Kadisha Grotto, Lebanon

Qadisha Grotto

~B~

The taxi driver who found us on our walk to the Cedars of God offered to take us to our next destination: Qadisha Grotto.

Kadisha Grotto Switchbacks

Due to construction, our driver was not able to get very far so we decided to walk down the mountain ourselves (it’s not terribly far and this was my preference anyway).

Briana Overlooking Bcharre

While it was hot, it was downhill and the we had a constant view down into Qadisha Valley.

Picture Comparison Kadisha Valley
Kyle and Briana On The Way To Kadisha
Kadisha Grotto Thistle

After a little bit we rounded a corner and saw signs pointing in the direction of the caves.

Hotel By Kadisha Grotto Path Entrance

We followed them and found ourselves walking cliffside among lots of yellow flowers.

Kadisha Path Overlook
Kadisha Grotto Cliff PathMore Kadisha Grotto Flowers
Kadisha Grotto Flowers

When we reached a gate going into a cave, we thought we had made it, but not quite. The entrance to this area was filled with noisy flies so we ran through. We exited, walked further, and found another little cave to walk through. Then, we walked through a more man-made tunnel.

Entrance To Tunnel Towards Kadisha
Kadisha Grotto
Kadisha Tunnel
Briana On The Way To Kadisha Grotto

Eventually, we came to what appeared to be the Qadisha Grotto. The water here serves many of the nearby villages and also produces electricity for Tripoli City. It looked like there was a small restaurant just outside of the caves, but we couldn’t tell if it was operating. A man asked us for our tickets. We didn’t have any so we bought them. He told us they cost 10,000LBP/person even though we read that they cost 5,000 online. His English wasn’t good, and I wasn’t positive if that was what I had read so we didn’t feel like trying to negotiate. We also didn’t want to turn around at that point so we decided to pay the 20,000LBP ($13.20). He asked us if we had a light (we forgot one, but Kyle had a flashlight app on his phone) because the electricity (to the lamps/lights which guide/show you) sometimes would go out.

Kadisha Grotto Waterfall
Flowing Water
Water Treatment Kadisha Grotto

I have always liked caves: the smell, the chill (sweet relief in summer), the dampness. One of my favorite park attractions: Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney has it down and it always made me want to live in a cave.

Inside Cave
Briana Inside Kadisha Grotto
Inside Cave
Kyle Inside Kadisha Grotto
Kadisha Grotto StalagtiteKyle Inside Kadisha Grotto

We made our way through and were able to explore it pretty much by ourselves. I believe we passed one other couple who was exiting as we were making our way inward, but that was it.

Stairs in cave
Kyle in the Cave
Kadisha Grotto
Red Room Kadisha Grotto

We admired the limestone formations in the cave and took our time. I think it was all a bit more dazzling (and sparkly!) in person. While we enjoyed our tour at the Natural Bridge Caverns in Texas, it was also nice to explore independently and at our own pace.

More Rock Formations Kadisha Grotto
Rock Formations Kadisha Grotto
Kadisha Cave Walk
Walking in Cave

We had a nice (long) walk down, as well.

Mountain on the way down

We had read that the Jeita Grotto outside of Beirut is far more grand but unfortunately we were not in Lebanon long enough to venture there as well.

Info:
Hours: The caves are closed from mid-December to mid-May. The rest of the time it’s open from 9:30am until sunset (though I’ve read the hours can be a little irregular).
Cost: It’s supposed to be 5,000 LBP/person (but they may try to charge you more). It’s also supposed to be cheaper for children.
How to get there: Follow signs to L’Aiglon Hotel (or look up its location on GoogleMaps and find it) and you will see signs directing you to the grotto from there (about 1.5km away).

Ha Long Table Spread

Vietnamese Food

~K~

Vietnamese Food

During our time in Vietnam, we traveled through Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Cat Ba. We got to try a pretty wide array of the local cuisine, and while the list of indigenous foods is far more extensive than what we got to try, we found that we did get a nice sample of the cuisine.

Pho (Bo, Ga, Thit)

Pho

Probably one of the most famous of Vietnamese dishes, this is a noodle soup consisting of a thin yet flavorful, clear beef broth, noodles, meat, and herbs. It comes in several different styles: Pho Bo (beef), Pho Ga (chicken), Pho Thit (pork) and you can even find it with seafood and duck. There are many more varieties within those sets: such as Bo Vien (meatballs) and different cuts of meat. There are subtle, yet distinct differences between northern and southern style pho – the north is simpler (due to a poorer history) in it’s make. The south tends to have spicier pho, and offer a much larger offering of various herbs and spices to load into the bowl as well as including bean sprouts and lime.

Bun Bo Nam Bo (Ga)

Bun Ga Nam Ga

This dish I found in Hanoi from a place advertising itself as Pho Ga. But what came out was Bun Ga Nam Ga (chicken). Bun Bo Nam Bo (Beef) is delicious and reminiscent of Pho, but without the broth. instead, marinated meat is served atop white rice noodles with herbs and peanuts. A small amount of sauce similar to a spicy sweet and sour is found at the bottom to mix it all with. My dish also came with a side of broth.

Bun Bo Hue

Bun Bo Hue

Yet another soup, this time hailing from the Hue region in northern Vietnam. At first appearance, it will bear striking resemblance to southern style Pho – lots of herbs, spicy, and served with a slice of lime. But the real difference here comes from the broth and choice of meat. This is a pork based soup, and as such you’ll find pork loin, and pork knuckle in the bowl, though they often will include a few slices of beef as well. The big kicker here though, is the pork blood added to the soup that gives a very strong and greasy flavor. The taste is very good, but I found that afterwards I would always have a bloody aftertaste which I felt the need to rid my mouth of. Some will elect to skip the blood, but more often than not, it’s included.

Bun Cha

Bun Cha

This dish hails from Hanoi, but has spread far and wide among the country with regional variants. The dish is grilled pork meat, noodles, and herbs. It is served with dipping sauce on the side. In the south, particularly around Saigon, you’ll find it all mixed together in a soup similar to Bun Bo Hue. However, the cuts of meat are always grilled, and always fatty. In contrast to many other dishes you’ll find in Vietnam, it is not spicy at all – I found it rather sweet and savory.

