Tag Archives: lifestyle

Bac Ha Market

Every Sunday, throngs of people travel to Bac Ha for the Bac Ha Sunday Market. Tourists travel by bus from Sapa and Lao Cai, and locals arrive by motorbike, truck, bicycle and even foot. Some wake up before the sun rises and spend hours traveling to the market. It not only serves as a giant hub for trade and commerce, but it is also a major social event. The women spend all morning together either selling or buying goods for the week, and the men crowd together at small tables eating intestine soup and getting sloppy off of local rice wine. It’s crowded, loud, hot, hectic and smelly- just like every good market should be!

Bac Ha has your usual selection of produce, home goods and souvenirs, but it also has a huge variety of live animals! Birds, ducks, dogs, water buffalo and more are all in high abundance. You can spend a couple bucks on a carton of chickens, or drop over a thousand dollars on a water buffalo. As cool as this all sounds, Bac Ha is not for the faint hearted. The atmosphere is quite intense and a walk through the raw meat section can have even the biggest meat eaters contemplating vegetarianism. But if you are making the trip all the way up to Sapa, it would be a shame to miss the Bac Ha Market. It gives you a great lens to see into the lives of the minority people in the north, and there is a lot of great shopping…my parents and I went a little crazy picking out gifts and souvenirs! You can write about it all you want, but you’ll only get the real feel of the place by going there. Pictures will give you an idea, but definitely won’t do it justice. But it’s worth a try, right? Enjoy!

Got Chilis?

Raw meat for sale - this definitely looks sanitary....

Blood Sausage and Meat ready to eat - look appetizing to you?

 

Men eating and drinking - they probably start around 9am in the morning too!

 

Flower Hmong women selling rice wine.

Babies!!!!

Water Buffalo for sale at the Bac Ha Market - people can spend years saving up for one of these.

 

A selection of knives and tools.

 

Piles of shoes!

 

Trinkets and gifts

 

Table Runners and Wall Hangings

One last word of advice if you are heading to Bac Ha Market: everyone is going to try to rip you off! Don’t be fooled,  you can usually bargain your way down to half of the starting price. Sometimes half of the fun shopping at these markets is seeing what kind of deals you can get!

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Scenes from Nha Trang

Nha Trang is so beautiful that I can’t resist posting some of my favorite photos from the trip. For those of you in Saigon, it’s only a $10 bus ride away and if you take the night bus it’s totally possible to visit Nha Trang over a long weekend. This is the perfect place to take a beach vacation on a budget.

For about $1.50 you can rent one of these beach chairs at the Louisiane Brewhouse for an entire day. The area is clean and waiters will bring food and cold drinks to your seats. A 330ml glass of freshly brewed beer costs you $1.50.

For $18 you can parasail along the main strip of beach in Nha Trang. That is actually me and my friend Greg!

View of Nha Trang from the Cham Towers (only a 10 minute drive away from the center of town).

For just $5 a day, you can rent a motorbike and drive along the coast of Nha Trang. The roads aren't very crowded and you get a great view of all the islands around Nha Trang.

You also pass a bunch of fishing villages as you cruise around.

For $18 you can take a 6 hour boat/snorkling tour around the surrounding islands of Nha Trang. Snorkling gear, lunch and a guide are all provided.

Who knew water this clear existed in Vietnam? Perfect for snorkling!

In addition, lodging in the backpackers district is no more than $10 a night per person, making a trip to Nha Trang very affordable. Think about how much a vacation like this would cost in a place like Hawaii! I can’t wait to go back!

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Ala Mezon

If you are tired of hitting up Backpacker’s or the usual clubs, Ala Mezon is a great alternative to the Saigon nightlife scene. With a variety of rooms to choose from, Ala Mezon can suit almost any occasion. Although I have yet to try the food menu, they offer a mix of Japanese and French cuisine and have a dining room on the ground floor. As you make your way through the multiple floors of Ala Mezon you can find anything from an outdoor roof top lounge area, a room with a Wii and Rockband, a Hello Kitty suite complete with a variety of board games, and a floor with a live DJ and seats at the bar. The cocktails at Ala Mezon range from about 80,000 – 100,000 VND, but are so worth the dong you pay. I’ve tried the So Flavor Tea (vodka, green tea liqueur, shiso leaf and cranberry juice) and the Sake Mojito, both of which are so refreshing and delicious.  I also tried Ashley’s Love Valley (tequila, fresh strawberries, honey and lime) and Nicky’s Pink Margarita (tequila, cointreau and raspberry gren.) the other night and I would highly recommend both of those drinks. The atmosphere at Ala Mezon is stylish and relaxed and is good for groups since there are a number of small rooms you can have to yourselves.

