The many skylines of Ho Chi Minh City – a small tour

I thought you all may enjoy what the skylines look like here from a few vantage points. I did visit a museum also today but photography was difficult and it would have gotten in the way of actually seeing the amazing historic artifacts. I’ll wrap things up in the post with some thoughts about the Museum of History here in HCMC.

Here in a montage is the city for your enjoyment.

You can see that the sky was kinda threatening looking today as I ventured around the city. It rained a few times this morning but the rain here is interesting. It will rain heavily for about 30 minutes and then stops for some time. Usually I have enough time to get to a place for ice cream or a beer and then it starts up again. Now its raining again and I just got back to the homestay. Cool timing!

Museum Notes

I went to the Museum of History today and really enjoyed it. It covers from the prehistoric to historic periods really well and the artifacts are amazing! I guess being a past archeologist, I really like to see the stone working and carving the most but the ceramics were just beautiful too. The rooms were darkly lit but light played across each artifact so it created an interesting view but hard to take photographs of. I don’t think they favor cameras there so I just stopped. I think that this is one of the must see museums if you come here. Its easy to get to and the hours are like other museums and historic sites. They open until 1130am and then are closed until 130pm for lunch break. then they are back open again to 5pm or 6pm.

I would say that if you are a history buff and want to get around here you have to see the Independence Palace, the City Museum, the War Remnants Museum, and the the Museum of History. They are all located kind of close to each other so you could do this in a few days. I like to spread the museum visits out a bit so I enjoy them more.

Other things, thoughts, ideas or whatever

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about solo travel or vagabonding. Since I decry the term travel I will say “Solo Vagabonding” instead. I’ve read a lot of blogs from people wanting to try it, asking questions about it, wanting a way to find out if its for them. I think a bit about it since I’m doing that and its come to me there are no yardsticks for it. You could do 10 test trips in Europe or the United States and come to Asia and it may not work for you. Things are just so different here. There is no way to know if you are gonna be good at it. But lets be honest here. If you are by yourself, who are you worried about impressing, making happy, etc? What do you think the biggest challenge is for solo travel or vagabonding? Could you do it for the rest of your life? If you found yourself able to chuck it all behind and leave forever; could you do it? Lets just say that all barriers were removed and those were financial, family, organizational, functional, technological and you were given the opportunity to leave but it had to be by yourself. Could you do it and never come back?

What do you think would be your obstacles and what would you gain? Forget about being lonely or having a downer day once in awhile. I have those. Some ice cream and a beer and a crowded mall often work. This is more basic. Could you do it? And if you could would you?

Street Wandering and Thoughts on Days of Exploration

I did not really set any goals for myself first day back from the get away. I wanted to try to sleep later which I did and then decided over latte and a Banh Mi sandwich to walk to some bridges and roam around there for awhile.

Ho Chi Minh City is so big and diverse that I probably would never run out of directions or places to walk here. I love cities that have bridges! I remember my first evening in Hiroshima and all the small bridges that cross the city. Its a great connection thing but its also a cultural and geographic continuity for a city I think. Finding even more bridges here than I thought yielded a thing for tomorrow to walk farther north than before and see a part of the city not seen yet. I will probably catch up with the museums Tuesday and Thursday or some other days as long as I get it done before a week from Wednesday.

Homestaying is Nice!

I wanted to put a gentle word out there if you are tempted to try a homestay arrangement if you visit Vietnam. I have been staying with a family here for three weeks and its probably the best I have been fed and the least bothered. They serve me a home cooked Vietnamese dinner every night and the homestay owner insists I have seconds of rice and keeps on filling the veggies and other stuff up on the table. I mentioned I liked ice cream and then the next night we had ice cream for dessert. She’s a sweet person besides being a wonderful cook.

During the days when I wander and take photographs or do whatever, I am usually back by 4pm and she has an ice cold water waiting for me. She also keeps beer in the fridge. At one point we had two other guys here before and they left. Then I went to Vang Tau and two other guys showed up and they have left because they were more wanting to party in the city and stay out. Since this is a family and she has to work early most days, the place gets locked up by 1130 at night. That’s fine with me. I don’t have any desire to go out here at night. I’ve usually walked like 15k steps and am wanting an evening watching a movie on TV or a youtube movie and reading. I never did different in hotels either.

