miss saigon: weekend in HCM City

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Vietnam is one of the most popular places in the world to travel, probably because it has everything: culture, art, delicious food, natural beauty, miles upon miles of beaches, history, welcoming people, hospitality and above all else, affordability.  You can live like a king on a moderate budget, every dollar goes super far here, while not sacrificing quality.

When traveling to Vietnam, you’re going to want to traverse the entire country, as there are unique landscapes, disparate culture and people throughout.  Even though it’s a smallish country, citizens from each region are very proud of their own distinct communities, from food to style and everything in between.  Just don’t get into a debate about who invented pho…there’s no winning with that one (it was the northerners ;).

The south of Vietnam is a great place to start.  Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) is the country’s largest city by population.  The history of this city is rich, from its origin after Vietnamese conquered Khmer area, to the capital of French colonial rule to the then doomed epicenter of the Republic of Vietnam.  Because of the timeline of all sorts of different influences, the city is a mishmash of architectural styles.

Above all else, this is probably the epicenter of the future of Vietnam, with skyscrapers sprouting up everywhere and a population that is projected to be near 15 million in the next few years.  Not as cramped as Hanoi, this area is certainly still very crowded with motorbikes and people teeming into the streets every which way…and it’s ever changing.

blink and you’ll miss saigon

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know before you go: ATL

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Welcome to Atlanta where the players play…it’s that time of year again, when droves of Otolaryngologists flock upon one lucky city for their annual society meeting.  This year, it’s HOTLANTA, so watch out, many  mild mannered surgeons will be heading your way.

The world’s busiest airport, Atlanta Hartfield-Jackson, is like a city on its own.  Luckily there’s a train that connects the terminals because no one would ever make their connections due to the vast nature of the complex.  Speaking from experience x multiple times.

There’s MARTA and SkyTrain transport that can get you to the airport from the city, which is convenient as it is about 10 miles or ~30 minutes in Atlanta traffic.

There are five (count em, 5! runways that serve two terminals, which are where you check in and retrieve your baggage.  The Domestic terminal is further split into a North and South.  South houses Delta, which has its hub at ATL.  North has all other domestic carriers: American, Frontier, JetBlue, Alaska, United, Spirit, Southwest. In between the terminals lay the 209 gates in the seven concourses A-F and T.  T is connected to the Domestic terminal, F is connected to the International side.

You can fly anywhere from this airport.  I’ve gone to Central America, Africa, Europe.  Literally it is a microcosm of the world, as is its dining options (albeit Americanified).  The shopping could be better, but the international terminal does have a bunch of duty free shops.

Remember: ✈️ = stomp the yard to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = ATL

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️✈️ (MARTA, SkyTrain available to domestic terminals)

Ease of navigating through terminals: ✈️✈️✈️ (there’s a train, but be prepared to walk)

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ (every type of fast food you can imagine, all major chains including Burger King, McDonald’s, Chick Fil-A.  There’s Panda Express, PF Chang’s and Peiwei.  Are you thinkin’ Arby’s? Cuz you can because there’s one in there.  There’s a lot of southern fare, too, if you want low country food at high country price)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️✈️  (depends on the concourse, but clean and plentiful)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi available, good amount of charging)

Amenities: ✈️✈️✈️  (not a ton of high end shops, although there’s a Sean John store? American, Delta and United have lounges, there are Xpress Spas and art)

 

36 hours in phoenix & scottsdale

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Phoenix is hot.

Literally and figuratively.   Phoenix has been one America’s fastest growing cities over the years, and it seemingly hosts every major sporting event possible (BCS bowl games, Super Bowl, Final Four, etc) because of its world class stadiums and ample hotel facilities.  No doubt it’s in part by having the tony suburb of Scottsdale and college towns of Tempe and Glendale nearby adding to its metropolitan area mix.

The capital of Arizona, Phoenix is your perfect desert getaway for a weekend, that’s why so many snowbirds head south to Phoenix, especially in the winter.  And for the rest of us: there’s spas, shopping, golf and fabulous chain restaurants.  Jk there’s obviously great local stuff including a rich art and cultural scene (so many murals!).

phoenix is rising

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life is beautiful: las vegas stripped

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I’m one of these weird people who visits Las Vegas and doesn’t really spend much time near the Strip.

I know, I know — what’s the point right?

Well…I prefer to lose my money in different ways than gambling (see: shopping), I have family in the city, and I’ve left my clubbing days where they belong…back in my twenties.  And honestly? The locals’ Las Vegas is cool AF (except when it is literally scorching hot outside), there’s so much to offer visitors and natives alike.

And there’s so many big events in Vegas all year round, like this weekend’s Life is Beautiful Music & Arts Festival.  And really, in Sin City, there is no lack of feeling that life is grand.  It’s a city of hopes and possibilities.  After the tragedy last year at Route 91, Las Vegans showed they are truly a strong community, and that they’re resilient and proud.

Obviously, if you’ve never been to Vegas before or if you’re there for some sort of celebratory shenanigans, by all means, strip ’til you drip.  See: the Hangover.  But as a warning, don’t sleep on the other parts of the city because you’ll be missing out on delicious ethnic eats from all corners of the world, arts and design rivaling any coastal cities, and architectural and natural delights all around.

