Getting around, finding things, services and support in Vietnam and Cambodia

Getting basic stuff done in Vietnam and Cambodia is the subject for today’s post. There are a number of things you need to figure out in a new place. I kinda keep a list so I can refer back and find the things:

  1. Laundry services. I don’t like washing my own clothes nor will I ever do it again. You can easily find laundry services that will turn around your laundry in a day or so and charge you about $2.00 or so in Vietnam and Cambodia. My last place in Da Nang, the hotel did laundry for guests and turned it around in one day. It was decent service. In Cambodia you can see Mr. Clean signs here and there and they quote the price for the weight of laundry. If you are determined to do laundry in your room, go for it. I have done it by washing in hair shampoo and warm water, soaking, rinsing, soaking and then getting a towel and rolling up the underwater repeatedly in the towel to remove excess water. In a warm place, laundry will dry pretty fast.
  2. Money Exchange. In Vietnam I headed toward a jewelry shop or just took currency out from an ATM. They did not accept US dollars wherever I went so I really got out of the habit of using it. Here in Cambodia, everything is US dollar based. ATMs give US dollars. Cash registers give you both USD and Riel prices. Down the street is the WING shop. They do currency exchange and will break larger US bills. Here is a hint. If you want to make Cambodian vendors unhappy, give them something larger than a $10 bill for something small. Instead, in your daily carry around money pack about $20 USD in singles and a 10 or so. Its fine for a day or two even if you splurge.
  3. Water. In the heat of both Vietnam and Cambodia you will sweat. My t shirt gets drenched because I walk everywhere here. Drink bottled water! Get yourself a 1.5 liter bottle or two every day. Do not drink the tap water even if people say its okay in Cambodia. Why risk it? Also the circle K and other stores like VinMart quote the prices on the shelf. One price for everyone. A local vendor will decide to charge you more. Once in Hanoi, I was out with a Vietnamese friend and we stopped for water. She was taking a picture and I rejoined her and told they wanted to charge me 25k VND for a 1.5 liter bottle of water. She was outraged and went to get water and it was 10k. An argument broke out with the vendor about the pricing and my friend threatened to call the police. Finally the vendor relented and sold me a bottle of water at the non tourist prices. The same happens in Cambodia. A local person will quote you some price in Riel. You have to be quick to know what is being offered. For small purchased like water, I carry a 1k Riel note with me or so.
  4. SIM cards. This is always interesting. Do you get one at the airport or wait? Everywhere on every street you can buy them. I really recommend that you go with viettel in Vietnam since its government owned and I like Smart Services in Cambodia. You can walk in with your passport, plop down some money in either country, buy talk and data time for cheap, and be ready to adventure in your new country. Don’t forget you need an unlocked phone. For Heaven’s sake also be careful with where you flash your phone. Carrying it one hand down city streets in just about any street in big town anywhere is asking for it to be lifted.
  5. Electronics, Camera and other goodies. I have found only one camera shop in Da Nang I trust. I bought the Fuji xT2 there. They were authorized Fujifilm resellers. I would read reviews carefully before buying stuff off the street. You can find quality electronics shops here in Phnom Penh and in Vietnam by reading a bit. Use those and don’t get ripped off.
  6. Clothing, shoes, socks backpacks, daypacks, etc. Often you just arrive at a place and need something cheap to carry around in the new city. Markets in Asia are meant for that. Head to a market but first read up on which one. In Phnom Penh the markets are kind of specialized. In Vietnam, one market can have an astounding variety of stuff but you have to be patient and go through from back to front and side to side. Its fun really if you just relax, get yourself an iced coffee and go with the flow. Its what the local people do! Also I figure there is a boundary to haggling. If something costs $2 USD its kind of ridiculous to haggle.
  7. Food. How do you find food in a new place? Its probably like how other people do it. In Hanoi I just walked out the door and Voila! Food! But sometimes I wanted to find some splurge food like hamburgers or western dinners or pizza. Google Maps and TripAdvisor work very well. In Vietnam I would walk or get a grab. Here in Phnom Penh, its simpler. Install the GRAB app and since it uses google GPS data you just favorite your hotel and type in the name of the place in English like “Tokyo Barber Shop”. The app goes and finds it, tells you the distance and give you the cost in Riel. No bargaining since its computed and you don’t get some scam going when you get out because you have the receipt on your phone in the app.