So, my pitch is if you want to experience a different type of staying in Vietnam, find a homestay and give it a shot. I am paying $360 US for a month and I get my laundry done, get all the food I could possibly want, can have beer, and she keeps ice cold water waiting all the time. Its a nice way to stay and see things a bit differently.

Days of Exploration 

Its interesting that I kinda lose sight of whether a day is a weekend or weekday sometimes. When I am in city exploration mode and not taking side trips, the days slide by and each day is a reward and fun and exploration. I could see the same street twice or ten times. It does not matter. I am not after the uniqueness. I am after seeing the city and the people and how both intersect.

The days of exploration have no real boundaries or decisions. Its just my feet and the camera and stopping at some point at a Circle K or 7/11 or other convenience store and getting water. Then the day stops for a bit and I can sit and watch a different set of things. Now I am still and the people are passing me by. Many is the time I get a “Hello” from someone or smiles and waves here from a variety of people. It makes the days when I explore more interesting.

I’ve also walked the Hems or alleys here and in Hanoi and those experiences are even more different. Those side streets and alleys have this character and vibrancy. I remember seeing it in Japan too.

So my second kinda sorta “ask” is for you to walk those places too. See the alleys and the small streets as these connectors of life. They are not just a pathway between big streets. They are often filled with smaller businesses, school children heading to or back from school, older people that smile and want their photo taken. You find a different day of exploration and its good!

Try it out where your shoes take you. Also try disengaging the mind that seems wanting to do direction and GPS. You don’t need that. Get lost completely and the city will open its mysterious arms to you and welcome you as a true urban explorer.

Now I hear thunder and Ho Chi Minh City will get some rain I think. The explorations are over but the writing and thinking are not. If you are on the road, do something different. There’s a risk and reward in it. Like most things of value both are usuallyintegrated.

Back to Ho Chi Minh City – reflections and thoughts

My last day was a transit type of day. I had some breakfast along with a few other Austrlian expats at the same place as yesterday and then relaxed for a bit in the room. I had to check out at noon so had them call a cab for me and went to the Ferry dock and had some Vietnamese coffee there and waited.

The ride back was a little over 2 hours and it was smoother than the ride going so no evident signs of sea sickness. I have to admit to feeling happy to get back to Ho Chi Minh City. I thought a lot about the expatriate population and how just about everyone down my street and in all the hotels were expatriates. It was hard to find local cuisine since all the places seemed to cater to the expats. I think the location I was in is one of the community centers.

Now that I’m back, I have less than 2 weeks left here and some things to do. I’ll be heading back out tomorrow to walk the city and take photographs. I may walk down to the Saigon riverwalk area and go the opposite way and see what I can see.

I also set a few dates for things so I don’t miss them as the time ticks down. I must get to Chinatown this next week and I think that will be a full day. I also must get over to the museum of history which is a good walk from here. Both of those are day long events since the Chinatown area is huge and I will want to see all I can by walking. The museum has an area beyond it I want to see so I will go exploring there as well.

As I traveled back, I was thinking quite a bit about solo wandering. I guess because seeing all the expats in Vung Tau made me realize there are so many ways of doing things. People see the world and turn on all different realities. There are those on the limited tour type trips. The longer stay people. The RTW people. The gap year or reset people. I’ve been reading a few blogs of the different types. Its healthy I think to question the steps I take and what I expect out of them. I could just leave Vietnam and then take another year long tourist visa and come back and live for up to a year and leave on visa runs every 90 days. I’m sure a lot of people do that. But there is nothing compelling for me in that. I would just settle down in a place and hang up the wandering shoes. I believe in what I’m doing and the pace at which I’m doing it. I have this basic plan of things and places. Some random but I have to say there are things that are not. I have specific dates for things. I have to leave Vietnam by 16 September. My visa runs out then. I will want to go by then. Cambodia calls for a year. I know without ever being there I want a lot of time in Cambodia. I want it to be a home base for me to support other travels into next year. It has the basic stuff I need and prices are reasonable.

So I pretty much knew I could never be an expatriate and find a place to settle in and call it home. I have to wander the roads and walk them and take pictures and prove out my lifestyle. I waited too long for all this to simply take one of the lifestyles and call it quits. I cannot see a year from now but I do know that I will be still moving slowly but through Cambodia or perhaps in Laos or Thailand or even flying on to India.

