Derek found an interesting cafe for us to check out today. It was a bit of a drive, but the atmosphere of the cafe was awesome! It had a Vespa theme, and the kids (and us!) were allowed to climb on the display bikes to take pictures. They had a few choices for smoothies and several choices for coffee and tea, but the atmosphere was totally worth it. They even had a fish pond in the middle of the restaurant.
It was a great afternoon as a family even though we got stuck at the cafe for quite a while due to a torrential rain storm. Such is life in Saigon!
Location: Hoa Mai 38, Ward 2, Phu Nhuan District , HCMC. HCM
Phone Number: 0908 549 262
One of my closest friends took the plunge and started teaching internationally this year. Robyn is working in Japan, but was sent to Bangkok for some professional development. Bangkok is a short, cheap flight from HCMC, so I booked a ticket to Thailand for the weekend just so we could go out to dinner. When you live so far away from "home," you will go pretty far for a sense of the familiar.
Flying to Thailand for one night seems a bit ridiculous, but I assure you that is was worth it. There is nothing quite like seeing an old friend to help you let go of all the stresses in life and just enjoy the moment. Seeing Robyn was a breath of fresh air during the time of the school year that tends to be most difficult for expat teachers. The new-school-year buzz has faded, the next holiday is still a month away, and it's a very long time until summer break. Sometimes, a couple days in Bangkok with a good friend is what one needs to stay positive.
I flew out of Saigon on Saturday around lunch time, the flight was supposed to be earlier, but it got delayed by over an hour. I was a little annoyed because I had such little time for exploring Bangkok, but there is no use in getting upset over things you cannot change. I flew with Vietjet which is a budget airline. I choose them because they had the cheapest flight and the best hours for what I wanted. I spent 1.8 million round trip, but I did not check luggage, order food, or select my seat.
We have been to enough new countries now, that Derek and I have a pretty set routine in what to do once a flight lands. After clearing customs and passport control, we always find a sim card kiosk to buy a data plan. I spent about $10 USD for unlimited data for a week. It was the shortest plan they offered, but we have found that it is much easier to navigate a new city with the internet in your pocket.
After I had the sim card, I located transportation. There is a train that runs from the airport all the way to downtown Bangkok for substantially cheaper than a taxi. I only had a backpack and no kids, so this was by far the best option. I had wanted to see the Grand Palace right away, but due to the late flight, that wasn't possible on Saturday afternoon because the Palace closes at 3:30. No worries, I had a back up plan. I went to Wat Pho, home of the giant, gold, resting Buddha instead. He was impressively large and shiny. I took a train and a tuk tuk to get there for a cost of about $10 USD.
I loved the buildings in Wat Pho. They looked like they were assembled using billions of pieces of broken dishes. They were so bright and colorful that I couldn't help but smile as I walked around the grounds. In addition to the colorful tiles, the trim of the buildings was also adorned with hundreds of shiny, mirrored tiles that reflected the sun and made the building sparkle.
At this point, it was time to head to Robyn's hotel to meet up for dinner. I hopped into another tuk tuk to take me to the train station and then took the train to the neighborhood the hotel was in. It the tuk tuk ride took a while due to traffic, but the train ride was quick and air conditioned. The hotel was a couple blocks up the street from the train station down a street clearly marketed towards expats and tourists.
It was so nice to see Robyn, and so good to talk to someone who knows me so well. We went to dinner (at a Mexican restaurant), wandered around a night market, got Thai foot massages, and then went to a wine bar. It was an absolutely wonderful evening.
After we said our goodbyes on Sunday morning, I decided to attempt the Grand Palace again, and I am so glad I did. The grounds were amazing and the palace was lovely.
I absolutely loved how shiny everything was. So much gold and so many colors! I had fun wandering around, avoiding massive tour groups. I got to see the emerald Buddha, but pictures are not allowed within the pagoda. You'll have to excuse the extreme number of selfies, but there was really no other way to get those pictures!
After I finished at the palace, I took a tuk tuk back to the closest train station. There happened to be an art museum there, and since I still had about an hour before I had to goto the airport, I spent my time perusing some Thai art. I was especially fond of the photography exhibit. It was a Sunday morning, so it was nice and quiet in the museum. The last art museum I went to was the one in Saigon, so it was very refreshing to see art treated properly.
I then took the train back to the airport. The transit system was efficient and easy to use. At the airport, I had a pretzel from an Aunt Annie's shop just because it was there, and I can't get that sort of thing in HCMC.
Bangkok was fun, and I will definitely go back. There is SO much to do there! Next time, though, I'll bring my guys. Traveling just isn't the same without my family.
September 2nd is the Vietnamese National Holiday, so we got to enjoy a lovely four-day weekend. I'm lucky that the long weekend also coincides with my birthday, so for two years now, I've been fortunate enough to be on vacation for my birthday. We choose to head to Dalat, Vietnam this year for some fresh, cool air and lots of fresh produce. We ended up doing a lot of touristy things in the kid-friendly town, and even though it rained nearly the entire time we were there, we had a very nice time. We did everything from trains to waterfall roller-coasters to swan boat rides to weasel coffee to the Crazy House to the Valley of Love to a very busy market. Click the links to read more!