I have other topics like how I decide where to go when I’m staying long in a place. Here in Cambodia now, I target a thing, activity, museum, or site I want to visit. I will Grab tuk tuk there. If its a restaurant at night I will tuk tuk both ways. I won’t walk around Cambodia besides by my hotel at night that much. I walked more at night in Da Nang because I felt safe there. So anyways, finding a place then figuring out how to get there and get back is the fun of a new city. Like today I picked a new way to walk back and I found the government and military buildings I had never seen before in wide blocks with beautiful sidewalks. Walking is definitely the way to go folks!

Anyways, those are my primary things for finding the new things, services, support I may need in a new place. Of course friendly hotel staff like here at the LaLune Hotel in Phnom Penh does not hurt. Getting a local recommendation for food rules!

New Blog Series – Retirement, Asia, and Traveling Forever

I’m starting a series of a few blog posts on retirement and living and traveling. The purpose of this next series of posts are to define how you can do better if you are living on fixed income if you have a mildly adventurous soul and are able to adjust to cultural change and thrive. Here’s an article that got me thinking about just how far US social security retirement will carry you. So what do I hope to convey that adds to the balance of information for people? That’s the topic of the next few posts. Here are the posts upcoming. Each one will be linked and presented and hopefully at the end of the next few posts you can see what retirement means, your choices if you travel, and how some freedom can work if you are retired in places that cost less.

  1. Retirement and Travel in Asia
  2. Making Life better with limited funds traveling in Asia
  3. How to go slow and see more
  4. Visas and Passports and places that offer more for less
  5. Bringing it all together. Being old does not mean you sit at home wondering

I came to the conclusion that more needed to be done after talking with a variety of people in Vietnam and Cambodia about retirement. Retirement is supposed to be the good times folks. You are supposed to be able to take a breather, find a new thing, do a new thing, and perhaps find a new way of living. Maybe even finding a new partner if you are socially inclined. I am a solitary type so I solo travel but perhaps its not meant for you so you want something more.

Another thing I hope to convey in the series is that a person is never too old to find a new adventure. I answer questions about aging a lot on Quora about aging and travel. I think people reach their retirement years and get complacent or believe they are XX years and cannot possibly hit the road. I think fear plays a great role in this. Fear of both the known and unknown. There also is the difference of a place like Vietnam or Cambodia. Some of us are simply not made for having our senses assaulted by change. We’re more comfortable with the known yet often the known will cost more, mean you live less, and perhaps even threaten your possessions.

I am gong to write each of the blog posts above sequentially each week. So the retirement and travel in Asia post will come next week or late this week and I will then publish one in the series each forthcoming week.

So anyways, if you are interested in what a tomorrow may look like; stay tuned. I’ll continue to write my regular travel posts about life on the road in Cambodia and what I see and link to photography I do. Maybe instead I will create a static page in WordPress for this work. I think perhaps a static page would be easier to manage and let there be a difference in content.

Visas and Travel and how Southeast Asia is the best!

I went in today and took my Passport in for the so-called extension of stay retirement visa. The visa agent was a great person who understands the visa laws of Cambodia quite well. She told me some of the things I could do if I wanted to change the extension of stay to another one of the four types. Here’s a synopsis of the extensions you can get. I got the retirement extension or the ER choice. This visa can be given for up to 12 months and is a multiple entry visa. It costs $290 per year and next September after the 16th of the month I can apply for a renewal by going back to the agent and doing it again.

When I planned the departure, my primary goal was to find long stay places that also had reasonable visa laws that I could extend easily. Thailand has a decent retirement visa. Malaysia’s is priced too high for me. Vietnam does not have one but I could get a year long visa but would have to leave every 90 days for a visa run. The best combination of value and cost was Cambodia and I think they really want retired folks spending their money here.

My primary goal with the long stay visa extension in Cambodia was to establish a home base from which I can travel out to where I want to go but always be able to get back and have an established home so to speak. I don’t intend on staying in Cambodia all the time. In my current travel plan I will be back in Phnom Penh in January after visiting 4 other cities in Cambodia in 4 months. Then I will spend a week at the LaLune Hotel and fly to Singapore. I will not be back to Cambodia until June then as I see Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. In June I fly to Ho Chi Minh City, then to Hanoi, and then back to Phnom Penh at the end of 30 days. Probably two weeks in each place. I have friends in both places that want me to visit.