So all this reflecting stuff kept me busy on the 2 hour catamaran ride. I realized that solo travel is not for everyone. Its okay to have doubts and question things. I have realized though that there is nothing for me in the states either. No home, car, job, people that really care if I am there or not. Children grown, friends moving to their beats of life. I don’t want work any more. That tank is empty. So I know that this kind of travel is the best for me. The slow movements of months or so in each place. I get to get a sense about the life in a place. Walk the city streets, sit by the beach, drink a coffee or beer. But I know at some discrete moment out there I will leave. That’s okay too.

If you travel and you wonder what its like to go with no end in sight; its a heady thing. Being in Asia is a wonderful thing. Having time to walk and take photographs and see the things leaves me open to question critically the paths. Like today I knew that I would not settle down in some place and heed the siren call. My call is down the street, around the corner. On that bus going to Da Lat for months. If you are on the road, I wish you happiness and sadness. Success and failure. Wonder and disappointment. Most of all don’t lose the questioning. You need polar opposites I think to know the value of the thing you are doing. Its okay to question and have doubts. I do.

Vung Tau Ahead, Museums, and other thoughts

Tomorrow I head on off to Vung Tau for a few days of something completely different. Its about a 2 hour ride on the catamaran from Ho Chi Minh City to there and there are a few beaches, some historic stuff to see, and some food to check out. I doubt in a little over 2 days I will make it to a representative slice of the city but I do plan on walking all of the day on Friday since its my only full day there.

My hotel is centrally located in the city so I should be able to get around and see things. I decided on this trip just a few days ago and its really easy to find the places to go and then fill in the blanks for local transit to and from. In this case, there is a water taxi that takes you there on the Saigon River so you get to see a view of the city from the river that is probably different than the landlocked views from walking up and down the sidewalks.

Museums Calling

I still have museums calling my name here. I still want to get to the Museum of History which is about a 20 minute walk from my homestay. That may be the last museum here I want to do but I’ll wait and see. This place has a way of suddenly prompting me to do yet another historic site, temple, pagoda, or whatever once I’m out walking. I have done the Independence Palace, Ho Chi Minh City Museum, and the War Remnants museum.

What I love about going to museums is not only the artifacts but often the presentation. A lot of the buildings here that house museums are older French colonial buildings which have this charm and beauty which always is surprising to me. Circular staircases, beautiful windows, views out to the courtyards. Just gorgeous. I think I’ve captured a few of the museums in photographs here.

Other Places and Things

I will also get to China town next week on the bus. Its about a 30 minute bus ride and I know how to do it now. I think the attraction there is not only the market but also the cultural thing that it has going. I want to really spend some time wandering and seeing the place.

Then there’s just the wandering and city seeing I like to do. There are a number of places I have not seen yet which I want to walk to and take some photography of. Some are longer walks so I will probably spend a day each on them.

Catching it all up

But now its all about my little side trip coming up tomorrow! I love doing the side trips. Its like a wandering within a wandering. Sometimes completely unplanned which makes it even more fun!

HCMC to Vung Tau and Speculating on Cambodia Voyages!

Another great day spent walking the city and I went to the Fine Arts Museum which is spread over 3 buildings in District One (I think). I will be going to a few more museums the next few days.

On Thursday morning I catch a Ferry from Ho Chi Minh City to Vung Tau for a few days away. I’ll leave at 10am on Thursday and spend two nights there and then come back to the homestay. After that, I only have a week and a few days left here and will take off to Da Lat on the bus. Da Lat is really the last city I will stay in for a longer time here in Vietnam. Once I get there, will do a few shorter trips from there too and will end up flying from Da Lat to the airport here for my flight to Phnom Penh.

Cambodia and then…

Here’s the schedule for my trip to Cambodia thus far:

  1. Phnom Penh 30 days from September to October.
  2. Sihanoukville 30 days from October to November.
  3. Siem Reap 30 days from November to December.
  4. Battambang 30 days from December to January.

When I get done with the fourth place above, I will head back to Phnom Penh in January and rent an apartment for 6 months or so. My thought is then to visit Thailand and Laos on tourist visas but have a home base in Phnom Penh. Perhaps instead I will like one of the other places and will end up there instead for longer.

