Penang House Sit

Sunset from Quayside Condominiums

We were treated to nightly sunsets as we ate dinner in the condo we were house sitting. It honestly was amazing.

As has happened many times in our travels, we hit the jackpot again with our house sit here in Penang. We have been able to spend more than 2 weeks relaxing and looking after a wonderful little pug who has taught us why this breed is so loved by its owners.

Other than taking advantage of the fitness facilities and swimming pool, life has been very slow paced here. As we are able to enjoy both sunrise and sunset from the balconies in this condo, I took the opportunity as a chance to learn a bit about time lapse photography.

We also took a morning to take in a guided walk at the Penang Botanical Gardens.

Penang Botanic Gardens

Did a free guided walk at the Botanic Gardens one weekend. Great group of people and a very knowledgable guide.

Clouded Monitor Lizard

This little Clouded Monitor Lizard was warming up in the sun.

Water Lily

In abundance in this area of the world, you can’t go near a garden without seeing lilies.

Favourite Insect

Spotted this male dragonfly hanging out by the water lilies. You have to love any creature who eats mosquitoes.

Cannonball Tree

The blossom on this Cannonball Tree is being pollinated by a stingless honeybee. We learned all sorts of trivia on our tour of the Botanic Gardens.

I mentioned in the previous post that we had discovered the joys of Uber here in Penang. After chatting with some expats we also tried a company called Grab. It only gets better. With the specials being offered due to Ramadan it was cheaper to be driven door to door with Grab than to take public transit. Honestly, due to the heat we did not do a lot of exploring in the area. Taking an air conditioned car to any destination was definitely more comfortable. We did go on a stroll to the neighbouring fishing community one afternoon.

Local Fisherman

Went for a walk to look at the fishing community adjacent to our condo complex. The boats seem to change a bit from country to country when it comes to the local fisherman. The consistent thing is they are hard, hard workers. Much respect.

Survivor

I have to admit I was surprised to encounter this dog wandering on the shoreline near the fishing community. We have not seen many large dogs in Malaysia, this one is obviously a survivor though.

Our time house sitting here in Penang has been wonderfully rejuvenating. We are looking forward to spending a few days playing tourist in Georgetown before heading to our next house sit in Thailand. Work, work, work…..I love it.

 

Categories: House Sitting, Malaysia, Photography, travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

On to Penang

As our journey through Malaysia continues we find ourselves in Penang. Enroute from the Perhentian Islands we stopped for a few days at the Bali Beach Resort just outside of Kuala Besut. Nice place, but it certainly is a lesson in experiencing another culture. It just so happened we arrived there during the first day of Ramadan. As this area of Malaysia is predominately Muslim it made for a quiet stay. Quiet as in the only restaurant in the area open during the day was the one in the resort and they were definitely geared down for the month. Fortunately the pool is great and the rooms had fantastic views so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Lesson learned.

On to Penang.

Firefly Airline

We booked our flight on Malaysia Air but were flown to Penang on their budget airline, Firefly. Great airline, smooth landings and they served peanuts, I like peanuts! Quite enjoyable.

One of our new experiences we had in Penang is Uber. Wow! I understand it can be different in countries around the world, but here, it is awesome. I can see why taxi companies hate them. It would take an order of magnitude for any taxi company I have ever used to bring themselves up to the convenience, timelines, service, and price of what we have experienced with Uber in Penang. Love it.

Sunset from our apartment

The apartment we rented for the first ten days here is in an area that was described as lower middle class. I am not exactly sure what that means here, but I quite liked the area. I had a short conversation with a local in the restaurant, he was curious about where we were staying, as how he put it was “we don’t get many tourists around here”. The apartment was great, photo is of the sunset from our window, and the restaurants in the area were fantastic. And cheap.

It is hot here so casual walks around sightseeing can be a bit draining. We have gotten out to do a few and found the area safe, friendly, and interesting. Of course the most photogenic area we have been to is the UNESCO heritage site of Georgetown in the centre of Penang.

Pinang Fountain

This 4.8 metre high modern sculpture is meant to represent the betel nut, which is where the state derives its’ name from. Historical government building in the background.

Downing St.

The evidence and influence of 170+ years of British rule can be seen everywhere.

Little Children on a Bicycle

Ernest Zacharevic is a young Lithuania-born artist who did a series of murals on the walls in the streets of Penang. “Little Children on a Bicycle” is probably one of the most famous.

