Posts Tagged With: travel

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.

Categories: Malaysia, Photography, transportation, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.


So fortunate to have these wonderful cats to look after.


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.


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.


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 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

Enjoying Life in Vietnam


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).


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.


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


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.


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



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.


As always there were plenty of flowers to enjoy.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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


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.


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.


Categories: Photography, travel, Vietnam | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vietnam Food


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.


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.


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).


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


It is fun and delicious.


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.


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.


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.



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

Our Introduction to Vietnam


The one consistent impression as we travelled around SE Asia has been incense. This is a bowl of hand rolled incense waiting for sale. Couldn’t resist the colours.

We chose to do a tour of Vietnam from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City to get a feel for this country before we committed to spending an extended period of time in it. As it turned out we could easily have dove straight in, but none the less the tour was a ton of fun. And who is kidding who, there is something nice about being picked up by a private driver at the airport with your name on a sign. It is good to spoil yourself once in a while.


As we start our approach to Hanoi the sun was setting in Vietnam. The flight on Vietnam Airlines was a great introduction to Vietnam. Nice people, surprisingly good service and great food.


This street is in the old quarter of Hanoi just around the corner from our hotel Maison d’Hanoi Boutique Hotel. It was a perfect place to start our Vietnam experience. Fantastic staff at the hotel and right in the bustle of old Hanoi. Loved it!

Our tour of Hanoi was led by a fellow who was either a member of the communist party, or was waiting for his application to be processed because he was a bit over the top with the zealous propaganda. That being said it certainly highlighted for me the power of information and how it is disseminated. That is a huge part of travelling, the exposure to information outside the control of western press and government. It is not right or wrong, just interesting.


The mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh is an interesting place. It is treated the same as a temple, which opens a number of questions, but I am just here to appreciate the culture.


The far cooler part of Ho Chi Minh’s final resting place was the fact that the Canadian embassy was on the same street.


The neat thing about this region is despite the politics of the government, Buddhism as a faith/belief is the one overriding consistency. No matter where we have travelled here Buddhism has been prevalent and unassociated with government. Quite refreshing.


The aroma of burned incense is everywhere. Whether you are in an apartment or walking down the road it is not unusual to smell the aroma of incense floating by.


Hoan Kiem Lake in old Hanoi that is a gathering place for tourists and locals alike. This was one of the army of workers tending the flower gardens.


There is no question that scooters are king here. Though right of way seems to be determined by size; bus over car, car over scooter. The sheer number of them makes it awe-inspiring.


I am not sure what kind of bad ass this guy is, but I loved the military covered scooter.


Of course the one thing you can count on in any Communist country are plenty of statues and posters depicting the strong dedicated workers rising up.


What is nice here is the statutes depicting soldiers and workers are fairly evenly balanced out with statues and displays honouring the thinkers and educators from centuries gone by.

After we had explored Hanoi a bit on our own we joined up with our tour company to begin that adventure. This time of year in Vietnam is late in the rainy season so our expectation was a lot of cloud and relatively poor visibility. We were not disappointed. Our first destination was to the tourist hot spot of Ha Long Bay.


The harbour where everyone boards their boats for the tour of Ha Long Bay gives you a bit of an idea of how popular this destination is. However it is not until you are en route and are surrounded by several dozen other tour operators that you realize this is no tranquil commune with nature.


Having said that, there are still plenty of opportunities to tune out your immediate surroundings and appreciate some of the beauty this area has to offer.

I am not sure what my expectations were for the quality of accommodations on our tour, but I have to state that right from the beginning with the boat on Ha Long Bay the quality was excellent (we were staying in 3 star accommodations) but the level of service would make any Hilton or Fairmont blush with envy.


For a communist country I saw more entrepreneurial spirit and business smarts than anything I have ever seen before. This lady worked her little boat to every tourist boat in sight.


Did some kayaking with the group.


Explored a series of caves that are beautifully lit.


View from the top of Cat Ba Island in Ha Long Bay. The boats getting in position for the night.

After an excellent flight, our next stop was Hue, on the east coast. It was a bit hectic with sightseeing over the next few days but we did manage to catch some of the highlights of Hue and Hoi An while we were in Central Vietnam.


We were treated to a reenactment of some of the customs while we were exploring The Citadel in the Imperial City in Hue.


After seeing the Thien Mu Pagoda we took a cruise on the Perfume River back into Hue. Not the most scenic due to the weather, but a chance to just relax and prepare ourselves for a road trip to some tombs.


Unfortunately our time touring the royal tombs of the Nguyen dynasty was somewhat dampened by rain, it was still a good day. The thoughtfulness that went into the design of these was beautiful. And the fact they built them while the emperors were still alive so they could enjoy them I think is awesome.


Of course the advantage of touring places when the weather sucks is it is much less crowded.


The beauty of the symetry in design is something I alway enjoy.


On our bus trip from Hue to Hoi An we stopped for a break at this stop. Something we learned from our guide, the hammocks are for truck and bus drivers to get some sleep, not for tourists to relax.