Rooftop Lounge Area

Ashley and I with our cocktails

The girls chilling in the Hello Kitty Suite

I mean, this room is seriously awesome!

DJ and Bar Area

Downstairs Dining Area

Ala Mezon is located at 10 Chu Manh Trinh, District 1.

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Getting Around Saigon

It took me almost five months, but I’ve finally worked up the courage and inspiration to rent a motorbike in the city. I’ve been driving for a few weeks now and I love it, but let’s back up a bit and see how I got to this point.

When I first got to Saigon I was terrified of the traffic. I mostly walked everywhere for the first couple weeks, but even walking is no easy feat here. If you are lucky enough to be on a sidewalk, you still have to look out for bikes driving and parking in the area designated for pedestrians. After I finished my TESOL certification I started walking less and taking xe oms (motorbike taxis) more because I had to travel across the city to visit different schools. There is no subway system here and the buses scare me, so xe oms became my only real option for transportation. Xe om literally means “motorbike hug,” and has said name because riders on the bike often “hug” the driver to hold on while riding. Xe Oms are generally inexpensive ($1-$2 per ride), but are not always the most convenient form of transportation for a couple of reasons. First, there is no organization or company that xe om drivers work for, you just have to figure out which guys on the streets are drivers. There is no designated uniform, so sometimes it’s really hard to figure out who is a driver and who is not. It’s also really embarrassing to go up to some guy and ask for a ride and then find out that he isn’t a driver. Second, some areas are full of drivers and others you can walk for blocks and not find a driver. When it’s hot out, you are pressed for time, or it’s late at night, you just want to be able to hop on a moto and ride home, but that’s not always possible. Finally, although single rides are cheap, they add up. If you need to run errands around the city you can end up spending almost $10 a day for transportation. Not the most economical form of transportation here.

So with all this said, why did it take me five long months to get a bike? BECAUSE IT’S SCARY!!! Not only is traffic crazy, but maneuvering a motorbike is a daunting task. My fear of driving kept me off the roads and content with taking xe oms for about four months. When February rolled around I started thinking about seriously getting a motorbike. I figured if I really wanted to make a life for myself here, I’d have to eventually start driving. While in Mui Ne, Annie and I rented a bike and practiced out in the countryside where there was almost no traffic. However, the trip ended up only increasing my fear of driving, not making me more comfortable with it. We rented one automatic bike and I found the thing big and heavy and especially with a person on the back, I felt like I’d never be able to maneuver a bike around the city.

After a few more frustrating weeks dealing with xe oms and encouragement from my driving friends here, I decided to make an active effort to get comfortable on a bike. The area of the city where I live in is way too crowded to practice driving, so my friend Javier took me out to District 7 to practice on his Honda Wave. Since I found the automatic bike too big for comfort, I decided I wanted to drive a manual bike instead. District 7 is only a twenty minute drive outside of the center of town, but feels miles and miles away from the city. There are wide streets, free standing houses, and nearly traffic free streets. It’s the closest thing to a suburb you’ll find in Vietnam.  After an entire afternoon cruising around District 7 I finally felt ready to get the bike.

Due to some logistical problems (places not having bikes ready right away), it took me a couple weeks after practicing to rent my bike. By that time I had lost some of my motivation to drive and when my bike was finally delivered to me I let it sit in my parking garage for a few days before actually taking it out on the roads. But I eventually worked up the courage and began driving. It was so scary at first and for the first few days I’d have to psych myself up each time I got on the bike. However, after I got over my initial fear, driving turned into a rather enjoyable experience. When you look out onto the traffic in Saigon it seems crazy and unnavigable, but once you get out on the road you see that it’s a system of organized chaos. Sure there are millions of motorbikes, cars, trucks and buses on the roads of Saigon, but it somehow all works.

It’s almost impossible to explain what driving is like here so I’ll leave you guys with a couple of pictures. I’ll try to get some more pictures of the traffic and post them on here later.

