I’ve always wanted to live on an island.
It seems my whole adult life has been a series of trips trying to find that most perfect of beaches accompanied by a carefree existence perennially lived in flip flops and a faded t-shirt. And coconuts. In my dreams, there are always coconuts.
So it was a bit of a shock to have recently found out that I do live 5 minutes from an island. One that I regularly visit three times a week when I go play tennis.
In my defense, I’m geographically challenged. And there are tons of little bridges all over Saigon, crossing rivers, sewers and general muck. And the Vietnamese call this place a peninsula. And there are no coconuts. (Actually, there are, but we’ll just let that one slide).
But I checked and it definitely is an island, enveloped on all … Read More »
“Mung bean”, I whisper to the boy in square hipster glasses dressed all in black and hugging an iPad.
“This way”, he says as he checks me off the guest list and leads me to the elevator and an upstairs apartment in a non-descript corporate-looking building in Saigon.
The door opens to a minimalist space, two tables pushed together with settings for 12 dominating the living room. A sofa and a few end tables round out the look.
I am in a Secret Supper Club.
I had heard of these things, sometimes called culinary speakeasies, underground restaurants, guerrilla dining or clandestine kitchens. The concept is simple – people serving a meal inside the home for pay, making it like a home restaurant but usually with very small numbers, creating an atmosphere more akin to a dinner party.
I first heard of them in Hong Kong, a way … Read More »
Not long ago, I wrote a post about how I felt caught between two worlds – the Western world I was brought up in, and the Eastern one I was born to and now call home.
If that weren’t enough, I’m a product of bilocation in my very own country. You see, my father’s family is from Thai Binh, a small province 110 km southeast of Hanoi, in the north of Vietnam. My mom’s family is from Cai Rang, a tiny country town outside of Can Tho, in the south. While I’ve never been to my father’s hometown (the entire family moved to the south after Vietnam gained independence from the French in 1954), I have visited my mother’s side of the family.
It was on one of our first trips back to Vietnam.
I remember them laying out a feast for us, … Read More »
Why do I spend irresponsibly on travel when I’m so responsible in every other facet of my life? One week only sale to Nepal? Book it! Last minute 14-day cruise for $499? I’m there! Go camping for two months straight? Sure!
Why do I love getting lost in travel blogs and fancy magazines showing unattainable photos of places I’ll probably never go?
I think I do it because I want to feel.
A friend once told me, “I’m glad you’re religious because otherwise, I think you’d be on drugs.”
What he meant (I hope!) was that my personality type is always looking for the next new thing to experience. A new food to try. A new person who shares no common language with me to interact with. When we travel, we force ourselves to step out of our comfort zones, and in so doing, … Read More »
A few months ago, I wrote a post about what Star Trek has taught me about travel. It remains one of my favorite posts to date. I love the way the crew of the Enterprise sought to interact with the indigenous population (especially when they were either green or furry), without leaving a trace, taking away only a better understanding of a foreign culture. There’s something to be said about traveling like a local.
Something that I’ve tried and loved is renting an apartment instead of a hotel whenever I can. I adored the little apartment I had for a week in a working class Prague neighborhood. I ferreted out the nearest supermarket and not only did I save money by buying meals from the hot food counter or making meals myself, but there’s something to be said about wandering the … Read More »
I’ve always been somewhat cold-hearted.
I’m not sure whether it’s a byproduct of my “Field Marshal” personality where there’s “not much room for error” and where “feelings are a weakness”. Or perhaps it’s simply been honed (or blunted?) by 11 years of seeing daily poverty in Asia.
My first visceral reaction to the divide between the haves and have-nots came rather innocuously. I had just moved to Phnom Penh and was walking home from the Western supermarket, happily licking an ice cream cone on a devilishly hot afternoon. I could sense their stares as they tracked me walking by more than really seeing them, a row of dirty-faced children who hung around the parking area asking for loose change.
I explored the city more over the years, my volunteer work taking me to some of the poorest areas. Sometimes it was a fishing … Read More »
Brigitte Bardot in St. Tropez. Beyonce in St. Barth’s. George Clooney on Lake Como.
There’s a reason celebrities flock to these destinations. They’re exclusive. They’re gorgeous. They’re either hard or expensive to get to or sometimes even both. They’re an unreal slice of the luxe life where people go to get away from real life, even when real life is already pretty sweet.
Although I love posh hotels, I rarely write about them as a destination. I’m making an exception for the #1 rated hotel in Vietnam. Though it’s been months since I stayed, looking through the photos for this post brought back gorgeous memories, too luscious not to share.
Set on Ninh Van Bay, on a peninsula across from Nha Trang, Vietnam, An Lam Villas sits on a picture perfect horseshoe bay and has all the earmarks of a celebrity hideaway.
Hard to … Read More »
The past has a way of catching up to us.
No matter how fast you run, no matter where you try to hide, it inevitably finds you, for better or worse.
I was born in Vietnam, a child of the war. Here, it’s referred to as the American War while everywhere else in the world, it’s known as the Vietnam War.
Growing up in the US since the age of 2, I was blissfully unaware of the world I was born into, a country which no longer exists. In fact, I was perfectly happy being a “banana”, yellowy Asian on the outside, more White than anything else on the inside, living in suburban Virginia, going to the best, predominantly White schools. There’s even a newspaper article of me at the age of 6, dutifully translating for my fellow “boat people” schoolmates.
But the story … Read More »
Money spoils everything.
It’s at once an evil that changes everyone it touches and yet we all need it in order to travel to these far flung magical places, so beautifully illustrated in glossy magazines.
I’m always a little sad to visit “minority villages”. They’re inevitably a shell of the real thing, presenting tourists with a hollow cookie cutter image of what we expect to see, rushed through a few mumbled words on the history of the people who live / lived there, making sure to leave the bulk of the time for the all-important souvenir shopping at the end. I’ve seen this scenario played out a million times, from the hill peoples of Dalat, Vietnam to the Karen long neck tribes of northern Thailand. The one exception was probably the captivating Himba village in Namibia, most likely due to its remoteness.
In … Read More »
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, Luang Prabang is the Brangelina of scenic towns. A gorgeous marriage between traditional Lao architecture, on display in its many wats, unchanged wooden houses and a smattering of royal residences, and the gentility of French colonial buildings and their faded yellow walls and white trim, you get the feeling that in Luang Prabang, authenticity isn’t a slogan, it’s a way of life. In order to keep its UNESCO designation, the town is devoted to restoring its storied heritage. It is a town where time has stopped.
The beauty of Luang Prabang is that the town is practically located along one main road, traversing the length of the peninsula, providing something novel to experience from dawn till night. To discover the best this town had to offer, I set out to create a perfect … Read More »