Break time at a pearl farm. One of the negatives for me of these tours are the inevitable stops at “local”, “authentic”, or “family” enterprises to showcase the local culture. Really all they are, are a forced walk through of a tourist shop trying to sell things. I know it is a legitimate way to make money but because we travel in a manner that does not allow souvenirs I sometimes find these stops irritating.


A ceramics factory.

After our bus trip we stopped in Hoi An, a city just south of Danang. I loved this city with its narrow crowded streets and lively market action.


This lady was doing a humming business selling fresh vegetables.


While right across the street from her this lady was peddling chickens. Our time here has certainly redefined what “fresh” food means to me.


The French influence is very clear in Hoi An. This area was the centre of trade for a period of time and that is reflected in the French, Japanese, and Chinese styles.


The opportunities to capture the day-to-day life of the people here in the old town in Hoi An was wonderful.


No matter where we went you didn’t have to look far to see local dogs taking it easy on the sidewalks.


Also while we were in Hoi An we did a trip out to the archeological site of My Son. I found this a somewhat disquieting trip. It highlighted what can happen when cultures collide. From the 4th to the 14th centuries this was apparently a significant site for the ruling dynasty. However today it is mostly destroyed, either by the aerial bombardment by the US during the war (the Viet Cong had a major encampment here) or earlier when the French decapitated nearly every statue on the site to take the heads back to France.


Our guide (whose father fought for the Viet Cong) did an excellent job of presenting the information surrounding the site at My Son and the relationship and feelings some Vietnamese have toward the Americans. A difficult job for sure but handled with humour and a balanced perspective. Here he draped the Vietnamese flag over an unexploded American bomb to demonstrate they were making efforts to move past the war.

Our final stop on our tour was Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong delta. However, before we got there we had a couple of R&R days in Nha Trang. This was perfect for us as we had by now determined we quite liked Vietnam and we were able to use our free time to meet an agent and tour some apartments. In the end we committed to spending the first three months of 2017 enjoying this wonderful country. But I get a bit ahead of myself. First, and last, Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong delta.


The south of Vietnam is all about the Mekong River. Our tour took us to a number of sites that allowed us to meet people who make their living from the river.


What struck me about this lady was how bloody content she seemed to be. Paddle in hand and going about her business on a little tributary.


We did a tour of the Cu Chi Tunnels located just outside of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Siagon). After seeing them you realize why they were so effective during the war with the Americans.


Between all the serious topics we still took time to do the fun touristy things.


Ho Chi Minh City certainly is a place that harkens back to a time of colonialism and the things that were good, and bad about that. It is a big dirty city, and I liked it. This shot from the steps of the Opera House sum it up very well for me.

Our introduction to Vietnam is complete and now we look forward to getting to know parts of the country on a more day to day level. I cannot see it being anything but positive. Friendly people, interesting food and an amazing history. Bring it on!

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

Living like a local in Hong Kong


Looking at Hong Kong across Victoria Harbour from Kowloon. This city is a photographers dreamscape. Even though it was cloudy and hazy for most of our stay it was still an incredible city to take in.

We were very fortunate to be able to do a house sitting gig in Hong Kong that put us right in the middle of the action. Not the harbour front touristy area, but just a few blocks in where the people of this part of Hong Kong live.


Due to the size of the apartments and the cost of electricity all laundry is hung to dry outside. And when it is a vertical jungle of apartment towers, that makes for a lot of clothes flying from the sides of buildings.

The apartment we stayed in was typical tiny Hong Kong with everything one needed. We were fortunate to also have a rooftop patio which made us exceptionally fortunate. Of course to have the roof top means your apartment is on the top floor (no elevator) so we got our share of exercise just getting up the six flights of stairs.


Our apartment was 40 metres from the Man Mo Temple which is the largest temple in Hong Kong. An amazing place to observe people observe the rituals of their beliefs. The amount of fire in the place was incredible.


As we were in Hong Kong for the Christmas season we were able to take in some of their decorations and events. The lighting on the HSBC building behind us was amazing. As was the lighting on most of the buildings facing the harbour.


The malls (and they have a lot of malls) were all decorated for Christmas. The big difference for us was there were no Santa Claus’s anywhere. The only person we saw holding children and posing for photos was this creepy dude in a kilt and pantomime face paint.(he was not a mime though as he had a microphone which was broadcasting his chatter all through the centre court) Everything about him made me nervous.


We headed down to the waterfront for New Years Eve with 300,000 other people to watch the fire works. Due to the small apartments here, people are experts at gathering and socializing in public places. There were card games, folding tables, and food everywhere. The best part is people just work around the crowds without getting upset.


The fireworks on New Years Eve were amazing. Not a super choreographed artistic display, just 10 solid minutes of volume. It was a hell of a show.


Most North Americans associate cardboard on the sidewalks with homeless people sleeping. However here it seems to be the standard flooring choice for social gatherings. It was normal in the evening or on weekends to see up to half of the floorspace in pedestrian walkways (+15’s) and any covered area to be covered in flattened cardboard boxes. Groups meet and socialize in these places singing, playing games, and eating. The food we saw was incredible. Come morning everyone is gone and all the debris has been cleaned up. Pretty cool.