Boy on a Bike

A very popular activity for tourists is hunting down the location of all of the pieces of wall art around Georgetown.

Little Boy with Pet Dinosaur

Little Boy with Pet Dinosaur.

The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do This

Not all the wall art is by Ernest Zacharevic. “The Real Bruce Lee Would Never Do This” mural is a sad example of how the climate is deteriorating the wall art all around Penang.

I look forward to returning several times over the next few weeks to explore more of the unique wall art here.

Poh Hock Seah Twa Peh Kong Temple

You never know what you will find around a corner in Georgetown. It lends itself to slow exploration.

We are super excited to be in Penang and get a feel for the pace of life here. Stay tuned for are further exploration of this great city.

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Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

#Perhentian #perhentianisland #boat #clouds #blue #Malaysia

Without a doubt the single most memorable thing for me about the Perhentian Islands was the intensity of the colour. When the sun was shining down on the rocks, water, or clouds everything was taken to extreme. I loved it.

The reason we travelled to the Perhentian Islands was for diving. During our time on Langkawi Island whenever we mentioned to someone we were looking for a place to possibly go diving, everyone suggested the Perhentian Islands. The embarrassing part for me is I had never heard of them. But after some frantic internet education we decided to check it out for ourselves.

Taking it in

Admittedly, we did not see much of the islands. Our main purpose was diving and quite frankly, it was so damn hot that going for a stroll was a bit punishing. However this little bay just down the beach from our place was heaven. After diving one day we spent the better part of an afternoon relaxing here.

Perhentian Mosque

Several times a day we were reminded where we were by the loudspeakers from the mosque on the other island broadcasting prayers. It is interesting how quickly you acclimatize to these things.

Malaysian Coastguard

On our last day the Coastguard (I believe) did a cruise between the two islands.

During our visit we stayed at Tuna Bay Island Resort, which is located on the larger of the two islands. The food was excellent and the rooms were simple but clean and comfortable. As well, probably the best shower we have experienced since coming to Asia.

Tuna Bay Island Resort Beach

The beach out front of the resort was very nice. A small coral reef has been fostered within the swimming area so snorkelling was excellent right off shore. You did have to watch for the little black and white reef fish as when you stopped moving they liked to bite your legs. Nothing serious, just a hell of a surprise.

Universal Diver

Universal Diver was right next door to the resort and handled their scuba package deals. I found it a little confusing the first day figuring out their routine. However once I had that down the diving was great.

Universal Diver Boat

The gear was first class and the dive masters helped solve the problem of ill fitting fins immediately which made the rest of my dives very comfortable.

The diving was great. Visibility was between 2 and 18 metres, most of the time in the 10 – 12 metre range. We visited a variety of sites which kept everything interesting.

Porcupine Fish

This porcupine fish did not have the most welcoming face, but it was cute the way he was tucked into his little hole.

Crown of Thorns Starfish

Crown of Thorns Starfish. Unfortunately these are best known for having a great appetite for coral.

Giant Clams

Several Giant Clams in the area.

Cartoon Clams

I have no idea what type of clam this is, but I loved the cartoon nature of the opening. The white worm just added to the effect.

Dark Wreck

Just so you don’t think we ever have so/so dives. This wreck needed more time for coral to grow and fish to move in. Due to a head cold Karen had to miss this dive, which she wasn’t that sorry about.

Check out the short video I did of our diving here:

 

Mixing Cultures

One of the interesting things to observe here is the mixture of cultures. The majority of guests here are either Asians or Europeans. Seeing a lady in her bikini walking by a group of girls in their hijabs snorkelling causes no excitement whatsoever. Everybody just does their own thing. Rather refreshing.

And did I mention the colours?

Karen by the Bay

Karen relaxing by the bay.

View From the Beach

Couldn’t help but get this shot as I was laying on the beach.

If you get the chance, come visit the Perhentian Islands. Beautiful, reasonable, and did I mention the colour? Love it here.

Categories: Malaysia, Photography, scuba, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi the Jewel of Kedah

This statue represents one of the interpretations of the name Langkawi (Reddish-brown eagle in Malay). It is located in the administrative centre of Kuah which is the largest town on the island.