Its good timing for the visa to get back around August or so to Phnom Penh. I will be able to extend the retirement visa for another year in September but the other reason is China. I can get a tourist visa for China right here in Cambodia in a few days and go visit later next year. Another new goal I have is to ride the Shinkansen from Kyushu to Hokkaido in Japan. I want to see all of Japan and I would take a few months doing it. Then there’s India. I have to get back to India. People have been asking after me in Chennai, Mumbai, and Bangalore.

As long as I have the anchor or home base here, I can always get back and rest up or plan more things or just hang out in Phnom Penh. I also don’t mind return visits to places like Malaysia. I would only do long term stays in cheap places. So the long term retirement visa here is a big deal for me. It anchors me and also lets me go. Its multiple entry so I can take time as I want in Vietnam or Thailand or wherever but always get back here.

If you ever plan a getaway that is a forever thing and you are retiring, consider that Southeast Asia is kind of tailor made for retirees. Living is cheaper although you have to adapt and adopt a bit. Traveling is cheaper. You can travel across a lot of countries big and small and meet some amazing people. And you can do it all on less money than you think. Having the monthly social security retirement is nice for stability but the actual living expenses are low. Even if I splurge multiple times on food, everything always ends up good for me.

Give it some thought if you are getting close to retiring and wondering what in the world you will do next.

Getting around Phnom Penh – Real and Ideal thoughts for you

I went out for a great walk with the camera today and saw a variety of city blocks. Big streets with lots of businesses and few people. Small streets with the little shops crowded where the tuk tuks and the motorbikes vied for a two lane road. It was really a warm day here but it started out raining. Like most places here I’ve been the rain only goes for about 30 minutes and then you get blue skies.

So I walked and took some photographs and walked some more. Down streets here kids yelled hello at me and old people nodded and smiled. I’ve felt in both Vietnam and here in Cambodia this warmth and genuineness and openness that perhaps I did not see so much in busy San Francisco. Maybe did not see at all there.

I’ve read a few warning blog posts about people being mugged and robbed and drugged here and I was down this evening in the pub road district where the drunk travelers and backpackers have their court. One guy staggering almost in front of the tuk tuk and even the driver shook his head. I can see why people get scammed there if you go wandering around shit-faced down some of the streets I saw. I don’t think those people want to see Phnom Penh. They want the bar and food district that’s like other places they’ve been. The real Phnom Penh still is there though. You just need to get away from that part of the city and find the blocks where people work, laugh, and eat. Where the Khmer people live and the kids yell at you and smile. It all depends on what Cambodia you want to see. Its not all good and a Kymer told me there is a lot of poverty in their country. You can see it easily out walking. I saw the same in India. Dealing with it takes a little effort. Like even in Vietnam there are parts that I loved and laughed at and even cried a bit over. Here you can see it by a small lake where the poorer people live. Asking for handouts is in full effect and I feel bad for the people. There are many children there too but even with all that sadness the children find some bit of joy in the simple things of being a child. So somehow you have to take both and deal with it if you come to Asia. You will see it all. If you leave the touristy havens and see what Phnom Penh or Hanoi or wherever is all about. The areas where the people live and eat and children go to school.

Small streets where football is played and the small carts with produce and bbq wheel through. Those streets may be the most fabled in all of the places. Each time I’ve walked one I’ve enriched. Its a microcosm of life there as I’ve said before. You can see so much in how the day to day life of the person is played out. The local market. The coffee stand. The sandwich place. The laughter and smiling faces as people go by. I truly think that Cambodians want people to see their country. They’ve come a long way.

The main thing here though is getting around. And I mean that in the largest sense of the word. If you settle for bar districts and scams and wonder why you never saw Cambodia, I think I have an answer for you. I’ve wandered for 4 days in non touristy areas. Taken pictures of the city. Stopped for water. Got back to the room and planned out dinner. A local place? The best burger joint in town? Getting around in the tuk tuk is the way but there is also a tuk tuk of the heart and soul that will take you through Cambodia. Don’t miss some of it because its not where the tourists go.

