tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:/posts Smarter by sharing 2017-10-18T03:16:03Z Rai tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1198845 2017-10-17T09:57:47Z 2017-10-18T03:16:03Z The lovers

Don’t you love the rain? Rivers of light all around us and you can be close enough for me to whisper. 

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1197704 2017-10-12T03:22:52Z 2017-10-12T12:39:42Z Rain

Everything’s new after the rain. 

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1196758 2017-10-08T12:39:50Z 2017-10-08T13:54:18Z 57 channels and nothin’ on

you’ve got all those friends but they’ll only talk to you on facebook 

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1196128 2017-10-05T04:34:55Z 2017-10-06T14:41:04Z The galactic cat

I switched my camera to high contrast black and white mode to take these photos on my neighbourhood cat. The stones embedded in the tar road surface shone like stars. The cat seemed to be flying across the galaxy. 

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1196162 2017-10-03T04:00:00Z 2017-10-06T05:08:12Z The best topping

The neighbourhood to-hua (fluffy tofu) seller. Her smile is the sweetest topping.

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1196161 2017-10-03T04:00:00Z 2017-10-06T14:43:46Z A face in the crowd

 Thanks, Tom Petty for providing the soundtrack to my life of aimless wandering and making friends of strangers. 

“You were just a face in the crowd, Out in the street, thinking out loud" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_umeMtV4QU

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1196163 2017-10-01T04:00:00Z 2017-10-05T07:26:08Z The most connected land

Vietnam must be the most connected place in the world. Almost every shop has wi-if and the street vendors parked outside of the shop sweet talk the shop owners into giving them the password. I am also not surprised to see people temporarily squat in front of a shop to get some internet. Most street cafes also have free wi-if, though it looks like the cafe owner is having the most fun.

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1196165 2017-09-30T04:00:00Z 2017-10-06T14:44:48Z Kindness of strangers

This morning in my enclave in Saigon, I stopped by a small coffee shop . As I picked up my coffee, I casually remarked that I was hungry - this shop does not serve food, and it was bit too early for the other eateries in the neighbourhood to open. Two minutes into my coffee, a plate of toasted bread and a dollop of cream decorated with chocolate appeared in front of me. The kindly owner explained that she didn’t want me to be hungry. So, she fixed whatever she could. I love free food, feels like home. 

Earlier in Singapore, I hosted a meet at a public library where the participants shared their stories about the kindness of strangers they met in their travels. The world is not too shabby a place after all.

And here in Saigon, I met another coffee cart owner with a bright smile.

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1196219 2017-09-24T14:24:00Z 2017-10-05T14:25:47Z Shimokitazawa

Shimokitazawa, a part of Tokyo where you can buy second-hand clothes.

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1189637 2017-09-02T04:00:00Z 2017-09-08T12:40:47Z The Ritual

To cope with the ever-changing world in which we live in, Paul Mc Cartney sings we be prepared to live and let die. For me, I prefer to have a ritual. For many years, whenever I am in the posh Naka Meguro, I buy a sesame bagel from a small shop. Next, I buy a caramel flavoured coffee from a combini. As I rest by the river, this one pigeon with a missing foot always drops by to pick on the sesame seeds.

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1190424 2017-08-23T16:10:00Z 2017-09-12T10:36:05Z Every Picture Tells a Story, What is Yours?
We love sharing travel stories. If you happen to be in Singapore on the fourth Wednesday of the month, drop by in the evening at the library@Orchard. 


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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1190425 2017-08-19T16:10:00Z 2017-09-12T10:35:55Z Ticket to Childhood
Dear Mom. Life is dull here in the far away land. No one loves me, and I eat boring things.

In Saigon, we met for the LearnCamp - we discussed how to learn better and the latest research in Brain Science. After the LearnCamp we dined at a cafe founded by a popular author. Nguyen Nhat Anh wrote the book Ticket to Childhood - a collection of childhood stories of growing up in Vietnam. 