We have settled into our housesit on Langkawi Island in northern Malaysia. Not to give you the wrong idea, but one of the most attractive things about the island is it is a duty free zone. As Malaysia has the 3rd highest tax on alcohol in the world, this is a wonderful perk. There are limits on how much you can purchase a month, but they are fairly reasonable.

Malindo Air

Another wonderful find for us has been the Malaysian/Indonesian airline Malindo Air. Good service and comfortably spaced seats. As well, unlike North American airlines they do not gouge you for baggage weight. For this 65 minute flight we paid $65CDN for both of us and that included 30kg of checked luggage each.

The heat here is pretty brutal. The coolest time of the day is about an hour before sunrise when it is just 25 – 26C. During the day it gets up to 31 – 33C, the killer is the 65 – 95% humidity which adds another 10C of perceived heat. Thank goodness for air conditioning. This may not have been the best place to decide to start increasing my running mileage.

Rice Paddies

This fellows red top grabbed my attention as we were having our morning coffee. This is just off our back patio. Acres of rice paddies which they work with tractors and hand held hoes.

Evening Rain Showers

Most evenings we get some sort of rainfall. This evening we were also treated to some colour at sunset.

Pagan

So fortunate to have these wonderful cats to look after.

Tootsie

As the home owners have been incredibly gracious in allowing us to use their vehicle we have also started exploring the island and look forward to seeing even more of it before we leave.

Tanjung Rhu Beach

Karen checking the water temperature on Tanjung Rhu Beach on the northeast corner of the island. It’s hot.

North Tanjung Rhu Beach

The clouds here are spectacular. This was on the north end of Tanjung Rhu Beach.

Stay tuned for more sights from Langkawi, as well as a report on the scuba diving here.

 

 

Categories: House Sitting, Malaysia, Photography, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Getting Acquainted With Kuala Lumpur

Flag of Malaysia

The Malaysian Flag at Merdeka (Independence) Square

So here we are; Malaysia. We have been looking forward to this leg of our journey for awhile. This is the 14th country so far in the last 3 and a half years and it is a bit different. Other countries in SE Asia have religions that we are unfamiliar with, however there is no dodging the fact that you have entered a country that is predominately Muslim. From the layout of the grocery stores, to the hajibs, burqas (ladies), taqiyahs (men) on peoples’ heads, to the calls to prayer periodically throughout the day. Only about half the population is Muslim but because it is different to what we are used to it comes across as very noticeable.

"Not in Kansas anymore"

You know things have changed when you glance up at the clock. To be fair, this was in the National Mosque. All the other clocks we have seen use what we would call conventional digits.

Ladies Only Coaches

On one of the train lines in Kuala Lumpur, two of the six cars in the train are designated for ladies only. One of those things that just catches your attention.

Before we arrived here we had made arrangements to rent an apartment for the two weeks of our stay in Kuala Lumpur. This has been a great decision as it places us in the middle of the city with easy access to shopping and transit. This apartment cost us $600CDN for 14 nights.

37th Floor Infinity Pool

We have been in this pool nearly every day we have been here. It is great cooling down and being able to look over the city and reminisce about the sights you have seen. Yes, those are the Petronas Towers in the background. The tallest twin towers in the world.

29th Anniversary

We were able to celebrate our 29th anniversary in the restaurant atop our tower. Fantastic.

We have eased into the sightseeing here. Partly because we are not under a time crunch, but also because of the heat. It is HOT here. I know, not a lot of sympathy from people and I am not looking for any. I am just stating a fact. A cool day here is 32C and that is before factoring in the “feels like” humidex which usually adds another 4 – 7C.

Hop On Hop Off KL

One of the Hop On Hop Off buses we took around the city. (79RM/$22CDN for 48 hours) In most cities we have used them it is always a challenge to get the seats in the open air on the top level. Not here, it is so hot everyone eventually comes inside.

National Mosque

Islam is the national religion of Malaysia so a trip would not be complete without a visit to the National Mosque.

Prayer Hall

The Mosque apparently has a capacity of 15,000 people. Thankfully it was nearly empty when we were there. The people were very welcoming and open in letting us wander about. They did ask that we didn’t go into the main prayer hall, which I thought was more than reasonable.

Bank Negara Museum and Art Gallery

A hidden gem was the Bank Negara Museum. A history of currency in Malaysia as well as an excellent art gallery focused on Malaysia. And it is free!

