’re fairly beat from the travel and humidity. I’m tolerating the weather better than my wife is but it’s still fairly uncomfortable. It’s such a weird humidity. It doesn’t punch you like a DC summer. It slowly zaps you and its ever present.

Alright. That’s all I have for now. I’ll try to remember to post pictures for this once I’m back home.

Vietnam Trip: Part 1

I’m somewhere over Alaska right now. My first flight is 6 hours completed. There’s 8 more to go though. Then another 6.5 on the next flight from Tokyo to Saigon.

It’s been a good flight so far. The takeoff was a bit bumpy but it settled down quickly. We got served snacks right away followed by dinner a few minutes later. We got dinner even though it was around 12:00pm our time. This is because our final destination it was more appropriate to serve dinner then. And in a few hours when it seems like its evening for us we’ll get served breakfast.

ANA, our airline, has by far the best food we’ve had on a flight. The service is top notice. And the drinks are free (wife and my father-in-law are drinking).

Alright. Think it’s time to pass out for a bit.

Asia Ramblings – Ep. 19: Vietnam Prep Con’t

Alright, I’d like to take this site and pivot it for some of the writings for the next few months. As my trip to Vietnam approaches I want to document my journey.

Last year when I went to Japan and Korea I kept this daily blog during the trip and I’m so happy I did. It helps me remember the trip so much more vividly. I want to do the same for this trip but go a few steps further.

We’re about three months from the trip — give or take a week. Here’s what I know:

My wife, her dad, her mom and I will be flying into Saigon. We’ll chill there for a few days and get acquainted to the time zone and cultural 180 degree shift from suburban America. We’ll then go to Da Lat — a city in the mountains. It has a ton of French heritage so I’m pumped about that. Apparently there are epic waterfalls too.

Next we’ll go to Nha Trang — a beach city. I believe we’re going to hire a driver (~8 hours) or we’ll fly. Not 100%. As far as what we’ll do there…outside of explore and chill I don’t really know.

Our last stop will be Phu Quoc which is an island off of Vietnam. We’ll fly there from Saigon. Here we’ll completely chill. You can stay at the resorts near the city (town?) where it’s a little busier or you can stay at the resorts on the other side of the island where there’s nothing but you and ocean. We’re leaning towards the latter. I’ve never had a vacation where you just sit by the beach and drink with absolutely nothing to do. I. Cannot. Wait.

I’m been attempting to learn Vietnamese for like the 15th time. I don’t need to learn it since I’m going with three fluent speakers but want to learn it for life. Plus to have conversations in another language in their country seems like such a cool thing to be able to do.

I spend most nights watching a handful of vlogs from as many vloggers as I can find. There’s a few that I’m digging more than others. Mainly Kyle Le. I just found him the other day but he posts gosh darn near every day. His videos may not be as educational as other vloggers but that’s not really his thing. It’s just cool to see new things everyday from a familiar face (as familiar as some random guy on the internet thousands of miles away that you’ve never met can be).

Alright. That’s all I have on my mind right now. More updates like this one soon. What should I call these? Continue with “Asian Ramblings?” Leave me an answer in the comments!

– Josh

Asia Ramblings – Ep. 18: Vietnam Prep #1

Our trip to Vietnam this November is slowly becoming real. We purchased the plane tickets about a month ago. That really solidified things. Work has given us the thumbs up to go so we can cross that off the to-do list.

What’s new for us on this international trip is that we have to get vaccines. To go to Japan and Korea we did not. And vaccines are pricy! It’s going to be $360+ per person. That’s a lot of money I could spend on beer. But it’s better to be poked with needles and beer-less than get Malaria. That’s a fair tradeoff IMO.

Our itinerary is sketched out on paper. We know-ish where we want to be on what days and kinda how we’re going to get there. I think next up is nailing that down and booking places to stay.

Will provide updates on how the vaccines go as we get them!

– Josh

Asia Ramblings #17: Five Lasting Memories

At some point this week I was able to shake off my post-vacation blues. You can blame all those self-loathing, kinda depressing posts recently on that.

I want to revisit my trip and talk about a couple of the memories that have stuck with me now two weeks later.

Ziplining was awesome. Never in a million years would I think I would write those words. I was the kid who chickened out doing the zipline on the elementary school field trip. On our trip we went to Nami Island in South Korea. To get there you either take a ferry or zipline. We ziplined. We ziplined over a body of water onto an island. After the first initial drop the zipline was a blast.

I would drop everything to go back to Japan right now. I have always known I would love Japan. Last year’s trip solidified that. This year, my love only grew deeper and stronger. If it was feasible I’d go at least once a year. It’s not (yet!) and there are many other places my wife and I want to see. But I know for a fact I’ll be back many more times in my life.

Kamakura is magical. Last time IDK what it was but I didn’t have the best time there. This time I was able to take in the wonder of it. It’ll be at the top of my list of places to visit on my next trip.

Taxi drivers in South Korea are crazy. They text and drive the entire time. They do not stop or even slow down when doing right on reds even with pedestrians in the crosswalk. However they are ridiculously cheap so IMO they’re worth it if you’re buckled up.

Listen to the State Department warnings! Before you go overseas, register your trip with STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program). This is a program through the US Department of State. This is basically so our government knows where you are so if something bad happens they can (hopefully) come rescue you. Well when we were in Seoul and there was this thing going on one afternoon. We got the email that morning to stay away from that area. What did we do? We happened to be near that area and walked into an entire wall of police officers — at least 25 deep — blocking off a street. We saw people yelling at them. Without hesitation we turned around and jumped in the nearest taxi.

Reading and writing about something isn’t the same as experiencing it. I can read all the websites and write all I want about my travels, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to actually doing it. I watched the video of the zipline half a dozen times before doing it. Actually ziplining makes you feel alive. Sitting on my couch watching a ziplining video doesn’t. Falling in love with a country because you’ve been there is real. Falling in love with a place you’ve never been to isn’t on the same level. Holding on for dear life in a taxi in a foreign country is an experience you don’t get in New York (Chicago taxis come close though…).

I write this on Christmas Eve knowing this’ll come out on New Year’s Eve. I’m not a huge believer in resolutions but if you’re to do one thing in 2016 I hope you do something you haven’t done before.

– Josh