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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1189639 2017-08-19T04:00:00Z 2017-09-08T12:40:03Z Long lost friend in an alley

Early this decade, I sometimes ate at this street noodle vendor in Saigon. She always fed me an extra fried egg, and when it rained, she found a dry spot for me to sit. Since 2016, once I started spending more time in Vietnam, I tried to locate her. Locals told me that the neighbourhood authorities had chased away the street vendors, many took up other occupations or went back to the provinces. Today I was in a small alley, and I felt a tap on my arm. I turn around and find my favourite noodle seller. She has a shop of her own now. In Saigon, you should always walk into a random alley. Something magical often happens.

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1189636 2017-06-27T04:00:00Z 2017-09-08T12:39:01Z The Che Seller of Saigon

The Chinese style dessert seller at 31 Nguyen Thai Binh, mixing up a Che (Vietnamese for dessert), is a joy to watch. Don't know how to speak Vietnamese? No worries, just point at the ingredients, the Che seller will make sure that whatever you pick will refresh you. A good resting place after that late evening walk. The communal seating around the cart encourages new friendships.


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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1162027 2017-05-27T03:22:00Z 2017-06-09T02:06:40Z "The Art of Getting Lost" in Phnom Penh

We shared stories of border crossings, getting lost but finding friendships, and exchanging travel tips in Phnom Penh. Thanks to the participants, people at Emerald hub and Anirudh S. Bhati for helping organize this meet. Thanks to Malin Lok for the photos.

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1161830 2017-05-21T02:56:00Z 2017-06-09T01:51:48Z Ocean, Vung Tau

I want to take the ferry out instead of the bus. The girl at the hotel asks me whether I know how to swim. Seems the ferry has a record of breaking down, or the girl is a secret bus company agent. (Vung Tau, Vietnam)

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1162028 2017-05-19T09:17:00Z 2017-06-09T13:15:59Z The man who would be the king

The man who would be the king, does not hide in them aircon. That's for the new kids.

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1161835 2017-05-08T04:00:00Z 2017-06-09T01:57:00Z A world so perfect

"Sometimes, all you had to do was exist in order to be someone's savior"

 I always recall this line from a Japanese novel when I meet the che (dessert) seller around 15b Le Thanh Ton. She grills the sticky rice encased banana (chuối bọc nếp nướng) and makes the world perfect with that warm smile.

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1162037 2017-05-06T04:00:00Z 2017-06-09T02:19:12Z Train trip to Ipoh, Malaysia

Ipoh was a town in Malaysia I visited some years back. Now there is a fast train connecting Kuala Lumpur to Ipoh. My interest was also piqued when I found some photos of fancy new cafes in Ipoh. It is a pleasant town to spend a day or two. I like the colonial buildings and the food here. 

 

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1161837 2017-05-01T14:46:00Z 2017-09-11T15:08:06Z The cutest bookseller in the world - part 2

The cutest bookseller in the world is still sharp as ever. She would only give me a 500 Kyat (50 cents) discount. Rangoon once rivalled Calcutta when it came to quality second-hand book stores. Now, most of these shops sell mobile phone credits or textbooks. There were only three old books left in this store. I bought two books but apologies to Bertil Lintner, I did not buy "Burma in Revolt". I need a reason to visit the cutest bookseller next year.

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1148772 2017-04-24T04:06:12Z 2017-08-03T04:10:31Z Saigon Travel Notes Welcome to Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City. Following are some notes for the first time traveler to our city. 


A quick orientation 
The map shows the districts in Saigon. District 1 is where most travelers end up staying -  along the Pham Ngu Lau street. This district is walkable and houses many tourist attractions and historic areas. 

District 5 is called Cholon. This is the Chinatown of Saigon. This district is worth visiting for pagodas and the Binh Tay market. There is good night street food too.  District 2 is where many foreigners live and District 7 has many Western and Korean establishments. 

The airport is in the Tan Binh district, about 7 kilometres from Pham Ngu Lau area.

Getting to the city

Once you are out of the airport, there are four options to go to the city centre where most of the accommodations are. 

