Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Tokyo


Five nights in Tokyo is not enough but I'm very happy with what I experienced. People are so friendly, things here are amazingly clean and people love to queue for hours just for popcorn which surprised me.

I stayed at a very convenient hotel located right next to the Hanzomon subway near the Imperial Palace grounds. From there, we travelled around Tokyo with three day passes for the entire metro , which is a phenomenal system. With loads of recommendations from friends and clients, I think I discovered Tokyo almost like a local.

We arrived on a Friday evening so the Japanese people were dressed up a bit different compared to week days. Over the weekend, it was amazing to see how many different styles being worn, especially in the Harajuku area. One of the best places to people watch that I've ever experienced. It was like sitting beside a fashion runway. It doesn't matter which direction that I looked there was always a surprise. 

I love Japanese food even more here as Japanese people are very careful with their food and also the way they decorate the food. Sometimes, it didn't feel right to eat it because it looked way to good to be eaten. There are way too many places around but I'd love to list some of my top favorites: Maisen, Jomon, Harayuku Gyoza Lou, Watamin-chi and Luke's lobster (bread roll)

I wouldn't have thought coffee is a big deal in Japan or that I would've able to get good coffee here at all. But I rolled my eyes many times because they do have so many great places serving amazing coffee from old-world Japanese style to modern style. I highly recommended: The Roastery, Omotesando Cafe, Chatei Hatou. 

Because of the incredible public transportation system, traveling around Tokyo is easy. We never got in a single taxi. Most of the signs around Tokyo are both in Japanese and English and people don't mind to walk with you for a couple hundred meters to show you where you should be. We experienced very generous hospitality from the locals during my stay. 

I went to several tourist spots after my stomach filled up with food just trying to see something amazing and burn some calories and make room for more. I would love to come back here to Tokyo for another week just to eat, drink and walk around. Arigatogozaimashita どうもありがとうございました and See you again: Mata o ai またお会い

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Chiang Mai

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With lots of recommendations from our friends for food and what do to in Chiang Mai, we arrived with quite a list to achieve in five short days.

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We hired a motorbike to drive around the city, which is easy to navigate because of the river that forms a square around the old town. The traffic is nowhere near as crazy as Vietnam because the Chiangmai people seem to follow the rules and there is less vehicles than what we're used to in Hanoi. We drove most of the time to different markets to eat breakfasts lunches and dinners. The fresh produce in the markets in Chiang Mai is displayed beautifully and there were enough different vegetables and other things to make it interesting for us. I love the coffee served by an old lady in front of the Chiang Mai Gate Market and also the simple breakfast of toast with a poached egg from the man next door. It was a fantastic spot to watch the local people go in and out of the market. Also a nice spot to take photos.

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I can't forget a small noodle soup run by two pretty elderly sisters close by to the place we were staying. Strongly recommended by EatingAsia, we went there very early and seemed to be the first customers of the day as we were worried that they would run out before we got there. We ordered a sticky rice dish and two types of noodles: one with pork and blood which is similar to Bún Bò Hue and the second noodles with fish. These three dishes were fantastic!!!

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There are so many beautiful wats around Chiang Mai, almost on every corner. Even though they are similar in design, they each have little details in the architecture or statues that made it interesting for us. They are also a good place to have a rest from the heat.

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As I'm from Hanoi, the heat didn't bother me so much even though it was 41degrees on our first few days there. Fortunately, the humidity is lower, which helps. Luckily we stayed at our friend's apartment on a very high floor with a breeze blowing though. On the last two nights it was cooler after a storm passed through during the night which made the city cooler and clearer in the next days.

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The great thing about the food markets in Chiang Mai is the variety of choices that local sellers offer. I loved noodles that I can add lots of different fresh herbs and vegetables such as mint, basil, shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, pickles and chili. I also can choose different refreshing drinks from fresh coconut juice to flavored syrups topped with crushed ice.

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We always talk about whether we would go back to a place on the way to airport and we decided that Chiang Mai is definitely worth a return visit.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Now Noa Private Island, Palawan, Philippines

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Yet another short great 2 different flight with Cebu airlines, a 3.5 hour bus ride and 35 minute boat trip. We arrived at Noa Noa island for a short vacation. I had been to the Philippines before but Boracay and it was such a beautiful place to be with white sand beach, great seafood at market and nice place to stay. But I have to admit that Palawan is just another beautiful place that I would need more than just 4 nights.

