I have discovered many people are confused by the different temperature options when cooking steak. Here is a handy guide that visually shows what each one looks like! Enjoy 🙂 #stayinspired.
I love traveling but have faced some challenges on my adventures. It’s been touch and go, and I have not perfected them but have identified what I need help on, and am working towards getting better every time I go away.
Hope these tips help you. #stayinspired
- There’s too much drinking. The opportunities for this have been so tempting in my past 10 years working in wine/spirits. The possibilities are endless and honestly delicious. Alcohol will not ruin you, but this will impact your eating decisions and quality of sleep. If you choose to drink, have one or two. 1 drink = 5oz of wine, 12oz light beer or 1.5oz of hard liquor. To minimize empty calorie intake, take SMALL, SLOW sips and if possible, alternate those sips with water and lemon (this helps keep your body in an alkaline state).
- There’s too much food. Remember you are in charge of what you put in your mouth. Empower yourself to put the brakes on mindless eating. When you are satisfied with the food intake create a ritual to stop the next bite and overeat. Pop a sugar free mint/breath mint, have a cup of tea, go to the bathroom and brush your teeth (this is really helpful for me).
- I don’t eat like this! Prepare! You may not always have control of the food at events, but if you prep in advance you can navigate this challenge. The goal is to make sure you don’t go hungry and have healthy snacks (200 calorie portions of nonperishable foods that contain protein and fiber). My go to’s are: nuts/seeds, dry roasted edamame, Quest Bars, jerky, banana.
- I have no time for exercise. Create opportunities – a gym doesn’t have to be the only option. Take the stairs, park your rental car further away and walk, walk where you can – just move! Before, in between or after events, do jumping jacks, lunges, squats, planks, crunches. This can be done in your hotel room. Moving keeps you alert, awake and focused and is necessarary for health in our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels.
Hong Kong…Manhattan on Crack
Hong Kong is a hedonistic engine room of cultural fusion: East meets West in high style with a unique identity due to its British and Portuguese influence. We were fortunate to have our friend, Harry Pang, show us around both nights we were in town.
- Currency: Hong Kong Dollar
- Tipping: Not necessary, but 10% appreciated
- Respect the Food:
- Dim Sum: Felicia and Shendi Lu, thanks for the prep!
- Cha Siu: HK National dish – pork, honey, spices
- Moon cake: Revolutionaries in imperial China used to smuggle messages to each other hidden in a moon cake’s dense filling (I wish my mail was wrapped in food!)
- Eggettes: Egg waffles are a HK classic…it’s an iconic twist on waffles
- Misc: HK is grouped into islands, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island being the two main ones. Main tourist sights and eats are divided up between the two. They are just a 10 min cab/5 min subway ride away. Star Ferry travels between them and takes around 10 minutes (costs around $1 US).
- Transport Recos:
- MTR: Best way around is Metro – quick, cost effective and efficient
- Aiport Express Link: 24 minutes from airport to Kowloon / Hong Kong. Charging stations and TVs, comfortable seats, air conditioning…what more could you ask for? They will also check in your luggage on the return trip and send it to airline. Easy, breezy service.
- Taxis: Cabbies are as psychotic as any big city cabbie. Hold on for dear life!
- W Hotel (Bruce Starr, thanks for reco)
- Site: http://www.w-hongkong.com
- The hotel is in West Kowloon. Fly into Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) and travel to the hotel by Airport Express, the most direct and quickest route. It takes 24 minutes, has charging outlets and is the most efficient way to get to the W, which is a 5 minute walk from the station, and it’s through a lovely indoor mall.
- The concierge, Billie, was the most enthusiastic person I met on this trip. His energy and knowledge of where to go / how to get there was fantastic. Jasper, the bellboy, that greeted us upon arrival was incredibly helpful and just genuiniely kind. It was a nice way to start our experience in Hong Kong.
- Tung Kee Seafood: Point at what you want and eat it.
- Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine: Super cute eatery featuring the world’s most celebrated cartoon in the form of dim sum, rice and motif teapots. Yes, we had to go…
- The Kitchen (W Hotel): This is fat Brielle speaking. This was a buffet like no other (Mel Mao – you know what I’m talking about!). All types of cuisine. I literally sampled everything from the lobster, to meats, to soups, to donuts, to pasta… nothing went to waste and it was a glorious morning breakfast to fuel up for the day’s activity.
- Mad for Garlic: An Italian restaurant that originated in Korea. Garlic is in every dish. You will smell awesome after this…
- J&G Fried Chicken: Taiwanese-style chicken bites are peppery and sizzing hot on the outside and moist on the inside. Different spice levels available! (After Thailand, I couldn’t stop eating spicy food!)
- Yung Kee in Central: Our last night and some traditional Chinese. They also had Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc for $30USD. What a deal! Harry ordered and we went to town…but I distinctly remember the lemon chicken…
- Din Tai Fung: Dim Sum and Chinese Buns and then some…
- Mammy Pancake: Michelin Star rated streetfood. Advice from Harry: Get the chocolate chip pancake and follow it with the Everything Waffle – this was dessert heaven.