1. Mai Linh or VinaSun Taxi (the two most reliable taxi services in Vietnam)

There is a taxi stand at the airport, the trouble is that you may be pointed to a random taxi. Insist on a MyLinh or a VinaSun taxi, ignore the other companies. These taxis are metered and it might cost you about 1 to 1.5 million VND to the city centre or Pham Ngu Lau area. You can also book a prepaid taxi at several counters that are located just after the customs check counter. 

2. Uber or Grab - At the international airport, you can request for a Uber (of Grab) ride. The app will ask you for the pillar number. The Uber app uses the pillar number to locate you. The big round pillars support the top floors of the airport and have the numbers prominently painted on them. Usually, it costs me around 80,000 VND from airport to the city centre on Uber.  Uber and Grab are also good for travelling within the city. Beware of the fake Uber or Grab drivers who accost you as soon as you come out of the airport. Always order Uber or Grab via the app.

3. Airport  Bus - There are three companies that offer bus to the city.  As you get out of the arrival area, past the crowd of people waiting, you will see the small bus counter (the small red box in the photo below) There is a counter each at international and domestic airports. The staff here speak English. Show them your destination and they will recommend the bus to you. If your destination is Pham Ngu Lau (the budget tourist area), you can take the bus number 109 or bus number 49. They are both inexpensive and will get you to Pham Ngu Lau area in 30 to 50 minutes depending on the traffic. Prepare to pay around 20,000 VND. 

4. Xe Om (the motorbike taxi) for the more adventurouS. Walk to the domestic airport, walk out from the airport. Before you are out, motorbike hustlers will come to you. A ride to the city should cost your around 50000 - I would say don’t even bother (Uber probably costs just 2 USD more) unless you are really in a hurry to get to the city. 

Where to stay ?

(Tap or click on the image to expand it)

The Pham Ngu Lau neighbourhood in district 1 is a popular place to stay. There are hundreds of hotels and hostels here ranging from 5 USD a night to more than 100 USD a night. The best deals are in the small alleys - street 241 and 283 shown in the map above. You can get a comfortable and safe place for about 15 USD in one of these alleys. The cheaper places will not have lifts, and they will surely not have 24 hours reception. They are usually family run business with the family staying in the same premises as the hotel. They will lock the place around midnight. If you return late, you will have to ring the bell and wake them up. Same goes if you are checking in late at night - it is better to call them earlier in the day and let them know that you will be arriving late. The rooms are simple affair, they are clean, have aircon and wifi. The alleys have good, inexpensive food and the vendors can often speak basic English. 

If you want one solid recommendation, I will point you to Diep Anh Guesthouse inside street 283 Pham Ngu Lau (around 20 USD)  https://www.lonelyplanet.com/vietnam/ho-chi-minh-city-region/hotels/diep-anh-guesthouse/a/lod/8ba6b522-9727-457f-9c8d-050f8dbcd9d2/357847. You can book one night here. Check out neighboring guest houses/ hotels next day - the owner or managers are happy to show your the rooms. You can choose the guesthouse that suits your budget and move into it. 

The area behind the Ben Thanh Market has good mid range hotels (30 USD and more). If you are booking on Agoda,com or Booking.com, look for hotels with rating 7 and above. Read the recent guest reviews to make sure that there is no current construction activity next doors.

Hotels will keep your passport with them until you settle your bills and check out. If you want to hold on to your passport, just pay them upfront and remember to take a receipt. Most hotels will also accept credit cards with small bank fee added on. If you trying to pay via credit card, do it at a time when the owner or the more experienced staff are around. You don't want to be stuck with an groggy and un-experienced night staff who is trying to figure out the card machine, while you are rushing for your flight early in the morning. 

In recent years I have been using AirBnb, Some of my favourite apartments listed below

https://www.airbnb.com.sg/rooms/16510352

https://www.airbnb.com.sg/rooms/14590718 (request for a lower floor if you don't fancy climbing stairs)

Best places to change your money and buy a SIM card

Before you leave for Vietnam, check the exchange rate using Google. On the Google search box type in the text 100 USD to VND. 