Central Staircase

Couldn’t resist getting artsy with the staircase in the Bank Negara Museum.

In addition to the Bank Negara Museum we also visited the National and Police Museums. All three are definitely worth the time and are either free or cost 5RM.

After taking in the Botanical Gardens we started focusing more on attractions where we could enjoy air conditioning. These two Canadians were starting to have challenges coping with the consistent high temperatures.

Batu Caves

Though the Batu Caves didn’t have air-conditioning they are caves. As well, we visited them first thing in the morning so we avoided the high temperatures and the crowds.

Entrance to Batu Caves

At the base of the Batu Caves you are greeted by a 42.7 metre tall statue of Lord Murugan and 272 steps before you can gain access to the caves. It is one of the most important Hindu shrines outside of India.

There are plenty of monkeys on and around the stairs as you climb up. They make a great excuse to stop and catch your breath as you watch their antics. As well there are an abundance of colourful figures to check out.

Main Cave

The main cave is huge, with a number of smaller alcoves off of it with shrines and altars. We were fortunate to be there when a service was being performed.

Batu Caves

Looking into the caves from just to the right of the entrance.

Batu Caves

The shrine at the inner most portion of the caves. There is a hole in the ceiling which allows for natural light to come in.

Pigeons

There was no wondering why there was an abundance of pigeons here. As we arrived we watched this fellow feeding them on a large scale.

KL Tower

On the observation deck in the KL Tower. Incredible views.

KL Tower at Sunset

The KL Tower appears to glow as the sun sets and the lighting is turned on. It was very nice being able to relax in our rooftop pool and wait for the light to be just right before hopping out and getting the photo.

Night Markets

It was fun watching this street transform everyday from a normal roadway to an all encompassing street market every night

Towers at Sunset

We never had much of a light show from Mother Nature at sunset, but the city provided it’s own show for us.

Petronas Twin Towers

The tallest twin towers in the world and the symbol of Kuala Lumpur. They truly are breathtaking structures.

View from the Sky Bridge

Looking NW from the Sky Bridge on the 41st floor. If you follow the double line of blue away from the building, where it ends is where the previous photo was taken from, just for some perspective.

SE View from Sky Bridge

Looking SE from the Sky Bridge you can see the Lake Symphony Fountains and some of the construction going on in the city.

41st Floor Sky Bridge

In the reviews of the Petronas Towers you see a fair bit about your time being limited on the Sky Bridge, but seriously people, yes the view is spectacular but do you need more than 10 minutes here. It isn’t that big. They do an excellent job of orchestrating the flow of people through here. At no time did I feel rushed.

Level 86

After the visit to the Sky Bridge you head up to the 86th floor Observation Level.

Panorama

The one thing you start to see as you get higher up and can see further is the pollution. Still an amazing view though. The cost of accessing the Towers is 85RM ($25CDN) and booking ahead is highly recommended.

A Different View

From the Observation level you get a different perspective of the KL Tower and Tower 1 of the Petronas Towers.

We have certainly enjoyed our time in Kuala Lumpur and would recommend it to others without hesitation. The pace, for us, was a little slower and less chaotic than most other major Asian cities we have visited. It actually reminded me a bit of the pace of things back home in Calgary. We’ll leave you with a short video of the colourful fountain display at the base of the Petronas Towers. This takes place every night of the year.

Categories: Malaysia, Photography, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Row 30, Vietjet

All settled in for our flights out of Vietnam to Thailand.

Even though our trip from Nha Trang, Vietnam to Chiang Mai, Thailand went exactly as scheduled, that would not be what it seemed at several points during our journey. We (being Karen) had the trip all set. Taxi to airport, flights to Ho Chi Minh City with connections to Bangkok, Thailand, metro to train station in Bangkok, then an overnight train to Chiang Mai where we were to be picked up by the people we are house sitting for. Sounds simple.

