know before you go: Bali (DPS)

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Bali is an otherworldly oasis, tucked away in the pacific island nation of Indonesia.  It’s paradise found for many who flock there for romantic getaways and family vacations.  To get there can be tricky, but there is an airport that serves this area: Ngurah Rai airport (DPS).  Named after a Balinese hero who fought the Dutch, this airport is about 12 km from Denpasar (the capital of Bali) and about 2.5 km from Kuta, a main resort area.

It is Indonesia’s third busiest airport, although a share of passengers has been shifted away to Lombok Airport.  There are two terminals (split into Domestic and International) with about 25 gates serving mostly Asian and Australian carriers and destinations. Domestic mostly serves Garuda, Batik, Indonesia, Citilink NAM, and Siriwaja.  International carriers include Cathay, China, China Eastern and Southern, Emirates, Qatar, KLM, Korean, Qantas, Thai and Virgin Australia.

Remember: ✈️ = bally total fitness to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = bally’s las vegas

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ = not too far, but as in any Asian country, beware of swindlers and pickpockets.  Taxis are notorious for overcharging and cheating tourists, so get a shuttle to your hotel if possible or take the bus transport.

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ : some western options (McDonald’s, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Pizza hut, Haagen Daz, Hard Rock Cafe), but take this opportunity to explore some interesting Asian eateries with the best names: The Duck King, Beard Papa, Coffee Club.  The traditional Indonesian fare looks amazing: Kantin Modern, Singgalang Jaya, Bakso Lapangan Tembak Senayan.

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️ : tidy, could have more

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ : free wifi, but not a ton of charging areas

Amenities:✈️✈️✈️: balinese architecture is beautiful, these decent dining options, Garuda Executive lounge, spa, the shopping could be better and more luxurious

 

 

good morning vietnam: 3 days in Hanoi

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Hanoi is the largest city in Northern Vietnam…and it shows.  Spend any amount of time there and you will be astounded by all of the motor bikes and people teeming into the streets going every which way.  It is the worst live action Frogger if there ever was one.  But, it’s so completely worth it to visit.  This bustling metropolis still has a lot of imperialistic architecture touches from French and Chinese occupations and has charming neighborhoods and streets based on different types of goods that can be found there.

I had the good fortune to spend a significant of time here on my travels.  This is a great place to spend a few days and also serves as a great starting point to get to the Vietnamese highlands of Sapa or trek down towards Ha Long Bay and Hoi An.

I also think the North has the best food in Vietnam as well, don’t @ me.

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To get a feel for this urban oasis, stay in the Old Quarter.  Early morning walks in this neighborhood are the best.  There are boulevards upon boulevards.  This area near Hoan Kiem lake is made up of about ~40 streets, many of them dedicated to a certain trade or product (Silver, Bamboo, Jars, Silk, etc).  Nowadays, you may not find that specific product on the specific street, but it is fantastic to shop in these areas, especially if you’re looking for something in particular.  I stayed on Hang Bac (Silver) because it is so central to a lot of attractions and walking distance to the lake.

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heroes on the half shell…turtle tower

Speaking of, the Hoan Kiem lake is a focal point of the city, even though it’s not the largest (that is Tay Ho described down below).  This picturesque spot features a tower in the center, called Turtle Tower, because of the folklore that a golden turtle spirit arose from the waters to ask the former ancient king for a magic sword to be returned to its rightful owner, the Dragon spirit.  That’s literally the story.

You’ll see all sorts of characters around here.  People jogging, fishing, doing tai chi, having picnics, etc.  You’ll definitely notice the bright red bridge connecting to a small island in the center of the lake.  This island bears a beautiful temple that commemorates several notable figures in Vietnamese history.

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fancy feast

As you’re strolling around, you’ll notice a lot of makeshift cafes and restaurants, demarcated by the plastic stools that look like they’re made for children.  These roadside street eats are usually some of the best in the city (especially Banh Mi sandwiches), and many are designed this way to be mobile. Pull up a stool and gorge yourself on the best damn food you’ll find anywhere.  And don’t forget your bia hoi (freshly tapped keg beer).

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Careful when patronizing these establishments though, there are so many motorbikes zipping along that you may get a mouthful of exhaust rather than a mouthful of Bun Oc.

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Pay attention to street vendors too.  You’ll see ladies walking around with large pendulous bamboo contraptions selling fresh fruits, cakes and delicacies.  They travel all over until they sell out or are run out by the po-po.  Talk about fast food.