- Sohofama: Slow cooked 48 hour natural short rib pancake sliders and crab with sticky rice
- Ozone @ The Ritz Carlton: This takes the honors as the highest bar in the world. 118th Floor with outdoor seating and exquisite views. Sadly, there was a rain storm when we went so we were limited to the inside space. The cocktails were brilliant – check out this Ritz Carlton Signature. Now if only they would use Caliche Rum!
- Dada Bar & Lounge: Think Alice in Wonderland
- J Boroski: Named after owner, Joseph Boroski, this hidden spot in central is a bespoke creative cocktail space. There is no menu so everything is customized. The bartenders are not only true creatives, but they exhibit such a passion for their craft. Watching them make the cocktails was mesmerizing. I have been lucky enough to have drank at amazing bars but the food-cocktail blew my mind. I LOVE soup, and that was the base. It’s a food – drink blend. I was blown away. After Harry, Keith and I enjoyed 3 cocktails a piece, the rhinoceros beetles that adorn the curved ceiling started to look more appealing. If you are in HK, request an invitation (call 2603 6020).
- Quinary: Craft cocktails (Earl Grey tea foam!) that are a true sensory experience
- Lily & Bloom: An immaculate yet industrial bar. Expect vintage spirits and well-executed textbook cocktails.
- Lan Kwai Fong (party zone): Bars all over – tons of ex-pats.
- The Peak: Spectacular views, wooded walks and exclusive properties (it houses the world’s most expensive street, Pollock’s Path). Take the Metro to the Peak Tram and in under 10 minutes you will arrive to Victoria Gap. *If it’s misty / cloudy, do not go. You won’t be able to see much.
- The Star Ferry / Harbour City: One of HK’s most beloved institutions, the Star Ferries have plied between Kowloon and HK Island since 1888. If you take the evening voyage, you will witness the harbour’s neon spectacle, The Symphony of Lights – 45 harbour buildings put on a light and sound show.
- Temple Street Night Market: Fortune tellers, opera street performers, clothes, knick knacks, food! What more could you want? Accessible by Metro, the overwhelming array of cheap goods and unbeatable lively atmosphere is a must see.
- Tsim Sha Tsui area: great dim sum spots, musesums, ritzy arcades – fun destaination to walk around in.
- Heritage Plaza and Avenue of the Stars
- Ladies Market: Flea market like Temple but not at night, lots of cheap goods.
- Elements: more than 1 million square feet of pure shopping bliss themed after the five Chinse elements.
- Pet Street: Here’s one for our 4-legged furry friends. Mong Kok’s Tung Choi Street is disarmingly charming. Full of pups, kittens, rabbits, goldfish, turtles and frogs, it’s difficult not to say ‘awww’ in adoration of these cute little creatures.
- Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery: Take the metro, and get there by 10am so it’s not too hot. Once a humble house built by 3 monks, Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island is an important temple and the giant Buddha facing the monastery is an object of veneration for devotees and tourists alike. 260 steps lead you to the base, and you can go inside (the museum) and see Buddha’s tooth (no pictures allowed). For me, this was a very spiritual spot. I not only left Rambo’s hair, but one of the crosses I had blessed in Jerusalem at the base. Buddha and Jesus – that’s a righteous combo.
Well…our 2016 travel adventure is complete, and it was everything I hoped for. Seeing the world, meeting new people, and educating myself on other cultures/way of living is a passion of mine & Keith’s. I hope these recaps/guides are not only entertaining, but informative should you travel to any of these amazing cities.
So Hong Kong in summary? It transcends cultural and culinary borders in an accessible way so that nothing feels truly foreign and nothing doesn’t belong, yet it’s wrapped in a mist of exoticism and opulence.
Oh! When we got home, the first thing we did was order pizza. Nothing says home like good old Italian food, haha! Now, where should we go next year??? Cheers to the new adventures.
#stayinspired we are always #3QT
5 Days in Bangkok…Chow’s Retirement Party
Bangkok – you are beguiling, bewildering, subtle, brash, sensual, and spiritual. You gave me a run for my money and are an intriguing city. Your glittering temples, saffron-robed monks, gourmet food, food stalls, crazy cabbies, ‘bargaining’, hustle and vibrancy made you one of my favorite cities ever.
Side note: My best friend, Linda Gomes, has always been the Alan to my Chow (read: Hangover characters). We are lovable misfits that just do crazy things together (give me some sugar!). On this adventure to Bangkok (remember Chow’s appearance in Hangover 2?), I was determined to retire this alter-ego in true fashion – I had 5 days. This leg of the trip was gonna be my wheelhouse!
- Currency: Baht
- Tipping: Not necessary, but 10% appreciated.
- Respect the Food:
- Must have: Phat Thai (Thai Fry), Sticky Rice, Tom Yam Kung (Signature dish – hot & spicy soup with chili, lemongrass and galangal served with prawns/seafood), Drunken Noodles, Tom Kha Gai (my favorite coconut soup with chicken).
