Eating like Obama

Aside from the amazing local food in Hanoi, of which Barack Obama himself sampled when he visited (see within), I loved wandering around the narrow streets of the old quarter and stopping at various cafes for a spot of people watching.

Once I had found my way around Hanoi’s old quarter and learnt how to safely cross the road, I managed to do some further exploring and a lot of eating. I’ve had much less time to write recently, with a lot of moving around, but I was keen to at least document my favourite things about my visit to Vietnam’s capital city.  


People watching at Cong Caphe

Loads of people say it, but watching the world go by whilst drinking coffee in Hanoi is one of the best things to do in the city. There are loads of quirky little coffee shops to hang out in but Cong Caphe was my favourite and it’s a chain. Yes, I said chain! They serve a huge range of coffees including a very popular coconut iced coffee but it’s the decor that makes it really different. Each cafe is designed to resemble a 1970’s bunker, all the staff wear army green and propaganda posters hang on the walls. The cafe has been critised in the past for pushing the boundaries of its communist theme but this probably helped them gain popularity, particularly amongst young people. Here’s me looking serious/vacant on the balcony at Cong Caphe. 

Drinking Egg Coffee

They don’t sell this in Cong but they do in loads of other coffee shops. Coffee is a big deal in Vietnam but egg coffee is just something else. Not to everyone’s taste (it’s like a dessert) but definitely something to try. Egg coffee is made with robusta coffee, topped with egg yolk which is whisked together with sugar and condensed milk. After a little research by my dorm buddy and new friend, we found the most famous spot to try this local delicacy at a cafe run by the family of the guy who invented it. Giang Cafe is not easy to find, on a main street but down a small corridor and above a shop making it feel like a secret spot. It reminded me of the secret bars in Barcelona. No vino blancos here but very cool cafe and very sweet and unusual coffee. 

Women’s Museum 

The Women’s Museum is actually good. There are a few museums in Hanoi that sound interesting like the War Museum or Hoi Chi Minh Mausoleum but I didn’t want to visit too many in my short time. A little sceptical about visiting a museum I knew little about but this place was actually a really impressive tribute to Vietnamese women. A perfect blend of photography, artefacts and history, (particularly about revolutionaries in war history), it left me feeling inspired! 


Weekends at the Lake 

Every single weekend in Hanoi, the road which surrounds the lake is closed to cars and bikes. This creates a nice peaceful spot in the city to leisurely walk around. In the day, a lot of young families visit and it kind of becomes a bit like a park on the roads. People sit chatting on benches and enjoying the atmosphere or visit a cafe or restaurant overlooking the lake. At night, the market stalls arrive and live Vietnamese classical singing can be heard through speakers all around the lake. 


Perfecting My Road Crossing 

It seems genuinely impossible when you first arrive. Motorbikes dominate the roads and they don’t seem to stop for anyone. Crossings might as well not exist although they seem like your only hope. To cross a road in Hanoi, you must firstly position yourself at a crossing and ascertain which direction the traffic is coming from (sometimes one-way which is a dream in comparison to both.) You must then walk out in front of approaching motorbikes. Yep, it goes against every rule in the Highway Code but if you don’t do it, you will spend your entire time in Hanoi on one side, of one road. Okay so you don’t literally step in front of a bike that is one metre away from you, you let those go of course. However, if there is enough room for them to swerve you, there is enough room to go. You must then keep your eye on all other oncoming bikes and repeat the process with each one until you reach the middle (and repeat the other way!) or the other side of the road, where you can finally let go of holding your breath. Once you perfect it, you feel like you have cracked everything that is Hanoian life but, in reality it’s still pretty dangerous. There is no way I would hire a motorbike but many brave, brave (stupid) tourists do. 


Train Street
Another extreme hazard that would breach all safety standards ever written in the U.K. There is a street in Hanoi with a railway track running along it! A street that is left with barely enough space to walk along, dominated by the track. It is also an active residential street for anyone to pass through and I noticed no safety signs, at least none in English anyway. It’s even a difficult to safely get to, with major roads to cross right by it. So I thought it would be a good idea to go? Well, the train only runs through twice a day at 7.30am and 3.30pm so I knew I would be safe. However, I know people who have been there to witness the trains passing and apparently minutes before everyone just disappears inside, so you know it’s coming. I didn’t fancy that but it’s still a pretty unique sight at any time of day and left me wondering which came first, the houses or the track?

Eating the Best Pho
Hanoi is of course where you will find all the amazing food which is reason enough to visit in my opinion. Pho is NOTHING like I have had in the UK. It’s simple ingredients with the perfect broth taste so good, it’s addictive. I’m desperate to try and find the same or recreate it (lol) when I’m back.
I can’t confirm I found the best but from the fair few I had, my favourite by far was from Pho Gia Truyen. Doesn’t look like much but it’s the one. Go get it. 


