Friday, March 31, 2017

My favorite places in Ho Chi Minh City

I have been a little behind on here because I had to make a last minute trip to the United States for the funeral of my best friend's son. So I've been gone about 2 weeks. It was a rough time. But I returned just in time to celebrate March 31st, the one year anniversary of when I left America!

In any case. I have a little over a month left in Vietnam and I am committed to making weekly posts. I thought this week I'd share some of my favorite places in the city! Some of these are personal to me, and some are places I'd recommend for anyone to visit.

The crazy thing (and one of my favorite things) about living here is that it is constantly changing. . In one month an empty lot can become a thriving restaurant. One week you can have a favorite clothing store and the next week it's a coffee shop. So some of my favorite places have only been open for a couple months. And some places I loved when I first arrived are gone now. So, who knows? Some of these recommendations might be totally obsolete soon. I've heard that Vietnam has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, I don't know if that's true. But it definitely feels like it. It's pretty thrilling to watch how quickly things are built here.

So these are all of the places that we regularly visit, and a lot of them I've posted about before but I'll give more details. I realized after writing this, that they are basically all places to eat or drink. But hey whatever. I guess that's just what I like to do best.

Bia Sệt

I've posted about Bia Sệt about 100 times already. I can't find the direct address and it really doesn't matter. There are Bia Sệts all over the city (Bia means Beer, Sệt means...well I really don't know). They are typical small, cheap, greasy food/beer places. Somewhere in between street food carts and actual nice restaurants.

 This one is within walking distance of our house and we go there pretty frequently, usually a handful of us roommates go together and get a big table. The food is freaking delicious and is all basically served family style (this is super common in Vietnam) and we always get a bunch of different plates and a few rounds of beers. The beer comes to you frozen and as soon as the waiter cracks it open it starts overflowing and everyone has to quickly slam their beers down through colorful bendy straws. It's a lot of fun.

This one holds a special place in my heart because of some really nice memories, but in general I'd recommend checking out any Bia Sệt.

La Ngon (Kitty's)

I've posted about this one many times too but I always either refer to it as Kitty's (Kitty is the owner of the cafe and she's a friend of my roommates) or the boat cafe.

It's nothing super fancy, it's just a cafe on a boat across the street from our house. It's close by, the staff are great, there's usually a puppy there, and they make really good smoothies. Pineapple smoothies are an important staple of the Tina James diet and also one of the first Vietnamese phrases I learned to pronounce.

Bui Vien is one of those places you love to hate. It's the heart of the backpacker/tourist area in District 1. It's one long street (and a few intersecting/branching off streets) full of bars, restaurants, and shopping. There are also lots of hostels, tour guides, and bus stations in the area along with rooms and bikes to rent. Pretty much everyone in the area speaks English and it's sort of a melting pot of people from many different countries and cultures. Many people come to Ho Chi Minh City and never leave this area and, although it's a cool place, it's not a good representation of Vietnam.

At night it is a bustling, crowded street full of drunk foreigners who want to party. Like I said it's a love/hate relationship. Bui Vien is kind of just where you end up when you want to go out. On the upside, there is always something going on. There is a pub crawl that goes through the street every night, there are lots of bars with live music, lots of places to dance, lots of cheap places, bars are open 24/7, lots of different people to talk to from all over, and it is honestly always a fun time.

On the downside, it's pretty filthy. And skeasy. this is probably where the most crime happens. If you want to get robbed this is the place to do it. There's a lot of pollution, prostitution, people trying to sell you everything from chewing gum to cocaine, and rude, obnoxious foreigners (honestly probably including myself). You just have to be careful, look out for each other, and find the good places, there really are some diamonds in the rough.

Indika is probably my actual favorite bar in Vietnam, and it's one of those places that didn't exist when I first moved here. Bui Vien is the heart of cheap, dirty party bars but there are a lot of classier, nicer bars scattered around District 1 that cater to foreigners.