The aggravation started in the Nha Trang airport when the security informed me that I had too many AA batteries and he would be confiscating about 30 of them. (This after I had just received them from my mother in law who had brought them to me from Canada) After a heated exchange and accusations that he was stealing them, I walked away 30 batteries poorer, and a bit angry. My breathing exercises got a solid workout in the departure lounge. However, one just has to let this stuff go….right? Well, let me tell you, after that type of exchange (and perhaps being a little paranoid) when you are at the next airport (Ho Chi Minh City)  waiting in line for immigration and you hear your name being paged over the airport public address system to report to the checked baggage inspection office, your stress level goes up significantly. After watching the lady in front of me have her packages cut open looking for contraband and having the clock ticking closer to our boarding time I was ready for confrontation and possibly missing our connecting flight. As it turned out no aggravation was necessary, the officer simply could not identify my diving light and knife in my luggage and was most polite about the entire exchange. We were able to get to the boarding lounge with 10 minutes to spare. Funny how we work ourselves up and most times it is for no reason. From then on it was flawless, for the most part.

Bangkok subway

As we experienced before, the Bangkok public transportation system was amazing. The subway was spotless and on time.

Metro Station

As well the Metro stations were clean and safe. As soon as we started looking around with that lost appearance an employee would appear to help us with directions.

Bangkok Train Station

It was a bit of a challenge negotiating the construction around the train station in Bangkok, but it was doable. We had purchased our tickets on line through 12go Asia. A fantastic service and very helpful. You simply pick up your tickets across the street from the station when you arrive.

Inside the station

You can board the train up to an hour before departure, however the people watching in the station waiting area is a fantastic way to pass the time.

Car 5 on train #13

We did board the train 45 minutes early because of our luggage. Yes, we are those people with the two large suitcases and the carry on bag each. So to facilitate keeping our stuff close to us we make sure to board early.

Having a drink

As alcohol is not allowed on Thai trains, we enjoyed an orange juice as we waited for departure. We find the second class coaches very nice. You have a table for cards or computers, power plug ins (if you have the right seats). And when you are ready to retire for the night the attendant comes and makes the beds for you.

Restaurant Car

On this trip we had committed to checking out the restaurant car. Very glad we did.

Breakfast time

The restaurant car is a busy place. We enjoyed a complete breakfast and great views.

View Outside

As the 2nd class coach we were in are air conditioned you are unable to open the windows. However the restaurant car has wonderfully large windows that slide right open, allowing for better views and picture taking.

Rainy Morning

Once we finished breakfast the rain started to fall as the train arrived in Chiang Mai. This made for a very cool pleasant arrival in the city.

Chiangmai Train Station

Our final challenge of the journey occurred at the Chiang Mai train station. The problem wasn’t the being assaulted by what seemed like an endless supply of taxi and tuk tuk drivers asking if you wanted a ride. That is fairly standard at any station. It was that our ride wasn’t there to pick us up and we didn’t have a functioning cell phone to call her.

Thai Pay Phone

This was the final challenge. We asked in the train station and the nearby 7-11 store, but no one knew how the pay phones worked or how much they cost. However I am happy to report that the pay phones in Thailand do work and it just takes some patience for them to connect and give you a dial tone. It turns out our ride was delayed at the gas station when the attendant put gasoline in their diesel vehicle. All was resolved though and we were picked up a short time later.

Our good luck with travel continues to stay with us. I truly believe it is more a function of good planning, good attitude and flexibility than just luck. Whatever the reason another leg of our journey is successfully underway. The people we are house sitting for in Chiang Mai are incredibly friendly and helpful and the dogs and cats are too good to be true. It looks like it is going to be a great couple of weeks here.

Categories: Bangkok, Thailand, transportation, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Vietnam Cost of Living

Sunset over Halong Bay

I have received a few requests for more information on the cost of living here in Vietnam. I am more than happy to share this information, however, I also want to point out this is just our personal experience. It is certainly possible to spend a lot more, or a lot less, depending on what you consider to be important. As we are Canadian, all prices are listed in Canadian dollars unless otherwise stated. Sorry if this is awkward but hey, if you travel you need to be good at currency conversion anyway. So without further ado….how much does it cost to live in Vietnam.

We did a two week tour of Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City but the main portion of our time here has been three months in Nha Trang in early 2017. We chose to rent an apartment for the three months on the north end of Nha Trang. It is out of the main tourist hotspot but arguably we have the better beach at this end. Mainly because it is less crowded and commercialized. We paid $500US a month for a 2 bedroom apartment. I know if you go a bit inland (a few city blocks) you can easily bring that down by $150US, we just really happen to like the water. This is a video tour of our apartment.

