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 HÆ°Æ¡ng Liên’ 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 ✌🏼️

Falling in the Mud

Easy for some but for a total wuss like me, completing a two day trek in the breathtaking Sapa mountains was kind of a big deal.

I hadn’t really trekked properly until the start of this trip, in Sri Lanka. Climbing Ella Rock in Sri Lanka’s hill country is probably not difficult by trekking standards, but I certainly didn’t find it easy. I was however, so pleased with myself for making it, especially wearing a pair of Flossy’s (Spanish daps/slippers), which I have since worn proudly with a huge hole in the toe. 

In Vietnam, without giving it too much thought I decided a two day trek in Sapa should be no problem for a now ‘experienced’ trekker like me. Sapa is in the mountains of northern Vietnam about 300km from Hanoi. It is known for its terraced rice field landscape and being occupied by Vietnam’s indigenous tribes, in particular the Hmong. As usual, I read about other people’s experiences online but at the risk of being put off all together, I decided to just go for it. 

My hostel in Hanoi offered 2 day packages for the trip but it’s a good idea to visit a few tour companies around the old quarter for a better deal. I went for a mid-range tour that included a kind of fancy sleeper train on the way and a ‘limousine’ minibus on the way back. Both journeys were pretty good. With cheaper packages, you can travel by coach which, from what I heard, are not bad either. The cheapest way of course, is to make your own way to Sapa and arrange a tour when you get there. As it turns out, the treks are all pretty similar, if not the same and everyone ends up in the same kind of homestay at the end of day one. 

As part of my package, I was picked up from the station and dropped at a hotel to have breakfast and take a shower before being picked up by the tour guide. I prepared myself with a tiny bit of yoga before we set off, particularly as I knew my weak little legs were probably going to suffer for days afterwards. 

The tour guide and I joined up with a few other trekkers in Sapa town before hitting the trail together. Now part of a 6 strong group and about 7 local ‘tagalongs,’ I felt I couldn’t contest much when we were asked if we wanted to take the easy route or the ‘slippery route.’ I reluctantly agreed to the slippery route. Why?! More fun everyone said. A few minutes later I hated myself and everyone in the group and wanted to give up. It was sooo slippery from the rain the night before, every downward and rocky step was a potential fall and soon enough I was on my arse splattered from the waist down in mud. The tagalongs (I’ll explain this later) helped me up whilst I laughed awkwardly (crying inside.) The guide asked again if I was okay with the slippery route. Feeling like I needed to redeem myself from embarrassment, I of course pretended to be fine but braced myself for another fall. 

A few near misses later, plus falls from others which made me feel better (hahahaha), we made it through the muddy part of the trek and could finally enjoy the scenery around us. 

We stopped for lunch and realised the tagalongs hadn’t just followed us and actually helped me quite a lot with the trek, just to get to know us. They were selling bits of jewellery and their own handicraft which no one really wanted but we now felt kind of obliged to buy. Very young girls also arrive with sad and desperate faces. They really are working the tourists but fair enough. I bought a couple of bracelets I will never wear but it was all very cheap and worth it to stop these little girls basically play crying in your face. 

In the afternoon, the rest of the group went back to Sapa town as they were only one-day trekkers. Lightweights. I was taken to a homestay where a few other trekkers had also ended up. It’s fair to say it’s not the kind of homestay I have stayed at before. It’s more ‘indoor camping’ than ‘cosy family sleepover.’ The hosts were lovely however and cooked us some amazing food. Showers were hot and everything was clean, HOWEVER, we were in the middle of the mountains and the biggest bugs I’ve ever seen were all around us and a couple of rats were running around freely. I slyly coped myself one of the private rooms but cheeky karma came and bit me in bum when I noticed a spider as big as my fist sitting on the wall next to my bed. I stood there literally stunned for about 5 minutes wondering what to do. I felt like I couldn’t be a wimp and ask someone to get rid of it. I considered asking the hosts if it was dangerous but they had already gone to bed. I was left with no option but to drop down the mosquito net, pull the thick duvet over my head and hope for the best. Of course, nothing happened apart from me waking up in the middle of the night dripping in sweat. Unfortunately no conquering of fears happened that night and my Dad can rest assured that he will still be asked to get the spider out in future. 

Day 2 started off with pancakes! Whooo! I then carried on the trek alone with tour guide Lin and her 8 month old baby.

Lin was in the true sense of the word, amazing. She told me she continued to guide the trek until she was nine months pregnant and started again when the baby was just 15 days old. At 26, she now has three children. Her husband works on a rice field and her five year old daughter stays at home with the two year old… her nine year old nephew also helps out when not at school but Lin says her five year old knows how to look after them both no problem. Wait, what!? I was totally astonished but no doubt it’s typical in their culture. These women and people are utterly incredible and if ever you needed any inspiration, just visit Sapa and meet them for yourself. 

We headed out and I opted for the easy route this time. I think Lin was quite happy with that as she seemed a bit tired. Day two however was just as, if not more beautiful.

And five days later my legs still ache but it was well worth it. 