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bun cha gives me life

Save your stomachs though.  You’re going to want to head over to Hang Manh to sample one of Hanoi’s most beloved dishes: Bun Cha.  Resist the temptation to go to Huong Lien, where Anthony Bourdain and Barack Obama dined.  I prefer the restaurant at 1 Hang Manh, Bun Cha Dac Kim…and judging by the crowds, I think a lot of people agree.

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pork patty perfection

You’ll know it by the plastic tubs overflowing with chargrilled pork patties, although don’t be fooled, a copycat opened up right next door, so make sure you’re dining at the real deal.  They only sell Bun Cha and Nem cua (a crab pork summer roll that is bomb) and you should get both.  The pork hamburger is eaten on top of vermicelli with pickled daikon.  And you pour the fish sauce goodness the meat was soaking in on top of it all and slurp it up.  Literally the best.  Bourdain would never lead you astray (RIP).

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Spend the early afternoon meandering through the narrow, winding passages of the Old Quarter.  My favorite shops were the colorful ones on Hang Quat (Fan Street), which no longer sells fans, but instead funeral accoutrements and religious statues and relics.  Hang Ma (ghost street) has all sorts of paper joss products, like a macabre Papyrus exploded onto this lane.

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A little known (or maybe it’s well known) attraction in Vietnam is water puppetry.  These elaborate shows combine (you guessed it) paper mache marionettes with water and pyrotechnics to tell Vietnamese folk tales. The largest theater, Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre, is located at Hang Bac (Silver Street) across from Hoan Kiem lake.  It’s a great way to escape the heat in an air conditioned theatre whilst watching what can only be described as a visual spectacle.  It’s fun for all ages; honestly it’s pretty cool.

After the show it’s the after party, and after the party it’s the hotel lobby?

Or the hotel bar, rather.

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If you can swing it, stay at the Sofitel Metropole Hanoi, one of the finest luxury hotels in the city.  But fear not if you can’t afford it, you can always have high tea or an aperitif at the swanky Le Club Bar, where you can hide away in the tropical garden courtyard.

But, don’t fill yourself up.

Tonight, you feast on Vietnam’s national dish.  The dish Vietnam is known for…pho.  This everyday staple is so popular across the entire world, there was even an issue of David Chang’s now defunct Lucky Peach devoted to it.  We made it!

Haters from Southern Vietnam will say they invented pho, but they are wrong.  This full-bodied, intricate soup has the most complex flavor profile: sweet, fragrant, salty.  Pho Thin (pronounced: Teeen) is a tiny (read: teeeny) shop in the French Quarter that serves up a delicious bowl of goodness. SO MANY SCALLIONS.  A MILLION EMOJI HEART EYES.

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shining star anise 

The meat, lean beef, is chopped up in this version, but that’s forgivable.  The broth is almost clear and the fresh rice noodles are perfectly chewy.  The tables are communal and so are the condiments (there are no health codes here), but that adds to the charm of the place.  It’s super cheap ~ $1.50 and SO satisfying. Resist the urge to eat two though, save your appetite for future snacks.

Vietnamese people eat pho at all times of the day, so if you’re feeling a little weary or need a hair of the dog, they serve it in the mornings, too!  This + cafe sua da (Vietnamese iced coffee) = best hangover cure.

The night time is for perusing the night markets.  Asia is known for the night markets and Hanoi is no different.  They’re more like swap meets, selling lots of souvenirs and random stuff that no one really needs for really cheap.  There are also lots of food vendors serving all sorts of meat on a stick and cured fish snacks and desserts.  So vibrant!

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The most popular is probably the Old Quarter weekend night market at Hang Dao (Peach Street), but there are tons of markets open every night around town — just follow the hordes of young people.  Don’t be surprised to find pop up dance parties and art exhibits as well.  Vietnamese people are all about celebrating, they’ve got a sense of joie de vivre.

I highly recommend staying in a hotel while you’re in Hanoi, if not for the comfort, then for the hospitality.  They’ve really got that down here, and hospital staff are hellbent on catering to the customer.  Breakfasts are often included and feature an array of Vietnamese home cooking and lots of fresh exotic fruits, like mangosteen, rambutan, longan, dragon fruit.  These must be tried while in this region.