Google will return with the current exchange rate. This will give you an approximate idea of the current exchange rate. The exchange counters will always give you less than this official rate but it should not be much lower. If you do not have any Vietnamese currency on you (for taxi, bus etc.), I recommend that you change change about 20 to 50 USD at the currency exchange counter just after the immigration desk (before you take the escalator down to the baggage claim area) at the Saigon airport. This counter has better rates compared to the currency exchange counters elsewhere in the airport. This counter is also a good place to buy a SIM card. Viettel has good coverage across Vietnam and costs 200000 VND at this counter. It is good to have a local SIM card as you can call your hotel if the taxi driver has difficulty locating the address.

Once I am in the city, I go to a specific exchange shop preferred by the locals. It is locate on the junction of Nguyen Anh Ninh and Phan Chu Trinh streets, just across the street from the West exit of Ben Thanh Market. This place is about 15 minutes walk from the Pham Ngu Lau area. 

Every street has a couple of ATMS, but you may have to pay a 4 to 5 USD ATM fee and suffer low exchange rate when you withdraw money from a local ATM. 

Is Saigon safe? Can I get by with English?

Yes, mostly it is safe. Just keep you phone and money close to you.  Don't worry about language. Most local business persons are able to put together some English and sign language to aid basic transactions.

Some tips about street names and directions

Many Vietnamese streets have similar first and second syllables and often have numbers that may include sub streets - for example 241/31 Pham Ngu Lao. What this means is that this particular address is inside an alley that splits off the main street 241 Pham Ngu Lau. Check the entire address before you book Uber or show the address to a taxi driver. I often load up my destination on the Google Map app on my phone and take a screen shot of the screen. Once the destination and its surrounding are stored as an image on my phone, I can zoom the image and show it to the taxi, the Uber or the Xe Om (motor bike taxi) driver. Often the XeOm drivers are elder gents and they have weak eyes - larger text makes it easier for them to read. Vietnamese is a highly tonal languages, and very often the locals may not catch your pronounciation. Also keep the phone number of your hotel and local friends on your phone. You can always call them and request them to explain the directions to your transport person. 

What to do in Saigon?

Other than visiting the regular tourist attractions, you can just explore the city. The downtown area is walkable. You will find many cafes and street food vendors operating all night. 

Explore the cafes - there are hundreds of pretty cafes across Saigon serving local coffee and other drinks. Try the cafe apartment at 42 Nguyen Hue street. 

Explore the alleys - the alleys are where you can experience the local life. 

One set of interesting bunch of alleys is in the Japantown, it is like someone magically transported Japan into South East Asia. 

Try Saigon and Vietnamese food -  Check the websites linked below to find food and other activities in Saigon

Make local friends  - Saigon is a friendly city, and it is very easy to make friends with the locals.

Explore Saigon at night - Saigon is beautiful and cool at night. I love exploring the city late at night. The availability of Uber and Grab makes  night exploration accessible for people who do not have motorbike or don't feel safe on a Xe Om - motorbike taxi.  

Buy souvenirs - I ignore the Ben Thanh market (you can visit for fun or for some food, but avoid buying here unless you are prepared to bargain). I head to a complex called Lucky Plaza. There is a supermarket on level 03. They sell small packs of local teas, coffees and candies - make for nice souvenirs. Try the Gingy candy. 

Recommended resources 

Any Saigon article on this web is a gem: http://vietnamcoracle.com/. For example check out the series on Saigon Midnight Loop. http://vietnamcoracle.com/saigon-midnight-motorbike-loop/
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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1141598 2017-03-26T12:41:21Z 2017-03-27T01:46:49Z Tree makers of Mui Wo

The tree tending crew of Mui Wo hikes up a hill. In their bags, they have shovels and organic fertilizers. On the top, they care for the baby trees. A circular moat is dug out around the little tree and it is filled with dry grass. This helps trap water for the tree.

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1141596 2017-03-26T12:36:06Z 2017-03-27T01:46:56Z The OpenSchool in MuiWo

OpenCamp in Mui Wo. An un-conference in an island. Many of the participants stayed set up camps and stayed overnight. 