- Enjoy the spices in every meal – the flavors are bold and explosive.
- Misc: Never insult the royal family, appropriate attire (covered shoulders, remove shoes) in temples, Lady Boys are real, Thai massages are heavenly.
- Basic Language:
- Hello: sa wut dee
- Good Bye: lah gorn na
- Thank You: korp-kOOn
- Yes/No: chai / mai chai
- I don’t speak Thai: poot pah sah tai mai bpen
- Temple Attire Rules
- No short skirts and shorts or even shortened trousers (you should always wear full length). Skirts that fall below the knee are permitted.
- No tight fitting trousers such as leggings.
- No clothing that has holes in, such as ripped jeans.
- No vests or any top without sleeves, you can wear t-shirts.
- No tops with sleeves rolled up, even if it’s warm keep your sleeves down.
- No sportswear of any type
- No sweat shirts or sweat pants.
- Perhaps unexpectedly you can wear sandals and flip-flops (in a suitable design) but it’s best to wear full shoes for comfort when you’re walking around.
- Bangkok earned the biggest traffic jam award recently – there was never a day/time without traffic. LA you’ve got nothing on this city.
- Taxis: Their hustle and rudeness was legendary. Make sure they use the meter.
- Tuk Tuks: An experience in itself, and one you must try. Negotiate the price before the journey begins. There are no seat belts so hold on for dear life.
- Boat: There are water taxis and many of the hotels located on the Chao Phraya River (River of Kings) provide free boat service. This was a godsend for us while staying at The Peninsula.
- BTS Sky Train (above ground subway): Efficient, safe and convenient mode of transport.
We learned very quickly that Bangkok lives up to its reputation. It’s cultural, sexy, hard, manipulative, and it tested every sense Keith and I had. It was one of the most memorable cities I’ve visited for good and bad. Be wary of the scams though – here’s a list to prepare if you go.
Classic Brielle Moment: Totally got bamboozined – #6 Scam got me good. I heard of the Somboon Seafood Chain and wanted to try. Well, trusting our cab driver and not remembering the exact spelling, we wound up at Somboondee Seafood Market. Upon leaving, we took a taxi back to our hotel in the pouring rain. As if we needed more drama that day, we both looked at the medallion (picture of a man) and it was a woman driving. After about an hour drive with the meter running, we made it home safely and agreed we would better map our destinations moving forward because our trust level was going down.
- The Peninsula Hotel: One of the greatest hotel experiences ever. It was a spiritual, physical and mental oasis for us every day. The amenities were fantastic, the service went above and beyond…
- Anusan at the Concierge was a life-savor.
- Thiptara Thai Restaurant (at Peninsula Hotel): Try everything on the menu. The flavors were explosions in your mouth – truly unforgettable.
- Sala Rim Naam (at Mandarin Oriental Hotel): Think dinner theater. Take in a cultural show accompanied by a gourmet dinner.
- Terrace Rim Naam (at Mandarin Oriental Hotel): Lon Poo Talay was outstanding.
- Saffron (52nd Floor at Banyan Tree Hotel): Exquisite Thai dishes. There is also a dazzling cityscape from the 61st floor at the Moon Bar.
- Hard Rock Café: Had to go and get my Hard Rock Bangkok shirt in honor of Chow.
- Smoking Pug BBQ (http://www.smokinpugbbq.com): Danny and Dana are a husband and wife team that opened this slow-cooked Texas-style BBQ restaurant. This was a godsend for Keith and I when we were itching for familiar American food. We stumbled upon it while in starvation mode and knew it was meant to be when we saw the name – the featured black pug made us think and miss Rambo. The BBQ and fried chicken were delicious.
- Sirocco: Situated halfway to heaven, this is a pretty amazing place for a meal (Italian) at the State Tower. The views are exquisite.
- Blue Elephant: Royal Thai cuisine
- Next2 Cafe (at the Shangri-La Hotel): Bangkok’s famous buffet (yeah, we found it) in a prime riverside setting. Market-style spread of various regional, along with Continental and Asian à la carte menus. It received the Editor’s Choice Award for “Bangkok’s Best Restaurant – Buffet Category” by Bangkok Best Dining & Entertainment Magazine for four consecutive years. Amazing ribs and the coconut soup was so rich and flavorful.
- The Bar (in Peninsula): Chay the bartender was terrific. Remembered our cocktail orders and was so friendly. Can we say delicious bar snacks!
- Sky Bar: The scene of Chow / Hangover, and a spectacular panoramic view from the 64th floor of the State Tower. They even have a Hangover-tini.
- Silom Area: Patpong Road – it is everything they say…and more. Those are ‘off-line’ stories.