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longing for longans

You can walk off your morning feast by visiting the former Imperial citadel of Thang Long.  A long, long time ago, the Imperial capital of Vietnam was located in the city of Thang Long (the original name of Hanoi).  Eventually in the 1800s, the royal court moved to the Central Vietnam state of Hue, leaving these palaces and government buildings behind.  Of course, when Vietnam was conquered by the French in the late 19th century, many of these structures were ravaged, but whats left has been anointed a UNESCO world heritage site and the museum has many artifacts that have been excavated.

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Close to this attraction is the memorial to Ho Chi Minh.  If you’re interested in this controversial figure, his body is entombed in this mausoleum and there’s a museum dedicated to him next door.   This area is located in Ba Dinh Square, which also contains many governmental buildings.

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A must see attraction is the ancient one pillar pagoda or Chua Mot Cot located near the HCM mausoleum.  This is one of the iconic structures of Hanoi…and really, of Vietnam.  The original temple was built in the 11th Century, but as the French were retreating in 1954, they blew the structure up.  This facsimile is slightly smaller, but still very recognizable.

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It’s a tiny temple, sitting atop a peaceful lotus pond.  There are vendors around the perimeter selling food and ice cream and trinkets.  There’s a fable that if you wish to have children, you should visit this temple and pray.  As with all temples in Southeast Asia, make sure your legs and shoulders are covered to show respect.

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For a light-ish lunch, check out Xoi Yen.  This fast casual restaurant serves one thing: xoi or sticky rice.  These dishes can be sweet, but think savory when you come here.  You can get sticky rice bowls filled to the brim with baked pork roll (gio or Chinese ham), lap xuong (Chinese sausage), dried pork jerky, chicken, egg, vegetables, mung bean, fried shallots, etc.   This is Vietnamese comfort food at its best.  And yes, you will be sitting on those little plastic stools again…try to get a table on the second floor to grab a great view of the hustle below.

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To continue your historical tour of the Imperial City, head to the Vietnamese museum of Etynology.  This is an amazing museum that focuses on the different minority ethnic tribes in Vietnam.  There are replicas of their homes, tools, clothing, etc.  It provides a lot of insight into the indigenous population and is very well curated.  The A/C in the main building is a plus on a hot summer day, too.

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Before heading back to your hotel for an afternoon siesta, check out Dong Xuan market, Hanoi’s largest indoor market.  You can find it all here: seafood, pets, linens?  Lots of souvenirs on the upper floor, and there’s a large food court also.

If you’re looking for a little more ambiance, Nha Hang Ngon is a really unique and delicious (it’s the name of the restaurant) dining experience.  The restaurant is a French veranda like setting, with separate kiosks around the diameter of the dining area, each cooking a Vietnamese specialty surrounding the large courtyard filled with tables.

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banh cuon (pork and mushroom wrapped in steamed rice) corner 

It’s like street food on steroids, a veritable permanent food truck bonanza.  You can even go around and watch them prepare the food.  All of the different smells meld together together in an amazing melting pot of umami.  There’s also a Quan An Ngon which is another iteration of the same premise, too.

The next day would be the perfect opportunity for a day trip to the colorful highlands of Sapa (Hmong area that really deserves as least a weekend visit) or delve into the gorgeous rural countryside in Hoa Lu and Tam Coc (will write about those later).

Or, if you prefer to stick around, there are cooking classes galore.  One of the most popular tourist activities to participate in is to take an authentic cooking class.  Vietnamese food is fresh, delicious and healthy, so push up your sleeves, hone your skills and bring back a souvenir that you can use forever.  Experiences are the best souvenirs in my opinion.  Blue Butterfly is a restaurant that offers a very popular cooking class.  I can’t speak to these classes, as I am already very familiar with Vietnamese cooking, but fellow travelers really enjoyed the experience.

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Lotte Center is one of Hanoi’s tallest buildings and there’s an observation deck overlooking the city and its surrounding countryside.  There’s also shopping…because shopping is an event for Vietnamese people.

Or maybe just wander around the city looking for street food!  Vietnamese coffee is one of the strongest coffees you can drink and in Hanoi, there’s special egg cream varieties and of course the rare ferret (palm civet) poop coffee, apart from the usual condensed milk laden version.

