November 28, 2013

Los Angeles : Manhattan Beach

Cyclist and the pier

Rockstar and I had one last day in US before we fly off. And since we only had a few hours left after flying in from New York and checking into the hotel, we decided to catch the tram to Manhattan Beach. The Manhattan Beach tram goes in a loop and stops at most major hotels along the LAX Airport area. 

It's beautiful there. There were significantly less people then at Santa Monica Beach, more residential then touristy. I love the beach houses that lines up along the entire beach. Such a beautiful place for a getaway or retirement. 

Life Guard Station at the start of the pier

Beach Volleyball courts. So many of them. 

Manhattan Beach Pier. Perfect for romantic walks and seagulls watching

Road leading to the pier. Just like the movies.

Check out the numbers of seagulls. Crazy a lot!

There were so many seagulls. Hundreds of them. And when one flies up and the rest follow, its such a sight to see. Like they were dancing. But we were remindered not to feed them, as feeding them causing overpopulation, which will bring harm to the marine life. 

Waves. Long waves as far as the eyes can see. 

Cutesy cafe at the end of the pier. 

I want one of those beach houses. Isn't it perfect? 

Seagull. So tame and photogenic.

View from top of street leading down to the pier. I stopped in the middle of the road to capture this. Isn't it beautiful? 
Sunset shadow of Rockstar and I , holding hands, together. 
We spend quite a bit of time just enjoying the view and letting the sea wind play with our hair. We left when the cold finally chased us away. Such a perfect end to an amazing trip. Thanks Rockstar, for making my 1st time in US so memorable and ah-ma-zing!!!

Manhattan Beach shopping mall
p.s. All photos taken with iPhone 5s

November 24, 2013

Top 10 things to do in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

I'm no expert on Ho Chi Minh City but I always do my research and plan before I travel. And eventhough I did much more in 1 week that I was there, here are my top 10 things to do (not in sequence) if you ever decides to visit this interesting place.  

No.1 Markets
Google it and you'll realise that HCMC and Ben Thanh goes hand-in-hand. A visit to here is not complete without a visit to this market. Hot, stuffy, cluttered, just walk through the this big market and you'll have a glimpse of everything Vietnamese. 

I love night markets. Things just seems more interesting when its in the dark :p. Watch out for rude people as you wander around. Don't forget to bargain and if the sellers result to give you the price you want, walk away There are 10 other shops selling the same things. 

No.2 Cu Chi Tunnels
People travel from miles away to visit this place just to understand how small soldiers in a then uncivilized country managed to beat the US army. It's indeed eye-opening and you'll leave this place with new found respect for these small soldiers. Read more here

No.3 Eating
Oooooo.... eating! A visit to any country is not even considered without trying local food. Pho is a must not missed and for those who do not have prefer soupy food, there are other versions such as beef stew, etc. Try also their Vietnamese rolls, curry dishes (which are unique to ours), broken rice, bbq meat on skewers, vietnamese coffee and ice tea. 

No.4 Mekong Delta River Tour
If you have the time, do pay a visit to this part of Vietnam. Its beautiful and you'll get to see locals and thei livelihood. Read more here

No.5 Museum of Ho Chi Minh City
This place brings you through the years of Vietnamese history and you'll learn how they change as time passes by.  If history does not interest you, go at least for the architecture which are beautiful, both inside and out. Entrance fee required. 

No.6 Notre Dame and Post Office
I'm gonna put this both together as they are just directly opposite each other. You can't visit one without the other. I've been to the Notre Dame in Paris and even though this is significantly much smaller than the original, its impressive just the same. The Post Office is a sight to behold. Walk right in and you'll find yourself in a big hall surrounded by people and a fully functioning post office. (Tip : Money Changer there charges you extra for service. Go to the the Money Changer located on the lower floor of Parkson and you'll get a much better rate and service)

No.7 Reunification Palace
This palace is a landmark in HCMC and in Vietnam history. Many historical moment happened in this place. Pay extra for a tour if you wish but grab a pamphlet instead and be free to discover the place at your own pace. Entrance fee required. 