It's got a real hipster/artsy feel to it, and there's always something creative going on. There are regular art shows and live music every night. and the music covers an extreme range of basically everything. From reggae to singer/songwriter acoustic to hip-hop to blues. There's a different theme or show every night. The picture below was a Japanese ska band. That was a great night.

They also regularly have art classes, craft fairs, clothing swaps, etc. It's a really cool atmosphere filled primarily with creative, "free-spirit," backpacker types. I definitely recommend.

I really don't have much to say about Pasteur Street. It's a tiny, little brewery on Pasteur Street (big surprise I know.) The place itself is very small and usually full of tourists but if you come in at a down time it's pretty cozy. There's also that cute mural on the wall (in the picture above) that I love. They have some pretty good Western food and bar snacks but obviously you want to come here for the beer. They have several different types and always different seasonal ones so it's worth coming back every once in a while. Pasteur Street beers are also available at many different restaurants around the city and I recommend trying them out.

This is one of those places I mentioned that didn't exist when I first got here. It's also one of those "diamonds in the rough" of Bui Vien. It's the tasting room of Phat Rooster Ales, which is described as "American craft beer." The craft beer craze is brand new in Vietnam and Phat Rooster is one of the few brands you can find here. The beer is good and about half the price of Pasteur Street beer.

This place also offers a lot of delicious Vietnamese food. It's said to all be organic and straight from their cruelty free farm and all that but it is Vietnam and any business can say whatever they want so I take most claims with a grain of salt. In any case the food is good.

It's somewhere between a bar and a restaurant. There's always good music playing, but it's quiet enough to actually have a conversation. The staff is all extremely kind and welcoming. A few of the people who work there remember our names and always check in with us when we show up. It's a great place.

I have no pictures of Soul Burger so sorry. and I don't have much to say. But I'll leave it at this, you wouldn't expect to find the best burgers in the world in Vietnam. But this is where they are.

Soul Burger is expensive by Vietnam standards. But the burgers are huge and delicious and they have many different varieties as well as a "burger of the month" so there's a lot to try. My roommates and I tend to come here about once a month or so in a large group and the staff are always very kind and welcoming. It is definitely a must try if you're in the city.

That was way more words than I intended. And I'm pretty sure none of my readers will ever actually make it to Ho Chi Minh City. But I hope this gives you a little glimpse into my life and what it means when I actually leave the house.

Also, disclaimer: I mention places being full of foreigners and tourists a lot and it might sound like I hate foreigners. I don't. I am fully aware that I am also a foreigner. There are just places that have a different atmosphere as a traveler vs. being a regular. If that makes sense?

Thursday, March 9, 2017

My Vietnam Day to Day

While things are still pretty quiet and settled here I thought I'd share my daily routine for anyone interested in the details (and man I included a ton of details) of living/working in Vietnam. It's more or less been the same since I started work so there will probably be pictures scattered around from the past year.

I generally wake up before 8. Shoe (my roommate who I share a room with) usually brings me oatmeal in bed. She's an angel.

Monday through Friday Shoe and I go to the gym every morning. I go to California Fitness which is a great gym if you're a foreigner looking for a gym in the city. It's huge, has lots of high quality equipment, good instructors/trainers (who all speak English), etc. They have tons of options for classes and they are all in English. Plus, one month of membership is only about $20. It's rad.

Our gym is also in a mall with a grocery store so I grab food, shampoo, white board markers, whatever while we're there. Convenience!

We end up leaving the gym around noon and usually grab lunch with our roommate Tuna. Sometimes we go somewhere nicer but usually we grab street food. I'll try and do a separate post soon about Vietnamese food soon if you're interested in that kind of thing.

Sometimes we have other errands to do like taking bikes to the mechanic, picking up paychecks, cleaning the house (we have a Mon-Wed-Fri cleaning schedule that rotates through the 9 roommates in case you're curious about the details of living with so many people ha), or whatever. But generally we go home and lay around and do nothing for hours.