You owe it to yourself to see the place. Breathe in the goods and bads. Look at what the city offers. Don’t be afraid. Just get around on foot or tuk tuk. I think  you will be enriched at the effort.

Traveling Forever and Visas too…

I’ll submit my passport and request for a 12 month retirement extension of stay visa this Sunday with the agent. It takes 7 to 10 days to get one and then I’m done with the last passport and visa thing required for here for a year. I can always come back to Cambodia from where I am for the next year. The LaLune hotel becomes my home base because I like this place and they treat me well.

But now, I’ll drink my beers in the room and watch BBC world news and wonder about the United States. Some of the things are so sad there. We seem stuck in a political climate of dysfunction and corruption. I hope that things change but my take is it will take longer than 2020 to set our ship right again. Then our allies will be our uncertain foes and our enemies will know how to take advantage of us.

That’s about it for now folks. Have yourselves a good evening. If you blog, write something. Create some content. Delete an ad or two that gets in the way. Like I’ve said before I want your words and I want them tied together.

The Casual Travler – Long Term Travel Ideas and Solo Wandering

Lately been thinking again of the whole solo travel thing. I follow a few people on Twitter that are solo travelers and a few that are traveling forever. But the direction of the recent thought is not so much the solo travel itself but the solo traveler engaged in slow travel. Slow travel does not mean a week or two in a place. To me, it means a month or two in a place. I spent three months in Hanoi Vietnam and while some people were surprised, I did this with a purpose in mind. I wanted to get grounded in Vietnam and use Hanoi as a base of travel for the places I could reach like Halong Bay. I also made it on several day tours and a few get aways to places like Hoi An and Hue.

Another thing is the stability in having a room for a longer time. I was able to settle in and find the services necessary for daily life. Things like getting a haircut, getting laundry done, the food places I wanted to eat at. I don’t do street food all the time and I enjoy western food on occasion and staying longer means I can explore those places as well. I also don’t have a budget so to speak for the travel. I like living how I want to live on the longer travel. I have not really splurged on a hotel or apartment yet but I have on food and taking tours. I will book a tour for myself when there is no choice. Yes, I will pay more to get to a place and also have it easy. I’m old and lazy I guess. I don’t need challenges trying to figure out four ways of getting to a place that I will visit for a few hours.

What I also like in the longer term travel is being able to slow down and see a place how I want. Here in Phnom Penh there are the tourist places by the river and the Wats there and museums and food and coffee places. I purposefully booked a hotel away from all that because I have time. Time to explore in all different directions and see the how people live, the smiling children as I walk by, and the city where I don’t see a lot of tourists. Its a different reality and by having sufficient time, I don’t feel rushed to reach a place within some schedule.

So, the longer term travel to a place like Phnom Penh or the month long stays in Da Nang, Da Lat, Saigon have meant that I had time to explore. Explore the non touristy areas, find the local restaurants, find the smiling people on the streets where I walk and at the same time have a regular approach to the travel. Here in Cambodia, I will spend an initial month in Phnom Penh then months in 3 other cities and then back to Phnom Penh in January. I’ll stay here a week and get some things done and then travel long term to Malaysia and Thailand and short to Singapore. I don’t stay long in expensive places like Singapore and Japan. I usually spend a week or two at those places and its more focused time to see things.

The Casual Traveler…

I think the casual traveler is best suited for places like Asia. The industry and tourist and services are well adapted to staying long term. Hotels have no problem giving better rates for long term. I won’t stay in Hostels so I don’t know how they do things. In Saigon, I stayed for a month in a home stay with a family. It was the best! The host cooked the best meals!

I think Asia is well suited for those that want longer stays and also have a regular life in a place. Perhaps the person is a Digital Nomad (whatever that is) or a ex-pat (I think I know this one) or just a slow traveler like me. If you combine countries with good long stay visas that also have cheaper costs of living the pattern is interesting. Vietnam will let you you stay up to a year but every 90 days you have to do a visa run. Cambodia has some nice visa rules and you can get a retirement extension of stay for a year of multiple entries for $290. There are other choices as well for the casual traveler. Thailand and Malaysia both have retirement visas but I would not get either since Cambodia is just so much easier to maintain the visa and extend it.