Eating Like Obama

When the don, Barack Obama visited Vietnam last year, he was taken to a Bun Cha restaurant which is supposedly one of the best for this local dish. Bun Cha is grilled pork served with noodles and a humongous bowl of leafs and fresh herbs for you to mix in yourself. It’s delicious and I had it a few times. So, with the huge incentive to eat like Obama, I had to have it at that restaurant too. At ‘Bun Cha HΖ°Ζ‘ng LiΓͺn’ there are huge photos on all the walls of Obama there that day with Anthony Bourdain. It’s a really basic, quite messy, local food restaurant but you can’t go wrong with places like this in Hanoi as Obama and I both know. 

Here’s one of me with Obama enjoying his Hanoian beer and Bun Cha. 



The Eiffel Tower Bridge

This was my favourite place to visit in Hanoi and possibly one of my favourite moments from my trip was to stand on this bridge during sunset. I think it’s one of the most underrated architectural features of the city. The Long Bien bridge, designed by the same guy who designed the Eiffel Tower. Intrigued by its similarity in style, I was keen to visit. The bridge has a central train track and either side can only be crossed by bikes or pedestrians. Stepping onto the bridge was a little unnerving with hundreds of motorbikes hurtling past me and there is a part of the beginning of the bridge you can actually feel shake beneath you. Once the bridge stopped shaking and I had committed to continuing, walking along felt quite exhilarating, especially as I was one of the only pedestrians there and the sun was setting behind me. I didn’t cross the entire bridge as it’s massive but once you reach the part that overlooks some very green farmland before the river, standing alone, it became the most peaceful spot within the madness of passing traffic. 




I would love to visit again and explore even more. If anyone has been, please share your unique or just food experiences in the comments as I would love to hear about them. 

Peace out ✌🏼️

Malaysia Unplanned

I had originally planned to stop off at Kuala Lumpur for a couple of days, as many travellers do, to easily and cheaply transit to my next destination. However once there, it seemed a shame not to spend a bit of time getting to know Malaysia!

Kuala Lumpur is a typical bustling capital city but fairly relaxed compared to India. I have to admit I was looking forward to a slight change in culture. For one thing, I felt I could wear a little bit less clothing but I might need a spray tan on my bright white legs before they can come out! Truthfully though, as a female foreigner, you are less likely to get any hassle if dressed on the conservative side. 

The city is full of crazy huge malls, tall buildings like the Petronas Towers, roof top bars and snazzy hotels but China Town is really the spot. Here you find old architecture, markets & street sellers, good food and even a few hipster cafes. I definitely think there is much more to be discovered and I hope to make another stop off here sometime in the future. 






After a couple of days, I decided to get out of the city and visit Penang. Penang is just 4 hours from KL and there are plenty of coaches available which makes for a really pleasant and scenic journey. Having a car at this point would have been great to be able to stop off. 

Just before reaching Penang you cross a quite magnificent 24km bridge. The Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah bridge is the longest in Southeast Asia. It’s seriously long but I was surprised to find out that it doesn’t even rank in the top 10 longest bridges which is dominated by some crazy 100km bridges in China. 

Once in Penang, I took a local bus to the Unesco World Heritage site of George Town. 



In 1786, the island of Penang was possessed by Captain Francis Light under the East India Trading Company and soon after, he established George Town. You can see the European style fused with Chinese in the architecture. It’s lovely to stroll around and spot all the colourful and unique designs of each buildings exterior. Chinese lanterns hang everywhere and colourful shop adverts are painted across split bamboo roller blinds. 




I loved visiting the Chinese Buddhist temples here. You feel totally free to take your time and absorb the atmosphere. No one is watching you, in fact no one really takes any notice of you. One early morning I visited the Kuan Yin Teng (Goddess of Mercy) Temple and it was packed with people coming and going, lighting josticks and praying. Amongst the jostick sellers, there was one guy selling caged birds to be released! Seems like a pretty crafty way to make money out of nature loving Buddhists but people were paying. I met a women outside who was keen to tell me about the temple and that she didn’t agree with the caged birds. She scared me a bit but it was sweet of her to let me ask some questions. She told me it was so busy that day because they were celebrating Buddhist New Year which falls on the three days that follow the first full moon in April. She explained that the roof of the temple was replaced just three years ago but the original temple has stood for over 200 years. It’s believed to have a special force of protection surviving two Japanese bomb landings either side of it in the 2nd world war, saving everyone inside. 

Since becoming a World Heritage site, the town has commissioned a street art trail. It’s good art work but a bit gimmicky so you’ll have to queue up behind the selfie sticks if you want to take any photos of it. Making it quite an arty town means there are plenty of small galleries and one-off street pieces to see too. 