 

The costs associated with the apartment are (these are monthly costs): electricity – $18, internet/TV – $17, maintenance fee – $18, water bill – $3. As it is not recommended to drink the tap water the 20 litre jugs of drinking water cost $2.40 and are available everywhere.

Public Transit

The bus system is quite good. It costs 7,000dong/ride (.42) no transfers. Just get on the bus and grab a seat and the fare collector will come to collect the fare and give you a ticket. I have found the service excellent. They give change and will tell you where to get off if you ask.

Made to order shoes

Karen saw on the expats Facebook page that you could get handmade flip flops in town. We took a walk over and in 4 days had my own handmade leather flip flops for $18. And they are wonderful.

Food costs are very inexpensive by anyone’s standards. But once again with very little effort one could easily spend less or a lot more. We eat out every night simply because it is that reasonable. An average dinner for two with four beer, a plate of fried rice or noodles, and a plate of meat, whether fresh shrimp, fish, or pork runs us between $11 and 18.

Viet Sub

A fresh made Vietnamese sub are 15000 dong each (less than $1)

Fresh limes

Incredibly juicy limes cost 15000 dong (less than a $1) for all these

Dragon fruit

The dragon fruit with the white inside is usually around $1 each while the ones with the red meat inside are about $1.50 each.

Hydration

Hydration is very important in these hot climates. A case of 24 cans of Saigon beer is 205,000 dong ($12.30). The coke is just over $1 and the rum is $3.50 a bottle. I personally would rate the quality the same as a standard bottle of Bacardi.

Restaurant Beer

The beer in restaurants is usually around $1 each.

Normal daytime alley

By day a normal alley

Back Alley Restaurant

By night it transforms into a restaurant that I believe is the best fish we have had so far in Asia. Yes I know it is a back alley. But incredible fish. Fresh fish with rice paper wraps, greens and beer for 260,000 dong, or about $16. That is for two people.

Adventurous Dining

Most restaurants here have menus in Russian and English. 69,000dong is about $4.10. Feel adventurous?

Hot pot

This Seafood hot pot will run you about $12. More than enough for two people.

Coffee Break

A nice break is enjoying a Vietnamese coffee which come with iced tea. Costs just over $1 per person. Honestly, the best coffee I have ever had.

We took advantage of the New Years special (10% off) and both got gym memberships to Olympic Nha Trang Gym and Fitness for 387,000 dong, or $24. They have two locations, we went to the one at 11 Bắc Sơn.

We have loved our time here in Vietnam and have found it to be a very reasonably priced place to live. If you have any questions about prices feel free to leave a question in the comments section and if I can answer it I will be more than happy to do so.

Categories: Food, transportation, travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Diving Vietnam

As our time here in Vietnam is winding down we finally took care of an unfinished piece of business. Back in December when we were passing through on our initial tour of Vietnam we went diving in Nha Trang with Sailing Club Divers, www.divenhatrang.com. The dive company was awesome. Great staff, good, reliable equipment, and a well run outing. What they cannot control are the conditions. And in December, they were horrible.

Dive Boat

Everybody on the dive boat received the general briefing, then each group received their individual briefing on what to expect during their dive. We were fortunate to enjoy a ratio of two divers to each Dive Master.

Fast forward three months. Because we were so impressed with Sailing Club Divers we did not hesitate to contact them when we decided to give diving in Nha Trang another chance. We are so happy we did. Our day out with them was everything a day of diving should be. The water was a little chilly at 22C, but the wet suits took care of that. Visibility was excellent. The water was calm with very little to no current, it was wonderful.

Sea horse

We were so pleased to have been able to see a sea horse.

Our Dive Master, Hoang, was the same fellow we dove with in December but this time he actually got to show us stuff. We had a banner day for seeing an incredible variety of creatures. Karen mentioned to him she would love to see a sea horse and though it took some looking, he came through. Along with octopus, scorpion fish, lion fish, more nudibranchs than I can recall, it was a great day.

Cuttlefish

Cuttlefish are the most amazing creatures. The way they adapt their colour to their surroundings is magical.

The video below gives a good idea of the dives that day. Enjoy.

Categories: scuba, travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Enjoying Life in Vietnam

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A view of City Hall in Ho Chi Minh City with a statue of Ho Chi Minh in the foreground. A beautiful building with the obvious French architecture.