Banh Mi

Banh Mi Chay

Next to Pho, this dish is also very famous the world-over. French baguettes became a norm in Vietnam during France’s extended colonial occupation of the country. While the French inevitably left, the food influence stayed and so the Banh Mi developed. A mini-baguette is stuffed with a variety of meat (typically sliced pork), pickled vegetables, and cilantro then given a once over with chili sauce. It makes for a great sandwich and you can find vendors pedaling them in every city and town on street corners – many cafes will also offer them. Since they’re made on the spot, it’s also easy to get a custom Banh Mi to your taste, so vegetarians will be pleased to find it easy to get one to their tastes.

Thien Nuoc Mam

Thien Nuoc Mam

I had no idea what I was ordering when I got this, but what came out was quite recognizable. Fried chicken wings. These aren’t your standard buffalo wings, but they are very similar. First chargrilled, then given a quick fry, they come out quite juicy, but with a slight crunch. The sauce I had was light, and very reminiscent of a BBQ sauce. It came served on top of sautéed vegetables and cucumbers.

Mi Xao Gion

Mi Xao Gion

I was so hungry I forgot to take a picture of the food while it was actually on the plate, but I did get a picture of the menu which has a pretty accurate representation of it.

Another simple, yet delicious noodle dish. Lo Mien noodles are fried to a crisp and then topped with sautéed vegetables, and various cuts of meat, swimming in a mushroom gravy. The gravy softens the crispy noodles, but still leaves a noticeable crunch. The meat can vary by the place, but mine came with fish balls, beef shank, beef liver, pork loin, and octopus.

Suon Xao Chua Not

My phone ran out of battery so I couldn’t take a picture, however you can refer to the menu picture above for the Mi Xao Gion.

This dish reminds me of Chinese food. It’s sweet and sour pork ribs. Sometimes it may be served over rice, other times noodles – but the core stays the same. Meaty and fatty pork ribs are pan fried then glazed with sweet and sour sauce and sautéed vegetables. Mine was served over fried rice and it was quite good. My only issue was attempting to eat the giant hunks of meat and ver much not-sticky rice with chopsticks.

Bun Bao

Bun Bao 2

These are stuffed steam buns. At first glance, they look rather plain and even unappealing. They’re a dull-white dough, with a quirky little twist on top. But inside they’re stuff with one or two hard-boiled quail eggs and sausage. The bun itself is moist and chewy with a mildly sweet taste, while the sausage has a pungent spice that compliments the eggs nicely.

Bun Thang

Bun Thang

This light soup hails from Hanoi, and has a distinct taste all its own. While it uses the same noodles as Bun Bo Hue, that is where the similarities end. This is considered a finicky dish, as it’s preparation is very exact: 6 month old chicken having laid eggs for only 1 week; evenly cut herbs of cilantro, green onion, and onion all laid underneath the noodles; scrambled eggs fried crispy then cut into noodles. Tofu and mushroom are added to the top. The bowl is then filled with a light chicken broth and topped further with scallions, red onions, cilantro, Vietnamese Coriander, shallots, thai chili, shrimp paste, and ca cuong (beetle juice). The dish is very good, and makes for a decent departure from pho.

Vietnamese Fried Fish

CatBa_Fried_Fish
While in Cat Ba, I tried out a little bit of seafood. One of the first things I got was fried fish. The fish on Cat Ba is quite good (though I have no idea what kind it is). The method of cooking is pretty simple, the whole fish is tossed in a pan and fried in butter and garlic. Eating off the bone is easier than I would have thought, and the skin turns into a nice crisp with a delicious flavor all its own.

Squid Salad

Squid Salad
Another dish I got on Cat Ba, the squid salad was not exactly what I was expecting – not that that was bad. It came as a little bit of vermicelli noodle, pickled carrot, and cooked (but cool) squid, on top of fried rice puffs. The dish was lighter than I was hoping for, but was delicious nonetheless.

Bun Nem Chay

Nem Ran Chay 1

This is a vegetarian dish that we got a from a Buddhist restaurant serving only vegetarian dishes. It’s rice noodles served atop a mixed salad of herbs and cucumber, and topped with vegetarian fried spring rolls. The spring rolls have a nice spice to them of cinnamon, clove, and anise, filled with mushroom. A light sweet and sour sauce compliments the noodles and salad along with a topping of peanuts. It’s a light, refreshing, and filling meal. Great for a hot day when you might want something cooler than hot soup.

Bun Rieu Chay

Bun Reiu Chay 2

This is a vegetarian styled dish based on meat rice vermicelli soup. This did not have meat, instead having fried tofu. This version is very different from the original, but does its best to keep with the inspiration. This soup has a tomato broth, and is filled with various vegetables and tofu. The non-vegetarian version contains crab and pig-blood. Regardless of the variety you try, it is very nutrient rich.

Bun Chuoi Dau

Bun Chuoi Dau

Yet another vegetarian dish we got – this was also a soup. This dish is a heavy, clear broth, filled with vegetables, noodles, and fried tofu. One of the highlights to this dish I found was the green banana. I’m not typically a banana fan (I actually hate them with a vengeance), but I found the green bananas to be a great addition, taking the place a potato normally would in a french style stew. This dish is very hearty, with a mildly sweet taste to it. I found myself ordering this multiple times.

Nem Ran (Chay)

Nem Ran Chay 4

These Vietnamese style spring rolls. Longer and thinner than the typical Chinese style spring rolls we’re used to, they are stuffed with pork, glass noodles, and vegetables and then deep fried to a golden crisp. Vegetarian (chay) versions skip the pork and will instead use tofu or mushroom as a filler. We got these while at a wonderful vegan restaurant in Cat Ba.

Pineapple Fried Rice

Pineapple Fried Rice

Briana got this while at Hum Vegetarian in Ho Chi Minh. Because of this, it was vegetarian (obviously). The key to this dish, which seems pretty ordinary and can be found pretty much everywhere is that it is served inside a hallowed out pineapple. Tiny bits of pineapple and peanuts are fried up alongside the rice (and meat if you choose that option) to create a sweet yet savory dish.

