Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Prague, Czech Republic

What a beautiful city Prague is! However, I don't think I've ever seen a place with so many tourists. And with that, quite a few local businesses in the central/tourist area seem to rip tourists off or cheat tourists all the time.

As I'd already been through Munich, Vienna and Budapest earlier, I thought Prague was a bit similar to those cities in terms of such great architecture and churches. Prague has a great cheap transport system and most tourist attractions are within walking distance of metro or tram stops. And, to me it seemed pretty safe. I wondered how many people actually pay to use these public transports because most people seemed to just jump on and off without their tickets. Probably, it's free!

I did another great free walking tour around the city to kick off my 4 nights and our guide was a Russian American was great with loads of information about the culture, the city and food. I'm so glad that I did the tour at the beginning of my stay. After the tour, we decided to change some money and we got so upset with the money changer (professional shop) as they charged us €10 to change €50. We didn't know the language and after signing the receipt, we found out and they refused to give the money back. This is very sad and apparently so common in Prague. We were disappointed but we put it behind us. I can't complain as this is probably my fault because I wasn't careful enough.

After that, we walked up to the Prague Castle for fabulous views of the city. After working up a hunger, we found a small restaurant full of people and we hoped it would be a great place. Waitresses were friendly and the food was acceptable, but we got ripped off big time again! We had to pay €78 for a simple meal for 2 with 1 beer, 1 glass of wine, a pork schnitzel and a Greek salad plus we have to pay 15% for VAT and a bread basket which we didn't eat. Some Prague people must think tourists can draw money out of the blue!!!! We had a totally bad day!!!!

Anyway, a great thing came up the next day as we found one of the best coffee shops in town (for me) where we noticed the owners and staff have passion about coffee, where they test their coffee, chat to their clients about the differences between their coffee. Surprisingly, no Vietnamese coffee in the shop, very disappointed (just kidding). We went back to this coffee shop two more times before leaving Prague. With recommendations from one of our clients who lived in Prague for two years, we went to a great Prague pub, Pivoparsky Dum, for dinner where we could taste different beers, including nettle, coffee and banana beer and an amazing meal. We were the only tourists in the pub and it was a huge place but filled up by 8pm. The best meal in Prague for me and I'm so glad we went there.

So, in general, I have mixed feelings about Prague. Not sure if I'd go back.

Friday, October 24, 2014


Recently, I spent four nights in Bangkok and it was so much fun. I wouldn't say that would be enough to discover such a big active, fun city. But, for me, four nights was probably enough to satisfy my interests, which are mostly food and market related, including my first visit to the city's Chattuchat market.

Both long and short vacations are relaxing for me as I work 7 days a week and don't have weekends, but I do take lots of breaks. That's just how it works out. My friends wonder why I take so many short holidays. I mean of course it's to relax and relieve any stress and luckily, from Vietnam, there are lots of places close by and sometimes there are cheap airfares.

Bangkok is not my favorite city in Asia but I don't mind going back for a short vacation as I love Thai food very much and also Thai people are very friendly. I'm not sure how many dishes I tried and their names but it was very tasty though occasionally too spicy for my tastes. At times, I felt like I was crying and smoke was coming out of my ears while I was trying to finish the food. It was so much fun eating like a local and it's also a way for me to learn the culture of the place I'm visiting. That's the most important thing for me.

Besides the fantastic weekend market at Chatuchak, I loved Klong Toey produce market as well. I love the way Thai people present their vegetables and meat and, similarly to Vietnam, kill some animals in the market to ensure freshness. The Klong Toey market sellers were so friendly, showing me how to kill fish, frogsand smiling when I asked to take photos. I smell their meat and I saw fish jumping up and down. Like in Vietnam, the local markets are the best places to do food shopping.

Bangkok night life was a bit much for me especially Pat Pong where it's all related to sex and nudity but that's what Bangkok's famous for. There was way too many people asking me the same question, sex DVD? sex show? boy or girl? It was a bit confronting at the beginning but I felt annoyed at the end. Anyhow, it's something they you only can see in Bangkok and I experienced it.

One of the highlight of the holiday was the Sofitel Sukhumvit Hotel. It was great with super refreshing cocktails and bubbles from 4-7pm and a beautiful swimming pool during the afternoons after long walks discovering the city. I'd love to come back to Bangkok again and definitely will stay there.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Vienna, Austria

A city with so many beautiful old buildings and stories and opera houses. I don't think four nights was enough but we tried really hard to see most of the special places and eat the best food that Vienna offers.