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If you’re brave, try a street cafe that serves another northern specialty, Bun Rieu.  This is one of my favorite soups:  tomato base with crabmeat, tofu and vermicelli.  So rich and the perfect bowl will have a nice sheen of grease on top.  Bun Oc adds periwinkle escargot to this broth.  Also a treat.  These small stalls will set you back less than $2 for most of these dishes.  The value and flavor can’t be beat.  Just pack some Cipro to be safe.

If you’re getting tired of all the Vietnamese food all the time, there are a lot of notable Western restaurants as well (McDonalds and KFC notwithstanding).  Vietnamese cuisine has long been intertwined with French cuisine due to history and Green Tangerine combines these two cultures very well (think duck confit with ginger and sesame notes; pork braised in coconut with a lotus flower mille-feuille cake–classy stuff).  It’s located in a very sexy, dark French villa and will hit the spot for Westerners who just have to have a steak (they fly in meat from Australia, sorry not sorry, American meat is better).

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Try to see as many of the 36 streets in the old quarter as you can:  Cotton, Sails, Fish Sauce, Leather, Shoes, Onions, Sugar, Salt, Herbal Medicines, Cloth, Rattan.  Maybe get some embroidery or silk clothing, pick up trendy bamboo containers or lacquer art.  There’s so much shopping to be done.  Just when you think you’re all shopped out, you’re not, trust me.

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Hanoi actually has multiple other lakes around the city, and Tay Ho is the largest lake.  One of the most famous Banh Cuon chains in the states is named after this freshwater pond.  The Tran Quoc Pagoda is Vietnam’s oldest temple, built in the 6th century.  Relax and people watch to your heart’s content.

For your last meal in the capital, you have to go out with a bang.  Head to 107 Nguyen Truong To where you will find the mecca of northern Vietnamese food: Cha Ca La Vong.  This dish is so northern it hurts.  It’s one of my all time favorites, turmeric battered fish served fajita style in a bath of dill, green onions and pork fat.  You eat these perfectly spiced morsels on top of a bed of vermicelli, assorted herbs and lettuce, peanuts and crisp sesame crackers.  Eat it the classic way with fermented shrimp paste (mam) or the Busch league way (also known as my way) with regular nuoc mam (fish sauce).  All the savory flavors compliment each other, so salty and fatty.  It’s incredible.

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king of the north

The setting is like someone’s house (complete with indifferent servers and raucous noise), and that’s a part of the charm.  Make sure you go to the right place, as there are many copy cats (often off by one letter or accent), as they do not care about copyright infringement here.  This dish from this restaurant is so spectacular that it made the travel bible, 1000 Places to See Before You Die, so it’s kind of a big deal.

In my opinion it’s all worth to see before you die, Hanoi that is.  Experience a truly unique, bustling city that juxaposes colonialism with communism with the backdrop of some of the world’s top cuisine, not something you see everyday.

Good night, Vietnam!

Japan part Ni: kyoto, nara, osaka

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In honor of Sakura, the internationally renowned spring cherry blossom season, we continue our journey through Japan.  Next destination: Kyoto.  One of the most magical cities in Japan, it feels like you’re a character in a novel from eons ago when you’re here.  Literally, if this city does not make you feel like you’re in Memoirs of a Geisha or Shogun, then Sayonara, Felicia.

Kyoto has a dark magic feel to it, the city of geishas.  You just know there’s secrets hidden in the dark, wooded architecture.

If these rice paper walls could talk…

Continue reading

4 days in Bangkok

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Bangkok, Oriental setting, but the city don’t know what the city is getting — Murray Head

Bangkok is an amazing city.  It’s the type of city that will pick you up, turn you upside down and shake you.  It’s crazy, exciting, fun, and always a whirlwind.  It’s very seedy and uncomfortable in parts, and yet the most luxurious high end classy experience in others.  You can’t catch your breath here, there’s always night markets or bars or beach or grand palaces to see.  Some of the world’s most opulent architecture exists smack dab in the middle of this metropolis, I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.

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As you drive into the city from Suvarnabhumi airport, you’ll see the skyline filled with skyscrapers.  Bangkok is a financial center for Southeast Asia, with a lot of commerce and business, despite mostly being known for having a huge tourism trade.  The Chao Praya is the large river that runs through the city, and there are any resorts and hotels dotted along the banks of this body of water.

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The best thing about staying on the shores of the river is that each hotel has a water taxi that will take you to and from town.  They’re the fanciest ferries you’ll ever see.  You’ll pass lots of high rise condominium buildings and yachts, and even a giant reclining Buddha.  He is very popular amongst locals and tourists alike.