Bakery and Deli in Lebanon

Wooden Bakery (Beirut)

~B~

Upon our arrival to our Airbnb in Beirut, our host introduced us to his father and sister, and offered us watermelon and coffee. When he took us inside of our little studio nearby he showed us that he had stocked the fridge with bread/pita, cheese, beer, juice, and pastries. Needless to say, we didn’t need to head out immediately for food.

Fridge

We didn’t want to be so selfish to eat everything he left us, though, and later that evening we decided we might also like to try some Lebanese food out. We decided on a restaurant, Kyle checked out the map, and we headed down the road. Kyle was confused about our orientation in relation to the map so we went the wrong way and didn’t come across the restaurant. What we did come across, though, was the Wooden Bakery.

I thought we should check it out so we went inside. It was a bakery, deli, small/sort of upscale convenience store in one.

Meats and CheesesCakes BakeryCake Options

Kyle still wanted to look further for the restaurant but I said “Why? What we were planning to order at the restaurant is here!” Or some of it was, anyway. We would also be getting more food for our money than we would at a restaurant and could continue to snack so we grabbed a large container of hummus and a container of Labneh (Greek Yogurt/Lebanese Cream Cheese/Strained yogurt). Together, the price was 8,000 LBP, or a little over five dollars.

Both were so good! I could not stop eating the yoghurt (with the pita). I don’t think I had had yoghurt in a few months, Greek yoghurt (labneh, whatever) for even longer, and this was probably some of the best plain yoghurt I’d ever had. Kyle was downing it too so it probably had something we needed nutritionally as well. Pretty simple dinner, but good.

Hummus and Labneh

The walk there and back was pleasant as well.

Church

We returned again (it may have been that night) to grab a muffin as well.

Chocolate chip muffin

On our last night, we took advantage of an additional feature of the shop- the restaurant. It wasn’t really a restaurant, but you could order fresh/hot food from the people behind the bakery displays. Only one of them spoke English but they provided us with a menu. You can find their menu here. I would have been satisfied with just eating more of what we had at the apartment but Kyle convinced me to get a sandwich. Kyle ordered the Chicken Tawouk (description: skewers of marinated grilled chicken breast, garlic mayo, pickles, and fries in a pita/wrap) and I ordered the cheesy sandwich (description: special cheese mix, bell peppers, tomatoes, rocca, on bread. Aside from hot and cold sandwiches and wraps, you can get pizza, salad, side orders, and more. We took our sandwiches home and enjoyed.

Wrapped Sandwich OptionsSandwich
My SandwichKyle's wrap

I was so tempted to try their eclairs but decided to get two muffins. One for my dessert, and one for our host (I felt bad about eating the food they left us).

Muffins

Briana On A Bike In Siem Reap Cambodia

Siem Reap Cambodia

~K~

Siem Reap was our destination for Cambodia. The primary reason, as it is for most people, is the famed Angkor Wat. Just as the Angkor complex is much larger and grand than one first perceives, so is Siem Reap much more complex with a vibrant history and story all its own.

Angkor Wat and Monk

We spent two weeks cycling our way up and down the dusty red streets of Charles Du Gaul Avenue and exploring the Central Market district. What we found was a sleepy little town, with fantastic food, enchanting sights, and timeless relics. Aside from Angkor, we also visited the somber Wat Thmei and central Wat Preah Prom Rath.

Khmer Red Curry Siem Reap
Wat Thmei

Siem Reap is situated just north of Tonle Sap Lake in the north western part of Cambodia. It’s easy to access via plane or bus. We arrived via a surprisingly comfortable and smooth bus ride from Bangkok, Thailand. It is also fairly easy to proceed on to Phnom Penh as well if one is wanting to see more of the country.

Cat in Siem Reap

We did find the tuk tuk drivers to be fairly annoying and rude, and some of the people were a little disgruntled – but it can be forgiven (or at least understood) considering the economic toil, emotional anguish, and general hardship the people have dealt with since the Khmer Rouge. It also certainly did not help that we visited in the midst of a horrible drought with temperatures reaching 105F most days. We managed to avoid the tuk tuks and enjoy our way around town on bicycles that we rented from the White Bikes, which is a great way to see the city.

Siem Reap Tuk Tuk

The name “Siem Reap” means “Defeat of Siam” in Khmer, and originates from 1549 when the Khmer king defeated an invading Thai army. The city experienced a colorful history involving wars with the Kingdoms of Siam, Chiang Mai, and Burma much too detailed to go into here. The city had become little more than a tiny French colonial village by the 19th century with Angkor all forgotten. It was rediscovered by French archaeologists and renovation and tourism was soon begun.

Art at Angkor
Cow at Siem Reap

Angkor has now become the primary draw to the city with over 50% of all economic activity in the area related to tourism. There are multiple museums that can be visited as well exhibitions of traditional industry and culture.

We enjoyed our time in Siem Reap under it’s red glaring sun.

Sunset at Angkor Wat

Griya Harja Homestay Yogyakarta Java Indonesia

Griya Harja Homestay Yogyakarta

~K~

We had elected to begin our stay in Yogyakarta in the outskirts of the city near Borobodur. This area was far outside of the central city, and could really only be described as rural country. Upon arrival to the airport, we were picked up by a “friend” of our host who doubled as a taxi. The ride was about 2 1/2 hours from the airport and cost 250,000 IDR (~$19.00) which really is a pretty good price. Luckily, he took us to an ATM along the way.

We arrived at night, so we really weren’t able to get a good look at the place until the next morning. When we walked in, we were greeted by the host and his friends and family and given fresh tea and cassava chips (very similar to potato chips). We talked for a few minutes, and then we ordered dinner from them which they got from town. We got Gado Gado, which was pretty good – tofu and vegetables with rice puffs and a sweet peanut sauce.

Islamic Hanging

While we were waiting for dinner to arrive, we checked out the room. It was a little “rustic” for us, and Briana was quite upset at the fact that there was no mirror or sink in the bathroom – but we made do. It ultimately didn’t turn into a big deal, since I could work out in the main living room. The bed was ok, it sank a little, but not dramatically and although there were bugs around, the mosquitos weren’t all that bad.

Yogya Bedroom

Waking the next morning provided us with a great view of the area. The homestay (which we booked through AirBNB) was situated along a nice rural street near rice paddies with a clear view of Mt. Merapi (when not obscured by clouds) and Borobodur. A beautiful garden with a great porch was out front for us to enjoy the passing storms and roaming chickens.

