Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Peterson Girls go to Bangkok.

We make a huge mistake when we leave our hotel our first morning in Bangkok:  we fail to bring a map.  Anyone who has ever traveled with me is probably unsurprised by this – we would all think I would stop continuously failing at maps by this point, but alas, after all these years traveling internationally, I remain perpetually map-less. We also neglect to look up the opening hours of the tourist sights we intend on visiting.

So, we quickly find ourselves lost, sweaty, and staring at multiple closed signs.  In all fairness, we are also quite distracted with the art of “catching up.”  It has, after all, been months since we have seen each other, so we toss away our original plan of a heavily-packed day of tourist attractions, and decide, instead, to have a beer on Khao San Road, infamous for its backpacker party scene, and focus on being sisters instead of being tourists for a bit. 


It is here, amongst the ticky-tacky tourist shops, massage and tattoo parlors, tuk-tuk horns, and crowded open-air restaurants that Susan experiences her first Chang beer. 

It is also where she first tries Pad Thai in its homeland – only one of the many times she will enjoy the dish on this journey – and where she experiences her first Southeast Asian torrential downpour. The first two she loves; the later, she loathes. 

When the rain finally stops and we finish our third round of Changs, we stroll through the city, eventually discovering Wat Chana Songkhram, a Buddhist temple, crafted during the Ayutthaya period.  

The buildings within this Wat are all intricately decorated; tiny angular patterns of gold and jewels rim the windows and doorways and countless gilded Buddhas line the interior walls.  I often find I could stare at the faces of temples for hours and notice a million different artistic wonders.  This one proves no different.  

Visiting the temple marks another first for Susan, a detail I find humorous, as this element has become so ordinary in my current life, I hardly notice them anymore.

At night, we opt for a cruise on the Chao Phraya River.  Admittedly, this is a huge tourist activity with overpriced drinks and a cheesy atmosphere, but we find it an easy, lovely, and relaxing way to spend our first evening in Bangkok. Traditional music and dancers serenade diners and the performance is quite mesmerizing.  The dancers are dainty and beautifully adorned in colorful costumes, gold jewelry and gold head pieces, their tiny fingers bending rhythmically back and forth, almost as though they are not fingers at all but rather flames dancing atop a candlestick.

After dinner, we watched the sights of the city come and go from the upper deck of our boat.  

The Royal Grand Palace, bridges, skyscrapers, and Wat Arun, now lit, create a path for us down the darkened river.  The sight of the thousands of lights reflected into the water is beautiful and soothing. 

As the evening draws to a close, we climb off the boat, very much ready for bed, and for a new day of adventure and sisterhood.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Weekend in Nha Trang or Thao's Last Sail before the Veil.

Introducing Thao.

Our beautiful bride-to-be and our reason to head out of the city to the lovely beach town, Nha Trang. Located about 430 km (267 mi) from Saigon, it is a perfect place for a girls' weekend.  

Photo Cred: Sara Roberts
And because we were at the beach, we decided to go for a nautical theme, complete with captain hats, nauti goodie bags, and messages in a bottle for the lovely couple.

Phot Cred: Thao Tran
But perhaps the most nauti thing we did was spend the day on a private boat cruise on the South {China} Sea, drinking, dancing, and smiling in the sunshine.


Right before sunset, we headed back to shore and got ready for the evening which included a photo shoot, a nice dinner at Sailing Club (I recommend the salmon with noodles), and some dancing at the clubs.

Photo cred: Someone

 Day two was spent recovering and reclining at Louisiane Brewhouse's beachfront.

And with coffee, Vietnamese food, and swing time back at Sailing Club.

It was a relaxing and beautiful weekend, and although we were celebrating Thao and her upcoming nuptials, I think it was a bit of a last hoorah for all of us. Several of the ladies present will be heading to new places when the school year finishes, changing the friendships and sisterhood we've created during our time in Southeast Asia.  Of course I wish them all the best in their new adventures, yet, it is hard to ignore that HCMC will become a little less special without their presence.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Favorite Cafes in Ho Chi Minh City.

It is no secret that Ho Chi Minh City has a vibrant and lively cafe culture. Thanks to the French, who began the coffee-growing practice here in the mid-19th century, Vietnam is now the second largest producer of coffee in the world.  This fact alone makes HCMC the perfect place for me to reside because coffee is something I love even more than red wine.