The goal once I get to Cambodia is to extend my normal visa to a retirement visa for a year which gives me multiple entries. I can then hop around quite a bit.

Here’s a map of the areas so you can see how easy it really is to get around.

Having one place as a base of operations with a longer stay visa means I can hop all around to where I want to go then. I think the destinations most likely are Thailand, Laos, Malaysia but will always return to Cambodia to the place I rent.

I don’t have a concrete plan for the actual place in Cambodia but it does need to have an airport, train station, etc to allow me to get around easily. One train trip I do want to do is from Thailand to Laos so will probably arrange things to go that way.

Its hard to have a crystal ball with what 2019 looks like since its only July now and I don’t like committing to a schedule for places much beyond Cambodia. I do know that Cambodia will be a long stay place because its easy for retired folk to get a extension of stay visa.

Its fun though to look at the map and spin the dials and see where I would want to go in 2019. I do know I don’t want to change the slow meandering nature of things. I’ve really enjoyed that here in Vietnam. I also don’t want to put too much stock in what happens in January. I may end up staying in one of the places like Sihanoukville instead.

Once I get the visa extension its really up to me where I go. I have friends in Singapore so if I were to get to Malaysia, I would probably spend a shorter time in Singapore.

I am going to start looking at apartments in Phnom Penh using an agent I met and will probably find something my last few weeks in Battambang.

So, there you have it. In a nutshell what I will do to continue the slow meandering nature of my voyages. Nothing confirmed and I could change and stay in any of the places longer. Its so far from now that I wanted to have a baseline but its all pretty flexible. The transportation between places in Cambodia is by bus so its cheap. If I lose a bus ticket because of a change, its not a major deal to me.

The Hobo’s Realization – Travel is not the means or the end

Its been four months since I retired and have left the states. All told I’ve been to Japan, Hong Kong, and Vietnam. In Japan, I visited Tokyo, Hiroshima, and Osaka and was fortunate to ride the Shinkansen Nozomi Line since I had pre-bought the tickets prior to leaving. In Hong Kong, I only had about three days to wander around. Then there’s Vietnam. Way back when I decided to spend six months in Vietnam. I wanted to start out in Hanoi and then travel south on the train but also do shorter trips here and there combined with my walking and photography hobby. I spent three months give or take a day in Hanoi and also did a few day tours and then longer trips to Halong Bay, Hue, and Hoi An. Each place has something that I will remember. In Halong Bay it was the first day’s sunset and sharing a beer with the tour manager as we watched the sun go down.

In Hue, it had to be the history and wonder of the palace and the day tour I did to see the three tombs I got to see. I also found some really good local food plus had one of the best Indian dinners and a burger there.

In Hoi An, it was walking in the evenings in the city with the lantern and lights going full force. It was nice not having a lot of scooters zooming around but in retrospect I could have done something else and been satisfied. I liked Hoi An but I was not after getting a suit or clothing and that’s really what its about there.

Finally Ho Chi Minh City. Initially I decided to spend three months here but then changed and decided to go to Da Lat which is in the central highlands and have cooler temperatures and spend my last few months in Vietnam there. I redid my travel plans a few times to what I wanted. Cancelled airline tickets, found a hotel in Da Lat to stay in longer term and then started doing the shorter trips out of Da Lat again.

I was thinking back on how things have gone because a friend asked me how I could possibly be gone forever. There is a certain mindset to traveling solo in the way I am doing it which is completely different than the usual tourist or RTW or digital nomad or gapyear person. Its not that I don’t have goals or things I want but I found a few things which I just take for granted now that took me a bit to get to.

The first thing is losing the sense of rushing. I don’t want to rush to places only to spend two weeks and move on or a month or whatever. Rushing through a place leaves you with a memory that is rushed. You don’t recall that day where you did not have an agenda or a must or shall do. I lost the sense of purposeful travel with goals and places and things I must do.

The second thing that took me a longer time was not working. I never thought it would take so long to sink in after so many years that I do not have to work! I never have to work again. My life is encompassed in not working at all and just taking the steps and the wandering each day provides.

