Top 5 Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

1. Get shopping & eating at the Ben Thanh Night Market

Where? Intersection of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, Tran Hung Dao Avenues and Le Lai Street
Why go? Amazing food and crazy atmosphere – there’s a really big mix of tourists and locals, too.
How long will you need? Don’t bother getting there before 7pm for the night market – then, stay all night!
Cost? Food and trinkets are all super cheap
Read more:
– Ben Thanh Night Market, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

 

2. Take a day trip to head out and crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels

Where? There are heaps of providers for these tours, but I’ve done it with Buffalo Tours twice now, and wouldn’t go with anyone else!
Why go? The Cu Chi Tunnels are an absolutely enormous network of interconnecting tunnels underground in the Cu Chi region of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). The tunnels were used by the Viet Cong soldiers in the 1960s as communication and supply routes, as well as hiding spots and living quarters, which the area above ground was being bombed and razed. And seeing it first hand can’t even come close to reading about it.
How long will you need? The tour I did was a half day (morning)
Cost?  Private tour for US$52.00 per person, or small group tour for US$40.00 per person
Read more:
– TBT: Crawling through the Cu Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

 

3. Take in an incredible view of the city from EON51 Café at the Bitexco Financial Tower

http://eon51.com/cafe-eon/
Where? 36 Ho Tung Mau Street, Ben Nghe ward, District 1
Why go? Because the view is incredible, but it’s much cheaper to buy drinks at the café than it is for a ticket at the viewing platform!
How long will you need? An hour or so – it’s a great break from the heat and craziness in the city below.
Cost? We paid around AUD$18.00 for a fresh coconut and a fresh mango juice
Read more:
– View from the top: EON 51 at Bitexco Financial Tower, Saigon, Vietnam

 

4. Ignore the stuffy tourists and eat the street food!

Why go? So many people will turn their noses up at the idea of eating street food in South East Asia; those people need to get their heads checked, because some of the best food in the city comes from the street!
Cost? Everything is cheap, which means you can stuff yourself silly!
Read more:
– Eating the city: Saigon, Vietnam

 

5. Join the locals and slow down with some coffee, bird song and people watching at Tao Dan Park bird café

Where? 110Bis, Nguyễn Du, Bến Thành, District 1
Why go? Each morning, from around 6am until around 8 or 9am, a corner of the park becomes a meeting place for men around 30 – 50 years of age, and their pet birds. Which makes it the most peaceful space set among beautiful gardens and full of birdsong.
How long will you need? Get there early and stay until the crowds start to drift off
Cost? So cheap I can’t even remember!!
Read more:
– Tea time: Tao Dan Park Bird Cafe, Saigon, Vietnam

 

 

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Stories

I’ve been sitting on this for a while now. Like, over year. I’ve been working on it and getting really excited, then doubting myself and letting my fear of failure get the better of me, which has seen this project shelved nd revived several times.

Long story short, after a bit of a rough time, I came to some big realisations, one of which was that I love to document life and stories, and not just my own. After thinking about how many things fear has held me back from and then talking to my sister about it, I thought I’d just give it a go; say hello to Ordinary People, Extraordinary Dreamer.

https://ordinarypeopleextraordinarystoriesblog.wordpress.com/

 

Developing as an offshoot from this blog, I wanted to find a way to not only tell my story, but to give a voice to everyone else’s, too. This is, pure and simple, a platform for every ‘ordinary’ person to voice their extraordinary stories. Because we all have them.

Taking inspiration from modern documentarians and projects like Humans of New York and NoLa Beings (who give a real voice to the every day faces of their cities) and Seph Lawless (who captures with brutal honesty the state of once-great cities and monuments that have now fallen from grace), as well as photographers like Zoe Leonard and (much older) Eugene Atget (who have been able to authentically capture ordinary moments forever), this is my way of contributing to the documentary of this time that is my present and will some day, inevitably, become history.

And the most important thing to preserve, I think, is the every day, ‘ordinary’ people, who we find out actually aren’t so ordinary after all…

 

The site will be launching soon, but in the mean time, I’m putting the call out to anyone who might be interested in contributing their story :) If you think that might be you, click on over to the new site for more information about how to submit your story!