Homestay Porch
Homestay Yard
Mt Merapi from Homestay

The home itself was divided into two parts: the guest area, which was made up of five rooms, some of which shared a bathroom (our’s had a private bath) and a large living room which contained two tables and some sort of general laying platform. The other part of the home was for the owners themselves, which we could access through a door, and in here we could use the kitchen. There were several other travelers who came through the homestay while we there, we only had light conversation with them however, and by the end of our stay we were the only ones left. One of the couples had actually recently broken up and were from Scotland and Amsterdam, but had already booked the trip and decided to just go anyways. Another couple was on their honeymoon,.

Yogya Homestay
Homestay Kitchen

Our host provided us free of charge the ability to use the motorbikes and regular bikes which was quite nice. On the first day, we used it to go into town and visit the local market. We had up to this point avoided the local markets, because we hate haggling and dealing with the language barriers. However, we had no choice here so we gave it a shot, and it went quite well. We simply went vendor to vendor buying individual items, fruits, and vegetables, until we had enough to last us the week.  Even if we were getting ripped off (I don’t think we were), the price was great so we really couldn’t complain. I can’t remember specifically what we paid, but it came out to something like $6.

Bikes
Briana Riding in the Rain

We used the bikes throughout our stay to visit Borobodur, the Camera House, the Pottery Village, Menorah Hill, and go to a few restaurants.

Our hosts were also quite nice and were pleasant to talk to about the region. They did inform, and apologize for the weather – it was very rainy during our stay, and generally it did not rain at this time of year, but climate change was throwing things out of whack. Not that it was a big deal to us, we enjoyed the frequent showers. They also provided us with a complimentary breakfast every morning, which came out to fruit, and chocolate toast. We could have got fried noodles but we just don’t want that for breakfast (though I did just once). As well, we could get tea or coffee at any time.

Yogya Breakfast

Unfortunately for me, it was not an ideal time to climb the volcano, which I really wanted to do – but we found out as well that it was a little outside of our budget. Just another reason (among many) to come back. But we still enjoyed the sights.

Despite the initial shock, it was a wonderful stay and we definitely would recommend a stay at Griya Harja homestay.

Working in Yogya
View of the Countryside
Homestay Garden
View of the Countryside

Clothes from traveling

Wardrobe Additions: Things I’ve Picked up While Traveling

~B~

I like clothes. Studies show that you get more satisfaction and happiness from spending your money on experiences rather than things (and I think we’re definitely on track there), but I would like to argue that clothes can also be an experience. When I get a new item of clothing, there is the experience of shopping for it or receiving it which is exciting, and then there is the experience of wearing it. There are some items that I feel pretty happy every time I wear them and new items are also generally always exciting to wear.

Anyway, living out of a backpack has been a little difficult for me, though at the same time, maybe not as difficult as I anticipated. For the most part, when I packed for Korea (we didn’t know exactly what we’d be doing afterwards), I chose items that I enjoyed wearing, which I thought would be versatile, but also that were not soo special that I could not bear to lose them. I could not bring too much because well, not much fit! Because we started off our journey in Korea and would be there for the winter, we had to pack winter clothes which meant I did not have a ton of room in my pack for summer clothes (except, primarily, ones that I could layer). We sent home a few small boxes of things (including a large coat, winter face masks, etc.) when we were in Korea which freed up some space in our packs. We have also dropped a few things along the way including both clothing items such as very worn socks and some non-clothing items.

When we arrived in Kuala Lumpur (the first time) we realized that Kyle literally had over ten times the amount of summer clothes as me! Not only that, but my clothes are a fraction of the size of his clothes- all of my summer shirts combined still took up less room than just one of his t-shirts. Anyway, we decided I could get a little bit more clothes. They’re kind of like souvenirs, anyway! I hesitated on every single purchase because 1) these things take up room and 2) they cost money but Kyle always says he will make them fit and that I should get things. In the past 9 months I have picked up 10 items: 2 dresses, 1 shirt, 1 pair of shorts, 1 pair of pants, 1 pair of sweatpants, 1 pair of sunglasses, a pair of flip flops, a scarf, and a pair of sunglasses. That’s about 1 item per month. Two of these items were replacement items. The total for all of it is $50. I normally do not buy clothes but I needed/wanted certain items which I could not initially fit. It was important that the items were reasonably priced in the event that we found that we didn’t have the space. I still kind of feel like I mostly wear the same clothes everyday and miss my clothes back home and the ability to wear more variety but I guess it’s good there are less decisions to make in that department when I am constantly making so many others.

Now, I also should note that I was sent a few items when we were in Korea but I’m not counting them because we did not pick them up in other countries or purchase them ourselves. Here are the 10 items in sequential order:

1. Neck Scarf Thing

Neckscarf

Found in: On the metro up to Bukhansan National Park in Korea (October)
Cost: free
About: This one might be cheating. We were on the subway when this nice older man just decided to give us (each) a neck scarf thing (along with food and his seat). I will have to write more about Korean gift culture in another post. Mine has people skiing on it. It takes up very little space. Usually I stick it inside one of my shoes.
See it in Action: Kyle wore his quite a bit more than me. These pictures are us out in Korea on cold days.

Kylewithhisscarf

2. Sweatpants

Sweatpants

Found in: I believe I found this at the Homeplus closest to Songtan but it could have been Emart (November)
Cost: 15,000 won ($13.17) (Most expensive item)
About: Now, we work from home so we are able to lounge around the house. Because of winter in Korea, we had to bundle up a little. Jeans are just not really comfortable when you are sitting cross-legged, etc. and while I would occasionally wear my pajama pants around the house, it just didn’t seem right or good habit to do this too often. I would also obviously wear leggings or tights/skirts, etc. but what I really wanted (and which I had debated bringing dang it!) to wear inside sometimes was a decent pair of soft sweat pants. I kept my eye out for a pair for a while and tried on a few pairs before I eventually decided on these. The inside is soft, they reach the bottom of my leg, and they have pockets!
See it in Action: Me chilling with a beer in the kitchen which makes me look like a giant because it’s Korea.

