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Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

I still refuse to acknowledge that I’ve moved away from Austin. I think deep down I know one day I will be back. I’ve been telling Austin and I are just taking a break, a la Rachel and Ross on Friends. If I had to move anywhere though I am at least glad it’s Seattle. Music is an important part of that decision. Obviously I could’ve moved to New York or Los Angeles but I don’t really want to live in neither of those cities. And you can just shut up about the rain and suicide thing right now. It’s not really rain in Seattle… it like, mists. Like at the produce aisle. Also, the city w/ the highest suicide rate is actually Las Vegas.

Moving has been absolutely crazy. I was up until 5am the night/morning before departure packing and I even skipped my last golf lesson (the only pre-MBA preparation I did). I actually left my Seattle key on a different key chain… so stupid. I also forgot my phone and laptop charger somewhere. We left 2 hours later than originally scheduled. Between the time I left my house in Austin and the time I get to my new apt in Seattle 180 hours had passed. In between we stopped at:

1. McDonald Observatory in West Texas for the Star Party. I had taken a Freshman Seminar 9 years ago called Galileo Scandal under the Astronomy Department and they had mentioned about the place. Technically it’s UT campus, so if you’re hard core A&M fan or goes to that other school north of the Red River you might want to reconsider visiting. Without the light pollution the stars almost look unreal. The way they are up in the sky almost looks like someone projected them up there. It was also very educational.

2. White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. Our GPS accidentally directed us to this military base at first. After some questioning from the officer on duty, he decided to let us on base and cut through instead of going all the way back to El Paso and take a different highway. He made me pop my hood, checked if there were drugs in between the car panels and the whole enchilada. When we got to White Sands we didn’t stop by the visitor center, where we probably could’ve rented or purchased a sled, instead we just paid and went straight in. Fortunately I decided to bring my snowboard up to Seattle so we just took that out and gone down the dunes on that instead.

3. Tucson for a quick Sonoran dog. I still don’t if this is just a Hispanic thing or what’s going on because my Tucson friends never mentioned anything about it when I visited before and when I asked again this time around they still are not quite sure what I’m talking about. Basically it’s like your regular hot dog except they put beans on it and some other toppings. It wasn’t that special…

4. Since my friend Vivek, who’s driving up w/ me, has not seen SoCal before and it’s been ages since I seen Vicki we decided to stop in San Diego. We went to Lucha Libre for lunch. They put fries in the burrito I ordered instead of rice, which had no taste… it was just filler. I would’ve preferred having rice. The whole place is decked out in Mexican wrestling trinkets. There’s a microphone like the one they lower down into the ring for the announcer when they call for you to pick up your food. Giant gold championship belt. Warhol style luchador painting. You name it.

I went to Sea World when I was a kid, but I didn’t go to the zoo. At least I don’t remember going. Not only are there’s no ligres and trouser snakes, the panda and elephant sections were also pretty boring. Pandas and elephants are my two favorite animals. If only there’s a way I can mate the two of them. I remember visiting the zoo in Washington DC and their panda section was awesome, filled w/ facts about panda, how they breed them there in DC, stories about where each of the pandas came from. There’s a lot of breadth at the San Diego zoo in regards to the variety of animals they have, but really not much depth.

By the way, La Jolla is pronounced “la hoya” not “la jola”…

5. I didn’t even want to stop in LA other than get a bowl of ramen for lunch, but for Vivek’s benefit we stopped. Coincidentally, one of my favorite volleyball players from college days was playing in the Manhattan Beach Open, the Wimbledon of beach volleyball. I said hi to her before the match and actually got to chatting w/ her mother. I learned that Michelle was supposed to play in Virginia Beach that weekend but because of Hurricane Irene she played in LA instead. Works out well for me!

We did the standard touristy stuff for Vivek, like Getty Center and Santa Monica Pier before driving through Beverly Hills to meet up w/ my good friend’s sister who just moved out here 3 months ago. We took the subway downtown to Little Tokyo for Daikokuya ramen… supposedly the best in LA. I had my doubts about the public transit in LA. It wasn’t completely terrible. There are people riding the subway, but the trains looked like they were on loan from 80’s NYC sometimes and they come way infrequently…

6. You’d have to ask Vivek how Big Sur was b/c I was really tired and hardly remember anything… we drove through the night to get to Big Sur by morning. At 5, 6am I switched over to let Vivek drive and slept. I remember waking up to really heavy fog, walking around a trail amongst the redwoods, and Pfeifer Beach.

7. Part of the reason we wanted to make Big Sur by morning is so we can get into San Francisco in time to go see Ian Axel play at Hotel Utah. I had met Ian couple of years back through a friend. Ian’s got a little Elton John and Ben Folds to him. He’s touring w/ couple of other musicians and unfortunately going the opposite direction we are, otherwise I would’ve come support them in Seattle and at Hotel Cafe in LA.