Cook this: fig & walnut jam

Nonna and Nonno have an enormous garden, full of fruit trees and vegetable plots, all lovingly tended to every day. I grew up surrounded by overgrown zucchinis and their flowers which mum and Nonna would stuff and fry, the sweetest mulberries that I ate by the (very literal) bucketload that I’d pluck from the lower braches of the tree myself, and my favourite,  figs.

Sweet, sticky, brightly coloured and impossibly delicious, figs are one of the most vivid tastes of my childhood. I’ve tried the odd few from a supermarket or fresh food market, but they’re just not the same as Nonno’s.  Now, every year when the figs come in, Nonno gets on the phone to let me know, and off I go to collect. I was pretty stoked last weekend to get the call up and find a kilo of figs waiting for me instead of the usual handful!

With my fructose intolerance,  I can’t stomach as many as I used to, but there was no way I was letting them go to waste, so I decided to eat a few, keep a few for the next few days, and turn the rest into jam! If you’re lucky enough to be able to get your hands on a kilo of fresh, sticky figs, this is a pretty easy way to keep them around for a little longer…

Ingredients:
– 1kg fresh figs (stems removed, roughly chopped)
– ½ cup caster sugar
– 1 tbsp vanilla extract
– juice of 1 medium lemon
– ½ cup toasted, crushed walnuts

 

Method:
1. Combine the figs, sugar, vanilla and lemon juice with ⅔ cup of water in a large pot. Set it over high heat and bring to the boil.

2. Once boiling, lower the heat and simmer for around 45 minutes, until it thickens up to a more jammy consistency.

3. Stir in the walnuts ans pour the jam into clean jars and cool to room temperature before screwing the lids on and refrigerating (will keep for 3-4 weeks). Easy!

 

This jam works really well on fruit toast, as a cake filling, and especially well on my date and sesame scones (smothered in jam above), which, if you have a spare $9.99 laying about, you can find in my cookbook :)

Photo essay: We learn to bend so that we won’t break

 

We learn to bend so that we won’t break.  Those are our options.

A part of me wants to tell the world I have been hurt too many times to move ahead.
A part of me wants to justify how my pain has left me frozen, petrfied, and unable to let go.
A part of me is so afraid to look at what is hurting me that it would rather escape than face it.
A part of me us afraid to see because it knows that in seeing, I will be asked to let go. And that in letting go, I will be asked to be reborn. And that in being reborn, I will have to uncover who I truly am.

But another part of me knows in every ounce and inch of its being that I am serving no one,  not one single life by staying asleep.
A part of me is beckoning me to move up and out from all of the places of ungrowth, the dark rooms of stagnant air.
A part of me is being propelled out into this great wilderness, and asking to discover the power hidden within the creases of my skin, resting on the tips of my eyelashes, travelling in the veins that surge through me.

You are longing to be more alive.
You are longing to be fully present to your one, precious life.
You are not afraid.
You are ready, dear one, to be accountable, to be wholly responsible for your life.

 

If you can relate to any of those words, I’d really recommend taking 10 minutes out of your day to listen to Sarah Blondin’s full meditation right here from the Live Awake Project. As for the photos, they were all taken in Warburton last week, while I was there taking a little time away from it all, learning to bend :)

Read this: Around The World (Without Counting The Pennies) by Vincent Adams Winter

Around The World (Without Counting The Pennies)
by Vincent Adams Winters

Considering the fact that I found this at an op shop, it contains absolutely no publication details, and a search online didn’t turn up any results other than a listing in the National Library of Australia catalog, this isn’t so much a “read this book” post as it is a “give your local op shop book shelves a proper look through” post.

Second hand book shops are my favourite places to pass the time. They are honest-to-goodness treasure troves, and some of my favourite are ones that I’ve found tucked away under dusty piles of random volumes. This one I discovered in an op shop in Healesville – the bright cover and title got my attention, but once I saw what it was all about, I knew I had to have it.