Me in Sweatpants

3. Soft Floral Socks

Floral socks

Found in: A shop on the road leading away from Osan Air Force Base in Korea (December)
Cost: Kyle says $2
About: This was a birthday present from Kyle (aside from us getting more film/getting film developed and an outing of my choosing). Doesn’t take up too much space.
See it in Action: Not pictured. I realize I don’t have that many full body pictures of myself, at least lounging around or whatever. I do like to wear socks inside, especially when it is cold, though.

4. Elephant Pants

ElephantPants

Found in: Central Market in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (January)
Cost: $5
About: I can’t believe I strongly debated getting these! Especially considering this was the best deal I found on these sort of pants. I had almost brought my most similar pants but I was trying to pack lightly. Anyway, they are great for SE Asia because they are light, yet cover your legs/knees (for places that require such). Yes, they definitely mark you as a tourist but so what! There’s a reason these things are popular!
See it in Action: Temple near Angkor Wat (on film).

Me in Angkor with Pants

5. Floral Dress

Floraldress
Moredress

Found in: Mall in Bangkok, Thailand (I think Seacon Square, but could be wrong) (March)
Cost: 100baht ($2.86)
About: I found this piece off a rack in the mall. It was not in a specific store but rather in a sort of pseudo-store made up of racks inside the mall (not super classy, but nicer than it sounds). The person who owns/was manning the clothing did not bother me and in fact even moved away and did not watch while I looked so I was able to take my time. When someone in a store tries to talk to me, I instantly become about a hundred times less likely to buy so this was a good approach. There were lots of options, but I tried to find something that would meet my budget (I had set a limit for myself of 200 baht, or $5.72), was cute, and would be good to wear in the hot weather. I was not able to try on the items so I wanted to be pretty sure it would fit and hang nicely as well. I thought the design and sleeves of this dress were fun. When I went to buy it I found that it was actually on sell too! If I had known, I might have chosen a second piece. It turns out this dress is very short on me but I’m used to that so it’s all good. I wear my little lace shorties underneath.
See it in action: In front of a mall in Bangkok.

Mall in Bangkok Dress

6. Crop Top

Crop Top

Found in: Mall in Bangkok, Thailand (same mall as the floral dress) (March)
Cost: 200baht ($5.72)
About: I bought the floral dress first but what I really needed (and thank goodness Kyle convinced me) was another summer shirt. I strolled through stalls and took quite some time to decide. I didn’t have the option to try this one on either but thought it would be okay. I have worn it a lot.
See it in Action: Hello Kitty House in Bangkok

At HK house

7. Flip Flops (ignore the bug bites)

Flip Flops

Found in: The Lucky Supermarket in Siem Reap, Cambodia (April)
Cost: $2.65 (they use dollars in Cambodia, or at least in Siem Reap)
About: I was starting to develop some very distinct tan lines on my feet from primarily wearing my moccasins. I also wanted to let my feet breathe a little so I had my eye out for a cheap pair of comfortable flip flops for a couple months. The first time we visited this particular supermarket and I checked out the flip flops, they didn’t have my size. The second time I tried this pair on and they seemed to work just fine. They are actually quite comfortable but I haven’t been able to wear them much because I haven’t been able to break them in- though I plan to give it a go now as it is more possible. Previously, anytime we’d go anywhere, we would be walking long distances and I would end up with pretty bad blisters between my toes but now we have the ability to do short walks so I can get my toes re-adjusted.
See it in Action: On the ground somewhere in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Flipflops

8. Item: Jean shorts

Jean Shorts

Found in: A store in the mall Farenheit 88 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (May)
Cost: 43rm ($10.86)
About: I really didn’t want to spend this much on a clothing item but SE Asia is so hot and I had only brought one pair of shorts. I actually had two but accidentally got a stain on one of them and couldn’t get it out and didn’t feel comfortable wearing them at that point. I did have skirts and dresses but needed a good pair of jean (or other neutral) shorts as my other pair was purple and floral. I have some at home, and thought about bringing them but, again, I was trying to pack light *sigh.* Anyway, I searched around for this a bit. I tried on a pair in one shop and wasn’t satisfied. I am lucky that that Asian one-size-fits-all (which is all they seemed to have) worked just fine for me. The shorts are actually a tiny bit big but I really like them.
See it in Action: At the top of Menoreh Hill on Java (Indonesia).

Yogya Menoreh Hill

9. Summer Dress

Summerdress

Found in: Yogyakarta, Indonesia (May)
Cost: 26,000 Indonesian Rupeah ($1.90) Is that a deal or what?
About: I initially saw this dress when we wandered down the wrong street (it was one over) trying to find a restaurant. The advertised prices was what really caught my attention. I thought the dress looked like a nice summer dress which might cover my knees (I have a skirt which does but it doesn’t hurt to have more). At the time, the place appeared to be closed and we were both pretty hungry. We decided to come back when we would eat nearby the next day. This time, the door was open but no one was around. Eventually, someone came and got the woman who owns the store. She informed me that the dresses were for nightwear but I figured I could wear it however I please, especially once we were in another country.
See it in Action: Weligama, Sri Lanka

In Weligama

10. Sunglasses

Sunglasses

Found in: Galle, Sri Lanka (June)
Cost: 900 ($6.15)
About: One day when we were riding (the motorbike) back to Weligama (Sri Lanka) my sunglasses flew away. They were on my shirt so I didn’t realize immediately, but did realize pretty soon afterwards. We backtracked multiple times trying to find them but eventually gave up. I was quite upset but the day had already been a bit stressful with us hitting a pig and things like that so I could hardly handle any more concerns. I had also already mourned the loss of my sunglasses recently when I thought I lost them in the Colombo train station on the way down (but hadn’t). So many things went wrong in June that I’m not even sure I included this among our lowlights in the roundup which is crazy. Anyway, I was convinced I would never find a good pair again but what do you know, first shop we go into in Galle and they fit perfectly. Now, the annoying thing about these sunglasses is that I cannot stick them on my head because they catch my hair and knot and pull it out but I like them, they’re comfortable, and they were a pretty good price.
See it in Action: In front of Paphos Castle (Cyprus)

Paphos

What items have you picked up while traveling?