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The best thing about Thailand’s busy streets is that there are open air markets on every corner, really, everywhere you turn.  Try some exotic fruits! Fresh, juicy, tropical flavors burst in your mouth, it’ll change your life and make you hate supermarkets.

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There is an abundance of it, and it’s so fresh and cheap, you could make all your meals fresh fruit and no one would fault you for it.

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i’ll rambutan you for it

If you’re fancy, head to the Mandarin Oriental hotel for tea.  This extravagant hotel boasts Lord Jim’s, one of Bangkok’s 4 star dining experiences.

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tea at the mandarin oriental

Next door is the fabulously trendy China House, which has sleep, sexy decor and elevated new Asian cuisine.

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Close to our hotel, was the Asiatique shopping center, which is a lively entertainment district at night.  Visitors like to catch shows, ride on the big wheel or dine at any of the areas many restaurants on the river.

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We had a decent dinner at its al fresco Thai spot, Baan Khanitha.  When in Thailand, you must drink young coconut milk.

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There’s lots to see here and it’s pretty family friendly (not so much the case for other locations in Bangkok).  This bloke allowed me to take his picture because there’s no way in hell I would let parasitic fish bite my feet after biting other people’s feet.

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On your first full day in the capital city, make your way to Wat Pho, one of Bangkok’s oldest temples, thought to be from King Rama I’s reign.  Buddhism is the official religion of Thailand and there are MANY temples and shrines throughout the country.  This, however, is probably one of the most iconic.

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There’s no time like now because this place is always crowded.  You will be elbow to elbow with people from all over the world, and it can be very congested at the most popular sites, so try to get there as early as possible.

You’ll pass more markets.  Don’t worry, the mangosteens and longans will still be there when you’re done.

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Make your way to the reclining Buddha.  This symbolizes Buddha’s entry into nirvana and the end of reincarnation, and is therefore a popular image in Buddhism.  This particular gold-plated statue is 46 meters long, and 15 meters high.  He’s gorgeous.

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maxin’ and relaxin’

Thai architecture is some of the most striking in the world.  I can’t get enough of it, I’ve spent hours looking at pictures of their tiered stupas and temples.

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praise the roof

So intricate, so extraordinary.  The thought and planning that goes into every mosaic or decorative element.  It’s incredible.

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Phra Ubosot is the term to designate a main hall used for Buddhist rituals.  There’s a gold Buddha that sits below a tiered umbrella, which is supposed to represent Thailand.

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Wat Pho is known as the birthplace of Thai massage, an ancient practice of wellness, now popularized and practiced all over the world.  Based on pressure points, it’s like acupuncture but with direct touch.  You’re going to have to get a massage while in Thailand–literally like $10 for an hour on some of the beach towns.  It’s the best.

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Another must see (there’s a lot of them) are the cloisters of Phra Rabiang.  These halls are where you can find hundreds of Buddhas all from varying time periods and regions all brought to the temple, restored and covered in gold leaf by King Rama.

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On your way back to the hotel, you’ll pass many sites including the UN complex and the Royal Palace, Dusit.  Recently, Thailand’s beloved and long serving King Bhumibol passed away, so the country continues its mourning as his son is set to ascend to the throne.

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The next day, visit the Grand Palace.  They’re not overstating with this name. It is a huge complex of over 2 million square feet, where the Kings of Siam held court since the 1782 until 1925, when absolute monarchy started its decline into abolishment.

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Garudas are hybrid bird man creatures that represent a hybrid of Hinduism and Buddhism.  The Prius of mythical creatures, if you will.  Their brut force and violence are used in a positive way as stewards of guardianship around the country.

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stupefying stupa

Again, the detail!  These patterns were all hand lain tile and glass!

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Gilded thai architecture is something to behold once in your life.  Astounding.

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The palace grounds also boast lovely frescoes depicting scenes from history and Thai folklore.

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The hallways are filled with these images which have been immaculately restored.

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Wat Phra Kaew is the temple of the Emerald Buddha.  The Buddha is wonderful, but the building its housed in, its Phra Ubosot, is something else.

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Depending on the different seasons, the Emerald Buddha has different outfits.  Here he is debuting his Summer finery.

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Garudas and their sworn enemy, the snake Naga adorn the exterior of the ubosot.

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I just can’t.  It’s incredible craftsmanship.  I can barely tie my shoes.

