The ride to My Son which never came

A portion of this entry was written on July 14. Timestamp of writing time included.

Sunrise from afar


[6.08am] The bus that was supposed to take me on the Sunrise My Son tour should have picked me up at 5am. Instead, I’m in my room enjoying the last of the cool morning air.

Turns out, the tour bus misinterpreted my address “3XX, name” as “room 3XX, hotel name”. Worse thing is, I left a wrong phone number with the tour so even if they did try contacting me, it wouldn’t go anywhere.

I decided to sign up for the sunrise tour the day before because I want to escape the tourists and the heat. I biked to Hoi An old town and stopped by a travel agent, which turned out to be Blue Coral, and signed up for a tour + boat ride package. It was US$14 but I didn’t have dollars so I was charged 210,000 dong.

Really excited for the trip, I woke up at 4.30am, went to brush my teeth and put on BB cream in the semi-darkness lighted only by my torchlight.

At 4.50am, I was waiting at the junction.

The 10 minutes until 5am there felt like a very long time. The sky was still light blue with a peep of orangege from the east. There was a surprising number of people zipping by. 5 am!

5.13am


I waited and waited.

Then a public radio started broadcasting. I wasn’t sure what the content was but it felt very socialist–in a positive way. A very uplifting female voice was announcing something which I regret not being able to understand.

As I waited, taxis passed by, giving me a honk or two. I shook my head.

I saw buses turn into a corner but they never turned to me.

Dog which kept barking menacingly at me


At 5.25am, I texted the phone number on my receipt. At 5.40am, I decided to head back.

At 5.50am, a phone call arrived. A man said the tour bus has left as they thought I was staying in a hotel. I asked them to pick me up at the right place for the 8am tour instead.

Funny thing is, my homestay owner said last night that tours sometimes don’t come and pick people up. And that if we have a tour, we can ask her to call and confirm.

I thought to myself: Nah, it won’t happen to me. I just booked it this morning.

And it did, but in a different way.

But the time standing outside was not wasted. I got to see and hear a part of Vietnamese life that was hidden from travellers who wake up at 9am for breakfast.

Still, next I’ll remember to be really specific about my pickup address and also write down the right phone number.

PS Luckily, I was still able to join the 8am tour to My Son. The sun was hot but there wasn’t too many people around. All’s well that ends well.

What travel mishaps have you encountered? Did it end well?

See you in Vietnam!

If the weather permits, I’ll be landing in Da Nang airport, Vietnam, at 4pm+ Singapore time later today. I bought the tickets last October when AirAsia started its flight to Da Nang–9 months in advance.

It wasn’t until the past few months that I started reading up on Da Nang. I was thinking of places to visit but I realized the historical town Hoi An is more suitable for me than beach town of Danang. (I’m also very tempted to visit Hue.)

I’ve done the best I’ve could in preparing for the trip, including reading guidebooks and clipping Hoi An-related content from the Web using Evernote.

I’ve also booked a room at a homestay with good reviews on TripAdvisor. As a solo female traveler, I feel safer living with a family than a single room in an unknown motel especially in a country where I don’t speak the language.

I expect to eat, cycle, get tailored clothes, pretend to sun myself at the beach in Hoi An. But the activities aren’t set in stone. ;)

Onward march!

Revisiting Vietnam

The last time I was in Vietnam, it was in the summer month of August in 2009. I just graduated and was looking for a job. But Nguyen, whom I met while on student exchange in China, persuaded me to visit her in Saigon to eat pho.


Since then, I’ve leveled up my travelling skills. I’ll be bringing the same red backpack but without the heavy carry-on. (My goodness, was the bag really only $4.90?!)

The food was wonderful! Pho, french baguetee and all those yummy unknown. Also, Vietnamese coffee can only be described of as f*cking great(a la DollarShaveClub).

Other pre-trip entries:
Selamat tinggal, I’ll be in Yogyakarta
Do you know the way to San Jose?

Read: To Vietnam with Love

I usually read up on places I am visiting before a trip. Whether it is travel guides, blog posts, recommendation sites, I read them all.

I picked up <<To Vietnam with Love: A travel guide for the connoisseur>> as an afterthought. I was at the library and my arms were already heavy with two other guidebooks.

But I’m glad I did.

<<To Vietnam with Love>> is one of the rare travel guide books that breaks away from the tradition guidebook structure. (I believe the <<To Asia with Love>> series have have the same format.)

The “traditional” travel guide structure is the main reason I don’t review travel guides here.

In a regular guidebook, I find:
->History of City
->Sights to see
->Eat
->Accommodation
->Things to be careful of
->Nearby fun stuff

<<To Vietnam with Love>> is structured differently. Instead of having cities as chapters, it has different themes: Eating, Shopping, Sightseeing, Local culture and etc.