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The white sand beach, the coral, the resort's staff and of course the food was fantastic. We spent most of our time snorkeling, eating and having daily massages on our vacation which is my perfect idea of travel. It took me a little while to get used to breathing by mouth for snorkeling as I haven't done it for such a long time, and I drank heaps of salt water. It's good for my body somehow, I thought. It was great fun when I could do it the proper way. I saw way so many beautiful fish, huge clams and colorful coral.

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The resort staff was really generous with the tasty food. They kept asking us if we wanted snacks, cakes and fruits in between meals. Everything they made was fresh and delicious. They shopped every morning at the neighboring island, driving their boat there and back to buy daily ingredients: fish, veggies .... The best part of the experience was that we were the only people on the island. In some way, it was a bit funny that somebody was serving and entertaining me instead of me doing it.

We had a great time and certainly we would come back here again for a longer vacation

Friday, May 08, 2015

Mui Ne

Mui Ne

My two night-three day escape to Mui Ne right before Tet was great even though the bus trip to get there from Dalat wasn't as I expected. I thought I would be in a nice big bus with a very smooth journey but only 25 minutes after we started, the bus got a flat tire. Then the bus conductor put me in the last row with four young Chinese women who took nonstop selfies and chatted very loudly. It was hard to block it all out!

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Anyhow, I arrived in Mui Ne and checked into the Cham Villas, a very pretty boutique resort, very private and quiet compared to the bus journey. 

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I started my Mui Ne exploration by checking out the area and quickly realized it was pretty much similar to my hometown, Nha Trang which is also popular with Russian tourists and therefore caters very much to them. Even the local staff speak Russian. After I had lunch at the seafood restaurant nearby, I went back to the Cham Villas to swim at the hotel's beach and enjoy a couple of cocktails, very well made I must say!


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Later I walked to the other end of the main street where all of the tourists go and all the street seafood restaurants are located. I picked live crabs and prawns to be barbecued and a small fish for sweet and sour fish broth. Way too full, I walked back to the hotel, keeping an eye out for a nice decent bar but I actually couldn't find one. I like to sit at a relatively quiet bar with not many tourists but most of them were packed with tourists. I decided to hang out at the hotel pool swimming again before heading to bed, ready for the next day when I would go with a local guide to see some of the sights.

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My guide picked me up at 12 after my morning of relaxation at the beach, pool and a very nice lunch at a small local chicken restaurant. I ordered half a chicken barbecued with chili and another half boiled, eaten with salt, chilli and lime. It was my best meal in Mui Ne. 

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I visited Mui Ne's famous Fairy Stream for a pleasant hour long walk in the shallow water with quite a lot of other tourists. Then I headed to a fishing village where fishermen were painting their boats, picking at mussels while their kids ran around. Life is so peaceful there and the people were very warm and openly friendly. They didn't mind that I took pictures while they were working. The last stop was the sand dunes, where I hired a guy with a three wheel buggy to drive up and around the area for a wander. He scared me so much when he sped up and down the hills very quickly. I thought I would roll a thousand times down hill and as I screamed the driver laughed out loud. 

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I took it easy that evening and the next morning relaxed at the hotel and beach before heading back to Nha Trang for Tet. I would highly recommend the Cham Villas. It is a great little resort, with decent food and friendly staff. Hopefully I can come back again in the near future.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Siem Reap

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I just enjoyed a short escape to Siem Riep to eat different food, meet friends and to relax. It is a much busier place than on my previous visits - lots of new bars and restaurants especially around Pub Street. Luckily my hotel was away from all the action, a short tuk-tuk ride from the Old Market.

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We met Lina, our friend: author of Move to Cambodia for a dinner at Mie cafe, one of her favourite restaurants in town. It was a very nice place serving modern Khmer dishes. I'd highly recommend this restaurant. After that we headed to Miss Wong cocktail bar for a  few drinks. I love this bar and remember it from years back. Small, not loud music, nice cocktails and very friendly staff. 

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I love the old market very much even though it's very touristy. I went there everyday just for a wander, to smell the incense, flowers, spices and food. The way they display their fresh produce is very photogenic. Local Cambodian vendors show a lot of pride in the way they display their food which is similar to us in Vietnam.



