Tra Chanh and Umeshu

I think it was Vikram Seth who wrote in what is probably one of the finest travelogues about China, words that flow something to the effect of "I think I travel just to collect material for future nostalgia". In my case, I travel probably to find things that make me miss other lands. Like I found this preserved lemon drink along Le Thanh Ton street in Saigon. Here in VN this is called Tra Chanh (lemon tea). This is a month old preserve of lemon in salty base, a small quantity is poured onto the cup with generous scoops of sugar , one preserved lemon or two - if you are nice and smile a lot, and then diluted with tea or water and topped with ice. Now I am missing Umeshu - the preserved plum wine that we at home in Japan (the last photo).

What website to use for Vietnamese online visa and some tips

Vietnam has probably the best food in the world, and a simple online visa system. The catch is that you need one of the online agencies to process the visa for you. It is tedious to figure out a  reliable agency.  I will recommend the following two agencies that I have tried.

1. http://vietnamvisapro.com - this is my current agency of choice. They are quick. I usually get my three months multiple entry visas from them but they will also do single entry visas. 

2. https://www.myvietnamvisa.com - I use to buy the visa from them from 2007 to 2011. 

Note that you can only use this online visa when you arrive by air (any of the three airport - Hanoi, Saigon - Ho Chi Minh City, DaNang). If you are coming in by land, contact a travel agent in Thailand, Cambodia or Lao for the visa. 

The procedure

1. You fill in the online form and make the payment via their online payment link. 

2. Look out for their email that acknowledges your submission and payment. This should arrive within an hour. Check your spam folder. If you don't see the email, just email them back. 

3. The agency will send you an email in a day or two with the invitation letter. Usually the first page is a text acknowledging that the persons listed in the following pages have been granted the arrival visa. The following pages have a list of names, including your name. Print all the pages, even the pages that do not have your name.  Most agencies will also include a link to the arrival form. You can print and fill this beforehand to save time. This form is also available at their Visa on Arrival counters. 

This is how the immigration area looks like at Saigon's (Ho Chi Minh City) Than Son Nhat Airport. Walk over to the visa stamping counters. They are marked as A in the illustration above. Submit the passport, invitation letter, filled arrival form, photo and the visa fee. They take about 10 to 20 minutes depending on the volume. You can rest at the waiting area (B). They will then call out your name and return the passport and a receipt for your visa fee payment. Walk over to the immigration counters (C) in the figure. Theofficer here with make an entry stamp on your passport.  You can then go down the escalators (D) to pick up your bags and walk out after a customs inspection. 

The procedure is similar at other airports where this facility is available. 

Just after the immigration counters there is a currency exchange counter. I have found their rates to be better than the counters elsewhere in the airport. They will also sell you a SIM card. Though  it is easy to find WI FI in Vietnam, I would recommend getting a data SIM card - they are inexpensive. 

Takoyaki laments

Your are born of flour and octopus bits. Born as a shapeless dollop, the woman keep prodding you, turning you and shaping you. You are so happy to have such a lovely mom. But just when your heart swells and you turn brown, the mom packs you in a box and off you go.


The cutest bookseller in the world

A part of my heart is lost in Rangoon, somewhere between street 27 and 28, across the Scotts market on Montgomery Street. This is where I met the world's cutest bookseller. Every visit to her bookshop ended up in me finding a book on Burmese history, and trying to negotiate the price down, and the cutest bookseller always winning. Don't tell her that I let her win, just to see that victorious smile. One more week, and I would have ended up as the leading authority on the nation's history.  You can travel half the world but there is no point, if you can't make a little girl smile.

Beach combing in Niigata

Back in 2008,we went beach combing in Niigata (North West Japan). We found a bottle that had floated in from North Korea across the Sea of Japan (North Korea, China, Russia and South Korea are on the other side of the sea). We went back today to see if we can find something interesting. Nothing from North Korea this time, but enough stuff from China and South Korea.

The giant concrete tetrapods are breakers used to reduce the energy of the waves to prevent soil erosion.

Books and Trips and down by the delta

I like the Mekong delta, specially at night. Everything burns in the day. Your shirt is a rag with sweat. But at night there is a cool breeze, distant thump of a motor boat crossing the river, It is like the whole universe was made, humans evolved and split into cultures, just so that on a night like this, you could overload your senses with lovely faces reflecting the glow of street food lights and sticky-rice-spicy-chicken.

Back in Saigon, we had yet another session of Trips and Books. "The Little Prince" and "Old Man and the Sea" were most discussed. As for destinations - Burma seemed to be everyones favourite. One of our participants bakes some cakes for us. 


Missing the Krasue

Anyone up for a horror movie? I miss the floating severed head with hanging entrails ghost in Cambodian movies. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krasue


We also had a readcamp, discussed books on economy, education and some fictions that deal with the theme of living away from ones birth country.

Come..ours is not a caravan of despair, the ethnic enclave in Kuala Lumpur

My hobby is collecting secret places in the cities I frequent. On some days, when the sky is deep blue, and if some little kid smiles at me, I feel magnanimous, and reveal my secrets to the folks around me. Last Sunday, I shared some of the ethnic enclaves in Kuala Lumpur with a colourful bunch - some residents and some travelers. We went to a Burmese place, where ladies in thanaka and lyongi served us tea and mohinga. Next we climbed up a narrow staircase past a Rambo Supermart (perhaps they sell supplies to take over a small country)  for some Nepalese momo. For desserts, we explored the Filipino enclave for halo halo. The survivors of this intrepid trek ended up at what is probably the cheapest and most colourful watering hole in KL. Next time, I am in KL, I will reveal the only Cambodian cafe in the city. Come if you are keen, ours is not a caravan of despair.

Earlier, I was in Saigon, yet another city that is full of secret places. I met some more lovers of leaving, and talked about getting lost in far away lands. 

And in Djakarta, I miss the conversations in the park.