We walked around the city and visited many churches, museums and walked into small lanes with incredibly beautiful shops. One of the meals that we loved the most, for the atmosphere, the professional service and especially the food was Plachutta restaurant. We had walked past the restaurant many times and wondered why they were always super busy and we decided to check it out on our second night. We had their world famous dish Tafelspitz a beef broth with tender rump steak served with root vegetables, crispy potatoes, creamed spinach, horseradish and apple sauce and sour cream and bread; and it was fabulous!

According to our friend's recommendation, we went to eat sandwiches for lunch at Trzesniewski. Their sandwiches were amazing with many different toppings and eaten with a tiny glass of beer, called a Pfiff, such a great combination. We continued wandering around the city and tried coffee with beautiful, tasty cakes at Demel, a place that I'd highly recommend for cake and coffee.

On our last day, we went to the Leopold Museum to see Gustave Klimt paintings and those of other famous artists. What a museum with so many beautiful old and new paintings. We spent about 2 hours there and it was worth every minute of it. In the evening, we went to one of the must-do things that everyone does in Vienna, yes, we went to classical music performance. Because the opera season was in summer break we had to see a rather touristy Mozart and Strauss show, which involved both ballet and opera singing. The lady had an amazing voice and we all loved her performance so much. I'm glad I did it.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Secret Garden Restaurant, Saigon

I like this restaurant pretty much for its location on the top floor of an old building right in District 1. Secret Garden has a very simple design for both inside and outside on the terrace but I prefer sitting outside where I can enjoy the breeze even though it was in a very hot day in Saigon when I visited in May. The open space idea is great with wooden tables and chairs and some colourful flowers around that made me feel like I was in the small garden.

The restaurant has short menus for both food and drink which is great as I don't like too many choices. I love the simple way they cook the food but without compromising on flavour and authentic Vietnamese style. My favourite dishes the day I visited were the stir fried beef with càng cua vegetables and the crab broth served with pickled baby eggplants. Another rustic idea was the serving of drinks in small bottles with lemon grass, a slice of lemon and ice.... a very refreshing look!

I'd love to come back to the Secret Garden again on my next visit to discover more of their delicious food and drinks menu.

The Secret Garden 
158 bis Pasteur, 
District 1
Ho Chi Minh City

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Salzburg, Austria

We spent two nights in Salzburg, where Mozart was born and raised. I had such a fantastic experience there walking around the old town, checking out lots of historic buildings and the view from the top of the mountain, where the Salzburg Castle is situated.

I love the old town and the river which reminded me a bit of Florence, Italy or Paris a bit. The old
town has so many beautiful gift shops and restaurants. We stopped at Cafe Tomaselli for coffee and cakes, which is a bit of an institution in the city.  We had the traditional coffee with whipped cream called melange which was fantastic and their cakes just blew my mind away, Delicious!!!!


We walked a bit more then took a cable car up to the top of the Salzburg Castle for the city view. It's very crowded as it should be, full of tourists like me. I took so many shots and stood there at first for about 10 minutes to appreciate the view and the green city and several different bridges connecting both sides of the city. Then we climbed up and walked inside to reach the top of the castle. The night before we left, because it was raining, we had dinner at the hotel restaurant and it was great food as well. The waitress was very helpful, recommending that we have calamari for starter then we had dumplings with bacon and crackling on top of sauerkraut. The second dish is very traditional for this part of Europe.

We also had the most famous Austrian dish Wiener Schnitzel, a flattened crumbed piece of pork pan-fried, served with boiled potatoes and cranberry sauce. On our last afternoon in the city, we just sat down in the square with a cold Steigl beer and enjoyed the last sunshine of the day. It was a fantastic 3 days in Salzburg!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Munich, Germany 8,2014


We spent three nights in Munich and it was so much fun. We took the free three-hour walking tour with Sandemans New Europe from Marienplatz around the city. Our guide was great and very informative and yes, her name is Virginia. There are several options for this company including paid tours but I think this free tour is good enough for the first day to learn a bit about the old part of Munich and it's culture.