I love having a Cambodian massage even though I'm not sure that's what it's called. I visited Master Feet and spent an hour every day for foot and arm massages, usually after walking around for a few hours. In the evening, we had a great experience with Lina and Steven: food tour in Siem Reap. It was so much fun, this is such a great way to see the city through local expat eyes. We went around Siem Reap by tuk tuk and tried heaps of local food. As you would expect, I ate way too much. We visited quite different markets, crossed lots of busy streets to try Siem Reap's specialties and that's the best way to learn and understand the local culture and their food. After the tour, headed to Picasso bar for a couple of drinks before going back to the hotel. Quite a small bar but with great atmosphere, the Picasso Bar cocktails were nice enough according my limited cocktails experience. We had a few drinks there and met up with some new people before a final cocktail at Miss Wong. It was a great night!!!

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I don't usually eat at hotels but the Victoria Hotel breakfast was great and I enjoyed very much. For coffee, we were guided to The Little Red Fox Espresso as it's the best coffee in town. I enjoyed the quiet, good coffee and spend some time catching up on work.  We met Lina again for lunch at Olive, Cuisine De Saison. It was weird to eat French fusion food in Siem Reap but it was delicious, quiet and we spent lots of time chatting about the town, business and food. 

I would come back here again in the near future as I love the heat, the people, market, food and the excellent massage.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Dalat

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I haven't been back to Dalat for more than 10 years so I decided to spend two nights there recently during the Tet holiday period. It probably wasn't enough time but because I traveled by myself, two days was enough that I didn't get bored with my own company. I didn't think Dalat had many types of food on offer but funny enough I spent most of my time trying heaps of them. Some snacks are interpretations from other cities but some are Dalat specialities.

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I had lunch at a small family restaurant recommended by my taxi guy where they cook great Vietnamese food and food from Dalat. It was really good especially the local dishes; artichoke broth with pig trotters and BBQ deer with sesame seeds. After lunch, I walked a bit and had a coffee in a very small cafe where all the men came for a quick caffeine hit and to purchase tickets in both the normal lottery and the black lottery. It was a bit awkward but there were many funny and interesting conversations between those men and the lady who runs the black lottery business. In the afternoon I followed my friend's recommendation: avocado ice cream. I was really looking for it and it was super. The ice cream mixed with fresh smooth avocado went down so well that I can still taste the gorgeous flavor.

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On the last day, I hired a taxi to visit Truc Lam Thien Vien pagoda. I walked around the beautiful pagoda then wandered around the lake. The view was very nice, the atmosphere peaceful except for the noise created by Chinese and Russian tourists. Anyhow, we went to Love Valley, a place decorated with over-the-top decorations, most of them were very truly ugly. Another interesting but ugly structure in Dalat is Hang Nga Villa, also known as the Crazy House. It is quite a fascinating construction but unfortunately full of tourists shouting and taking photos. I admit I was taking photos, too, but I did feel a bit stupid!!!!

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My visit to Dalat was short and sweet and cool, by the way. Because it's located in the central highlands, Dalat has a climate that is not as cold as Hanoi but cold enough for me to have to buy a jacket. Keep that in mind if you ever visit. As for me, I wouldn't mind coming back here again for a short break but next time with a friend.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Côn Đảo



We took a very short escape for four nights to Côn Đảo for relaxation which we enjoyed very much. The surroundings are still pretty much wild jungle with beautiful pristine beaches. The locals are very charming and friendly. I love the way the main town is nicely planned with good tidy infrastructure (unlike Hanoi) which makes the town run very easily and smoothly. One main priority when I'm on the coast is finding good seafood. Not difficult on Con Dao.



We hired a motorbike for the whole time to discover the island ourselves instead of taking taxis or joining tour groups from the hotel. We found wild beautiful beaches around, great little coffee shops and also great local seafood restaurants. We kept going back the the same restaurant for the whole four days. Called Ớt (Chilli) Seafood Restaurant, it was serving a great selection of live fresh seafood from crabs, shrimps, Moreton Bay bugs to lobsters and fish. I love the simple cooking methods they suggested, either steamed or barbecued, but always tasty. They also cooked a very nice sweet and sour fish broth to eat with rice and also steamed veggies eaten with a special dipping sauce: Kho Quẹt.



After lunch each day, we headed to Góc Phố Cafe to enjoy their coffee. Sitting on high plastic chairs looking over the road without any traffic and the town's clock tower. Life is so easy, calm and peaceful in this town.



Food is always my first highlight and I'd like to mention my second highlight; the Six Senses Resort. We had such a fantastic time with good breakfast and dinner even though it was more expensive than what we normally pay. We really enjoyed the ocean view from our room, the infinity pool and private beach.



I'd come back here again and hopefully the place stays the same as it is now: charming, peaceful, friendly people and great seafood.