No.8 War Remnants Museum
Visit this place and you'll definately leave with tears in your eyes. See how the war tear its country apart and how the people are affected. Don't miss the prison/torture area just outside the building on your rights as you exit the building. Entrance fee required. 

No.9 Water Puppet Theater
We visited the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theater located in the middle of HCMC and had a good time. Don't spend your time figuring how the puppeteers move the puppets and enjoy the show. (Tip : Buy your tickets earlier for better seats. Don't take too close to the front as the water might splash on you)

No.10 View from Bitexco Tower
This is an underrated, under visited place. We decided to make a visit after reading some reviews and it was one of the highlight from the trip. Seeing this from up above opens your eyes to a different HCMC. We decided to go straight to floor 51 for drinks instead of paying a high entrance fee for floor 52. No regrets at all. (Tip : Go slightly before 6pm to get 50% of your drinks for Happy Hour. Stay till the lights starts appearing all over the city. It's quite magical)

November 19, 2013

Vietnam : Must-visit Cu Chi Tunnels

Sorry for the long hiatus. I've been travelling so much that whatever times I have left from not travelling were taken up with work and family. So what's up with me? After my long 2 and a half weeks in the US, I was back home for about 2 weeks before heading to Japan. Now I'm back home again and will be here for a bit until the travel bug hits me again. Enough of travelling for this year at least. I lost track of how many cities I've been just this year. But I'm thankful for all the opportunities that many do not get.

One of the thing on my to-do list during my trip to Vietnam was to visit the famous Cu Chi tunnels. If you haven't heard of it, go read it here. It's really amazing.

Since it was located on the outskirts of the city, we signed up with a tour agent for a half a day tour. A bus ride brought us to this site where we started the tour with a briefing at the guns room.

Then we had to walk through a big tunnel, passed some immigration officers, given tiny stickers to stick on our clothes, and we arrived in the jungle. 

A long huge worm to greet us. It's fatter than my thumb *eeks* Thank God for zoom lense. 

Our tour guide did a very good job of explaining all the different areas and holes, and various traps to us. And he jumped in and out the holes without even stopping to catch his breath. 

And then he showed us how the soldiers hid undetected in the jungle - in tiny holes just enough to fit a body. Before the trip, I told myself I must get into one of these but almost chicken out when I saw how dark and small the holes are. 

But I did. All the way in, it was pitch dark inside and it smells like dirt. And just the few seconds inside the tiny hole made me admire all the Cu Chi soldiers who survived so long being in such tiny space. Weird thoughs were going through my head in just that few seconds. Had to struggle to climb out as I wasn't tall enough to push myself out. -_-

Our tour guide also showed us how they fought, how their disguise their air ventilations and how the soldiers and their family survived so many years living underground, giving birth, studying, cooking, etc. They are very clever. On of their inventions were the 'multi front back slippers' (for lack of better words). The slippers can be worn either way and the soldiers switch sides to confuse the enemy who were tracking them. So clever right? 

There is also a firing range where you can pick your choice of guns and pay for the bullets. 

And finally, the highlight of the trip, we were taken to the entrance of a tunnel. It was about 30 meters long and there were exits along the way for those who couldn't take it. Out of our group of about 40 people, less than 10 decided to try it. And I glad to say I made it. Being short and small really helps :p There was a section of tunnel where I had to sit on my butt and slide my way into the hole. It was dimly lighted in the tunnel too. Not for the claustrophobic and those who are afraid of the dark. 

It's quite an interesting trip and I would say its a must not missed if you are ever in Ho Chi Minh City. This is where you'll learn and understand more about this country and its resilient people. The 240 kilometers of tunnels are what's left of its legacy and history and its a reminder to everyone that it's not what life throws at you that keeps you down, its what you do with it that makes you live. 

The Sinh Tourist

The Sinh Tourist Head Office
246-248 De Tham St., Dist 1, HCMC
Tel : +84.8.38389597
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The Sinh Toursit Office 2
24-26 Pho Duc Chinh St., Dist 1, HCMC
Tel : +84.8.38222892