8. Redwood National Park was gorgeous. I wish we had the time and cargo space to go camping for a bit. The fog makes it mysterious and the early morning peeks through between the trees. This is technically the third national park we’ve been to on this trip and I’ve got to say I’m really impressed w/ the content and organization they have on the website and also at the visitor centers. They make the visit much more enjoyable. You won’t hear me praising about government entities much so this is really something else.

9. Technically we could’ve drove straight through Portland but I wanted to try some of their food carts (they don’t call it food trailers out here) and also Voodoo Donuts. Portland almost puts Austin to shame. Restaurants will list exactly where each ingredient came from, down to the plot of land and longitude/latitude. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to Austin now but I’ve never really consider it to be weird. Portland was weird. Not weirder than Austin. Just different kind of weird. Perhaps this is how people feel when they visit Austin.

It took me almost 2 full days to fully unpack and set up my bed and desk. After multiple trips to places like Bed Bath and Beyond, IKEA, Home Depot I’ve finally got my room up and running fully functional now! Sometimes, the little things still reminds me the pain of leaving Austin, like reprogramming my radio… goodbye KGRS, hello KEXP. Or every time I fill out my address I still instinctively type my Austin address first, only to realize seconds later that I no longer live there.

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Saigon. It’s hot (thanks Captain Obvious!)… I wouldn’t even dare to venture out in the open between 10am and 3pm anymore. The first two days were ok b/c we were hanging out somewhere indoors at a restaurant, the pool, or the War Remnant Museum. The third day however, I was completely exposed out in the sun on my way to “The Lunch Lady” a la Bourdain. My shirt was completely drenched and it took me forever to cool down once I get into an AC environment.

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I flew down from Hanoi to Saigon (about 2hrs) to meet up w/ my friends Margaret and Barry who flew in from the US. My flight got there a little late and theirs got there a little early, plus the hoards of people waiting to pick up passengers outside the international terminal was really intimidating and I was worried at first I wouldn’t be able to find them.

Margaret used her points and we stayed at the Renaissance Riverside, where we had super nice breakfast, pedicure (first time ever), or just hang out at the pool. Definitely not roughing it. The 2nd part of our time there I checked into a budget hotel on the southwest part of District 1 near Ben Thanh Market.

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We met up an acquaintance of Margaret, Troy, an expat working in Saigon who gave us quite a few good recommendations (I love recommendations from locals!). We went out to eat at nicer restaurants and drank a lot more than I had planned (which is my nice way of saying I didn’t plan for it at all). I think I blew through my budget for the week my first night. We went to Zan Bar, a really nice middle eastern restaurant w/ hookahs for dinner, some random bar called Xu, the roof top bar at The Rex Hotel, and Apocalypse Now.

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Apocalypse Now was not what I expected. Troy had described it as “good clean fun” but it was pretty weird. There are a lot of expats of course, but judging by the amount of security guards in there and the fact they told me to turn my camera off while I was taking a short video, I wouldn’t be surprised if prostitution, drugs and other funny business go on there.

Blew through the sights in Saigon pretty quickly. Opera House, Notre Dame, Post Office (really cool w/ the French influenced iron work and architecture), Ben Thanh Market, War Remnant Museum, walked by the Reunification Palace but didn’t really go in because we had enough of anti-America kool-aid by that point.

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(Whoever recommended Pho 24 to me owes me an apology. This is the worst bowl of pho I’ve had in Vietnam. Never eat at franchised restaurants even in Vietnam. The broth was bland b/c they don’t take the time to let it develop flavor and just churn it out to the customers. My spring rolls were dry to the point the wrapper was hard… seriously… it was probably some gwailo friend that was too scared to eat anything other than Pho 24 while he was here in Saigon)

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(I love the fruits in Southeast Asia. Normally I’d punch myself in the face for ordering a drink like this, but it’s lychee!!)

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(Jaspas for brunch one day, another one of Troy’s recommendations. Sit out on the balcony with some eggs benedict and iced vietnamese coffee to take Saigon in slowly)

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(Pho 2000, right across from the Ben Thanh market on the southwest side. Famous because Bill Clinton visited there. It was good, but the best pho I have is still in Hanoi)

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(First banh my in Vietnam. It’s more of a southern Vietnam thing. Saw bunch of people lining up across from Ben Thanh, grabbed one for 20,000d and bunch of other drinks from a convenient store for another 40,000d)

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(Banh xeo and pork dumplings at Wrap & Roll. Haven’t had banh xeo until now. This one was way too oily.)

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If you have a good personal negotiation tip or story I would love to hear it.