Written by Vince, it has all the hallmarks of being a written-for-fun book, recounting Vince and wife Betty’s adventures on their 18 months and over 20 country trip around the world in 1979-80. Vince introduces the book with a strong message that age, health and budget restrictions shouldn’t stop you from getting out there and seeing the world; both in their sixties at the time of the trip, Betty had club foot and hyper-tension, and Vince suffered from Parkinson’s disease. They visited doctors or hospitals every 6 weeks or so for treatment and medication, which was crazy to read about so many years later – imagine rolling up to a hospital in Barcelona with a letter from your doctor asking them to dispense some medication to you?!

Reading through this book was an incredible trip back in time; there was so much more freedom back then in how you could travel, few real restrictions on visas and border crossings like there are now, no real worries in finding accommodation, no serious concerns in talking to strangers. I’m a big fan of journalling as a bit of a time capsule, a way of capturing a piece of the world as it is right now, and that’s exactly what Vince and Betty’s book was.

It was also really entertaining to read about how they liked to travel – upon arriving in each new city, they had two requirements they liked to have met:
1. A bus tour of the city to get their bearings and see the general outlay, while learning a few facts about the place.
2. Accommodation that provided a good on-site restaurant, because a quality breakfast and dinner were paramount.

This second point I related to particularly well, as husband and I are particularly keen on being well fed on our travels (the main difference being that we like to get out and try as much local cuisine as possible, generally avoiding hotel restaurants like the plague). This passage in particular summed up their attitude for the bulk of their trip, and had me in stitches trying to picture it…

“Leaving Solvesborg, still through dairying and wheat country similar to that between Malmo and Solvesburg, we decided to stop at Vostervik for our customary pre-lunch drink. It is a fairly large town but an hour of investigating failed to find a bar or cafe selling beer. Leaving in disgust and finding out way to the main road with some difficulty we drove only five kilometres further where we got our drink.”

 

They also kindly added in an appendix first page below) tracking their spendings on accommodation and meals… googling inflation conversions of these rates today was a bit of an eye-opener!

To think this little gem ended up in an op shop in regional Victoria, selling for only $3.50, and ending up in my hands is incredible; it also has to make you wonder how many other little treasures are floating around out there in the world with so much information and so many beautiful stories to offer… next time you’re at a second hand bookshop, take a bit of time to trawl through the stacks; you never know what you might find :)

 

Logistics of RTW travel – part 4: Tracking your bookings (& saving your sanity)

If you need to catch up before we get started…

Ok, so we’ve worked out where and when to go. We’ve worked out roughly how much it’s going to cost. And we’ve worked out a plan to save the funds. Now that’s all done, it’s time to get booking!

But if you’re taking a trip like ours, there’s going to be a lot to book. Flights, trains, hire cars, hotels, Airbnbs, insurance and visas, tickets to sports games and museums and cooking classes… When you have 4 months worth of bookings, you’ll want to be able to keep tabs on things quickly and easily. You don’t need fancy accounting programs or booking-tracker apps; you literally just need a simple spreadsheet.

img_5141
This is basically how mine is set up, in a note on my trusty Evernote app:
TRANSPORT:
FLIGHT DETAILS BUDGET ACTUAL COST & DATE PAID BOOKED WITH BOOKING
NUMBER
NOTES
01 Jan: MEL – LAX $2400.00 $2285.00 paid via credit card 18.02.17 Qantas website 18.02.17 XXX88X Saved email in RTW folder
02 Jan: LAX – YYC $600.00 $629.00 paid via PayPal 24.02.17 American Airlines website 24.02.17 XX55XX
08 Jan: YYC – KTN $800.00 $784.00 paid via credit card 02.03.17 Alaska Airlines website 02.03.17 XXXX98
ACCOMMODATION:
HOTEL
DETAILS
BUDGET ACTUAL COST & DATE PAID BOOKED WITH BOOKING NUMBER NOTES
01 – 02 Jan: Los Angeles hotel $150.00 USD$85.00 to be paid on arrival Booking.com 05.03.17 ABCDEF Double room, non-smoking
02 – 08 Jan: Calgary hotel $800.00
08 – 12 Jan: Ketchikan hotel $500
OTHER:
DETAILS BUDGET ACTUAL COST & DATE PAID BOOKED WITH BOOKING
NUMBER
NOTES
Travel insurance $400.00
Canadian National Parks pass $150.00
Ketchikan city tour $50.00

And that’s about it. The way I use this is:

1. I started by filling in the first column of the travel plans that needed to be booked.

2. I filled in the second column with the amount we budgeted for each item.

 

Once we actually started getting things booked in:

3. I filled in the third column with the actual amount we ended up spending and the date it was paid

4. The fourth column was who I booked with, be in via email, website, third party, whatever, and the date they confirmed the booking.