Another thing was minimizing things. I am not a minimalist and will never be. But I did get rid of things, donated things, selected the remaining things that I thought would work. Some things did but others were left behind or tossed or given away. I had to redo a few things which seemed like good fits like how to charge devices and have my ex-wife ship me new things. Clothing was another one. I thought at first that jeans were the way to go. Do not take jeans to Southeast Asia. You will burn! So I minimized and re-bought things in Hanoi which seemed better. Things of mine now should fit into a Tortuga 45L outbreaker backpack and a fake North Face duffel. And they do. So just proclaiming I am a minimalist is not true. I have never been one. What I am is a realist. I cannot pack two laptops, 5 phones, 14 t shirts, and a expensive set of toiletries. All that goes bye bye.

The final thing is finding value. Sometimes its best when you think there is no value to consider what it is that you have instead of what you don’t have. Its worth re-thinking on that after a beer or a big Vietnamese dinner at the homestay. What is it that is valuable in my life? What are the things that I find value in and how do I get them? I have to say that the things with no value were left behind much like I donated those shirts with collars, ties, shoes, socks, whatever it was. I was left with things I do value. Between this one and the one above, I think you find the golden mean.

Traveling is not this…

I’ve dealt with a few ideas since I retired. One is traveling. I’ve come to realize that what I do is not traveling. I don’t have itineraries and plans and agendas or real bucket lists although I did write down things I had to do in Hanoi. Traveling seems to have a meaning of getting to and from a place. When I traveled for business before, there were expectations and requirements. Must do things. The company wanted things from me if they paid for travel. Rarely did those things and what I really wanted line up.

So I tossed out the idea of traveling on 28 February. But tossing something out and not being reminded or feeling grabbed by it are universes apart.

I’m left with what this is. Upon reflection this is that purposeless wandering with camera in hand I have always wanted. The steps taken each to find a thing and the tired feeling in the legs after doing more steps. The taste of that one cold beer or ice cream at the Vincom Center or wherever. The random steps ensure that this is purposeless. I am empowered to be random. I can turn a direction. Go down one of those mysterious Hems in Vietnam and see the guard smiling and waving. See some of the mystery of the Old Quarter in Hanoi and District One in Ho Chi Minh City.

All these things separate me from the traveler. Trying to put them into words with someone on a schedule of 30 countries in 45 days is hard. If you are hitting the road, perhaps you should read what Robert Louis Stevenson said about travel,

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.

Its the moving that counts folks. If you move with purpose you may miss the little random life things that are tossed up at you. My advice?

Try to slow down. Don’t just be a minimalist because it explains away things. Be a realist. Can you pack the 10 pairs of shoes and 20 t shirts and jackets and all that in a carry on bag? Look at your expectations when you hit the road and dash them all to bits. Start with a clean slate and don’t re-think them all. Forget the goals. Delete the bucket list. Be that random person you know you can be.

Most of all; slow down. That side street may not wait for you.

Coffee Sense in Vietnam and a look at Ho Chi Minh City

Today started out at a brand new coffee shop. My challenge is to find a new one every day and try their food if they have food. Some shops do not have food and specialize only in coffee. Today I went to the Workshop Coffee Shop and Restaurant. I believe that this place is favored by the digital nomad crew here in Ho Chi Minh City. I saw a few of them take up long stay residence at this long table and one of the staff brought out additional surge arrests. Now that’s a handy thing and you can tell that the place most likely caters to workers and nomads. Prices were kinda high too but to me I don’t really care here. I don’t buy dinner any more and don’t have to get laundry done. The homestay deal is pretty good all in all.

Anyways, I’ve read that Hanoi is really the coffee center for Vietnam but this place is no slouch and I have found so many different coffee shops and restaurants for my morning blast for everything from classic Vietnamese coffee to latte to americano. They do favor it iced so I have to remember to always ask for it hot.

The coffee scene here in Vietnam is incredible folks. If you come here and you should if you want to stretch those dollars a bit, I would try coffee here. You have to try the egg coffee. Its a bit rich but it has an indescribable taste. Cannot tell you what its like exactly. Its a taste you have to try. I don’t think there are places back in the states or elsewhere that can approximate it.

The real thing though I wanted to write about is the social and cultural scene of the coffee shop in Vietnam. I think coffee shops are hubs for people. Its a meeting place definitely of all ages and free wifi figures prominently. You don’t have some “brain dead” one hour limit like Starbucks does here in Vietnam. The worst was one Starbucks here which did 30 minutes. Seriously?