Finally, though its what you want. I travel to not arrive or close out a place but to live in a place. I purposefully pick the places that have things I’m interested in or have not been to. Part of the enjoyment of a first day in a new country is that first walk all day. Having the time to enjoy the walk, not feel that a week will go by way too fast and I will have not seen all the temples or whatever is a big deal for me. Finally, having the freedom to see the places and not focus on the touristy places is very liberating. I like taking pictures of every day life. Museums and temples and pagodas are good but here are also people out past all those. The long term travel makes it possible.

Like I said, I think the long term travel method is really well suited for Asia. You can go slow and not feel guilty. Perhaps though you don’t have the perfect storm of independent living or retirement or being that nomad or whatever. Then you have to live in your reality.

Day One in Phnom Penh out wandering the city streets!

This is about my very first real day in Phnom Penh Cambodia. Kinda what I did, how it went, what I saw. I arrived last night here a bit later than planned because the flight was delayed out of Saigon. All in all, the flight only took 35 minutes to get here so I don’t think it really mattered. The taxi service had the person standing outside arrivals with my name on a sign which made it easy to find.

The ride to the hotel was a bit complicated because the driver had to call the hotel first and be assured of the directions. I had a SIM card so I looked up the hotel as well on google maps and we kinda navigated together there. The hotel is called the La Lune hotel and I really like it. I spent $320 for 30 days and the room is very nice and comes with free wifi throughout the hotel as well as free breakfasts.

Today I decided to kind of get a sense of turns and streets and see what the city was like. I have to say the city is a dynamic, frenetic, and busy place. Motorbikes form a large enterprise both in sales and service. I saw entire blocks today that cater to repairs and maintenance. Other blocks are fresh markets with lots of produce and stuff. Street food stands are all over the place. So I walked around today to see all of this but also kinda feel grounded and get a sense of initial impressions of the small part of the city I saw. I had read a few things about safety here but I had seen the same things about safety in Hanoi and Saigon. There is a lot of information out there about robberies and mugging and scams. I saw a few scams in Vietnam and was never taken in. Here they are about the same. I think though a lot of things happen to travelers after they get tanked up in a bar and go staggering down the street and for some reason also carrying wallets and passports. Never once in 6 months in Vietnam was I asked for my passport besides at hotels. I bought an expensive camera and it was done with no passport. Here is Cambodia I was told by the hotel staff to not carry the passport whatsoever and that it will never be asked for when I’m out walking around or using facilities. I also will never carry my wallet with debit cards leaning out. Its best to carry $20 and some singles. Single dollars are good for small things like bottled water or snacks. A 1.5 liter bottle of water cost about $.40 and you change back in local currency. There are circle K markets here as well as other convenience stores.

So there I was out walking around and taking a few photographs of the busy daytimes in Phnom Penh. People walking and working. Lots of activities going on around me. Traffic about the same as in Vietnam. People drive motorbikes wherever they want to go. Wrong way, on sidewalks, etc. They will beep their horns a few times behind you to let you know they are there. The behavior of walking here is exactly the same as in Vietnam. You will see traffic lights that some observe and others don’t. Cars a lot of the times observe the lights while tuk tuks and motorbikes really don’t. I tend to cross with the light but if traffic has a pattern to it and I can cross against the light I’ll do that too.

So I walked in this kinda big square today around the locality of my hotel. It was an interesting outing since its a new country and city I have not been in. I love to walk through urban settings and take candid photos of the settings. At one point a few young Khymer guys offered beer smiling. Other people waved and said hello. To find my way, I have this approach with my iPhone that works well. I will never just take the phone out middle of the street even in a relatively safe place like Da Nang. I always wait until there is a building foyer or stairs and go stand by them numerous feet from the road. Then I check google maps for my location and I have my hotel marked as “home” on maps. Navigating this way is simple here in Phnom Penh. Streets are all numbered and are in grids for the most part. Some bigger arteries are more random but the vast majority of areas form squares which make navigation a breeze. I think it would be difficult without a data plan on my phone though. A paper map would be confusing because there is no real time “you are there” type thing.

Finally after a few hours of walking, I found the Main Street I was looking for that would let me cut back to the hotel I stay in. I wanted to see a bit of the area my hotel was in but that will wait to tomorrow. I got back and felt that I had a better understanding of this city and what to expect out there walking it. I did have the taxi and tuk tuk drivers occasionally offer rides. I’m used to that so refusing gently is right there for me.