Train Track Crossing in Weligama Sri Lanka

Taking The Train In Sri Lanka

~K~

When you arrive in Sri Lanka, there is almost a 100% chance that you’ve come in through Colombo. Colombo is the capitol of Sri Lanka, and considered the shopping hub of the country – however, you likely didn’t come for the shopping. You came for the sights.

Most likely you have one (if not all) of these places on your itinerary: Kandy, Ella, Anurahadapura, Galle, Mirissa, or Yala. The list goes on, with numerous visit-worthy sites. One thing you will discover though, is that everything is located away from the others – it’s a scattershot of the island. If you’ve got the money, you can certainly hire a private driver or rent a car. If you have the time, you can choose a spot as a home base and motorbike the majority of the island. If you’d like to risk death, you can take a bus. But most likely, you’re going to have to use the train.

Outside Colombo Fort Station

The train in Sri Lanka is not anywhere near as modern, easy, or comfortable as we’ve covered before in Seoul or Bangkok. In fact, you’ll pretty much be taken back to the turn of the (20th) century in terms of operations. If you want to use the bathroom, I’d suggest you just hold it.

Train Bathroom

We made two trips on the train during our stay. Our first trip we started at the tiny Ja-Ela station, which just happened to be near our AirBNB, which we took to Colombo Fort Station, and from Fort we went to Weligama.

Ja-Ela was a very tiny station, really just a platform with a ticket master. Our tickets cost 20 LKR (~$0.15) each. We had looked up online when to be at the station, which in this case was 10:30am, and the train arrived relatively on schedule. The trains do not run frequently, so it is important to know what time to make, otherwise you may be waiting several hours or even to the next day for the next train. Once the train arrived, we jumped onto the train and took a leisurely ride to Colombo Fort, which lasted roughly an hour. The train itself looked to be around a hundred years old. Wooden bench seats (they did have cushions though) were the only option and the train doors were simply open, air conditioning meant windows and small electric fans on the ceiling.

Ja Ela Station
Briana Looking Out Train Window

Arriving at Colombo Fort was chaos in stark contrast to sleepy Ja-Ela. Big, loud, and bustling, the numerous platforms had trains coming in and out seemingly at random. There were no announcements, you simply found out which train you were supposed to get on and go to the right platform at the right time. One rule to remember, is that while trains may run late – they NEVER run early, so do not get on a train if it’s not yet time, otherwise you’ll find yourself on the path to the wrong place.

Colombo Fort Station
Colombo Fort Station Schedule Board

Colombo Fort has a “Coat Closet”, or “Left Luggage” area near the main station master. It is watched by a guard on the first floor, and you put your stuff in a large locker on the second floor for 50 LKR (~$0.33) a day. It should hold whatever you’re carrying, and if you can’t fit it all in – you are carrying way too much stuff with you. They will provide you with a small lock, but if you’re planning on leaving your stuff there for more than a few hours, I’d recommend that you bring your own, sturdier padlock.

Cloak Room at Colombo Fort Station

We had two hours to kill before our train to Weligama arrived, so we just put our stuff up for the time and went and explored the area around the station. There isn’t a ton, but there are a few streets of shops and food to explore. There is also a small food vendor within the station that is alright – nothing special, but it will get the job done.

Colombo Fort Station Cafeteria
Outside Colombo Fort STation

Buying the longer express trains to places such as Weligama, or Kandy will run a bit more expensive. Buying our 2nd class tickets cost us 240 LKR (~$1.60) each, not much, but it is more. You must purchase them outside the station though and re-enter.

Sri Lanka Train Ticket

Once your train arrives, get on the train and search for a seat. You probably won’t find one. Despite paying for 2nd class, which is supposed to get you a seat in air conditioning, you’ll still probably stand. We eventually got to sit about 2 hours into our ride. Luckily you can stow your gear above the seats. If you do this though, be sure to keep your eyes on your luggage – people will steal your stuff. Upon arrival to Weligama, another couple discovered that literally all their belongings had been stolen: bags, phones, money, Passports and Visas.

Weligama Train Station

If you can though, grab a window seat and enjoy the scenery. The trip to Weligama follows the shore the whole way, so much of the time you have a nice ocean view. If you’re going to Kandy, the trip is considered beautiful enough that they have a special car just for viewing the landscape in the back.

Galle Station
Train Through Galle

Our second trip, was from Weligama back to Colombo Fort, and then supposed to continue on to Kurana station, which was near our AirBNB that would take us to the airport the next day. Purchasing and boarding at Weligama went smoothy, and we got 2nd class seats – and since it was a smaller station at the beginning of the line, we actually managed to sit. The train was delayed en route for reasons unknown to us, but we sat at Galle Station for at least a half hour before continuing on.

Kurana Station

Disembarkation at Colombo Fort was awful though. People rushed onto the train as we tried to get off. They were incredibly rude, shoving and pushing and very inconsiderate. I got pressed against a wall at one point, and once I managed to stumble off the train, I discovered my wallet was missing. I’d been pick-pocketed.

Again, I can’t reiterate enough that you need to be careful of your stuff on the trains in Sri Lanka. People will steal your stuff. That fiasco led to us not catching the train to Kurana, but I’ll not go into that here.

In any case, the trains in Sri Lanka are an adventure to themselves. Don’t be scared, but you should certainly be wary, and keep your guard up.

Small Sri Lankan Train Station

Vegetarian food in Hanoi

Bố Dể Quán Styrax Vegetarian Restaurant (Hanoi)

~B~

If you are vegetarian, or even if you’re not, you should try to make it to Bo de Quan if you visit  Hanoi. It is a fairly new restaurant, only around since 2014 and in its current location since 2015, but I think it will be around for a while. If you would like to learn more about the origins of the place, I highly recommend this article which I was pretty excited to find because we had wondered about it.

Onto our discovery of the restaurant: Our first night in Hanoi we faced a number of problems. Not too surprising seeing as 1) we decided to go there only the night prior and 2) it’s Vietnam. Anyway, while I was waiting for a person that lived in the house (not even the host- she was down in HCM) to come and go into his locked room to fix the internet router, Kyle decided to scope out our food options.

Walk to the restaurant

What he discovered while he was out wandering (among other things) was Bo De Quan. At the time (February 2016) the restaurant was not yet on Googlemaps (or at least on in the correct location), but now you can find it on maps, Happy Cow, and TripAdvisor (though the picture does not look right so it’s possible it’s a different place).  It was a little less than a kilometer away from our Airbnb and we ended up trying it out the next day.