- Soi’s = Sub Streets
- Sukhumvit: Soi Cowboy (street where Hangover was filmed)
- Tapas: Bangkok’s beautiful people with good food and drink
- E book walking tour link: Bangkok Walking Tour
- Chinatown is home to many examples of the architecture of Bangkok’s early years. About 14% of the buildings in the district have been designated as historical landmarks. Most of them are off on side streets. One of the most well-known is the is the Tang To Gung gold shop on Sampaeng Lane around Mangkon Road.
- Sampaeng Lane: Chinatown’s original main street is a small narrow alley which runs from the Phahurat Market all the way down to Songsawat Road. The lane is too small for cars, and is now a crowded market selling mostly inexpensive household items. Near the Tang To Gung gold shop is a very old Chinese pharmacy that is definitely worth a look.
- Thieves Market: I think this is self-explanatory…only in this city.
- Phahurat Market: The market is home to a huge number of stalls.
- Day Trip to Ayutthaya: The Peninsula Concierge set up our private tour. From the 14th century onwards, Ayutthaya was the capital of an independent kingdom until the city was sacked by the Burmese. It is now UNESCO World Heritage site. This ancient city transports you back to the splendor of the former capital.
- Aside from Keith and I living out Kickboxer and Mortal Combat moments, we were captivated by the architecture, history and artifacts. The Buddha’s head encased in a Banyan Tree was surreal.
- Wat Arun: Under construction. Named for Aruna, the Indian God of Dawn, it translates into Temple of the Dawn. It has 5 distinctive prang (towers) made of colorful broken porcelain, which are used as a logo of the city.
- Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo: Give yourself 2 hours to walk around. Make sure to follow the attire recommendations. This is a dazzling complex of Thai religious art and architecture featuring over 100 temples. Rama I established this as Bangkok capital in 1782. It houses the country’s most precious Buddha image.
- Wat Phra Kaew – Home of the Emerald Buddha: The Emerald Buddha is made of jadeite rather than emerald. It is the most sacred image in the kingdom, and is only 26 inches tall. The Buddha is adorned in seasonal attire. For our visit it was summer. Classic Keith Moment: We went into the temple (remove shoes, can’t take pics – although I snapped one from outside and added a google image shot so you could see what the little guy looks like). Keith goes through all the motions: kneels, bows, prays. We leave and I’m feeling blessed. At dinner later that evening, I go “Wasn’t the Emerald Buddha amazing?” His response? “We saw him? When?” To which I replied, “When we went in the temple, you removed your shoes, kneeled and prayed?! How did you not see him?” I laughed so hard. I guess because he’s so small Keith was overwhelmed by all the other decor…OR, he simply was not paying attention.
- Wat Pho: Bangkok’s oldest and biggest temple with the Reclining Buddha (symbolizes his arrival at Nirvana) and the Thai massage school – WATPO
- Thai Massages: In my life, I have never had a massage like this. The stretching & precision… it was the most intentional massage I’ve ever had: 2 hours = $15USD. How can you beat that? I had one everyday.
- Where I went: Serene Spa and WATPO Thai Massage School: Not easy to locate. It’s behind the Wat Pho temple (Reclining Buddha).
- Heard these were also great:
- Ruen nuad massage studio
- Change Foot Massage and Spa
- Health Land: the Walmart of massages
- *Perception Blind Massage: Launched in December 2014, it offers Thai massage while providing employment for blind or visually impaired therapists. Perception let’s the therapists demonstrate their unique talent for massage therapy showcasing their sense of touch in a way others cannot. http://www.perceptionblindmassage.com/aboutus
- Rajadamnern Boxing Stadium: In Thai, it’s translated to Sanam Muay Rajadamnern, an indoor sporting arena. Along with Lumpinee Stadium, the Rajadamnern is one of the two main stadiums for modern Muay Thai. If you want an evening of exotic, violent, raw, oriental entertainment, sit ring side for a boxing match. This national sport with the punching, kicking and Thai spectators is a spectacle. There are traditional dances performed by the boxers accompanied by wailing instruments before each match. Watching this made me want to go back to karate again.
- Chatuchak Weekend Market: The mother of all markets – Bangkok’s biggest market held every Saturday and Sunday – you can find anything here. With over 15,000 stalls and products grouped into easy to navigate sections, it’s a shopaholic’s paradise. Had so much fun haggling and buying everything from the most fragrant soaps, to spices, to shorts!
- Bang Pa-In Royal Palace, also known as the Summer Palace, is a palace complex formerly used by the Thai kings. It lies beside the Chao Phraya River in the Bag Pa-In district, Ayutthaya Province. It pays homage to King Rama 5’s love for international influence. (He was the son of the King Rama 4 – the King and I!)
- Asiatique: It’s a 29 acre extravaganza – formerly the trading port and warehouse site of the East Asiatic Company. It’s a remarkable riverside destination of boutiques, cheerful restaurants and entertainment outlets. We had dinner at Why97 Pub and Restaurant. Gim, our server, was a clever, smart-ass, entertaining person.
- Baiyoke Tower: Bangkok’s hightest bar, The Rooftop Bar, is in its tallest building.