Tonight I will go to this restaurant down the street and try it. Since I’m getting hungry, it will probably be by six PM or so. Hope this helps you understand a bit about this rather large and dynamic city with nice people, the usual traffic patterns, and how to get around. I observe the security precautions by carrying as little as possible with me. No backpack, no wallet, no passport and only limited funds. As I mentioned you should be able to get by with only carrying a $20 and a few singles for a few days of food and beer and water.

On to my second day tomorrow!

Posed versus Candid Street Photography – Da Nang is great for both!

I remember a recent discussion on Twitter regarding posed versus un posed pictures on the street. I do both and enjoy people that hail me down or ask here in Vietnam to have their picture taken. Usually there is laughter and smiles and waving and its a mutually enjoyable moment. The people know they will not get the shot. Take this one.

I really liked the smiles and the fact only two of the three wonderful ladies looked back at me as I took the picture. It lends some mystery to the third person. It also lets the three participate in the shot.

Then there are the candid photographs one finds. For some reason, I enjoy black and white for those. These are the unplanned and unposed photographs that are found as I prowl the streets. People are more themselves and are engaged in their behaviors. Check out this one.

This brings another element of a person and a paper fully engaged in his life. Its a moment of a stranger’s life that I will never know or participate in yet I have him reading. I think of him as a day worker taking a break to consider the news on a day. The paper may have good or bad or both kinds of news but he is engrossed in the act.

Both of these were shot with the Fujifilm XT2 camera and both have a certain core value to me. Shooting pictures of people whether candid or posed introduces you and them to a scene unfolding. The camera and the photographer are unknown for the street photography. Its a life of a person captured at just a moment.

The posed picture shows three beautiful women yet one is not looking. It creates the sense of mystery but the smiles illuminate the moment completely and you get a sense that these three are workers too; perhaps taking a lunch break and talking.

Of course, one is in color and one is in black and white. I shoot in both but the black and white photography seems more intense to me. It introduces a mood either sombre or joyful or shadowy.

Oftentimes for either you only have a moment to decide on what you want to do. No time to fiddle with a telephoto lens, change lens, adjust this and that. Its you and the people or person and its a moment. The XT2 and Fuji cameras in general make you a master of the moment. No intrusive lens sticking out more than a foot. You can set the camera to f5.6 or f8 and be on aperture priority and also auto ISO and you can grab the moments. I never want to be fiddling with different camera settings because you may lose the moment and curse yourself. The women may get bored or the man may get up and see you. For one picture, the women are key and the smiles important. For the other, its the candid moment of the man, the paper, his cigarette.

What do you think?

The wonder of Bridges

I went out today and walked and looked and enjoyed a day that seems to have the weather transitioning from really hot to cooler days in anticipation of rain one of the restaurant owners of the Aroma Pizza place told me as I walked past today.

I usually pick a direction to walk on the spur of the moment; however today I wanted to revisit this walking only bridge across the Han River. There is something about its quiet and solitude which got me the last time. You see, I love bridges. I love the tapestry and feeling of a bridge. The fact it takes you from here to there and back again if you so wish. It also has a character and mood and feeling.Some bridges stretch across great waters while others cross the sky like the Golden Bridge in the Ba Na Hills in Da Nang. Yet other bridges are small and cross little dirt backroads and let you see how much history has gone down as you carefully traverse.

Many cities I’ve been lucky to visit are bridge cities. Hiroshima, Osaka, Vancouver, San Francisco. All have bridges. Some are utilitarian and allow commuters to go from here to there. Others like the bridge today are quiet affairs that allow foot traffic only. Then there is the Long Bien Bridge in Hanoi. Bombed and rebuilt numerous times, it juts out in the city and you can walk it if you choose. Only motorbikes and pedestrians and the train are allowed on it now. You can tell though as you look at its span you are seeing some history. The old foundations have drawings and murals depicting the construction. History of it discusses the many times it was bombed out. Yet there it still is. I wonder how many visitors to Hanoi have seen that bridge. Its out of the way and you have to know what to look for. If you walk to the historic water tank you are close. Go north of the Hoan Kiem Lake and tourist central on any road. Maybe have cellular data on one of the networks to help you along. You will start seeing the bridge foundations and may find the historic water tank first. From the bridge you can walk all the way. Its kind of a scary walk at places so I turned around half way.