The food has got to be one of the main attractions here. There are two huge food courts in George Town with a load of different food vendors or ‘hawkers.’ It’s super cheap and the food is all amazing. If you are there at night, a bonus treat is the entertainment. You will notice a stage in the middle of the space and around 9pm I witnessed the vocal and visual delights of three local singers; one guy, two girls, in matching black and white outfits. The guy led the show and although I couldn’t understand him, I think he was warming up the audience with some banter before they started singing. Once they got going, they each led an incredible pop style ballad with some strong synchronised side stepping before I had to drag myself away.
My third and final stop before heading to Bangkok via Singapore was Malacca. Similar to George Town, another world heritage site and very similar style in architecture, Malacca or Melaka is Malaysia’s most prized historical town. Melaka however, is centred around a river, so you can take a stroll down the footpath and stop off at any of the many riverside bars and cafes as well the town itself.




Remains still stand of St. Paul’s Church and the A’Famosa fort built by the Portuguese around 1500. These are some of the oldest European remains in South-East Asia. 

My personal favourite thing to do here was taking a walk down Jonker Street Night market which is only open on weekends and sampling as many tasty treats as I could stuff in along the way. The entire 500 metre and surrounding area is jam packed with street food and other stalls selling anything from souvenir type items to home products and gadgets. 





I also loved the flea market, which again is only open on weekends. It’s situated behind the Discovery Cafe. I found all sorts of fascinating stuff here like vintage Japanese comics, a United Nation rubber collection, Malaysian books, 50’s watches and jewellery, vintage posters, 80’s postcards, furniture, juke boxes, toys and some clothing. A lot of the clothing is from Singapore who source a lot of vintage clothing from Europe so you aren’t likely to find anything you can’t get at home in this department although a much better souvenir than a keyring or a fridge magnet if you find something really cool. 


As a keen random crap enthusiast, I couldn’t resist a little souvenir for myself so bought a rusty old medicine tin and some customer loyalty bank gifts from 60’s Singapore. Really glad I have to carry those round with me now. 

There is loads to do in Malaysia and I didn’t even get started on the beaches in the East which are meant to be some of the most amazing for scuba diving in the world. Will definitely be back for more. 

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Backwater Life

Part of the reason I chose to visit Kerala in India was because of it’s famous backwaters – the canals, waterways and lagoons. Aside from the fact that they are pretty idyllic to ride along, you also get to see the community of people who live along the banks.


Most of the local communities here originally served the boat making industry to transport rice crop to the surrounding cities. Since the land infrastructure has been developed, the boats have mainly been used for tourism. 

At first I took a day trip to Vaikom which is quite close to Kochi. That included a canoe boat cruise down very narrow canals followed by a bigger boat trip across its lagoons and lunch served on a banana leaf (what else?) My favourite trip however, was definitely a further few miles south to Alleppey. Also known as Alappuzha or ‘Venice of the East,’ it’s the most popular spot for riding the backwaters and where many people stay overnight on the houseboats. Just so you know, it’s NOTHING like Venice. It doesn’t even compare. Yes they are both cities connected by waterways but Alleppey is just something else. See for yourself…


The boat ride sellers tell you “the people you will see are very poor,” like it’s a sales pitch which is a bit weird. I did find it strange at first to stare and take photographs of the people living their lives. I wondered if they were okay with being a tourist attraction but they seem to find it amusing and love a good wave and smile as you go past so I soon got over it. You do have to be mindful of this though and respect their privacy. There has however been some concern about water pollution which is not surprising but it’s unregulated boats which can be partly blamed for this. It’s a good idea to book your boat trip in advance from a tour operator. This way you can hope for a company who follow safe tourism standards. I also recommend making a couple of chai stops or for lunch which is a great way to hand over some cash to the locals. 


On the waterways, you really see people using the waters as part of every day life. Washing pots and pans, fetching water, fishing, farming, washing clothes and themselves. 


The basic constructions of the banks homes look like they conceal just one room. You can just about see inside some of them and they are mostly unfurnished with some plastic chairs, brick interiors and some cooking equipment. They clearly serve a basic living purpose with little or no luxuries. 


Watching them work and go about their every day lives is so humbling and I think about how much stuff we buy in the West that we don’t actually need! 


I like to think I care a bit less about having loads of material things since living in London and spending all my money on rent and food. I will however, probably always get carried away in a charity or second hand shop. Mainly thanks to my Mum and Aunty Lizzie. I remember as a young girl thinking that having all the latest new clothes, a TV (remember those?) and a cool car (a black Fiat Punto of course) were all really important. I left school wanting to work so I could buy all these things. I don’t remember thinking about anything else. I lived in my own little bubble for a few years with a shit boyfriend. My exposure to the world was pretty limited and my main influences as a teenager were him and MTV Base. Lolz. 

I’m so, sooo glad we all grow up although there is just so much to learn about the amazing world we live in, it feels never ending. I think everyone who can, should travel, I think it’s important to understand more about the world. I can’t believe I left it so long. 