Then there is the ex-pat and digital nomad thing that I think Ho Chi Minh City has going for it. People find places where they can work and invite partners or customers or whatever either in real time or in virtual rooms to join. Coffee shops here are naturals for this. They kinda blend the act of coffee and the act of relationships and culture together and the idea of the coffee shop here has translated far away from the Peets or Starbucks in the states. Its more than the most delicious coffee. Its the joining together of people, ideas, fun, young and old, traveler and local. People like me as well. We all re-experience coffee at a few levels and learn that its completely different here in Vietnam.

Try it out when you come. And I think you must come here and experience the food, the people, the country, the culture. And the coffee! Don’t forget the coffee culture! 🙂

Today was more exploring…

So today was more exploring after coffee. I just walked by the river and am alway amazed at the differences in blocks. One block is a Japanese store and hotel block One has an Irish pub and small cozy restaurants. Another block has banks and international trade and ventures. Amazing place!

Today I decided to only shoot with the Camera on F/11 all day. I also shot with Auto ISO and I only shoot JPEGs so whether the photo is good or not, its mine. Since the Fuji has these different funky and fun film simulations, I shot only with the standard one called Provia.

And Ho Chi Minh City did not disappoint. Here are a few photographs from the walk today to check out.

Note that the weather today was a mix of sun, clouds, then thunder as soon as I got back to the homestay and after my ice cream treat. The walking was around the city center area because that’s what I felt like today. I still have about two weeks left here to adventure and do walks to other places and there are so many places on the map that require exploration!

So between the coffee shop exploration and finding a new one every day and the walking exploration, I feel that the city slowly shows me new wonders of so many kinds. The slow travel really pays off I think. I can move at a pace like I did in Hanoi. Find things which I can experience and return to because every day doing travel and street photography is something new. The way the sun glints off the Opera building. The way shadows fall when it clouds up. I’ll be walking around in the evening one of these nights soon to see the city at night. Cannot wait to see the skyline lit up here!

So that’s my report on coffee and hobo’ing around the city today!

An Interlude to Consider – photography learning and practicing

A little camera exploration today because I am still learning how to do things. Luckily the FujiFilm X100F is very forgiving and since I walk slower I can take a second photograph if one seems strange.

I shoot primarily on aperture priority with auto ISO enabled so when walking around the city I don’t worry about setting too many things. The goto F stops I use around the city are F/5.6 and F/8. I think these are the sweet spots for doing urban photography or street shots of moving people and stuff. The primary difference between the two is available light. I think F8 is one of those things like the famous photographer said,

F8 and be there.

If you can manage to be there and set the camera to F8 you are likely to get a good shot of a thing. I really think that it offers the best especially for learning. I think when learning photography you need to practice one thing and not have too many intervening variables. As an example to me, I could not suddenly be trying to set the ISO as well as decide what aperture I should be at. Its easier to just let the camera do that most of the time.

But what I am interested in is setting the camera to manual focus and then focusing on a zone at F8 say a thing that is 10 feet away and sitting still as the scene unfolds. I have not done this for awhile but I practiced it in Hiroshima at a mall. It would be harder to do this on the move I think. Maybe better photographer have a method and quickness but for a novice learning a single thing and then practicing that thing seems easier. So tomorrow I will find a place and practice manual focusing at F8 and do that for awhile.

I think its important to try to learn both techniques but I have to say that simply using auto focus and then deciding on the available light whether its F5.6 or F8 is pretty darned easy and the return is good.

Its also easier to practice in a dynamic environment where there are people, cars, buses, signs and benches to practice the manual stuff on. Today I felt pretty good getting out around the city and just practicing. Its fun and profitable how the walking I like to do goes with the photography I am learning to do. Its like they go together at a cosmic level and I like that.

I also have the two lens for the X100F that I got on eBay. The telephoto and wide angle lens which I have not practiced that much at. Soon though I will be breaking those out and learning. Each thing takes time for me though. I need to feel that the basics are in place with the “naked camera” before going out and doing other things.

I’ll post an update later this evening to this with a few of the frames I took today. It was a good day even if it rained ;-).

Unfolding Days and Reasons to create – see what you think!