Me on my Honda Wave 110

Rush hour traffic on the road that I take to work

And not only is there crazy traffic but there is also some crazy construction going on

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Late Night Seafood Snacks

Late night snacking is a big thing in Saigon, and it ranges from pho to kebabs to banh mi to seafood. When it starts getting dark out, vendors will start setting up their small tables and chairs on the sidewalks and large groups of people will hang out for hours eating, drinking and socializing. The other night I went to play tennis with a few friends, and when we finished at 11pm we were hungry and craving seafood. So we headed to a street in the middle of District 3 that is full of small seafood stalls. The seafood is presented in a bunch of colorful baskets and all you have to do is point to what you want and the servers will cook it and then bring it to your table. We went in a group of 6 so we were able to order a bunch of different dishes to share. The atmosphere in these types of restaurants is always relaxed and low key. It’s a great place to sit back and just hang out with friends, drink some beer and eat some delicious and cheap seafood.

Baskets of Seafood - they are usually more full, but I took this photo late at night...

Cockles, or small saltwater clams

Not exactlly sure what this is called. My Vietnamese friend called it fingernail seafood - creepy???

Clams with lemongrass - my favorite!

More clams, this time with peanuts and scallions

And of course, no meal would be complete without some morning glory with garlic and seafood fried rice

So including a couple beers and sodas this meal cost each of us 65,000VND (aka ~$3.00). Not bad, eh?

Seafood stalls are located on a street right off  of CMT8 traffic circle.

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A Storm is Brewing…

The other night I had plans to meet up with Ashley for dinner, but then ended up staying home to avoid this storm. Here are some shots I took from my apartment right before the storm hit the city. It was pretty intense, I thought maybe the world was ending.

A storm is coming…

Its getting closer...

ITS HERE!!!

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10 Things I Liked About My Trip To Singapore

I was going to write an in depth entry about the history, culture, and rapid growth of Singapore, but then I got lazy. Besides, Mike has already done this and I am pretty sure what he wrote is better than anything I’d come up with. So check out his blog, http://mike-alongthemekong.blogspot.com/,  if you are interested. Singapore has such an interesting story and Mike does a great job telling it! So instead I’m going to provide you a list, complete with photos, of “10 Things I Liked About My Trip To Singapore.” Here we go!

1. SHOPPING!!! Wow. I haven’t been to a place that has nearly as many shopping centers as Singapore does. They also have some of my favorite stores: Uniqlo, Topshop, Gap, Steve Madden, etc. I literally could not contain my excitement when exploring all the shopping malls.

The ION Shopping Center, a new and massive underground mall

Inside Orchard Central, welcome to shopping in the future

2. Public Transportation. I have a weird obsession with taking the subway so I had a field day while in Singapore. The subway system was organized, clean, cheap and efficient.

Kallang subway stop near our hotel

The subway is so fun!

3. Clean and wide streets. The streets are so narrow, crowded and dirty in Vietnam. What a breath of fresh air to see the streets in Singapore. Their civil engineers deserve a raise!

One side of the street has four lanes...FOUR LANES! Good luck finding that in Vietnam.

4. Use of the English language. People speak English well. Signs and menus are in English. There are also English bookstores. Needless to say we spent a rainy afternoon browsing through a Borders on Orchard Rd.

Borders on Orchard Rd.

5. Seeing The Bad Plus at the Esplanade. They played a great show and it made me feel like I was back home seeing them in NYC. The Esplanade is also a beautiful venue that overlooks the downtown skyline and the Marina Bay Sands.

Front of the Esplanade

The Bad Plus playing the Mosaic Music Festival at the Esplanade

6. Drinking a fresh Singapore Sling while overlooking the downtown skyline. So what if it cost me twenty Singapore dollars. Sometimes you gotta go big or go home.

Sipping on a delicious Singapore Sling

7. Spectacular views of skyscrapers. The views of downtown are literally breathtaking. Mad props to the architects.

Buildings downtown...and do you see how a couple posing for wedding photos snuck into the photo?

Same buildings, different view, no bride and groom

So cool it looks fake

8. The Marina Bay Sands. Architecturally, the Marina is one of the coolest buildings I’ve ever seen. In addition to the hotel the Marina offers a casino, celebrity restaurants and a gigantic shopping mall complete with an indoor ice skating rink.

Marina Bay Sands at night

Inside the Marina Bay Sands hotel

9. Being a nerd at the Singapore National Museum. I really enjoyed some of their temporary exhibits, especially one called “Eating on the Street” that examined the lives of Singaporeans from the 1950’s – 1970’s through street food sold by hawkers. Their permanent exhibit on Singaporean history came along with a fantastic audio guide and I learned a lot about how a busy trading port turned into one of the most advanced cities/countries in the world.

Singapore National Museum

10. Drinking from a public water fountain. Unheard of in Vietnam.

Public Water Fountain in seven different langauges!

So to summarize: I liked Singapore.

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