We have fully settled in to our temporary home here in Nha Trang. Life is relaxed and the weather is comfortable. The rainy season is loath to give up it’s grip and we are enduring more cloudy days than is the norm but that is not such a bad thing. The cloud cover makes it easier to get out and walk about exploring the city. We recently took a short trip to Ho Chi Minh City to pick up Karen’s mother who is visiting us for a couple of weeks (very exciting to have a familiar face with us).

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With the rainy season wrapping up and the Lunar New Year having just happened there is no lack of bright beautiful flowers wherever we visit.

The focus of this blog is simply to share some of the sights we are enjoying here in Vietnam. All the photos are either from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) or Nha Trang, where we are currently living.

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There is something truly wondrous in taking the time to stop and enjoy the simple beauties in life.

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While walking to the Post Office in Ho Chi Minh City we stumbled upon this little pedestrian only street. It is devoted entirely to bookstores and reading.

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There was a sculpture at each end as well as one in the middle of the street.

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With the trees overhead and the coffee shops for relaxing and reading outside this was truly a gem of a find in this busy bustling city.

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As always there were plenty of flowers to enjoy.

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While we were getting lunch in the food market I couldn’t resist grabbing a shot of this fellow getting some shut eye. There is no question the people here are incredibly hard working individuals.

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The end of January brought the Lunar New Year. 2017 is the year of the Rooster and there are thousands of reminders of this both big and small everywhere.

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One of the most enjoyable and satisfying subjects to photograph are locals going about their work. This lady is our go to person for fresh bread.

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The view across the bay at the north end of Nha Trang. Wherever there is a break from the waves you find numerous fishing boats anchored.

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Part of the tradition on Lunar New Year is to thoroughly clean everything. Including all the fishing nets. It was neat to see dozens of fishermen and ladies working their way through piles of nets.

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These utilitarian ‘Squid Boats’ are what the fisherman use to get out to their larger fishing boats or check their nets.

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This lady was fixing nets while selling the fish from the nights fishing.

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Some of the hundreds of fishing boats moored in the Nha Trang harbour.

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This temple by the Cai River in Nha Trang is a major tourist attraction here. It is a beautiful example of what the Cham civilisation built 1200 years ago.

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A performer taking time to say hello to a little man who walked up to them. Periodically musicians and dancers put on cultural shows at the temple.

We are finding life in Nha Trang very likeable. The people are lovely and the food is excellent.

 

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Vietnam Food

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The food in Vietnam is awesome. However, the people making and serving it are even more so. We buy our Banh Mi (Viet subs) from this lady for lunch on average 4 to 5 times a week. She is wonderful. Every visit she tries to teach us some more Vietnamese. Even if we are just walking by we get a “Xin chao” (hello). The more I travel, the more I gain faith in humanity.

This blog is all about Vietnamese food. However I am putting a disclaimer in right at the start. I am not a “Fear Factor” fan and do not enjoy eating something just because it is bizarre and gross. As well there is plenty of  “nasty” stuff the locals eat that I simply am not going to try. A trip through the meat portion of the local markets is as close to an anatomy lesson on domestic animals as you could ever imagine. Simply put, I don’t eat organs. However, even after leaving what I call the fringe of culinary delights out, Vietnam is an awesome place to eat.

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All through our initial 2 week tour of Vietnam we experienced fantastic food. In Ho Chi Minh City the place for an introduction is the Street Food Market at Ben Thanh. It is easy to find as it shows up on every Google map or other map you could download. This place is wild and busy, but they are very used to dealing with tourists so it is a great place to get your taste buds introduced to what this country has to offer.

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These little roadside carts are everywhere in Vietnam. This lady is here at 8 in the morning (she may be there earlier but 8 is the earliest we have been out) and still there at 9 at night. (once again, she may be there later, but 9 is the latest we have been out).

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We have yet to find where the bakery is that makes these buns, but, oh my goodness, they make great buns.

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We honestly don’t know what all goes into these buns and perhaps it is best not to be too inquisitive. But they are delicious. Some days a little spicier than others but always good.

Coffee and beer have been two other items that I have had to adjust my perception of how they are consumed.

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Whether it is “Tiger”, “Saigon”, or “Larue”, if you don’t have it with ice you simply are not getting the full Vietnamese experience. Not all establishments (especially those that deal with a lot of tourists) serve ice with their beer. However if you want to “break the ice” so to speak with your server ask for ice with your beer if they don’t bring it right away. It is a great acknowledgement that you are making an effort to enjoy their refreshments as they do.