I have found and loved other bridges. In Hiroshima, there are small bridges with lights on them at dusk to help guide the way. These become somewhat mysterious and alluring as night falls. You find yourself taken by their soft spell. The lonely stone abutments form the foundations and you see sometimes a person walking the bridge. Not big bridges but they take a person from here to there. Bridges in Hiroshima are these neighborhood affairs.

I love bridges! Big bridges that carry payload and small bridges that carry dreams. The dragon bridge that lights up Da Nang skies at night and makes the evening even more photogenic. The footpath only bridge I walked today with its quiet moments. You can feel its history too. Lines painted. Moods absorbed. Time does not stand still and water courses below. Sometimes when I lived in California and would get over by the Dumbarton Bridge at golden hour, I could hear the bridge talking and whispering as the evening wind blew. It was the song of cars and steel. Other bridges carry people and you know those talk differently.

Walking a bridge gives the walker a different feeling. You are taken up and over a barrier or a railroad or freeway. Its can be utilitarian or ceremonial. A thing of beauty or a thing of concrete and work.

Next time you see a bridge, give it some love. It does a lonely job and lets you perhaps wander in thought and deed over its path.

Wondrous Vietnam – Not a bucket list just a list

Today is the last real Saturday in Da Nang and my last week in Vietnam. Next Saturday I fly back to Saigon for one night which I spend at an airport hotel and then fly to Phnom Penh on Sunday. Its been six months here and sometimes it seems the days have just flashed by. A Vietnamese friend asked me my most memorable city and experience. I think the most memorable place has had to be a few so I cannot nominate just one:

  1. Hanoi. I have come to realize that Hanoi is a city to experience in different ways. If you travel the thin corridors of the old quarter, you will miss the other parts. Only stay around Hoan Kiem Lake and you will not see the bigger West Lake. Travel to the historic Long Bien Bridge and it opens a new vista for you on the history of Vietnam. You can walk from the bridge to West Lake and then on to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and park if you like walking. Probably would take you 30 minutes but you get a view of a city that opens up with tall buildings, still crazy traffic and government buildings where armed security guards tell you “no photographs”. Anyways, I think Hanoi is to be experienced and to do that you have to be on foot. Buses or motorbikes take you at another speed. Walking the city gives you another view of its wonder, sometimes strangeness, and expanse.
  2. Ho Chi Minh City. I think this place has to be seen to be fully valued and perhaps shocked at sometimes. Its just huge. To walk the city’s myriad districts is to take in multiple cities with old buildings giving way to crowded little streets and Hems that take you through to the old Saigon with the little shoppes and emporiums and places you will wonder at.
  3. Hue. The imperial city! The home of a palace and outlying tombs. You can wander the palace grounds and get completely lost they are so big. You find yourself in gardens and beautiful buildings and wondrous art.
  4. Da Nang. I list Da Nang not only for the city but for the wondrous Ba Na Hills and the Golden Bridge, the tour to Cham Islands, the beauty of the riverfront, and the nice beaches a stones throw away. I wandered all over Da Nang or at least I think I did :-). Its a nice town with very nice people, great food and bars and warm temperatures. If you come here expecting cool sea breezes you may be disappointed.

You will notice Hoi An is not on the list. I was not that taken with Hoi An. I liked it at night but there is not the depth of difference of the ancient town compared to the other places I feel. I would not go back to Hoi An. I would return to the above four. I guess if you want a romantic stop or a trip to the beach you could do Hoi An but honestly, Da Nang has more to offer with its riverfront life, downtown areas with cheaper restaurants and nice bars. I also did not list Da Lat as a favorite. I did enjoy tremendously wandering Da Lat, the tours, the natural beauty and the varied and different lifestyle in the highlands. Its just not a place I would return to.

Other places I went were Nha Trang and Vung Tau. I liked both for getaways but I would not return to either. Nha Trang is too touristy and the food is expensive. Vung Tau is pretty but Cham Islands is much nicer.