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I couldn’t get enough of this and could literally take pictures for days.  One of the most beautiful manmade places in the world for sure.  THE DETAIL THOUGH.

When you’re all splendored out, shock your senses in another way by fighting through throngs of people at Pratunam Market.  This is one of the cheapest places you can buy clothing and textiles.  This is where you go to buy the ubiquitous elephant pants and Chang beer t-shirts that every young tourist wears (including me, sorry not sorry, it’s hot as hell in Thailand).

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Spend the afternoon exploring a different kind of manmade wonder, a shopping mall. Bangkok has a ton of gargantuan shopping centers I’ve seen.  There’s so many of them, and they’re all crowded somehow.  One of the best is Central World, conveniently located a few large city blocks from the market.

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Central World has a large open air market in front of it selling stalls after stalls of glorious food.  Pad Thai, while I know is very basic and American of me, is one of my favorite dishes of all time.  I ate my weight in it while in Thailand because they have many street vendors and restaurants that serve it up like the woman below.

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There’s so much food here that I almost forgot about shopping.  That’s how amazing it is. There’s something else you should try while in Thailand.  It may be the most polarizing thing in the world, with people either declaring war on it or greedily hoarding it away.  It’s the durian.  This spiky fruit is like no other, literally there is no other food that tastes like it.  It smells like hell, but it is buttery and smooth and delicious.  I’m of the unpopular opinion, but I enjoy it in small doses, like when tripping through Asia.  It is not allowed in any hotels, so don’t try to take a souvenir with you.  They’ll ban you, for real.  Worth a try though, seriously.

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Tonight head to the infamous Patpong red light district of Bangkok.  It’s something worth seeing.  I’m not going to lie, some of the things I saw there grossed me out.  And it’s not like I was heading to the hidden fetish clubs or anything, but more than anything it made me feel fortunate to not have to be in certain situations in life.  There’s a lot of characters around, many that probably know better, but many that probably traveled to this part of the world for this purpose.  This is not an area recommended for kids.

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It’s always struck me that Bangkok has such a lurid underbelly because traditionally, Thai people are very pious.  I guess sometimes you have to do what you have to do to survive and that’s led to somewhat of an evolution in culture.  But, as it most places in Thailand, there’s thriving night markets around the area, and there are lots of bars and pool halls that aren’t as depraved as others.

After finishing our trip throughout southeast asia, which you’ll read about someday I’m sure, we returned to Bangkok for another full day–always recommended because there’s always more to see.

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Ride the skytrain to Siam Station, one of the most popular stops to get to all the malls. Siam Square not only has all of the huge shopping complexes, but also has street vendors everywhere.  On your walk from the station to Siam Center, grab some street foot.  It smells too good, will power not strong enough.

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Siam Center is a huge plaza.  There’s a huge Muay Thai boxing ring in the middle of it, for some added entertainment benefit.

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There’s pedestrian bridges that link the big centers, and MBK is a more understated center, but they have an international food court, and that in itself is notable.

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Now, Thailand is famous for its gorgeous floating markets.  These tourist attractions hail back to the days when water commerce was a necessity of life–not so much now with your Amazons and your drones and what have you.  But these visually aesthetic markets draw in a lot of people and rightfully so.  The most famous is Damnoen Saduak which is about a 100 km journey from Bangkok and from what people tell me, it’s super touristy and expensive and crowded.  That was too far for me this time, and maybe one day I’ll see it, but there are lots of local markets in Bangkok that are more easily accessible.

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Taling Chan is a floating market that’s more like floating kitchens, but the perfume of seafood grilling makes it worth visiting.

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Save your appetite though because you’re heading to Or Tor Kor market, where fried delicacies can be seen to the horizon.

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More pad thai!

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There’s fruit too, but whatever.  Fried food!

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Speaking of fried foods, just down the road is Chatuchak Market.  This maybe rivals the flea markets in Paris as my favorite outdoor market.  There’s an unending abyss of stalls selling antiques, ceramics, clothes, home goods, art, fabric, animals, food, books, you name it.  It’s like the best flea market swap meet in the world.

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Chatuchak is open on the weekends and has 8,000 stalls.  The clock tower in the center of the market was built to commemorate King Bhumibol’s 60th birthday in 1987.  Use it as a meeting place because you can very easily fall down the rabbit hole of shopping and get lost.