Even with the unlimited list of cafes in the city, I have managed to find two very favorites.

1. Cong Caphe

 Located at 26 Ly Tu Trong, Cong Caphe is a cozy spot for a coffee, a pot of tea, or a glass of wine or beer.  Its dark green interior, walls decorated with Communist propaganda, floral print cushions, and workers adorned in Army uniforms, make the inside cozy and eclectic. Sitting on the balcony enjoying a coconut coffee, a few floors above street level is a nice escape from the motorbike-crazed street below.

I originally discovered this cafe while searching for the building where the claimed last American helicopter left Saigon during its fall in 1975.

Many of us are familiar with this picture.  For many Americans, this picture symbolizes loss, defeat, and a sense of helplessness brought on only by war.  Undoubtedly for all, it conjures feelings associated with drastic change. But today, the building is full of contemporary trends like an art gallery, a coffee shop, a cooking school, and a cute clothing boutique.
My own thoughts on America's involvement in Vietnam between 1961 and 1975 are mixed.  Having lived now in two countries which experienced war during the 20th century, I have been exposed to the helpfulness and harm that accompanies American military intervention in countries of crisis. But let's leave those heavy lessons for another day, and focus, instead, on the sweet coffee and lovely atmosphere offered at Cong Caphe.

My second favorite cafe is Dear Joe which is tucked away on a side street in District 3. It is small, quiet, brightly lit, and a bit playful. The menu's highlights include milk tea in tiny jars, Ca Phe Sua Da (iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk), and ice cream sundaes. The ice cream sundaes take on an unusual form, however. They are served looking like potted plants, the spoon: a shovel. Adorable and delicious. Both the wifi and aircon are strong making it a perfect place for an afternoon date, study session, or solo indulgence.  

With so much competition in this city, perhaps it is important for cafes to find their niche, something that makes them stand out amongst all the rest. I believe that both Cong Caphe and Dear Joe have done that very well.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Grand: Ho Tram Strip or Babymooning with the Lesleys.

Throughout my years living abroad, I have been very lucky to have had visits from several friends and family members, some even more than once! Anyone who has ever lived abroad understands the importance of these visits -- they bring a sense of familiarity, connections to past lives, and lessen the homesickness which so often lingers on the horizon.
This particular month, I was graced with the presence of my former roommate, colleagues, and great friends, Nick and Hannah Lesley.

Nick and Hannah, already experienced world travelers, had little trouble exploring the city and staying busy; in their seven day trip, they managed to hit all the major sites of Ho Chi Minh, help me celebrate my birthday via boat ride on the Saigon River, and get to Cambodia to check out Angkor Wat.

For their final weekend, we decided to head to the beach for a mini-vacation in Vung Tau, a seaside city and popular destination for those craving an escape from the constant craziness of Ho Chi Minh and some fresh air.

Because the beaches are mostly not groomed and often littered with debris, the key to thoroughly enjoying oneself in Vung Tau is to find a nice hotel with an even nicer pool.  Because we would only be staying for one night, we decided to splurge a bit and stay at The Grand Ho Tram Strip.

Although rooms are quite pricey in comparison to other area hotels, overnight accommodation includes roundtrip transportation from the city, private beach access, the buffet breakfast (which just may be the best breakfast I have had in this country), the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in, and access to not one but four crystal clear pools that look out at the South {China} Sea.

We spent the daylight hours at the pools chatting while sipping IPAs straight from Denver and fresh coconut water.

And the evening watching the sunset and indulging in treats from the dessert bar.

The getaway was a lovely decision and was exactly what we needed to enjoy Vietnam and some quality catch-up time before the two lovebirds and soon-to-be-parents said goodbye and headed back to Denver.  

In the years that I have lived abroad, these two have gotten engaged, gotten married, and gotten preggers, and I have missed all of the parties, the showers, and the special days, so I felt very lucky to be able to share in their babymoon.

Thanks for coming, Lesleys! I cannot wait to meet the little one this summer!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rocket Burger in Galle Fort.

After watching the sunset over the Indian Ocean, we headed to Rocket Burger, at 24 Pedlar Street, for some dinner. Known for its iced tea made by Blue Flamingo and its burgers, we tried both. And we got some fries. 

The food is good, the restaurant adorable, and the view of the tiny cobblestone street below is nice for people watching.