Closing out…

Since I will be closing out my time in Vietnam, I was thinking of a blogpost with all the links to all the photo albums on Google Photos next week before leaving. I have so many different albums I’ve maintained. Thank goodness Google Photos is free!

That’s about it for now. More to come the final week when I go to Marble Mountains for a day and my final days of wandering the city. Probably one more beach day too since I can walk there.

Friday in Da Nang – Food and beer and blogging thoughts

Its Friday night here in Da Nang. I went out for a really nice American breakfast this morning at a place called the Happy Heart Cafe. Hearing impaired people work there and produce some really nice food. I had the American breakfast this morning. Then I walked the city taking photographs which I won’t share because I am still practicing with the new camera. For dinner tonight, I walked over to Banh Canh Nga and had a bowl of Banh Canh and the fried dough called Quay. The Banh Canh noodles are different than the normal pho or other noodles. They seem almost al dente in their taste but have this rich flavor. The soup or broth is probably a family secret much like Pho. Its really a great noodle dish and having the Quay bread dough fried up with it lets one dip the bread sticks into the soup and the result is great! As I sat there this evening, a Vietnamese man and wife joined me at my table. We shared no common language but the language of food prevailed. They ordered more Quay and we shared another order. We all laughed at trying to eat the Pork with bone in. The husband went to get a fork which seemed easier. I just used my fingers. I don’t think there is an approved way with many Vietnamese foods of what to use. Vietnamese people seem to just want to get the food and beer into their systems and don’t care about propriety or methods.

So we sat there and laughed and they ordered more of the Quay. They put all of it on my plate and I divided it up into half and gave half back to the husband. He smiled and immediately attacked it! It was a fun moment in a local restaurant and the employees there were happy to see me. The waitress showed me the English menu and prompted me to order the Banh Canh. So of course I did. But there are meat choices so I went with Pork. The entire meal came to about $3.50 I believe. I think the Vietnamese man and wife paid for the extra order of the dough sticks.

If you get something like Pho or even Bun Bo Hue, get the bread sticks too. They make the meal very nice and are served hot. If they don’t have them ready they will not serve cold ones.

Then, after…

Then after was a stop along the riverfront for beer. I sat at the Waterfront Bar and Restaurant and as usual talked with one of the waitresses who told me about her growing up in Da Nang and wanted me to stay longer so I could come back for more tall Tiger draft beers. She tells me that life in Da Nang is good but that a lot of the workers are from other places in Vietnam. She’s a warm, funny, and I have to admit rather cute young person so I enjoy flirting a bit with her and making her laugh. I will sit there and watch the evening settle over the Han river and the dinner boats ply up and down the river serving their expensive dinners and drinks to probably the Korean and Japanese tourists.

So I sit and drink and probably get a bit shit faced. Its okay because that’s what the Vietnamese do on Fridays too. I found this one place next door to a restaurant I went to that I have to visit where the beer flows and food comes out and the guy rushes around serving people six packs of beer iced up in buckets. I may have to talk my Vietnamese friend from here to go there before I leave.

So that was my Friday. Now I sit in the room with the fan and AC going and I can hear the evening traffic motoring by. Life has become so different it seems and perhaps its the cans of beer I bought at the market talking. But I told someone on twitter that life has become real since I left. Traveling with no end becomes something completely different and I’ve found a large community of like-minded people on twitter. I think the travel and vagabonding community is well integrated and communities are easily grown and chats spring up that I really want to do.

One of the sidelines always is blogging. People there want to have successful blogs and produce something of value. They want to create. But creating is not enough. They want readership and comments and uptake. It used to be called authority way back when when blogging was in its youth. People now blog and write posts on instagram and tweet and reference all of them. Its an interesting revolution to observe and how people wish to communicate. Simply writing blogposts is not enough. Having 30 ads and writing product reviews will not avail. The folks on twitter that write the blogs are way ahead of you. They already know about how to create and market and sell and produce value.

But all of that is fine for them. My line is drawn on the blog. I don’t want ads or product reviews or partners or any of that. This blog has the pure words. Nothing separates them. Its like it used to be way back in the day when blogging was something else and we all did it to link to another blog and show our interest. Go back and look at blogging Ca 2000 or so. You will see a different reality. Did it evolve?

I wonder sometimes after reading some blogs on wordpress.com.