Vietnamese culture usually follows this routine: People work in the mornings, then get a several hour lunch break. Generally people go home, shower, nap, change clothes and go back to work. Most places will be closed from about noon to three. For example, all schools, most stores, some restaurants, mechanics, and salons close. Our gym has no classes during this time and like I mentioned in my last post, even the doctors leave the hospital. Also if you are out and about during lunch time you will see Vietnamese people napping everywhere. They can fall asleep anywhere at anytime. You even see people sleeping on motorbikes. It's unreal. Like a country-wide nap time.

So yes. Sometimes I'll take a nap in the afternoon.

During the week I don't have to get ready for work until around 4 p.m. (yeah, life here is chill). The company we work for offers English classes outside of regular school hours so my schedule is as follows: Monday through Thursday I work in the evening. Saturday and Sunday I work all day long (of course with a few hours break in the middle). Friday I do not work.

I generally leave for work around 5 p.m. I have a somewhat consistent schedule with work, but our company works in a somewhat inconsistent way. At the beginning of the week you are emailed a schedule of all the schools you will teach at. They can send you to any school within half an hour from your house. I generally get placed at the same three schools on the same days every week but they occasionally move me somewhere new or mix it up.

I do not drive a motorbike (I'm a baby). So I always get a ride to work. Sometimes I ride with a roommate who is placed at the same school, but usually I pay a xe ôm (motorbike driver). I have used the same xe ôm since I started working so he knows where I live, my schedule, the schools I work at, and, well, he knows me. And speaks pretty good English. He's a really nice guy, and always points out good dogs. I love him. 

And for the record, cars and taxis obviously exist but are extremely inconvenient and pretty expensive here.

I work about 2 hours a day on weekdays. 6 on weekends. (for a grand total of about 20 hours a week, and still make more money than I need. It's a good deal). When I arrive at school I am given a schedule that lists the classes and lessons I will teach. I don't have to plan or prepare ahead of time. I'll write a much more in depth blog post about my job soon so I'll leave this short.

I generally finish work around 8 and head home.

After work I eat dinner at home. Sometimes I'll grab food on the street, but usually I'll have food delivered. Literally every place delivers in Vietnam. And anything. Any type of food, alcohol, even Baskin Robbins will bring ice cream to your door. And there's an app for it (it's called Vietnammm) so you don't even have to talk to anyone. I have not cooked in almost a year. It's going to be one of the hardest things about transitioning back to America.

Once in a while we will go out after work (usually Sunday and Thursday) but most days we sit at home and I watch stuff with Shoe and Tuna before bed. 

If there's anything you want to know more about, leave a comment! I'll write a post about it.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Vietnam: Week 47 (MY 100TH POST!!)

I started this blog a little over 2 years ago when I was accepted to teach art in Costa Rica for a semester in college so I could share what I was doing with, well mostly, my family and a few of my friends. And while I mostly neglect it and don't really have that much cool stuff to share, I like having this little page to make bad jokes and share pictures of cats.

So in honor of my 100th post, I'm linking back to 10 of my most interesting blog posts (alternatively: the ones that make me look cool) if you want to check them out :)

From Costa Rica:

From Vietnam (and one from Cambodia): 

Also: I wrote about Disney movies for about a year. These posts get tons of views every week from everywhere in the world (Russia especially loves me). Like way more views than all of my travel posts combined. I don't know why. But I guess that's what the people want so there you go.

There's plenty more if anything peaks your interest, just follow the tags. 

I have a little more than two months left in Vietnam, and am starting to feel pretty nostalgic and reflective about all my experiences here, so for the next couple months I'm going to do my best to post some actually interesting, extensive posts. Things like places in the city, Vietnamese food, teaching English. I don't know. If there's anything you're interested in or any questions you have let me know what I should try and cover.

So thanks for those who stuck with me for all 100 hundred posts (aka my mom and dad and sister probably)! and thanks for all the mystery views from around the world that have never commented. Please feel free to talk to me! I appreciate you!