Under each theme, different writers introduce us to the Vietnam he or she has experienced. At the end of their story, there is a blue box that lists the addresses of the places mentioned.

A break from tradition

I was very much in love with this refreshing structure and the layout. The stories were short enough to keep me captivated. They were also useful since the authors give a part of the Vietnam they know to us. (But not very useful if you want a This is What You Should Do kind of travel advice.)

The introduction of the guidebook is spot on. After reading the stories, I felt like I was listening to someone’s travels in Vietnam after a dinner at someone’s house.

The book is also a contrast to other travel compilations.

One thing I don’t like about travel compilations such as <<The Best Women’s Travel Writing>> (please don’t blacklist me) is the length of the stories and the layout of the page.

Most of the pieces of such compilations are long short-story. The text spans from the left border to the right. Adding these two together makes a rather unpleasant pleasant reading experience, even though the stories are great.

A caution to crybabies

Most of the writers in the book are Americans. Since the US has fought in the Vietnam War, a lot of the stories were about revisiting the country as a veteran or a relative of the veteran.

A warning to emotional people like me, these war-related pieces made me weep over my lunch. (Heck, I wept when Hedwig died in the last Harry Potter book.) I had to wipe tears off my cheek or risk eating my tears in my porridge.

Overall, it is a very good book to have, especially if you are not visiting Vietnam. For folks who want itineraries, it’s much better to get the normal travel guidebooks.

Check out other interesting travel book reviews here:

Read: The Great Railway Bazaar
Eat, Pray, Love (Skip the India section.)
Round the world with NT$100,000 (Chinese)
The Naked Traveler (Indonesian)

I’m heading to central Vietnam soon. Any reading recommendations?

Munching through 7 of Lonely Planet’s Top 10 food destinations

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/blog/2011/12/15/food-travel-whats-your-favourite-destination/?affil=twit

Recently we asked our Twitter followers the question: which destinations have you (or will you) visit primarily for the food? As you would expect, hundreds of foodies replied with their favourite places to get their fill. The clear winner? Italy.

1. Italy

2. Thailand

3. Malaysia

4. Singapore

5. Japan

6. India

7. Spain

8. Vietnam

9. China

10. France

Guess what, I’ve been to 7 out of the Top 10. I’ll head over to Italy, Thailand and India soon (fingers crossed).

I love food and I live to eat.

Here are some of my favorite food I’ve nommed during my trips.

Continue reading

What Mark Zuckerberg ate in Vietnam

http://jezebel.com/5871398/mark-zuckerbergs-amazing-race-luxury-vacation-revealed

The trip ended with more hiking, where Zuck didn’t even need to hunt down local wildlife to kill and eat, because his entire trip was restricted to the finest vegetarian fare in the 3rd world:

Dinners

Grilled Fillet With Coconut With Barbecue Sauce
Fried Tofu With Tomato Sauce
Fried Egg With Sapa Mushroom
Sapa trout carpaccio with shallot and lemon oil
Grilled pork and apple skewers with Sapa honey (Don’t touch that, Mark!)
Sapa mushroom risotto
Eggplant, tomato and onion gratin

Lunch
Cucumber Salad
Fried Shrimp vegetable
Fried Channa Maculata Fish
Potato with Cheese

Desserts
Baked pear and cinnamon crumble
Creme caramel
Gingerbread pudding
Rice pudding with Strawberry sauce

All this food talk is making me hungry! Good news is I’ll be in Vietnam twice next year, bad news is, I won’t be able to eat all that un-Vietnamese food the billionare CEO of Facebook ate.

NOM.

2012 can’t come fast enough

This morning I realized that it is already the end of November but I haven’t finished writing this year’s new year resolutions!

It makes today’s prompt for BootsnAll’s 30 Days of Indie Travel blogging project even more funny. I haven’t made plans for my life but I’ve already made plans for travelling.

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(Image from my TripIt app. Here’s a review of the Web program.)

Aside from the Chinese New Year tickets, the flights for the rest of the trips were bought on offer and I’m dang proud of myself for that. 

Some of next year’s travel will be more challenging. For the two Vietnam trips, I’ll be going alone and I don’t speak Vietnamese.

But that also makes it more exciting because they’ll be like warm up for my RTW trip where I plan to visit many countries which I don’t speak the language.

Yogjakarta has been on my To Go list after I found out about the ancient Hindu temples nearby. I’ll be travelling with D, my travel buddy who I went to Bandung with a few years ago. (This trip also reminds me I need to visit Angkor Wat.)

The locations I’m going to are great for indie travelers because they aren’t really huge cities and you can cover a lot of the areas within a few days of wondering around.

Can’t wait for 2012 to come.