- To Buy: Jim Thompson Thai Silk anything!
- Enjoy a cruise up the Chao Phraya River or a boat ride up one of the canals – the 3rd pic is of their convenient store(!)
- Amulet Market: Pick up a talisman.
- Snake Farm: Watch snake venom being extracted.
- Silom – Thailand’s ‘Wall Street’ is by day a place of financial institutions, law firms and multinational corporations. By night however, Silom slips out of its suit, transforming into a bustling shopping street and frenetically paced hedonist’s playground. Alongside a cramped but creatively stocked night market (think bootleg DVDs, tourist trinkets, T-shirts, fake watches), sit some of the city’s most renowned and raucous streets, namely red-light district Patpong, Soi 2 and Soi 4.
- Soi 2 and 4 present Bangkok’s most noticeable gay scene with the former being home to the huge DJ Station club and the latter presenting around a dozen fun, laidback and undeniably camp bars. Walk three minutes to Patpong or Soi 6 and it’s a completely different story; most of the bars here are all about the go-go dancers, with things becoming more X-rated if you head upstairs. For cleaner fun, try Soi 4, head up to the stunning Cloud 47 rooftop bar on the main Silom strip, or venture further west towards the river to find an all-time favourite Bangkok bar, the inimitable Maggie Choos.
- Fish Spa: While not legal in the U.S. whenever Keith and I go overseas we get this done. Fish spa treatment basically involves customers placing their feet into a water tank filled with toothless garra rufa fish – also known as “doctor fish”. Within seconds, an army of fish will gather at the customer’s feet and nibble the dead skin tissue away.
Bangkok in summary? How I loved it. It’s so teeming with everything that should be forbidden: the Muay Thai fighting, it’s so provocative, the environmental management arrangements, the continual attention of con-artists and snatch-theives, quaint local customs, a glittering and tortuous history, bewildering architecture and flavors that will spike all you senses.
As the ‘One Night in Bangkok’ song goes:
…And we had 4 nights…
Hanoi (the City within the River’s Bend) and Halong Bay, Vietnam
Lush mountains, ancient pagodas, polluted streets, mopeds, fascinating culture, incredible street food, hospitable, always-smiling people – I went in with no expectations and left feeling so fulfilled.
- Currency: Dong
- Tipping: Not necessary, but 10% is appreciated
- Respect the Food:
- Must haves: Pho, Spring Roles, Banh Mi Sandwiches, Pork everything, Vietnamese Coffee and Teas (Au Lac Café) – the coffee has an amazing flavor, and it’s rocket fuel.
- Coffee Varieties:
- Arabica: Most expensive and richest flavor
- Robusta: Cheaper than Arabica – rich flavor
- Weasel: Expensive and is made from coffee cherries eaten and defecated by chon Vietnamese weasels
- Tea: Mainly green tea varietal scented with lotus flower
- Cuisine: Lighter than Thai food, Vietnamese cuisine uses raw vegetables, soft seasoning, herbs and unique flavor combinations. Often described as textural, with fresh and sharp flavors, tropical in its core, it is seen as more colorful and fragrant than its neighbor China. The cuisine of Vietnam possesses a rich variety and is divided into three categories:
- Bac (north) Northern Vietnam has long been influenced by its proximity to China and it’s the only region of Vietnam that experiences all four weather seasons, inspiring seasonal dishes. The food tends to be lighter and milder than other regions.
- Trung (central) The dishes from the center are the most culturally authentic and representative of Vietnamese cuisine, influenced by the imperial cuisine of Hue city. The food is spicy and heavily seasoned.
- Nam (south) Southern cuisine in Vietnam is the most plentiful of the three, rich in vegetables, rice and seafood. It has enveloped French, Cambodian and Thai flavors to develop a distinctive taste. Food in the south is more tropical and at times sweet.
- Misc: People smile a lot & are very affectionate. Their communication system is interesting…and everyone is on a moped.
- Quick Visual Guide to Vietnam
- Ride on a cyclo (bicycle rickshaw) but negotiate the price beforehand – it’s quite the adventure
- Basic Language:
- Hello: xin chao!
- Good Bye: tam biet
- Thank You: cam on
- Yes/No: vang/khong
- I don’t speak Vietnamese: toi khong biet tieng Viet
- Hilton Hanoi Opera (in French Quarter)
- All of our main attractions were within walking distance. Next door to the Opera House.
- Shout out to Tuan. He was so friendly, helpful, knowledgeable and just a pleasure to be around!
- Chez Manon in Hilton Hanoi Opera – the spring rolls were delicous.
- HOM Restaurant – in the Old Quarter.