After the tour, we walked down to the English garden, a huge park in central Munich, which has a beer garden near the Chinese Tower which can host about 7000 people at the same time. It was fantastic, full of people and with loads of food available. The most common dishes that people ordered were roasted pork or chicken with lots of chips and each person had one serve with at least one beer. We ordered a grilled mackerel, half a roasted chicken, a roasted pork knuckle and a pretzel and two huge steins of beer. It was a fabulous meal and it took us about an hour to finish before we took the underground back to the hotel.

The next day, we came back to Marienplatz to walk up the Alter Peter (Old Peter) Tower for a fantastic 360 degrees city view. It took us a little while to go up but it was totally worth it for only €2. After all that effort, we needed some beer refreshments. Of course there is no shortage, even in the mornings, in Munich. We made it to Hofbrauhaus, one of the oldest beer houses in the world, established in 1589. This is a great place with lots of old regular characters who come with their own jugs and dressed in traditional costumes, the lederhosen. The ceiling of the restaurant has some great murals painted on it, too. The beer (served in one litre steins!) and food was great, not to mention the band playing traditional music which provided a great atmosphere. Even though I was a bit tipsy, I did manage to finish my beer.

We went back to the hotel and took a nap then headed out for dinner. We went to a kebab shop close by the hotel as we needed to take a train to Salzburg the next day. Stir fried freshly handmade noodles with potatoes and chilli was surprisingly great even though it was way too spicy for me. That's my fault because the lady warned me when I ordered but I thought probably spicy by European standards. It turned our even hotter than Thai green papaya salad or Korean noodles. But I did enjoy it.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Tuy Hoa - Phu Yen

Earlier this month, I spent two nights in Tuy Hoa, Phu Yen province in the centre of Vietnam. I joined a group of friends and their company, a group of over 200 people. It sounds not really fun with such a huge group but because they all work in the tourism industry, they do know how to balance between activity and relaxation. I just fell in with the group, wandering around the Vietstar resort eating, swimming and drinking the whole time. I joined a smaller group on an excursion to Gềnh Đá Dĩa, about 30 minutes away by bus. It was the place to observe the sunset where you sit on big flat rocks laying on each other like a stack of plates. On both sides of these rock formations there are nice beaches.

On my second day, I woke up early and went solo by taxi down to the town. About 15 minutes from the resort, the town has enough interest to occupy me for a whole morning. I have to say Phu Yen has changed so so much compared to the first time I was there 24 years ago. The good thing remaining is the quiet atmosphere of the city and its friendly people.

I went to Tan Binh Noodles at 121 Nguyen Trai Street for my breakfast, picking a southern style bowl, which was very much like the Nha Trang beef noodles of my home town. It was just a little bit sweeter but very tasty. The owner noticed me taking photos and he tried to re-arrange the table and told me: don't forget to put it on Facebook. It was so funny!

Walking down to the Tuy Hoa market, the biggest one in town, I wasn't that impressed at first look but as I walked toward to the back, I loved it. I love to see live and fresh produce from herbs to meat and seafood and I had no trouble spending about 2 hours there. The sellers were more than happy to talk to me and some even asked me to take their photos, which is very different to Hanoi. I had a lot of laughs with the vendors there. I bought lots of rice crackers from Tuy Hoa and also rice crackers with coconut, chili and sesame seeds from Binh Dinh which are renowned in the region. I was so excited to see them there.

Then I headed to an eatery serving roasted chicken in fish sauce. The Thien Huong restaurant at 211 Le Thanh Ton Street is Tuy Hoa's answer to KFC but very Vietnamese in style, served with fresh herbs, green tomatoes, cucumber and mayonnaise mixed with sweet chilli sauce. Open for lunch and dinner, it was packed with local people, which is always a good sign.

My last stop of the day was Cafe Tung at 69 Tan Da Street. According to the locals, this is one of the oldest coffee houses in town, considered to serve the best coffee. I ordered a black coffee which is unusual for me but it was very good. The coffee shop itself looked a bit tacky with the two parts of the shop very different in character; the entrance was red and modern with high tables while the other section was more relaxing with low chairs and tables with lots of plants around. I bought more than a kilogram of coffee back to Hanoi to drink at home.

It was a short and sweet visit but I'd like to go back again for a longer vacation when I can spend more time on the beach and discover more food.