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Get a foot massage at any one of the parlors located in the market.  Your feet are going to hurt after walking around for a few hours here.  Before heading back on the skytrain, grab a McDonald’s parfait with pandan sticky rice and mango.  Love foreign McDs treats.

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Siam Paragon is probably one of the nicest malls I’ve ever seen.  And I’m a bit of a mall connoisseur.  There are top brands and luxuries from all over the world.  There’s a Garrett Popcorn and Fauchon and Laduree for pete’s sake.  We can’t get a Garrett Popcorn in Los Angeles, but they’ve got one in Bangkok.

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There’s also a spendy international food court, with meat on a stick, which is a great way to end this trip and any trip, really.

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Actually, there’s one thing that would be even better…more durian 😉

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lovers in japan: tokyo and mt fuji

Japan is a special place.  Its culture is unique and traditions well preserved.  Tokyo is probably the most interesting city in the world, as it is a city of contradictions.  There’s an avant garde, boldness to it, but yet there’s also a timid sensibility, too.  It’s both modern and ancient, debaucherous and pious.  The food, the facilities, everything is deliberated over and planned out, but there’s spontaneity around every corner.  It’s edgy, real and fearless.  Yet, for a city of its size, it’s unimaginably safe and tidy.

Japanese citizens have a sense of responsibility in keeping their homeland organized and neat, and proudly show off their incredible technology and forward thinking nature.  I love everything about it.  There’s so much to see and do in Japan, and often times not enough money.

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know before you go: Siem Reap (REP)

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Siem Reap is the airport that serves Angkor Wat, one of the world’s great ancient ruins.  If you ever get the chance, go!  It’s an incredibly humbling place to visit, you will be in awe of the engineering and intricacy of these ancient structures.

Although it is Cambodia’s busiest airport (yes, even busier than that of the capital Phnom Penh), it’s still pretty tiny with only 10 gates.  But, this makes it easy to navigate.  It serves basically every regional Asian airline you can think of, with popular flights to and from Thailand and Vietnam.  It is the hub for Cambodia Angkor and Sky Angkor Airlines.

The design is very classic Khmer with the sloping roofs and when arriving, it makes you feel like you’re already visiting the sacred temples.  And you basically are, as it is located a mere 5 km from Angkor Wat. And about 4 km from the city center where all the restaurants and gem markets are abound.  You will (siem) reap the benefits when you visit this culturally rich area.

Remember: ✈️ = wat’s going on to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = turn down for wat

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (a short taxi or tuk tuk ride away)

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️✈️ (there is just one building)

Convenience of check in/security lines: ✈️✈️ (customs isn’t the fastest and there’s a bit of scrutiny, consider getting an e-visa before you arrive)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️ (it doesn’t have to be great for a regional airport, but there’s actually a Starbucks, a small Asian food court, Dairy Queen and two other coffeehouses)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️  (could have more)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️ (no wifi, sorry)

Amenities: ✈️✈️ (souvenir shops, bookstore, flower shop)

know before you go: Bangkok (BKK)

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Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand is one of the largest (4th) and busiest (20th) in the world.  Certainly it is the busiest in Thailand, as the popular tourism destination brings more than 50 million passengers through each year.  It is the hub for Thai and Bangkok airlines, so you’re likely to spend more than a few hours here if you’re heading to Chiang Mai or Phuket via those airlines.  I, in fact, have spent one night in Bangkok (Airport).  Sorry, not sorry.

Be aware that there are some unscrupulous individuals looking to pray on tourists by acting as unofficial tour guides and cab drivers.  Be safe and be careful, as these people can be very slick and in some cases have relationships with airport workers.  Check and double check that is via the most legitimate channel before going anywhere with anyone.

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It is about 16 miles from the city center, and depending on the traffic, it can take a long time to get there.  You can also get to and from the airport via rail.  There is one main terminal split into 7 concourses A-G with about 120 gates, with C-G serving international flights.

There’s a ton of things to see here, and it holds the distinction of being one of the most instagrammed airports in the world.  There’s statues depicting Thai folklore, there’s Garudas in the departure ticketing area.  There’s actual plays and live music depicting Thai legends before you even enter the main terminal.  It’s a great place to have a layover, but if you’re so inclined, there’s also a Novotel Hotel on site.