Most everybody knows to bargain and haggle when you shop in Asia but some people don’t really know how to do it or they think they’re getting a good deal but they’re really not. One day some of the backpackers at the hostel I was staying at in Hanoi was asking the staff “how to not get ripped off”, whic prompted me to write this post. I’m not saying I’m a negotiation expert or this is the best way to do it, but the following are just some guidelines I’ve learned from my 13 yrs growing up in Asia, lots of travels, and tips passed down from my parents. I’ve also taken a graduate level course in negotiation during my time at McCombs, so some of these concept might not be that foreign to you, especially if you’ve read Getting to Yes before.

1. Shop around, get some information
Nobody said you have to buy at the first vendor you see. Shop around and see what kind of price range people are quoting you. You wouldn’t dare negotiate a job salary w/out knowing at least the avg pay for someone w/ your background, why buy something w/out first scoping out the market.

2. Know how much you’re willing to pay for it
If I am feeling really aggressive I usually have a set price in mind for how much I am willing to pay. If the market price happens to be lower, cool; if not I will not buy it unless I can get the price that I want. For example, I was buying a pair of sunglasses at the Ben Tanh Market in Saigon. The vendor quoted me 380,000d and I countered w/ 100,000d. She did manage to lower down to 250,000d before I started to walk away. I just keep pressing 100,000d on her calculator. Eventually she reluctantly agreed to it after I took about 5 steps and just was about to disappear down another isle.

3. Counter w/ about 1/3 of the initial offer:
Generally speaking at least. It all depends on how touristy the place is. If I see a lot of locals shop there as well I won’t be as aggressive. If it’s really touristy I might even counter w/ something ridiculous just as an attempt to find out their cost or bottom line is, not doing it to piss the vendor off. Trust me, you’ll know when they don’t want to sell or even talk to you. The most common sign is they’ll take the calculator away and put it back in the drawer. It’s just my way of getting more information.

4. Know your BATNA
BATNA stands for Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement. basically, what are your options if the deal falls through. When you are shopping in a market like Chatuchak, you have more leverage. What do you do if you can’t get what you want at the price you want at a vendor? Go to the next one 3 ft away of course.

5. Be willing to walk away
Don’t fall in love with what you are trying to buy. Again, there will be other places that sell it, if not in the same market at least other places in the city. Some time when you threantens to walk away and take your business elsewhere it give the merchant an extra incentive to meet you att your price.

6. Negotiate around the secondary issues
Price is obviously the primary objective in transaction like buying souvenirs abroad, but talk about some of the other topics as well. I like to talk about the poor quality of hand craft or material sometimes to have the vendor come down a bit just before finalizing the deal. Or if I bought more than one item I’ll ask for like a bulk discount or tack on something else I kind of like as well at a lower price. Also rounding up or down to the nearest whole number or bill denomination helps.

Of course this is somewhat generalized and doesn’t apply to everyb situation. This is not so you can take advantage of the vendors but more for your own protection. Sometimes you end up spending half an hour just trying to save 50 cents and it doesn’t make a whole lot of economical sense at that point.

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Hanging around in Hanoi

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Not to be negative, but I didn’t find Hanoi to be that interesting while I was doing my research prior to the trip and while I was here. I know it’s the capital and all but other than the Ho Chi Minh Mauosleum nothing else really caught my attention (and I didn’t even make it to the Mausoleum b/c they close at 10:30am during the week!). I basically used Hanoi as a base for Halong Bay and Sapa.

The very first thing I did on my very first day was to get food recommendations from the hostel staff. I’ve asked more than one person and they all said a pho place at 49 Bat Dan. It did not disappoint. In fact, I met couple of girls from Yorkshire later and took them to this place and they loved it as well. It’s a smaller bowl than in the US, for 35,000 dongs, which was more than I thought b/c people have told me a bowl of pho is like 75 cents. I hear Saigon is cheaper tho.

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I hesitated a bit to eat some street food, not for sanitary reasons but b/c the stools in Hanoi are all really short and small. I was afraid if I sit on it and break it they would make me pay for it. When I do sit down though, my knees are higher than the table. I felt like Alice in Wonderland where all the furnitures are all too small.

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After wondering around the first half day I am in Hanoi and the bus ride back from Halong Bay I had a pretty good idea of the layout of the city, at least I have these mental signposts of where everything is. The opera house, Hoan Khiem Lake, etc. I was very content to just spend my time wondering around. Even if I got lost I just sort of walked toward the genral direction of where I want to go. I would just randomly sit down in a coffee shop w/ locals playing Chinese chess and young people inside, or a pho shop filled w/ local office workers or kids getting out of school.