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This blog post is part of BootsnAll’s 30 Days of Indie Travel Project. Day 30 (last day!): 2012 TICKET

Where are you going in 2012?  Why is that place great for indie travelers? 

The rest of my posts for the project can be found here.

Long live Vietnamese coffee

Vietkopi

The first time I had Vietnamese coffee was in My Tho, the hometown of N. Before the trip, I was already a coffee junkie, requiring one cup of coffee with milk each day or else I’ll feel a headache coming up.

Before the trip, I’ve read about Vietnamese coffee. Butter roasted, dripped through a metal filter into condensed milk. I figured it would taste the same as the regular coffee in Malaysia or Singapore since we use condensed milk too.

I waited for the cup of coffee to finish filtering and stirred in my condensed milk.

I lifted the cup and took a zip, then frowned. Continue reading

How I learned to eat like a rabbit

Veg99

I hate eating raw vegetables. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up in a Chinese household where salads are not common.

I dislike the taste of raw leafy greens, eating it makes me feel like a goat. (Others would inject here: At least say a rabbit, not goat!)

It wasn’t until I was in Vietnam where they consumed pails of vegetable that I learned how to eat raw greens (half raw, would be the better term).

Veg01

At a pho restaurant, a metal pail of fresh greens await you. When you bowl of piping hot beef noodle soup comes, you pluck the leaves off and dunk it into your soup.

Veg03

I gingerly sniffed the darker greens. It smelled alright. A bit of the unnamed vegetable and I was hooked. Their veg has a slightly herby taste that goes so well with beef soup.

 

Veg02

The next time I ate another pho, I eagerly drowned my vegetable in the hot soup and slurped it along with my noodles. Yummy.

But the spell broke once I ended my trip. Back home, all greens uncooked taste yucks.

This post is part of BootssAll’s 30 Days of Indie Travel project. Day 8: Love Learning.

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The rest of my posts for the project can be found here.

0812 Pre trip and Leaving for Saigon

My trip to Ho Chi Minh City began in an instant message chat:

Me: I’m hungry!
Nguyen: Come here and I’ll treat you dinner.
Me: (Thinking she’s still in China) I want claypot noodles
Nguyen: You should ask for pho. I’m back in Vietnam
Me: Oh!
Nguyen: Want to come visit?
Me: (After 5 minutes of inner struggle) I’ll ask my mom

The tickets were quite cheap, and mom (being mom and perhaps a bit guilty that she let my sister go to Australia while I could not go Taiwan) said yes.

So I bought a ticket leaving Aug 12, and returning 22. And the rest, will be (hopefully) recorded here.

———
I started packing my bags four days before the trip. Packing as in throwing everything I want to bring into a box to decide if I really need them.

I didn’t want to drag a luggage around as Nguyen might be fetching me on her motorcycle. So I got a red backpack from Carrefour at $4.90 as a check in bag.

A girl needs all her toiletries, and not all of them are in 100ml containers. 100ml of sunblock can only last how many days?

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I left the house on a sunny morning, 15 minutes later than planned.

Nearby, there was this sign.

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On the MRT, I was appalled by who would want to buy bakkwa that looks like Chinese sausages or more yucky–stools.

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Part of my: These Crocs are made for walking series. In the MRT

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I was just barely on time for check in as the budget terminal shuttle bus took the longest time to arrive.

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I’m leaving on a jet plane~

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Immigration form that I filled in painstakingly which the immigration officer didnt collect.

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Another part of the–photos in foreign toilets series.

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Welcome to HCM indeed. While walking along the corridor to the baggage collection, I looked out the window at the car park and realised it’s really a “motorcycle park” instead

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I changed my Singaporean dollars to Vietnamese Dong at $1 to 12,530 and I was a millionaire.

As I stepped out the airport, scanning the crowd, I saw a someone with a big hat shouting. It’s Nguyen! It has been two full years since we last met.

I met her mother and we hopped on a car to her godparents’ place.

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Nguyen’s godmother prepared a huge lunch!

First up was stuffed snails. I figured if the French can eat them, so can I. I dipped them into fish sauce and garlic shreds. And they were chewy and yum!

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Underfed-looking spring roll rolled by myself

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After lunch, I went with Nguyen and her mom back to her home in My Tho.

And I rediscovered an old skill of mine– I am able to fall asleep on any cars as long as the scenery is not buildings. So I slept all the way from Saigon to My Tho and woke up with a sore neck. But all was well!!

At night, I had my first motorbike ride since 10. I admit. It is super duper scary. I had flashes of my life passing by my eyes. And wondered if my insurance (thank heavens I bought it) pays for motorbike accidents.

But Nguyen was a very good driver and I survived my ten days of bike riding.

We had supper– noodles.

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I found this funny– electrical candles in front of the Virgin Mary

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Very yummy shaved ice with a lot of fruits

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