Nostalgic food from all over

Random food and beverages from my several homes. Growing up in parts of India, you often come across the Jamun tree. The fruit has a purple bitter sweet flesh. This drink from India tries to capture the flavour for urban people who miss jamun picking. Next is a popular rice cake from Hanoi, North Vietnam (thanks to childhood friend Trang for getting it for me). This cake is made by a family business in the Hang Than Street - that had many similar rice cake shops. Nguyen means origin, and Ninh is derived from the name of the hometown (Yen Ninh) of the original owner of the cake shop. Last is a well being/health drink from Indonesia, contains honey and several herbs. You can buy these sachets from convenience stores or small shops across Indonesia.

Taking the wrong bus

"And the heat. Your shirt is straightaway a rag. You can hardly remember your name, or what you came to escape from. But at night, there's a breeze. The river is beautiful."

Tourane, now known as Danang. 

The quote is from the movie "The Quiet American". It was filmed in the nearby town of Hoi An. Danang is my favorite city in VN, even though no one ever goes there much. If you are here, you are probably transiting, or you took the wrong bus. I often take the wrong bus.


HappyCamp Saigon, taking about travels, books and life

Saigon has always been an interesting city and people here are always exploring new ideas. I wanted to get some folks together and talk about travel, books and life in general. My old friend Cong was also interested in talking about happiness. So we created a meet called Happycamp. 

For the first edition, we managed to bring together two educators, a writer, a photographer, two students and two travel enthusiasts. We went round the table and narrated a past experience. I always enjoy running such small meets, it helps me get the mood of the city - the zeitgeist if you will. 

 


A Family Mart in Vietnam and a Korean movie

There is a 2009 Korean movie called Bandhobi. It is the story of an unlikely friendship between a Korean teenager and a Bangladeshi immigrant worker. The reason I like this movie is that I can identify with the characters. The girl, when she misses her Bangladeshi friend, goes by herself to a South Asian restaurant, and to the surprise of the staff, orders many native food and proceeds to eat it like a native. 

Today,  when I spotted a Family Mart in Saigon, I walked into it. I bought  Oden - a Japanese winter dish containing radish, fish cakes, boiled eggs.  These are usually skewered on a stick and dipped in a spicy soy based broth. Eating Oden takes me back to those freezing  days in Japan. On our way walking from the train station to some place, we would always stop by a Family Mart. The hot oden is always a welcome respite. Often in random cities, you will find me at a random ethnic food place - a Korean place in Phnom Penh, a Vietnamese place in Taichung, a Russian place in Bangkok or a Sichuan place in Manila. You know that I am just missing all my friends and conversations from these places.

The last days of Zone 9

Some of my friends from Xian always admonished me about not visiting the fames terracotta warriors. Splendid they may be, but such buildings fail to rouse my interest much. I spent most of time in the market that grew around the old muslim quarter - for I am a fan of spaces that grow up organically. 

I was lucky enough to visit the local art space called Zone 9 in Hanoi just before the area was closed down.  The back story is that there were these factory buildings that were lying dormant. Some local artists moved in and set up their studios. Soon there were cafes and bars. Soon the students started to hang out. The zone turned into a vibrant night spot.  The prime location attracted developers and it was bought out. The new owners want to dismantle the units and build anew. I hope the artists find a new place to transplant this space.

I travel to Vietnam couple of times a year but I am coming back to Hanoi after 12 years. It is nice to be back, and I can finally appreciate the different characteristics of the people here. It is often said that the pace of life in Hanoi is slower compared to the south. I agree with this. I found that I was able to make more random friends in Hanoi as they had more time to talk to strangers. 

Perhaps the visit was also made special because my guide was PHM from Hanoi Grapevine. She is so passionate about the art scene in Hanoi and had many interesting anecdotes. 

Some reading about Zone 9

http://thediplomat.com/2013/11/vietnam-comes-of-age/

http://hanoigrapevine.com/2013/08/snapshots-of-zone-9-the-new-art-hub-in-hanoi/

(Thanks to PHM from Hanoi Grapevine for showing me this place)

Some pictures from Zone 9. You can see the bars, the artists at work and the shops. Hanoi Grapevine is a good site to learn about the events happening in the city.

Crossing into Cambodia via land borders

Cambodia is another fun destination in South East Asia. The best part is that most people can get a Cambodia visa at the border posts.  All you need to do is to fill a visa form and pay a fee of 20 USD.  You need to fill in an address in Cambodia . Fill in the hotel you plan to stay at.  You will need a photo too.

One of the bus plying Cambodia -Vietnam route

This is the process at Bavet (Cambodia) MocBai (Vietnam) border (this is the usual bus route from Saigon to Phnom Penh) but the process is similar at Thailand-Cambodia border too. Once you have finished Vietnamese exit process the bus will take you a little distance away to the Cambodian immigration. There is a visa on arrival counter where you can fill the form and pay the fees. The officer will paste the visa. After this you can join the immigration queue.

Cambodia Arrival Form

This is how the arrival card looks like. You will have to fill in the address in Cambodia even if you are not sure what hotel you are staying at. Just fill in the name the hotel you intend to stay at.

You can also apply for Cambodian e-visa, this is by far the most convenient method though you need a lead time of 2-3 days ( I have gotten the e-visa in 24 hours most of the time).  I have often heard of travelers being hassled for more money at Cambodian Thailand border. If you have the e-visa, you just walk through and you don't have to pay anything extra. You apply via the e-visa website here. http://www.mfaic.gov.kh/evisa/ and these are land borders where you can use e-visa http://www.mfaic.gov.kh/evisa/Map.aspx