I highly recommend Kerala to anyone wanting to test the water (lol) of travelling in India, especially solo. I have been to India before but in a small group and I wasn’t ready to take on too much my first time alone although that’s just me and I’m a bit of a sensible Sandra. There is so much to this amazing country and although I need a break from curries for a while, I can’t wait to go back and travel around some more next time!

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The Colours of Kochi

Finally I returned to India! This time, a little wiser, more open-minded and ready for my own unique experience.

After travelling around India on my first visit in 2012, I decided this time I wanted to really get to know just one area. Poor India, suffers a lot of negativity around the safety of travellers, in particular, solo female travellers. And I hate to admit it, I didn’t fancy Goa this time or even anywhere that is not Kerala (note – this is not the case now!) Kerala is considered a pretty safe state, tourism is still huge and the well educated local people want to keep it that way. Although Kerala seemed the right option for me on this trip, I think travellers would agree that most places should be safe as long as you are sensible. I appreciate that sometimes no matter how safe you are, bad shit can happen anywhere but we can only do our best to look after ourselves in any given situation. I personally haven’t been going far alone after dark because I’m in a place I don’t know that well (and a big scaredy cat) plus I just feel more vulnerable in the dark. Maybe that’s a bit extreme but I’m realising more and more just how safety conscious I am and that’s okay with me! 

I flew into Kochi or Cochin from Colombo and headed straight to Fort Kochi. Fort Kochi and Kochi old town, Mattancherry, are a real hit with your Instagram followers. The old town is dominated by a historic Jewish district that is also known as Jew Town – it’s full of colourful ruins, lovely shops in Jew Passage, antiques for days and the most expensive boutique hotel in town. Fort Kochi just west of the old town is full of colonial heritage buildings, European style streets, art, churches, cafes as well as plenty of restaurants offering tasty local cuisine. 



Fort Kochi and The Wilson’s

I ended up staying far longer than I planned. The Homestay I am staying in is so homely (big up Jeen Wilsons Homestay & Cafe), the hosts have really looked after me and so I decided to extend and take my time (again) to really explore Kochi. 

There is no denying that Fort Kochi is a touristy spot but I can honestly say that really wasn’t a problem for me. Perhaps it’s because I am visiting a little late in the season but I felt there was so much to explore, I just got stuck in. I also think that (and don’t shoot me for saying this) having some western style cafes with good wifi is particularly handy whilst you are travelling to relax, do some planning and maybe fancy something different to eat – small comforts go a long way! 


Special places to see include St Francis Church (the burial place of Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama), Chinese Finishing Nets (a beautiful sight at sun rise), Santa Cruz Basilica (first church built by Portuguese around 1500,) Kerala Kathakali Cultural Centre (Keralan Dance, Music, Yoga & Meditation!) but during my visit I was also lucky enough to see the end of the Biennale Art Exhibition at Aspinwall House which closed at the end of March. I have to say, although I’m not a huge art buff, Biennale was very impressive and presented artists from all over the world. 







Mattancherry on Top

I absolutely loved strolling around Mattancherry. What’s not to love about a load of run down old buildings?






Antique Dealers 

I had read about the antique dealers here but had no idea what to expect. Many of the shops are small, selling souvenir type statuettes and some art but Mattancherry is actually home to the biggest Antique exporter in South India owned by Mr Majnu, who I ended up meeting…



Mr Majnu & The Ginger House 

From humble tour guide to owner of the biggest antique exporter in South India, the most expensive hotel in Kochi (honeymoon spot sorted) and the only sea front restaurant in Mattancherry, Mr Majnu has had huge business success here. 


Mr Majnu, from a typical south-Indian household, graduated (in Botany) and started out in the world of work. His father gave him 300 rupees to set him on his way and back then he had no idea he would end up owning one of Kochi’s most glamorous boutique hotels. 
Working as a tour guide, he noticed the keen interest in mainly religious Indian antiques from foreigners and decided to open up his own small shop. Fast forward 30 years and Mr Majnu’s shop now boasts 300 square feet of fascinating antique artefacts and furniture dating as far as back as up to 500 years old. The company have been shipping items all over India and the rest of the world for many years. 









Alongside the antique business, he runs a lovely sea front Keralan restaurant and has just opened the Ginger House Museum Hotel. Each room in the boutique hotel has it’s own unique theme filled with stunning, mostly antique, furnishings that are all for sale. So if you decide that after spending a night, you want to take the gold plated sink home with you (would be very tempted myself, had I firstly been able to afford the room), you actually can! 
Mr Majnu believes his success is owed to fate. He told me, “Believe whatever you deserve in life, will come to you.” 
I tend to agree with you Mr Majnu. 

Have faith and do good and the rest will work itself out. 
Peace and love…

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