In addition to soaking in the experience of walking the streets, shopping, and exploring the markets we also did the obligatory trip to Hong Kong Disney (come on! It’s Disney!)


Hong Kong Disney is the smallest Disney property in the world. Therefore it is easily done in one day. It was overcast the day we went, so not as good for photos, but excellent for walking around the park all day.


One of the things I love about Disney is how they brand everything. Right from the time you board the spur line train that takes you into Disneyland everything is geared toward the Disney experience.


Many of the buildings and attractions are identical to the properties in the U.S. and Paris, however we found it interesting that Cinderella’s castle was noticeably smaller.


Of course all the characters are out in force. One of the nice things here was the line ups were shorter for everything than I recall in the two U.S. properties, which was nice.


Of course the focus on Star Wars was huge. These guys were out and about every hour posing for photos and interacting with the crowds.


We made an effort to hit all the fun rides, and were very successful. My second favourite was RC Racer. HyperSpace Mountain took top marks though.


Of course what visit to Disney wouldn’t be complete without taking in the Flights of Fantasy Parade. All in, a great day. The crowds started getting thick in the late afternoon, but that was fine because we were done by then.


It seemed every day we went to the top of Victoria Peak with a camera it was overcast and hazy. Not good for beautiful panoramas, but an excellent opportunity to play a bit with the photos. That is Hong Kong Island immediately below and Kowloon across the water.


Karen and I did the 5km walk up the Peak to take in the view from Lugard Road. A different perspective, but the same overcast. The funny thing was I did a few runs up to the Peak and each of those times I was treated to a clear view, but no camera. Oh the trials we suffer.


The part I enjoyed most about being here was just walking the streets. Due to the way this part of the city is built into the side of the mountain, it creates wonderful little alleys and roads that sprout out in every direction. You never know for sure what is around the next corner.


Part of the system seems to be that people stake out a square of sidewalk and set up their business there, right out in the open. This fellow was right at the intersection of two busy roads. Great for walk in customers I suppose.


At first I thought something interesting was going down. Then actually looked at these fellows and realized they are pretend. Apparently their group supplies gunmen for TV and movie productions. They were just taking part in a community fair. There were children doing traditional singing and dancing across the road from here.


As we were checking out locations for the fire works display we came across this fellow by the Convention Centre. One can’t pass up a challenge like that.


This sculpture of a flowering Golden Bauhinia is located in front of the Hong Kong Convention Centre. It is there to commemorate the 1997 Handover, when the British signed over control of the Hong Kong Territories to China.


The International Commerce Centre is the tallest building in Hong Kong and the 10th tallest building in the world. There is an observation platform on the 100th floor.

We got the two day pass on the Hop on Hop off bus which helped us get a feel for the layout of the city. Plus you get a ton of passes to other sights. We used the HOHO bus to explore Aberdeen on the south side of the island. Which got us our ride on a sampan through a floating village. (honestly, it looked like a harbour to me)


The pilot of this Sampan made me smile. Who said men can’t multitask.


If you ever hear of a business being absolutely intertwined with the history of a city, that would be the Star Ferry. This was included in the HOHO package. We ended up making a few trips over to Kowloon on the Star Ferry. Very cool experiencing a part of history like that.

Another mode of transportation that has survived into the new millennium is the Hong Kong tram lines, or “ding, ding” as they are known.


The citizens of Hong Kong voted to keep the tram system in place when government threatened to do away with it. This environmentally friendly, inexpensive ($2.30HK or .40CDN) and cool system is a great way to explore the length of Hong Kong.


We took the tram to Chai Wan which is the end of the line. It was like being dropped in the middle of everything you could possibly imagine Hong Kong to be. The people, the noise, the very interesting shops, so very cool. Yes, the tram goes down the street in the photo.


The different types of shops are grouped together. There were at least 6 butcher shops in this one block. There certainly was no question of fresh.


The streets just begged to be explored. Whatever you are looking for, it is somewhere in Hong Kong.


The other thing we noticed in our wanderings was the massive use of bamboo for scaffolding. We have seen natural products used in many areas for small projects however, the use of bamboo here is mind-boggling. The construction we saw here dwarfed anything I have seen before. And easily over 98% used bamboo poles as scaffolding. It is incredible to behold.

There is without doubt a LOT of money in Hong Kong. If you don’t count the Toyota taxis (which there are a lot of) we saw more Mercedes, Teslas, Audi, and Porsches than any other make of car. It is a wonderland for the auto enthusiast. But the true magic, visually speaking, happens after sunset.


The boats getting in position for the nightly light show on the harbour. That is the International Commerce Centre illuminated in the background.


This is the street just down the road from our apartment. A kaleidoscope of colour and light.


One of the harbour tour boats making its way into position for the light show with the Kowloon skyline in the background.

Hong Kong is a wonderful city and one that if you ever get the chance to explore you should seize it.

Categories: Hong Kong, Photography, travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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