Viva Las Vegas!

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24 hours exploring Charlotte’s web

Charlotte (and a lot of the rest of the Carolinas and the lower Eastern seaboard) is starting to recover in the aftermath of tropical storm Florence.  It’s one of the friendliest, cleanest cities I’ve ever been to, with a wicked sense of humor, and so here’s a little post to underscore the strength and resiliency of the community.

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Charlotte, North Carolina is one of the country’s financial centers which draws in a lot of young professionals and individuals with money.  With a growing population, the demand for restaurants, attractions and entertainment rises, and the city has stepped up.  It honestly does not feel like much of a Southern city, other than its hospitality, the downtown feels like mini Wall Street with its city of skyscrapers.

The cool thing about this city is that there’s a real sense of humor about it. There’s quotes all around town, and whimsical public art displays.  Not what you might expect from a city that boasts the Nascar Hall of Fame.  The unexpected it what makes this city so special, and a great place to spend a short weekend.

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3 days in New York

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As I spent a lot of this Labor Day weekend watching the US Open, I got serious green tennis ball colored envy.  I need to go to Flushing, NY stat (my friend goes every year, I have no excuse).  I mean, what a perfect way to spend a long weekend, exploring the last few days of summer in the city and then enjoying Primetime tennis!  Until I make it there, all I can do is dream of past New York adventures.

concrete jungle where dreams are made.

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know before you go: SMF airport

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Flying out of Sacramento, California (SMF) airport is probably the fastest experience of any airport.  It’s impressive.  I’ve flown out of here dozens of times and it has literally never taken me more than 15 minutes from parking to gate, and this is even on holiday weekends.

The airport is about 15 minutes from Downtown Sacramento, so depending on the time of the day, you could be stuck in infamous California traffic, so plan accordingly.

There are two terminals: A & B with 32 gates total.  A is home to American, United, Delta, Jet Blue.  B has Southwest, Alaska, and Hawaiian.  I appreciate when airports have multiple options for coffee shops, and while they are still chains such as Starbucks and Peet’s, at least you have options.  The unique thing about Sacramento is that the food offerings are almost exclusively local Sacramento restaurants, which is an extra nice touch for people to get the local flavor of the town if you only have a layover.

Other than security being fairly efficient and fast, the airport is clean, has a lot of outlets for charging your devices, and has plentiful restrooms.  Downsides, there are not any lounges, but as there are not too many direct international flights, you’re probably not going to have too long of a layover or need to shower here.

Remember: ✈️ = old sac to ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️ = sac kings

Convenience to the city: ✈️✈️ (it’s pretty far from downtown, even though the traffic isn’t usually terrible)

Security: ✈️✈️✈️✈️✈️:  super efficient, especially if you have pre-check

Dining: ✈️✈️✈️✈️ (Dos Coyotes, Burgers and Brew, Iron Horse, Paesano’s, Cafeteria 15L, and Squeeze Inn are all local restaurants, which is nice if you don’t end up leaving the airport)

Bathrooms: ✈️✈️✈️ (clean facilities)

Charging stations/wifi: ✈️✈️✈️ (free wifi available, charging available both in common areas and at the gates)

Amenities:✈️✈️ (no lounges, not a lot of shopping, a somewhat out of place Asian Pacific Californian exhibit?)

 

24 hours in florence

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Florence is the Renaissance city of all Renaissance cities.  Sitting in the cradle of the Tuscan region, Firenze is the locale that probably best encapsulates all of which Italy is known.  It’s a delightful mix of old world and modern Italy, with its cobblestone streets juxtaposed with industry and high fashion.  There is more art than you’ll know what to do with and the food and culture is spectacular.  Take a poll of people who have been to Italy, and I think 8/10 will say Florence is their favorite.  There’s a reason for that, it’s an enchanting, captivating place.

the dog days are over…

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hometown hits: orange, california

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Orange County, California is more than housewives and McMansions. Granted, we do have our fair share of overly plasticized people, sprawling estates and vapid teenagers, but anyone who visits will encounter a far different vantage than what you might have seen in a show.

What they don’t show on TV is a 3 million + populated area filled with cultures from all corners of the world.  There’s Little Saigon, Korean District, and Little Arabia to name a few neighborhoods around.

But, what started it all, and what was most attractive to settlers to this part of Southern California was its miles and miles of orange groves, hence the name of the county.

Before Walt stuck his spike down to create Disneyland, this whole area was filled with ranches amongst the fruit trees.  And in some pockets of the area, you can still unearth some of the history of this county, especially in appropriately named Orange, California.

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on the fringe: day trip to edinburgh

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Edinburgh is the perfect city for a day trip/long layover…especially during the month of August, when the city celebrates its nearly month-long creative arts and entertainment based Fringe Festival.

Even if you’re not visiting for the Fringe benefits (see what I did there?), it’s manageable, transit is well planned and there’s a lot to see and do in a small area.  For being a smaller capital city, Edinburgh’s history is just so rich and jam packed with notable figures and events.  Just don’t be like me and not realize that they use British pounds instead of Euros.  Doh.

Tartan up!

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