While here in Ho Chi Minh City have been staying in a homestay which is a rather fun experience. I have a room that I think is pretty nice with a great AC which is really appreciated. The cable TV gets some English channels. Then there’s the food. The home owner believes I just do not eat enough food because she fills my plate up numerous times with homemade Vietnamese food. I cannot tell her “No” really because it just happens anyways. So I eat! She sits and talks with me. Sometimes she asks me where I went that day because I told her I walk every day with the camera.

The homestay experience is pretty cool since you live in a real home with the family there. Boys, girls, parents, etc. Its an interesting experience. I think if you want to experience what its really like, the homestay thing is good! She also does my laundry every day. I’ll be setting out one change of clothing she will do and return to me in a day for free.

There is plenty of privacy here too. Once I go upstairs to my room, that’s it. She gets back to her husband and kids and mom and I watch some TV, perhaps look at my photographs for the day and start deciding what I should do the next day.

A fun thing here has been finding a new coffee shop each day that has food. I found a great one today but its a bit of a walk so tomorrow there is one basically around the corner which I will try. I do have a few which I really like a lot. I will probably go back at some point to them but there are so many here that I can be here 30 days and not really go back to one.

Sitting at the K Mart and thinking…

It seems some days I stop for water and perhaps see a thing which strikes me and I will sit on the curb and watch people going by, take photographs of what I see, think about things. Today was no exception. I was thinking through what I’ve done since I left the states. My time in Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong. I started this whole thing on 1 March leaving the states after retiring. I had wondered what it would be like to stay longer in a place. For me, longer is three months to a year. I am not interested in racking up the countries and stamps in my passport. What I really want to do is live in a place and settle down a bit. I did that in Hanoi. Its worked well for me.

Then I can do the shorter trips like to Halong Bay, Hoi An, and Hue. I get to get away to a place, see the sights there, do the same stuff I like doing but during shorter getaways. The trip to Hue was a great one for that. Soon after that trip I was leaving for Hong Kong and then I would ride the train from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City.

I will do short trips in Da Lat when I get there as well. I already have two planned.

So what this has left me with is a consideration of how things have worked, what my expectation was, whether I would want to ever do something more with the blog, and whether I would want to. For how things have worked, I’ve not made many huge errors. I understood how the visa process worked here and knew I had to leave for a visa run. I also had an idea about what I would do in Vietnam and the places I may want to go. Some places I added later.

Then there’s the final question about the blog and its place. I asked this question because I was reading a blog post over on Lets Vagabond and they mention turning the blog into something more than a travel blog. Perhaps a resource for the vagabonder to understand the ways and means they employed to break free. But I think there is even more than that. People are genuinely curious about what it takes from a planning perspective I think. What to do about things like mail, banking, phone service, US phone services. I think what is probably needed is a resource type site which can provide a deeper level of information for people departing their current situations and perhaps taking on the wanderer role. On top of that, there are the ways and means to get around in a new country, ways to plan the travel and maximize the resources that are provided for travel in Asia. I sometimes think a spreadsheet or table type thing that would let people browse the choices and make decisions that they may end up changing later but the resource base is there.

I have never seen a resource site tailored to people leaving forever. A life spent wandering sounds romantic and carefree and fun. And it is. But my belief is that you cannot leave the things at home to happenstance. The plan for leaving must be as good or better than the one you designed for the new place.

I also think there is a danger of over planning where you try to satisfy all the uniqueness by answering the question one woman asked me at a Pho place in Hanoi,

Where will you be a year from now?

I had no idea.

Getting back to this blog…

Now getting back to this weblog and some closing thought since I have been rambling on for awhile. My blog, Mikes Thoughts, is not meant to be a travel blog even though I blog things about my walks and places I go. It really is meant to encapsulate the life of this Mike. Goods and bads, Thoughts from a one time anthropologist and archeologist and program manager for large IT companies to a retired old guy that gets his kicks wandering roads that turn vigorously left and right. I don’t have ambitions for this blog to be anything more than it is. I want to be able to use it to communicate and create and if you choose to read it, good! If you don’t, I really don’t write this assuming you will read it. I do this more for myself. Perhaps I am the blogger cut from the old threads. Back when I started, bloggers created content. We did not have the monetization, branding, affiliates, ads to concern ourselves with. We simply wanted a place I believe to create. And it becomes like I’ve said before the 5 pound chicken and the 10 pound egg thing. You get constipated and upset and irritable if you don’t create. Its not so that 500 people will like your blog and follow it. Ask yourself, what is the real reason you do this? List it out. I have always done this to create and put words next to each other. The wandering thing and leaving the states happened to come along after I started the blog on

So those were the thoughts during and after the walk today and perhaps some have been percolating around for awhile. I wanted to create a post that is not about my wandering so no link to photographs today folks.