- **Hoa Sua Training Restaurant (No2, Hang Chuoi street: Tel: +84 4 3942 4448). This was the one restaurant I wanted to visit during our stay in Hanoi. It’s tucked into a tiny street in the Truc Bach neighborhood. Created in 1994, Hoa Sua is a vocational training school for disadvantaged youths —war orphans, street children, hearing impaired and physically disabled—giving them professional training in European and Asian cooking, catering and hotel services, sewing, embroidery, baking and languages. When it started, the school was graduating around 20 students a year. Today around 700 students graduate yearly and to date more than 6,000 graduates have found work in the tourism and hospitality sector. It was such an honor to support these students and have a delicious meal cooked with incredible ingredients and love.
- Club Opera – the service was outstanding, the wine selection delicious and all the food on the menu was well-presented and authentic.
- Pho 24 – as you can see, I could not get enough Pho. No frills and scrumptious. Throw in beer and fresh coconut water.
- Banh Mi: I couldn’t stop eating the chicken version. Keith opted for the beef. Check out those Vietnamese pants!
- Stall Breakfast down the street from the hotel… more Pho and coffee.
- Quan Com Sai Gon: Beef Dish with french fries!
- Tons of restaurants in Old Quarter – Banh Mi Sandwiches = heaven. I ate it so fast I forgot to take a picture. The coconut water and wine were fantastic.
Must See / Excursions:
- Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum (Ba Dinh Square) + Pillar Pagoda (symbol of Hanoi) + Presidential Palace
- We love learning the history of other cultures. Understanding their point of view on the Vietnam War and their interactions with the French before the US arrived was very interesting. Classic Brielle moment: I wore a dress with a wrap that wasn’t acceptable in the mausoleum. I had to buy pants (the vendor knew exactly what I walked in her store for and had pants that were in my size ready!) and a larger shawl. The queue was long but very efficient and to our surprise, we saw Ho Chi Minh’s actual embalmed body. It felt like we were going to a viewing. You are not allowed to speak – learned that rule quickly. Definitely worth seeing.
- Vietnam Military History Museum
- Established in 1956, it houses the most famous ancient architectural relic, the Flag Tower. The museum features exhibits and relics from the two resistance wars agains the French colonialist and the Americans.
- Hoa Lo Prison Museum – a very humbling experience
- Built by French administration in 1896, this prison held political prisoners, and during the Vietnam War, it achieved notoriety as a place of incarceration for downed US pilots who named it Hanoi Hilton. Named Maison Centrale during the French rule, most of the complex was demolished in 1997.
- Majority of the exhibits include a horrifying array of shackes, whips and forms of torture, along with solitary confinement cells, sewage system (escape route) and a guillotine.
- An area is devoted to the American period, cotriving to show how well US prisoners, including US senator John McCain, supposedly fared in contrast to the brutality shown by the Vietnamese by the French.
- Hoan Kiem Lake (Lake of the Restored Sword): Similar to King Arthur and Excalibur, our hero, Le Loi, was said to have a sword of great power. The legend says that the blade of the sword, inscribed with the words ‘The Will of Heaven’ (Thuan Thien), came from the Dragon King in his underwater palace. A fisherman, who later joined Le Loi’s army, caught the blade of the sword in his net. The hilt was found by Le Loi himself in a banyan tree. The stories claim Le Loi grew very tall when he used the sword and that it gave him the strength of many men. The story relates how one day, not long after the Chinese had accepted Vietnam as an independent country, Le Loi was out boating on the Green Water Lake (Luc Thuy). Suddenly a large turtle surfaced, took the sword from Le Loi’s belt, and dived back into the depths, carrying the glowing sword in his mouth. Efforts were made to find both the sword and the turtle but without success. Le Loi then acknowledged that the sword had gone back to the Dragon King with the Golden Turtle (Kim Quy), and he renamed the lake ‘The Lake of the Returned Sword’ (Hoan Kiem Lake).
- Old Quarter (36 Streets) + Bach Ma Temple (Oldest and called White Horse Temple): Fun spot to walk around. Trinkets and treasures everywhere.
- Dong Xuan Market: Oldest and largest market in the city
- Opera House: Modeled after the Paris Opera designed by Charles Garnier. Before World War II it was the epicenter of the city’s cultural life.
- Halong Bay Overnight Cruise by way of Halong Phoenix Tours / Halong Scorpian Cruise. Main guide was Dan who was knowledgable, incredibly accommodating and very friendly. The car trip from Hanoi to Halong Bay was approx. 3 hours – it’s a long journey that’s why we did the overnight. (Thanks Lauren DiPrima and Linda Gomes for this gift):
- Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, all you can do is marvel at the other-wordly landscapes created by limestone outcrops.
- Kayaking in the rain – this was a lot of fun, but we realized how polluted the water was. So sad given how beautiful the scenery was. Tours and local folks pick garbage from the water to help remedy the situation. IF you go in the water – in whatever capacity – throw out your clothes or get them laundered quickly. I hand washed our bathing suits because they stunk to high heaven after. We then laundered them at the hotel.
- Met a fantastic Australian couple, Rosina and Mark. Enjoyed stories, copious amounts of wine/beer, and delicious Vietnamese food during the excursion.
- Cooking a Vietnamese Meal – Mark, Rosina, Keith and my spring rolls. Yes, they were scrumptious.