BoDeQuan
The kitchen
Seating at Bo de Quan

It was SO GOOD, arguably some of the best food we have tried while traveling.

Soup on a cool day

All of the options are vegan or vegetarian. Meals were around 40-45k dong ($1.80-$2). We ended up with a schedule which involved eating here for lunch and cooking our own dinner. While it may be a tiny bit farther away from some of the more touristy things, it is a cheaper option than many of the other exclusively vegetarian restaurants in Hanoi.

Bo de quan menu

The soups were perfect for the cool weather. They were also really filling. Here are some of the dishes we tried. Hopefully I’m matching them up/identifying them correctly:

Bun Rieu Chay / bún riêu chay

While researching this one, it looks like it is supposed to be Vegetarian Mock Crab Soup (though I am not sure what is supposed to be imitating crab). I looked up a recipe and it should contain tomatoes, various vegetables and spices, tofu, and cassava. Some recipes include other things like apples and pears but these were not in this soup. We think it is possible it contained cassava but think they put banana in our’s instead (surprisingly good). Everything else seemed to match up.

Vegetarian SoupBun Rieu Chay

Bun Chuoi Dau / bún ốc chuối đậu

This one translates as “Banana Bean Noodle Soup.” Now, Kyle does not normally like bananas but the bananas in these soups were different from the bananas we normally have back home and he really enjoyed both soups. In addition to the bananas and noodles, this soup contained potatoes, tofu, and mushrooms. When it’s not made to be vegetarian, it also contains snails and ham. Vietnam knows how to do soups!

bun chuoi dau

Bun nem / Bún nem: Translates as “Crisp parcels with vermicelli salad. Basically salad/lettuce, noodles, and spring rolls.

Spring Roll Salad

Hu Tieu Xao Noodles, vegetables, nuts- basically a stir fry

Hu Tieu Xao

We primarily stuck to the soups so we did not end up trying the other dishes, but I will try to identify them for you. Banh Xeo Chay / bánh xèo chay- vegetarian pancakes- looks more like an omelet,  com chay- not sure- various vegetables/tofu I think, nem chay – vegetable/spring rolls, bahn goi chay / bánh gối nhân chay- translates as “Vegetarian Cake’s Pillow” and may have vegetables, beans, peas, etc., and pho cuon- we think vegetable rolls. You can find a little more info in the article I linked to at the beginning.

Because vegetarianism isn’t much of a concept in Vietnam for the most part, most all of the other people we saw at Bo De Quan were foreigners. While I really think more Vietnamese need to try out vegetarianism, being around some foreigners was kind of nice for us. Despite there being a large and active online expat community in Ho Chi Minh, we rarely ran into other foreigners except in the most touristy areas. In Hanoi, we found the complete opposite. I guess instead of spending all of their time online, the foreigners in Hanoi are out doing things.

It seemed like many of them had established social groups. There was a group of women (British, Australian, and either American or Canadian) around our age or a little older whom we saw a couple times.  At least a couple of them were English teachers, while others seemed to be doing different things- visiting, studying, working online. We heard one say she was just fired from a Yoga Studio because she had been teaching Zumba with an expired certificate and someone had told on her to the Zumba board or whatever (I don’t remember or know exactly how it all works).

We saw other groups of people as well. I think if we stayed there for a while, we would probably end up developing a social group of our own. I pictured it. We had a conversation over lunch one day with a British man who had moved to the city and was working as a consultant for local businesses there. We talked about how Vietnam is really growing and has a lot of potential. We also talked about the American politics and Australian politics.

The owner and her family were really nice too. One day (maybe on our third or fourth day eating there), the mother of the owner gave us some melon as we were leaving. It was primarily her who we interacted/dealt with on our visits.

Getting Ready to PayFlowers

Here is some of the info so you can make it there:

Bo de quan

Address: 164 Au Co, Tay Ho District, Hanoi, Vietnam
Hours: We aren’t exactly sure, but we think it was something like 10am-8pm
Other: It’s cash only. Bring your dong.

On to Bo De Quan

Problematic Cat Cafe

Ailu Cat Cafe (Hanoi)

~B~

I am sad to report that the cat cafe in Hanoi- Ailu Cat Cafe, also known as Ailu Cathouse Club,  is the worst cat cafe we have been to so far (mostly due to the state and treatment of the cats there).

Ailu Cat Cafe

We made our way here at the end of a long day of walking around Hanoi doing various other activities (including the Temple of Literature and the Vietnamese Women’s Museum). Hanoi is really a lovely city to walk around, especially during the time we visited (February/March).

Near the cafe

There are stairs leading up to the cafe in front of what I think might have been a restaurant. We made our way up and did the standard take off our shoes and pay the entrance fee. This cat cafe had the cheapest fee of any cat cafe so far at 35,000VND/person (at least in March 2016, it’s possible it will be raised). This comes out to about $3.15 for both of us.

Ailucat house

The whole thing was rather strange because the person running the place at the time did not even offer us a menu or ask if we would like to order something to drink/eat. Usually cat cafes (at least at the ones we visited in Asia) like to try to sell their food as it’s a way they make money. The guy actually looked a little unhappy that we came at all. Not in an annoyed way, but maybe more in the ‘they are going to see how badly this cafe is run’ sort of way. I’m not sure.

White Cat

There were quite a few kittens but we did not get to spend time with any of them because a group of young girls (also the only other people at the cafe) was hogging them all.

Girls with Kittens

We made our way to the back and settled in some bean bags. Here are some of the troubling things I found:

Smiling Cat but maybe sick

1. Some of the cats seemed ill.

2. Several of the cats needed to be groomed and/or cleaned (such as cleaning around their eyes, brushing their fur, etc.)

3. I think at least a couple of the cats were not fixed! One of them seemed to be in heat.

4. Some of the cats had mental issues (possibly as a result of their treatment.) Some were very strange about things like eye contact (believe me, it was strange- I have spent time with plenty of cats and not encountered something quite like this) and others were extremely moody.

5. The owners/workers abused the cats. One time I saw a cat crawling up a toy having fun and the man working there kept putting it down for no reason. It seemed very mean. I also saw him hit a cat that was fighting.