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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1126594 2017-01-18T04:00:00Z 2017-03-24T13:47:12Z Make a dog sound louder

When I was a kid, I used to think that people fixed such cone around their dog to make the bark sound louder.

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1196605 2016-12-25T04:00:00Z 2017-10-08T12:22:53Z The Open School "The Open School" project is a series of meets run across South East Asia. Anyone can attend these and there is no fee. the participants discuss topics such as travel, relationships, career, education and personal development. The meets are held at local libraries and cafes etc.

There are no pre-selected speakers at open school, the participants are invited to join in or lead a discussion. The sessions are held in English and the local language. 

How does someone post a topic for discussion?

When you come in, take a post-it and write down some skill or topic that you want to learn, teach or discuss. Stick this post-it on the designated board. Other participants will place stickers or leave tick marks on your topic if they like it. 

Once your topic has 5 or 6 stickers, we will assign you a corner where you can discuss your ideas with the group interested in your topic. We will have two or three discussions running at the same time and you are free to leave your group and join the next group.

Some topics that we discussed in the past.

  • How to search better on Google? How to find trustworthy information online? How not to get scammed?
  • How to travel to another country with less than 30$? How to travel alone as a female traveler? 
  • How to know if someone likes or loves you? 
  • How to become more confident? How to write a better CV?
  • How to become a better learner?
  • How to meditate?
Photos from the OpenSchool in Saigon, Can Tho and Hong Kong


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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1102556 2016-10-27T06:51:34Z 2017-03-22T04:22:06Z Let's get some coffee

Mobile cafe, run by a student, outside a campus near the Turtle lake in Saigon. I asked her if her shop is part of some school project. She said that it is her own venture, she runs it when she has no classes.

Later on It turned out that this student was a friend of a friend. Small world indeed. 

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1102552 2016-10-19T04:00:00Z 2017-03-22T04:22:35Z 差不多 In Vietnam

What is the Vietnamese word for 差不多?I was just commenting yesterday at old Asia hand post that some experiences in Vietnam remind me of time in China in the early 2000s.  Today I walked into a neighboring hair dresser to get a shave. The girl did not have a razor, but that did not dissuade her, she just unpacked a safety razor blade, and wedging the blade in her fingers, made my stubble disappear. 

 差不多 (chau but duo) Is a Chinese phrase used to describe the process of just getting something done via a hack. A bit like jugaad in India. 

In 2002, I was at the Indian consulate in Shanghai, renewing my passport, and I realized that I needed a clean shave for a new photo. I walked into a small saloon in the next building. The ladies there too, made short work of my facial hair with bare fingers and a blade. The girl later told me that I was the first customer who had walked in asking for a shave, and no one says no to an economic opportunity in China.

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1102601 2016-10-17T06:57:00Z 2016-10-27T10:11:25Z Childhood fights with the Karonda bush

Often travel brings back really old memories. When I was a kid, I used to fight the thorny Karonda bush to get to its bitter/sweet berries. How lucky to find this bottle of Karonda juice at K Village in Bangkok.

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1093022 2016-09-24T15:53:55Z 2016-09-24T16:04:23Z Rainy day for nostalgia

Rain, for me is a good excuse to find a new hiding places. This cute cafe, at Nguyen Trung Truc street in Saigon, had a 50 year old reel to reel tape machine, playing songs by Khanh Ly, a popular singer from the early 1970s. Back in those days, Khanh Ly used to run a cafe at the the nearby Dong Khai Street. The cafe was a lively gathering place for students, artists and musicians. Bui Vien (the current evil backpacker area) was where they had many local clubs, and singers like Khanh Ly used to sing there. She also performed impromptu concerts on the stairs in front of local universities - singing songs lamenting the war. I hope the tape machine could turn into a time machine and teleport me to those days. Khanh Ly had some following in Japan too, here is a song in Japanese.

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tag:smarterbysharing.com,2013:Post/1093023 2016-09-14T15:55:00Z 2017-03-22T04:23:48Z Shocking Pink in Downtown Yangon

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