I’m now finishing up my trip in Hanoi but will be visiting Halong Bay first which I am VERY excited about, then I’m off to Hoi An to hopefully get something nice tailor made. Definitely another Vietnam update or two to come, I love this place. 

Peace out ✌🏼️💄

Cheeky Stopovers (Bangkok & Singapore)

When travelling alone on a journey of self-discovery, as of course I am, you are rarely actually on your own which for me is kind of annoying.

Meeting new people while travelling is really good, when they are people you want to hang around with but otherwise those generic hostel conversations become so monotonous and sometimes you just can’t be f%#*ed. Just me? So recently, I took advantage of the offers I had to stay with friends who are living abroad for a few days. I strongly recommend doing it if you happen to know anyone, especially if travelling for a few months. It’s a great way to enjoy some home from home comforts. Plus, they love dropping the routine of their everyday lives to accommodate and entertain you (I would imagine.)

I didn’t think I would find Singapore that interesting, as I thought it would be all skyscrapers and condos. Without a doubt, the food is unbelievably good and there is so much choice, I would have been more than content with the food binge I enjoyed. However, after my short time there I definitely developed a little soft spot for the place. 

I only had one full day, with torrential rain for most of it, but headed to Arab Street in the afternoon as there is some older architecture there plus I heard it might be a spot for vintage clothes. I know shopping shouldn’t really be on my agenda with 15 kilos already on my back but I couldn’t resist just ‘checking’ to see what I might find. Arab Street itself, centre of the Arabic Quarter is actually door to door textiles and carpet shops. Towards the bottom of the street itself there are some cool cafes, one run by a very ‘banterous’ Australian guy, who incidentally gave me some questionable directions to find a secret restaurant in Bangkok that is so secret I couldn’t find it – jokes on me Pav?

Once I reached the end of the street I realised the real gold is actually at the two streets parallel to Arab Street. One being Haji Street, a lane jam packed with small boutique shops, cafes and just one vintage shop… it did however have some really nice stuff. Rails and rails of beautifully selected quality second hand dresses and skirts on the first floor that continues upstairs with accessories and jackets. Although I would have loved to have snapped up some stuff, it wasn’t any cheaper or any more unique than what I can find in the UK. I think they source it mostly from Europe anyway. If I lived in Singapore though, ‘Moodswings’ would be a spot to buy some really nice pieces. 

The other side of Arab Street is completely different. At Muscat Street, it’s mostly lovely looking middle-eastern restaurants, more traditional ‘shophouses’ and a view of the very grand and golden Masjid Sultan mosque. A really diverse little area! Unfortunately my photography skills are pretty limited in the rain so you will have to go and see for yourself. 

From just one taster day in Singapore, it’s definitely a lot cooler than I thought and my friend will certainly be lucky enough to enjoy more visits from me in the future. If anyone has been, please do fill me in on the spots! 
From Singapore I headed to Bangkok. On arrival, until I met my friend, I couldn’t bear Bangkok. Coming off the flight and into the city from lovely clean Singapore, it was hot, dirty, confusing and so busy! I think everyone knows Bangkok is a mad place but I’m a little late to the party. To start with, I learnt that getting to grips with the transport options before anything else, really helps you to enjoy Bangkok. 

Firstly, metered Taxis are cheap but good luck getting one if you can’t speak Thai or are heading towards a congested traffic zone (I think that’s everywhere in Bangkok!?) I was straight refused a few times! I think it’s best to seek an alternative option first. You can try Uber or Grab but I didn’t have much luck with those either. The BTS metro line is excellent provided you are near to a station but it’s probably the most reliable option. Jumping on the back of a motorbike taxi isn’t something I was totally comfortable with but often it’s the most practical option. Although insisting I was terrified, I did secretly enjoy whizzing around traffic along the busy streets holding on for dear life with one hand and the other holding my hat onto my head. I probably looked cool actually. 

Another great way to get travel is on the river and canal boats. It’s cool to get an alternative view of the city and is how many locals get around. The canal boat in particular is super cheap, you can just hop on and pay for your ticket to the person who literally hangs off the side of the boat. 

I took the boat and then a short rickshaw ride to get to Bangkok’s most important complex of buildings, The Grand Palace.

The Grand Palace was built in 1782 and has been home to the King of Thailand for 150 years. Since the late King Bhumibol Adulyade’s death last October, the country is still in its one year of mourning which will no doubt account for far more visits to the palace than normal. When I went, the place was heaving and security very strict. Dress code is of course really important and you can’t just wrap around a scarf or beach sarong as you’ll be sent across the street to buy proper clothing. I even saw one girl sent away for wearing leggings. That’ll teach her. 
Once finally inside though, you do enjoy a very beautiful and unique palace. 

Aside from some good chill time at said Bangkok friends pool (Singapore did have one too), I visited some malls, ate yet more amazing food (got my £1 pad Thai), visited the Ratchada Train Market and the Chatuchak Weekend Market of which I recommend both highly and I even had a proper-warehouse-rave-night-out. There is so much to do in Bangkok, it reminded me a bit of London, a similar population but with far more grit and far less hipsters. 
Thanks to my lovely friends who put me up. During the emotional rollercoaster that is travelling, you gave me just what I needed.

See you in a few weeks?

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.