- Ti Top Island: The island was named after Russian cosmonaut Gherman Stepanovich Titov, a hero of the former Soviet Union, to mark the historic visit of President Ho Chi Minh and G. Titov on November 22nd 1962.
- Illuminated Caves in Halong Bay
- How many drinks on the Witek Room? We were at the top of the list with consumption (typical). Rosina and I closed it down lasting till 1am respectively and waking up our crew for ‘one more glass of wine’.
Vietnam in summary: Bruce Starr – everything you said was true. There was a rare sense of gracious charm and timelessness that blended cultural heritage in perfect harmony with growing modernization. Vietnam left its mark on me.
Our Adventure for 2016 was Asia Part 2: Mainland China (Beijing & Xi’an), Vietnam (Hanoi & Halong Bay), Thailand (Bangkok) and Hong Kong. Friends and family members have asked how it was and I thought it would be easiest to write a recap/guide on #3QT in 4 digestible pieces. Here’s Post #1 – Enjoy and #stayinspired
- US (or your country passport)
- Chinese Visa: Go to your nearest Chinese Consulate and apply. http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/visas/hrsq/
- Vietnam Visa: Work with this company govietnamvisa.com– it’s super easy and you get it on arrival. Pay for the VIP service. It takes 10 minutes in airport. They can also arrange transport to your hotel, which I highly recommend. (Shout out to Trish Mannion for this reco.)
- Electrical Adaptors: Although most hotels provide and have multiple sockets in room, bring your own just in case.
- Country Currency: Know the conversions and exchange in airport or hotel http://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/
China’s capital is home to many fascinating sites. For me, it remains largely mysterious and dizzying. It’s a spellbound labyrinth with a mix of modern, medieval and magic.
- Currency: Yuan
- Tipping: Not necessary, but 10% appreciated
- Respect the Food:
- Must have: Peking Duck, Dumplings, Hot Pots, Maotai Beverage (aka: Chinese Fire Water – shout out to Terry Chang for introducing us to this herbaceous beverage at the Golden Cicada)
- Manners: Slurp your soup (Mel Mao, you weren’t joking about this!)
- Always bring bottled water for hydration.
- Toilets: Most places have squat toilets – be prepared and bring wet wipes (I was not a fan of this).
- Basic Language:
- Hello: Ni hao
- Good Bye: Zàijiàn
- Please / Thank You: Qing / Xièxiè
- Yes/No: Shi / Méiyǒu
- I don’t speak Chinese: Wǒ bù huì shuō zhōngguó huà
- Where is the bathroom: Xǐshǒujiān zài nǎlǐ
- Please take me here: Qǐng dài wǒ zài zhèlǐ
- Certain sites are blocked and wi/fi can be fuzzy.
- Grand Hyatt Beijing at Oriental Plaza: https://beijing.grand.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html
- The hotel is situated near main attractions (read: you can walk) and is located in the prime business and shopping district, at the crossroads of Chang An Avenue and Wangfujing. The gym is beautiful and the resort style indoor pool feels a bit like Vegas. The concierge team was incredibly helpful and knowledgable.
- Baoyuan Jiaozi Wu: Cheap Delicious Dumplings
- Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant (http://www.dadongdadong.com) and Made in China (in Grand Hyatt): Best Peking Duck
- Da Zhai Men: Imperial Court & Show
- Made in China (in Grand Hyatt): The Peking Duck, Beggar’s Chicken and Beef & Chive pancakes were outstanding. Specializes in Northern Chinese dishes.
- Noble Court (in Grand Hyatt): Traditional Cantonese Cuisine. They have donkey meat! We enjoyed the honey-roasted barbecue pork and gong bao chicken – a spicy staple with peanuts, ginger, garlic and chiles.
- Wangfujing Street: Every food imaginable from live scorpions to meat to fruit.
- RedMoon (in Grand Hyatt): The staff – Jackie, Vivian, Cindy and Vincent – are brilliant. Thoughtful, on point and knowledgeable in wine and spirits, this is a great spot for sushi bites and to end an evening. We ordered a few glasses of champagne 🙂
- Too Boom Bar: There are mainly restaurants where you order your beverages, so when we stumbled upon Too Boom Bar, we decided to give it a try. Jerry, our bartender, was fantastic. We got such a kick out of the menu, Mexico Corn Flakes = Chips and Salsa. The bar also carried a beer, Royal Dutch, that was 16% proof and had quite the effect on Keith.
Must See / Excursions:
- Great Wall (Mutianyu section): The Grand Hyatt concierge made private tour arrangements for us using Gray Line Tours (http://www.grayline.com). Jessica was our guide / Mr. Lee was our driver. Both were truly outstanding, friendly and knowledgeable in every way.