There is something fun about drinking beer the way the Vietnamese do. You will see a case of beer on the floor at the end of the table with a bucket of ice beside it with tongs hanging over the edge. All the bottle caps and empties, whether bottles or cans just go on the floor. I found this difficult at first but once you get in the swing of it, it really is kind of fun.

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Vietnam is one of the biggest producers, as well as exporters of coffee in the world. And they produce damn fine coffee. I am not a coffee connoisseur, however in my opinion the coffee here is the best I have ever had. If you order coffee with ice, and you should, this is what you get. You can get it without the condensed milk but it sure is tasty with it. The glass of iced tea is a lovely thirst quencher as well. You just get one serving of coffee but the tea is constantly topped up.

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It can take up to 10 minutes for the water to run through the grounds in the top but when it is near the end it helps to tip the metal cup to help the last bit drip through. The little plastic tab is their way of keeping track of your tab. Just hold it up when you want your bill and the server will be there.

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It is hot here, so having your coffee iced just makes sense. It does not taste like the ultra sweet iced coffee you get in North America. It just tastes like smooth rich coffee.

Even though we have a very nice apartment here and our kitchen is more than adequate, we find we eat out about 6 nights a week. It simply is so inexpensive it is hard to justify hiding away at home. Plus the entertainment value of getting out is fantastic for us and the locals watching us. For lunch and even breakfast, noodles or pho is the staple and is delicious. Don’t be afraid to pick up the bowl and drink the broth, and please, at least try to use chop sticks. A spoon for fried rice is totally acceptable but for noodles, fish, grilled meats you should use chop sticks. Just saying.

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This eating establishment would appear from nowhere a couple of nights a week in the alley just outside our apartment. Honestly, you don’t get much more authentic than this.

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When you walk up they direct you to the grill and have you pick out the size of fish you want. They are already wrapped and starting to cook on the grill.

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This has been one of my favourite dining experiences. The hustle of the servers delivering the food up and down the alley, the old ladies walking by selling lottery tickets, and the scooters zipping by as you sit on these little plastic chairs makes it a bit of sensory overload. On top of that there is the food. Delicious fish served with greens and rice paper so you can roll your own “fish tacos” More on that in a bit. The part that impressed me was when we walked out the door the next morning you couldn’t even tell the restaurant had even been there.

 

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We have a restaurant that caters to both locals and tourists that we regularly visit. Besides the great food and absolutely lovely staff, we also like this place because they take the time to show you how to properly eat the food if you don’t know. What you see here is what you get when you order grilled fish. Fish, cooked in tin foil, cucumber, lettuce, and greens, rice paper and dipping sauce. Some places offer water to wet the paper with which is good fun as the paper becomes very sticky if you take too long building it.

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It is all in the palm of your hand when it comes to putting these tasty little things together. As you don’t get plates all the construction is done while holding the rice paper.

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Hot pots are the other gem we are enjoying very much. similar to a fondue except you get to consume the cooking fluid. Everything you see on the table goes into the pot of boiling hot broth. Meat, greens then noodles, in that order. You get to decide how much spice you want to add when you are cooking. I personally love those little red chilies.

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It always amazed me that everything piled on the plates would fit into the pot, but it does. Once the noodles are in for a few minutes you are good to start eating. You just ladle it into your little bowl and go for it. It is also acceptable to steal the occasional tasty morsel straight from the pot. Only with chop sticks though. We have found this to be a perfect 2 to 3 beer meal if you time it right.

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It is fun and delicious.

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We have seen this at a number of locales but have not tried it yet. It comes across as a bit of a tourist item which, for me, causes it to lose some appeal.

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There are many regional specialties throughout Vietnam. Everything I have talked about so far we have had in Nha Trang. Except the coffee, that has been everywhere. While in Hoi An we sampled their specialty, White Rose. A type of dumpling that is quite nice.

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It is nice once in a while to find a little micro brewery and enjoy a beer in the manner that we find “normal”.

In our first 6 weeks in Vietnam we have loved the food and found the people to be wonderful. The next couple of months promise to be just as enjoyable and we look forward to experiencing more culinary delights. If you have any suggestions please feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Enjoy.

 

Categories: Food, travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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