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I would’ve gone to the water puppetry show w/ the Yorkshire girls except the day we want to go was sold out. They got tickets for a matinee show the next day but I wouldn’t be able to make my shuttle to the airport if I went. I was gonna go to the Mausoleum on my last day but then I found out how limited the visiting hours were so I only ended up going to the Ho Chi Minh Museum and around the complex. I did pay 10,000 dongs to go into the Temple of Literature, but partially it was so I can use the restroom. I would’ve gone to the Ethnology Musuem too but it was 20 minutes by bus and I wanted to stick to walking.

How to do it: cheap shuttle bus back to Hanoi No Bai Airport
Right across from the Vietnam Airline’s office down town they pick passengers up to the airport for $2 or 40,000 dongs. I walked by it the day before my departure and it was filled w/ locals. The mini-buses depart every hour, except for 5pm but there’s an additional one at 6:30pm for some reason. It takes about 50 minutes to get to the airport, maybe a little longer during rush hour. I liked it better than taxi which cost $15 to $30 if there’s a lot of traffic. Public bus to the airport is the same price but this is quicker and more comfortable.

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Day 2/3: In Transit

They have free internet kiosks at the airport in Taiwan where I’m connecting and I’ve got couple of hours to kill so I thought I jot down some notes here.

First of all, I’m glad I changed my flight from AUS to LAX to an earlier one.  Originally I only gave myself about an hour and a half between arrival and international departure because I didn’t want to waste tons of time at the airport. Upon further review, I thought it’s better to play it safe. In case any of you didn’t know, flights tend to delay more later in the day. Either bad weather or they just fall behind schedule b/c the flight crew is missing etc etc, flights later in the day has a higher chance of being delayed so plan your travel accordingly.

Now that I had a few hours to kill, at least I could go out of the airport and grab some In-N-Out burger.

How to do it: Have delicious In-N-Out burger at LAX.
Hop on the Parking Spot’s free shuttle to their Sepulveda location and In-N-Out is right next to it, after you’re done, just hop back on. (If anybody has convinced the shuttle driver to go into the drive through let me know! That’d be funny) Note though that you shouldn’t do it if you have less than 2 hours.  That location can get quite busy… it’s a total crap shoot.  Note #2: go to the Sepulveda location, not Century.  There’s two parking garages for Parking Spot.  Make sure you get on the right one.

I got my visa to Vietnam through a travel agent online and it’s one of those on arrival kind.  It was only like $20, and the stamping fee is another $25.  It just sounds too good to be true… so come back and see if I got hosed and gets stranded in the Hanoi airport.  I think it’ll work.  My other friends did it through a travel agent in the US and charged them at least $100, $120 just b/c you have to ship your passport and service fee, etc.  I think shipping certified or priority mail w/ USPS is about $18, $20 and both ways you’re talking about $40 range which is like the equivalent of maybe 50 bowls of pho.  I’m still a bit skeptical, but if it does work saving that money was definitely worth it.

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My RTW Itinerary

Hi yall!

I’m about to leave for my RTW* trip.  You can get hold of me via good ol’ email or Skype me.  I will periodically update this just so my family and friends know that I’m safe and ok.  With all these earthquakes in Asia… who knows what’s going to happen.  Here’s my rough itinerary:

3/28 – 4/4: Hanoi, Halong Bay, Sapa
4/5 – 4/9: Ho Chi Minh
4/9 – 4/12: Bangkok
4/12 – 4/16: Hong Kong
4/16 – 4/22: Taipei
4/22 – 4/24: Singapore
4/24 – 4/29: Cambodia
4/29 – 5/5: Malaysia and then fly out of Singapore
5/5 – 5/21: Spain + language school
5/21 – 5/30: Rome and Florence
5/30 – 6/23: TBD, most likely hiking through northern Italy, Switzerland, and maybe Iceland and the Scandinavian countries.

* – kind of RTW… originally planned to go to Australia/New Zealand and South America but plans change… you know how it is.

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My Reading List, 11/7

Five ways to turn your living room into Carnegie Hall Paste Magazine   [music]

7 healthy fall super food – The Daily Green   [food]
Pick some up at your farmer’s market!

The coolest small cities in America – GQ   [travel]
Wow, thank you GQ! I’m surprised by some of the tips and recommendations in here, including Hominy Grill in Charleston, SC and J’s Oyster in Portland, ME.

What to do when travel stinks, literally – Budget Travel   [travel]
TSA compliant products

Top 7 emerging destinations in the world – travelanthropist  [travel]

Napa‘s top secrets – Budget Travel   [travel]
This article is legit. Check out the Oxbow Market and The Preiser Key, but skip the Old Faithful Geyser

Top 10 extreme destinations for Thanksgiving – InventorSpot   [travel]

New spin on food trailers – Entrepreneur   [business, food]
By far the most interesting article I read this week.

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