- The Great Wall snakes through the countryside over deserts, hills, plains and goes on for thousands of miles. It was mesmerizing and one of the most magnificent man-made structures I’ve ever seen. Built as a defensive fortification, it could not prevent the ‘barbarians’ from entering China. The wall was multi-functional and enabled speedy communications via smoke, flares, drums, bells as well as allowing for the transport of troops across the country. It goes on forever and no words or pictures could ever do it justice.
- Tea (Mel and Swan, I went tea CRAZY): We enjoyed a lovely tea ceremony. I couldn’t get enough and fell in love with Pu’er Tea. It is made from the leaves and stems of the Camellia sinensis plant. Pu’er tea is post-fermented, which means it includes both fermentation and then prolonged aging under high humidity. It is used as medicine supposedly improving mental alertness, sharp thinking and reducing high cholesterol. I’ll take any help I can get!
- Tian’an Men Square (Square of the Gate of Heavenly Peace)
- Mao’s Mausoleum: Flanked by revolutionary statues, the building contains the embalmed body of Mao.
- Xi’an (the Ancient Capital): We were a bit aggressive and planned a one-day trip with Beijing Variarts Tours (http://www.variarts.com).I must call out Michael, our transport guide. He had so much knowledge of the country/history and was such a pleasure to spend time with. We flew from Beijing to Xi’an at 5:30am and returned at 11pm same day. It was the longest and hottest day of our life. (99 degrees with 90% humidity) Oh, and you could imagine how those squat toilets smelled. I almost died. It was a low moment.
This was our Xi’an Experience…
- We saw our future child in the airport – recognize some of those facial expressions? Obviously he likes to eat.
- Xi’an City Wall
- Great Goose Pagoda: Originally built to house Buddhist scriptures and included the novel, Journey to the West.
- Ate Dumplings – Xi’an lived up to its rep for this!
- Muslim Quarters
- Terracotta Warriors: Hundreds of life size figures still standing more than two millennia after their burial in the tomb of China’s first emperor. There are 3 Pits that have been uncovered. It was hotter in the pit than it was outside. Holy Hell. As Keith exclaimed, ‘The emperor built the warriors on the surface of the sun!’ It was worth it though. They are absolutely magnificent to see. I must call out Mr. Li, our guide. He warned us of the heat and pulled out his umbrella at the beginning of the day. We learned very quickly how bloody hot China could be. Mr. Li was a trooper taking us all over for an entire day and not complaining once – unlike me.
- Forbidden City
- This is China’s most magnificent architectural complex. It housed 24 emperors over 500 years. The palace was the exclusive domain of the imperial court and dignitaries until the abdication in 1912.
- You need a passport to go inside and it goes on forever. (Mark Izatt, you weren’t kidding when you informed us of that!) You could spend a day here and still not see everything. We learned that every detail has an intention and if you look at dragon statues, one usually holds a ball (the world = male) and one holds a baby (offspring/life = female). The colors in the Forbidden City are Blue (Emperor), Green (Prince) and Red (wealth, honor, happiness). And the dragon and phoenix stand for the emperor and queen respectively.
- Temple of Heaven
- UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was here the emperor (son of heaven) would make sacrifices and pray to heaven for his ancestors at the winter solstice.
- We bring Rambo’s hair on all our trips and drop it off at all the memorable places. He made it to the temple!
- There is a Heavenly Center Stone – it symbolizes the 9 heavens. You are supposed to stand in the center, raise your voice and hope that it’s heard by the folk’s upstairs. I belt it out! Keith yelled ‘Go Knights’.
- Wangfujing Street
- Hosts fabric and shoe shops, major department stores, teahouses and a VERY energetic food scene.
- Bar Street: All types of bars from dives, to hookah, to dancing-gogo / live music. Watch out for the admission fees at the live music / dancing spots.
- For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of this awesome store. They had the quirkiest stuff and a gin bar that featured incredible cocktails with gin brands from all over the world. Love the upside-down McDonald’s M…I mean W for Witek…haha!
- Jade: We learned that the Beijing olympic medals included jade in the design and that the rock comes in various colors – not the typical green we often see. True to form, I bought a jade bracelet (lavender and will get more transparent with time), a dragon and the family ball /generation ball. The latter consists of 3 to 13 layers – one layer = one generation. Just like an extended family, it can bless people with happiness and reunion. There are 12 holes on each layer, symbolizing 12 months. The ball blesses a family with happiness, harmony and good luck in a year.
So that is the summary of our time in China – It was confusing, contradictory and left us at a loss for words. The country is obscured in mists of time and legend, and for that, we will never be the same.
I am still a work in progress on this. I want to find a healthy balance of helping others and keeping myself sane.
- Reduces low leverage activities – the ones that consumer resources and drive results slowly.
- You will invest your time in high leverage activities which gets results faster.
- Saying no to things that don’t matter for self/community/world will give us time to say yes to things we care about/will make a difference.
- Saying ‘no’ doesn’t have to be an actual ‘no’. It could be a ‘not now’ or ‘no, but instead…’
These are small steps that will make a big difference, free up your time and give you an empowering feeling that you are managing your time most efficiently.