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There’s basically a high end mall’s worth of shops here: Armani, Burberry, Celine, Chanel, Chopard, Dior, Fendi, Ferragamo, Gucci, Hermes, Longchamp, Prada and Zegna.  There’s airline lounges abound, and I will say the Bangkok Airlines lounge has really great snacks and juices available.

The food options are just okay.  There are a lot of fast food options, asian and grab and go mostly, but there’s Burger King, Starbucks and a Kinramen, which has a decent bowl of ramen.  There’s a lot of Thai coffee shops and also a Mango Tree, which is an international chain.  The thing I don’t love is that the asian food is located near the asian airlines, while the western food is near the flights from US and Europe.  There’s a lot of walking involved in this airport.

Remember: ✈️ =  thai again to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = thai to stay here as long as possible

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️  (taxi, rail, a little far from the city)

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️✈️  (very large, a lot of walking)

Convenience of check in/security lines: ✈️✈️  (it’s a very busy airport)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️  (could be better)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️ (there could be more available, like I said there’s a lot of walking)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi not available, decent amount of charging)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️✈️  (lots of things to see, Thai souvenir handicrafts and shops, airline lounges, observation deck)

 

 

24 hours in Hoi An, Vietnam

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Hoi An was easily my favorite stop in Vietnam.  It was a colonial trading post, and has a completely distinct feel from any other city in Vietnam.  One, the Old Town architecture preserves the history of this port city and adds to its charm.  Two, foreign influences laid the foundation of international sophistication since Hoi An was a stronghold for the Cham people in the spice trade centuries ago.

I only spent a very short day here while traveling through Vietnam, but that was more than enough time to enchant me and make me want to plan my trip back to this coastal town.

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know before you go: Tokyo Narita (NRT)

 

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Japan is one of my all time favorite traveling destinations; it’s also a busy layover spot to get to the rest of Asia.  It is amazing to me how a country can be universally reserved and orderly while being culturally avante garde.  Japan is an amazing contradiction of tradition and progress.  Unfortunately I’ve only been there twice, but hoping to go back many more times in my life.

Traveling to Japan, the tone is set when you arrive at Narita Tokyo International Airport (NRT).  This airport is huge and awesome and clean.  There are three terminals encompassing somewhere around ~155 gates. Terminal one is split into a North and South wing, with the North serving Delta/SkyTeam carriers (Aeromexico, Air France, China, China Eastern, China Southern, KLM, Korean, Vietnam), Hawaiian.  The South encompasses United/Star Alliance carriers (Air Canada, ANA, Egypt, EVA, Lufthansa, Singapore, South Africa, Swiss, Thai, Turkish) and Etihad.

Terminal 2 is where Japan Airlines operates along with American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, FinnAir, Iberia, Qantas, Tam and a few airlines from other Asian countries.  Terminal 3 is for low cost carriers.  This airport is amazing for layovers as there’s a ton to do, but it is somewhat far from the city, so you can’t just make a quick trip into Edo itself (it’s 40 miles away) if you only have a few hours.

The food here is amazing, but I am biased because if I can get a decent bowl of ramen in an airport, it’s shooting to the top of the list (that’s right, Heathrow ;).  There’s your regular McDonald’s, Starbucks offerings for western food, but if you’re laying over in Japan, enjoy Japanese food! There’s udon, soba, sushi, curry, yakatori, ramen, donburi, tonkatsu shops, and a food bar where you can get ALL of these things.  I spend most of my time here stuffing myself (but if you’re flying on JAL, save your stomach for their snacks and yuzu sky time drink).

There are luxury and duty free shops galore: Ferragamo, Tiffany & Co, Burberry, etc, but I recommend hitting up the Japanese convenience stores, Hello Kitty, and souvenir shops.  Where else are you gonna get your last minute Japanese KitKats for your flight?

Remember: ✈️ = Sayonara, sucker  to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = domo arigato, mr. roboto

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️✈️ (far from city center, BUT there are trains that go directly to the airport)

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️✈️  (it’s very large, but there’s an abundance of clear signs in Japanese and English)

Convenience of check in/security lines: ✈️✈️  (it’s a very busy airport, but they go as efficiently as they can)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️  (Japanese food bonanza)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (like everything in Japan very clean, and has their musical toilets with the automatic seat covers)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi not available, decent amount of charging)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ (lots of things to see, shops, food, japanese culture, kabuki, shower and rooms available to rent, airline lounges, observation deck to watch takeoffs and landings–I want to live here)