Give it some thought though why you do this thing. Do you know the history of blogging and perhaps you’ve read some of those founders so to speak of the platform. Its come so far and its so different now. But for me, its the same. I write these things to create and place the words next to each other. I will leave it up to others to lift them higher an create resource content that can be used to help or guide or even transmit the knowledge. I just like to create the words. If you choose to read them, welcome. If not, I don’t really care. I don’t do this for you. Sorry.

Cheeseburgers and Fries in Ho Chi Minh City – Oh yeah!

So normally I write about my walks and the places I see, perhaps share some photographs of those places. I did have an interesting day today and visited a museum and a palace here in Ho Chi Minh City.

There is something else I want to write about and its food. Food on the road. You can imagine in Vietnam or Japan or Hong Kong, that there are restaurants galore. I have to say in Hanoi there was never a lack of places and I am finding my way around Ho Chi Minh City and there are the places as well. But I can only eat so much Pho or Bun Cha or noodles or sticky rice. My system craves something else. So every so often, I must cheeseburger and fry. Its not terribly difficult finding those places. In Hanoi it was S&L Diner. I met the American owner a few times there and we discussed eating in Hanoi and how the ex-pats and travelers visited. Unfortunately it was not always a positive sum game for him. I guess no matter how much you do, there is always someone who wants more.

But way back in Chennai I had a place too called Sparky’s Diner. It was a wonderful mix of food and the chef Thom coming out and talking with the guests. Lemonade was bottomless, the shakes were good, and the place had old signs all over the walls. As you walked downstairs it was like instead of getting out of the auto you had instead entered some kind of time machine and found yourself in a typical American diner.

Here in Ho Chi Minh City I found Chuck’s Burgers. I went tonight and it was everything I could expect. Great burgers and fries! I crave this sometimes I tell you. I have to have a burger and French fries. Why? I don’t know. I think that no matter how far I’ve gone there is still a stub left in me crying out for that one food that I truly love. I can eat local foods at street food stalls, restaurants, small places that only do Pho or Banh Mi. I love all that stuff. But it comes down to wanting a thing.

Like tonight it came down to desiring no steamed rice and veggies and stuff. I wanted the basic cheeseburger the way I like it. I don’t like Mayo or super secret sauces. I like the burger with tomato, lettuce, dill pickle and onion. I like the Fries all crispy and I want a thing of Catsup that will douse them liberally. Then I want to feel like its not a stretch for the place I choose. The fine folks at S&L in Hanoi always made the food the way I asked for it. Thom sadly now deceased knew that the grill in Chennai was an ex-pat and traveler favorite and cooked the same way. The Chucks Burgers guys in Ho Chi Minh City are the same. Its that understated thing with a burger and fries. You are not looking for some kinda big statement. Its that diner fare that satisfies and leaves you happy.

I don’t need it all the time or even most of the time but I know when I do. Its that feeling that a bowl of Pho or Bun Cha just won’t do it. I am craving that food. That one food which I can always find at a place like Hong Kong or Tokyo or Vietnam or Chennai India.

If you vagabond the world, sometimes you need the thing that takes it back home. Maybe just for that one 30 minutes to an hour and the owner from S&L would stop by and chat about eating and food and his happiness at bringing American food to Hanoi. I have the same feeling from Chucks Burgers. Its the case where the burger is just a thing but its the feeling it invokes that makes it more.

Now I’m back in my home stay and my tummy is happy and I feel that tangible satisfaction from giving in to that urge that comes over me for that burger. Another one is Pizza. I will find a good place to do Pizza because Vietnamese people simply love to eat! I had my favorite place in Hanoi for Pizza too. Not often but sometimes after walking and then sitting at Hoan Kiem Lake, I knew.

And that’s the best thing. Food brings the world closer together and I can find that one typical diner dish so common in America. And find the place where the people love to bring it, love to talk about it, love to see people eating.

Thanks to all the places that have fed me. But tonight I am in my happy tummy spot thanks to Chucks Burgers.