5. In column five, I just put the booking confirmation number.

6. And the last column is just any notes.

IMG_9659
This has been SO much easier that trying to write down details, keep track of receipts, dealing with piles of paperwork I’ve printed. Because pretty much everything is done online these days, I’ve been able to have all confirmations and payment receipts emailed to me, and if I need to find them, I just need to copy and paste the reservation number from that spreadsheet into my email inbox search function! it’s also been a really great tool for keeping on top of how closely we’ve been sticking to our budget – realising how far under we actually were, we even decided to splurge on a gorgeous 4 star beach-side resort in Koh Samui for the end of our trip instead of our usual 2-star standard!

Top 5 Things To Do in Bangkok

1. Shop up an absolute storm at Chatuchak Weekend Market
http://www.chatuchak.org/
Where? Chatuchak Market is adjacent to the Kamphaengpecth Station (MRT) about 5 minute walk from Mochit Skytrain (BTS) Station and Suan Chatuchak (Chatuchak Park) Station (MRT)
Why go? Spanning 27 acres, it’s one of the biggest markets in the world. The atmosphere is electric, the food is great, and if you can’t find something you want to buy, it doesn’t exist.
How long will you need? At least half a day
Cost? Depends how much you plan to buy – make sure you barter, though!
Read more:
– Through my eyes: Bangkok’s Chatuchak Weekend Market

 

2. Eat up a storm on Soi 38

Where? right near BTS stop: Thonglor
Why go? Because it’s street food heaven. They all congregate there and the smell of it all is magic.
How long will you need? An hour or two
Cost? You’ll be able to get a great meal for only a few dollars – the pork and noodle dish above cost under AUD$4.00!
Read more:
– Street food heaven: Soi 38, Bangkok, Thailand

 

3. Then, learn to cook for yourself at BaiPai Cooking 

http://www.baipai.com/
Where? 8/91 Ngam Wongwan Road, Soi 54, Ladyao, Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900
Why go? To learn to cook! The classes are fantastic, very hands on, and come with full recipes for you to take home. And once you’re done cooking in the class, you get to sit down with your classmates and eat it all!
How long will you need? A few hours, depending on your class time:
Morning Class – 09:30 – 13:30
Afternoon Class – 13:30 – 17:30
Cost? THB 2,2200 per person (around AUD$80.00)
Read more:
– Baipai Cooking School, Bangkok, Thailand

 

4. Take a boat down the river to the Wat Pho Temple complex

Where? Maharat Road, near the river. Take the Chao Phraya River Express to the Tha Thien Pier – it’ll cost under a dollar.
Why go? Because Bangkok is a crazy city, and this is the most beautiful little piece of paradise you could possibly hope to escape to :)
How long will you need? Half a day
Cost? Entry is THB 100 per person (around AUD$3.80)
Read more:
– Through my eyes: Wat Pho Temple Complex, Bangkok (part 1)
– Through my eyes: Wat Pho Temple Complex, Bangkok (part 2)

 

5. Take a stop off at Chinatown on the boat ride back to the city

Where? Take the Chao Phraya River Express back towards the city and stop at the Ratchawong Pier. From there, walk up Ratchawong Road to Sampaeng Lane, and Yaowarat Road (Chinatown’s main street).
Why go? This is the ultimate antidote to the peace and tranquility in the temples. Chaos is an understatement, the shopping is heavy on tacky souvenirs, but the food is great and the atmosphere is insane in the best possible way!
How long will you need? Add another few hours to your half day at the Wat Pho Temple Complex
Cost? Depends on your shopping habits!
Read more:
– Through my eyes: Bangkok’s Chinatown, Thailand