6. On that note: the fighting. Now, you might think a little rough play is inevitable when you put that many cats together, but we did not notice any at any of the other cat cafes (or it was very light). We saw several cats fighting during the hour we were there. If you have seen the television show My Cat from Hell, which we actually did see on the tv in Vietnamese in Hanoi, you may know that there are certain things you can do to create an environment which will help with this kind of thing.

7. Cats in cages. We saw two cats in the back in cages. I don’t know why they were there but one of them kept crying. I understand that at some cat cafes they may move a problem cat/fighting cat to another room, but they need to have access to food, water, and a littler box at all times!

Person Tending to Cage

8. At one point I saw a cat on the balcony walking on the ledge! That is a little scary!

It is not really a surprise from Vietnam as the country isn’t known for caring about animals (quite the opposite), but we had had a good experience at ICHI Cat Cafe down in Ho Chi Minh so we thought it might be okay.

Now, despite their instability, most of the cats were very sweet and it was nice to hang out with them. One white fluffy one crawled up to Kyle at one point, kneaded him, purred, and finally settled and went to sleep in his lap. We felt really bad when we left and the cat had to leave his lap.

Crawling on Lap
Kyle with Kitties
Kyle with White Cat

All of the cats who would accept attention really seemed happy to receive pets.

Me with CatGray Kitty
Kitty in bean bag

There were also two cats that were very sweet to watch because they were always rubbing each other, giving each other baths, etc.

Cuddling cats

I can’t exactly recommend the place but at the same time I worry that they would give them even less care or something if they don’t get enough visitors so if you happen to be in the area, that is your call. I really hope they work to improve things.

Kitty walking

Kuala Lumpur Lake Park Pagoda

Kuala Lumpur Central Market

~K~

With having finished the National Museum of Malaysia, we decided to make our way towards the Central Market and some food. We hadn’t eaten all day, and it was getting towards late afternoon, so food was pretty much the only thing on our mind.

The route would be through the Kuala Lumpur Lake Gardens. From the museum, you can take a short walking tunnel under the main highway and it will open up to a large, well manicured park with a large lark going the length of the park. We made our way along the paved paths, through the shadows of palms for a good long while. The heat and lack of food was slowing us down a bit, but we had plenty to look at.

The Lake

After about a kilometer, we came to a large covered pavilion surrounded by baobab trees. This area of the park housed many unique trees as well as various bridges crossing the lake. There was even an edible garden area (you’re not allowed to eat the edibles though). We stayed for a short bit to rest and look, but we still had a long ways to go, so we got back up and proceeded on down the road within the park.

Bridge in the Park
Kyle at the Park
Lily Pads

Nearly another kilometer had passed, and we had gone by a large children’s park, and had come to a main road. From here, you can proceed further north and you’ll find yourself at the National Monument, or you can turn south and you’ll wind up at the Bird Gardens. The Lake Gardens themselves are a very large complex that contains the previously mentioned, as well as Butterfly Gardens, Deer Park. Along the outside rim of the Lake Gardens are the National Mosque, Islamic Arts Museum, and various hotels.

However, we proceeded down the main road, away from the Lake Gardens, still in search of food. We could see the Petronas Towers off in the distance and knew from previous experience that there was at least food there, but that we would hopefully find some before that. The road continued on for about another kilometer passing a nice fountain and smaller park, and then we finally made our way into the city streets.

View of KL Tower
Water Fountain
Downtown KL

Quickly, the quiet changed into the chaos that is KL. We ended up passing by an Irish place that offered vegetarian ciabatta sandwiches, so we stopped here and got Briana something to eat. I decided I could wait a little bit longer and try to find something else later on.

Islamic Arches In KL
Downtown KL

Later on ended up being a McDonalds only a few hundred feet away, but it was ok – I got a large burger and fries, and we got an ice cream as well. The McDonalds was pretty nice all in all, but didn’t offer any unique items like the South Korean McD’s did.

With our stomachs satisfied, we began our more serious search for Central Market. By this time, I’d managed to get data working on my phone, and we’ve managed to at least use the maps and gps to get around town. But we needed to be wary. The bikers around here are notorious for stealing phones and purses from people’s hands – and several were eyeing my phone and had that calculating look in their eye about how to make off with it.  So I kept it close, and put it back in my pocket. We had to cross the street, but for whatever reason, KL doesn’t seem to do cross walks, so we had to just time ourselves with the light and try to avoid getting hit by the bikers who ignore every rule.

Downtown KL
KL City Streets

After a close call with a bike, we had finally made it across and were able to proceed on to the Central Market. It was only a few more minutes walk there and we finally arrived.  Central Market was first established in 1888 as an open-air wet market, but was renovated to it’s current state in 2004 to meet the needs of tourism and modernity. However, it still retains it’s charms and is a great place to wander and find authentic items. There is a main street that has many street venders, but if you turn inside, you’ll find dozens of various shops and stalls ranging from clothes, to trinkets, to antiques – food, drink, toys, and everything between can be found here. Briana ended up buying some pants in a local style, which have worked out quite nice here. I really would have liked to pick up a souvenir, but there is no way we could have sent it back to the states, nor carried it with us on our travels. I was saddened though to see a lot of ivory (Briana doesn’t think it was real ivory – but that’s our debate) for sale here. Many of the items on display and stores explicitly say no photography, and I’m pretty sure it’s because of the ivory pieces. Although the ivory trade is illegal, it is still very much alive, especially in places such as South East Asia, with China and the US being the biggest buyers with the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand closely following. We also came across real weapons from antiquity, yet another item I doubt would make it through customs.

Central Market KL
Central Market Juice
Central Market Coconuts

Upstairs, we found a food court, we we decided to take a rest. I was still a little hungry, so I got us Strawberry Ice Floss. We really like the Ice Floss here.  Upon finishing our food, we continued on in the upper floor and checked out a few more antique shops, and then made our way out of the market.

Central Market Ice Floss

We were basically done for the day, but Briana really wanted to get a good picture of the Petronas Towers, so we made our way there. However, no matter how far we walked, it never seemed to get any closer, and we were at a bad angle anyways. Ultimately, with it dark and our feet tired, we gave up, took a quick snapshot and called our Uber.

Night Time KL