Confessions of a Luggage Shopaholic

Posted on April 17th, by James in Japan, Tokyo, Travel, Travel Column, Travel Tips. 1 Comment

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. 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. 16 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

Posted on October 2nd, by James in Food, Ho Chi Minh City, Hotels, Travel, Travel Tips, Vietnam. 13 comments

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. 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. 15 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 »

Capture the Color Photo Contest

Posted on August 24th, by James in Photography, Travel. 16 comments

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 »

Indigenous and Prodigenous – A Case for Authentic, Local Experiences

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 Promise To Always Look Up

Posted on June 14th, by James in Ho Chi Minh City, Travel, Vietnam. 18 comments

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 »

Luxury Redefined in Ninh Van Bay

Posted on May 29th, by James in Hotels, Nha Trang, Photography, Travel, Vietnam. 5 comments

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 »

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