Nima Chandler’s Bangkok – A Mapmaker’s Guide to the City of Angels

Posted on December 1st, by James in Art, Bangkok, Thailand, Travel, Travel Tips. 5 comments

“I used to walk past this restaurant that was just disgusting. They had blackened rice cookers outside and dirty floors. No farang would ever go in there. But a friend took me and it was just fabulous. Everyone was there from the hi-so grandmother (Thai-English for “high society”), to a funeral group, to a grandson who just became a taxi driver and an older mamasan, who was heavily made up. The first time I ate there I got violently ill, probably from one bad garlic shrimp. But it was so good, the next day, I said, ‘We’re going back’. The place stayed open during the protests as a sign of faith, even when staff had to walk through the Black Shirt front lines. It’s now one of my favorite Chinese seafood places.”

So is a day in the life … Read More »

Castaway on Phu Quoc’s North Shore

I am what is known as a late adopter. (Fine. It’s not strictly one of the technology cycles but much preferable to being called a “laggard“.)

I didn’t climb aboard the iPhone bandwagon as much as I was chloroformed-into-a-moving-van onto it by a friend who had an after-contract 3GS ripe for the taking. By the time it got to me, no one was even selling cases for that model anymore. (The upside was I finally found one in a dusty discount bin somewhere for 99 cents. Score!) I’ve upgraded once in the past three years, again, thanks to being a sad, sad technology-have-not charity case. I don’t mind that I’m perpetually two generations behind everyone else or that local Vietnamese are more than happy to part with a month’s salary to obtain the latest offering, casting pitying glances at my iPhone4, … Read More »


Posted on May 1st, by James in Contests, Photography, Travel. No Comments

In a twisted hobby, I’ve been known to go on job interviews for positions I wasn’t truly interested in. I also like taking tests. One job I went for actually had me do an IQ test as part of the selection process. Best. Interview. Ever. And I may have been part of my school’s “It’s Academic!” team. *cough* NERD! *cough*

Contests combine my two loves – competing and being judged. So it’s not surprising that I sometimes enter competitions – tennis tournaments, pub trivia, and photo contests. I like photo contests because it’s an excuse to go through old photos and relive some memories while rediscovering forgotten moments. Here are some recent photo contests (they’re all live, so join in the fun and enter yourself!)

1. The Explore Competition, hosted by Black’s, a UK-based outdoor and travel gear retailer, open to everyone … Read More »

“I do not wake up for less than the perfect beach” (Phu Quoc, Vietnam)

Posted on April 22nd, by James in Beaches, Hotels, Phu Quoc, Travel, Travel Tips, VietnamDo, VietnamSleep. 11 comments

I’m trying to think of the exact moment I became the beach equivalent of a vapid, disconnected supermodel.

Having traveled to some of the world’s best beaches in Zanzibar, Curacao, Hawaii and countless Thai beaches, I can relate to supermodel Linda Evangelista who famously said: “We don’t wake up for less than $10,000 a day.”

While I wake up for a lot less, I am somewhat of a beach snob. If there aren’t crystal clear blue waters, gleaming white sugary sand, and a palm-fringed backdrop, don’t even bother trying to get me out of bed. Soaring mountain cliffs optional.

Despite Vietnam’s 2,000 miles of coastline, I wasn’t impressed with what I’d seen. The famed white sand beaches of Nha Trang extolled in song? Meh. The “it” beach of Mui Ne, four hours north of Saigon? Whatevs. The perennial day trip to Vung Tau, … Read More »

Confessions of a Luggage Shopaholic

Posted on April 17th, by James in Japan, Tokyo, Travel, Travel Column, Travel Tips. 6 comments

There’s a point in the Confessions of a Shopaholic series when Rebecca Bloomwood finds herself in the luggage section of a department store.

“Luggage!” she exclaims. “Why have I never thought about luggage?”

Don’t ask me why I’ve read those books. (Sigh. If you must know, I was marooned in Bangkok on a 3-month work contract with no cable TV, so went through the whole library in my serviced apartment.)

For a hyper traveler like me, I’ve been in love with luggage ever since I got my first passport. As a travel nerd, I get more excited about luggage shows than I do fashion shows.

So when I found myself walking back to my Asakusa hotel recently, I had to do a double take when I saw a sign for The World Bags and Luggage Museum. How had I never heard of … Read More »

Zombies, Cheese and Bacon Pillows – Can You Ever Go Home Again?

Posted on February 18th, by James in Hawaii, Travel, Vietnam, VietnamEat. 26 comments

When exactly is that moment where you realize that you’ve been traveling or living abroad for so long that what you’ve always called home is no longer home?

Is it when you’re more excited to get back on the plane than you were to get off it? Or when you realize the lives of family and friends have veered off in a completely different direction and you’re no longer thought of as the “adventurous traveler” but more like the “eccentric homeless person”? Is it when “What country do you live in again?” becomes the first question friends and relatives ask you? Or maybe when you can’t remember the last time you started a sentence with “Well, back home…” and were actually referring to the country of your birth?

While I still maintain a residence in the US and pay taxes … Read More »

Photography For Dumb Bloggers

Posted on December 25th, by James in Bangkok, Photography, Thailand, Travel. 18 comments

I kind of like to imagine myself as a photographer.But I’m not.

Yeah, I did make it to the top 25 finalists in last year’s Conde Naste Traveler Photo contest, so close to the $25,000 grand prize I could almost taste it. And NBC News may have picked up a photo I took on safari.

The camera I travel with is my trusty Canon EOS (which I know only because of the word “Canon” in huge letters emblazoned on the strap), which I bought for $400 from a friend who had himself bought it as part of a starter $800 package from Costco. Over the years, I’ve added two more lenses (both less than $200) and have done some short photography courses. But when people ask me any questions beyond that, I just blink rather dumbly. And when people start asking about focal lengths … Read More »

Thanh Da – Saigon’s Secret Island

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 »

Saigon’s Secret Supper Club

Posted on September 7th, by James in Food, Ho Chi Minh City, Travel, Vietnam, VietnamEat. 9 comments

“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 »

Saigon vs. Hanoi – The Eternal Debate

Posted on August 28th, by James in Art, Food, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Travel, Vietnam, VietnamSee. 24 comments

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 »

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