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Top 5 Markets to Visit in South East Asia

By on Oct 16, 2012 in South East Asia | 0 comments

Street Markets are one of my favorite places to visit whilst travelling in South East Asia. I enjoy meeting the unique characters, sitting down with the locals to eat the most exotic local delicacies and not to mention finding some great souvenirs to take home with me. The markets in South East Asia can vary in quality as well as product and produce depending on the region you visit. The hardest choice you will have when travelling through the region is to pick which ones to visit. From epic warehouse sized markets selling over priced “genuine” knock offs in big Asian Cities, to the smaller traditional markets in regional villages where you can buy everything from spices to buffalo. So with this in mind, I wanted to share with you my five favourite markets in South East Asia that are great for people-watching and shopping alike.  1. Luang Prabang Street Market, Laos After the sun sets on the main street of Luang Prabang, the red and blue tents of the night market take centre stage as the indigenous Hmong women flock to the town to sell their locally crafted and purchased wares. Surrounded by Wats and Temples, the market sellers intricately lay out their antique lookalike snuff bottles next to one off pieces of handmade jewellery, which wouldn’t look out of place on the streets of Paris. Walls of colorful paper umbrellas surround you in every direction as you search for fisherman pants in your size. And no visit is complete without a pair of Hmong pants – just watch the first ten washes or so as the colour runs out. There are no crazy hawkers or intense crowds to deal with at this night market, just a very chilled out and relaxed vibe. The traders love a good conversation and it can provide an insight into the local indigenous way of living. Off the main road, the side alleys are full of freshly caught fish prepared on bamboo leaves  accompanied with steaming bowls of fragrant rice. Just pull up a seat with the locals and tuck into some amazingly delicious food. Once you’ve finished, try your hand at a street game, from popping balloons with darts to card games. All of this is why Luang Prabang market is my all time favourite in South East Asia and worthy of the arduous overland journey it takes to get there. Also don’t forget to checkout our etiquette guide about visiting indigenous communities in South East Asia for some handy hints and tips about visiting the Hmong. Best Buys: Paper umbrellas, snuff bottles, freshly cooked fish and Hmong clothing  2. Malacca Night Market, Malaysia A secret gem, the night market in the Portuguese town of Malacca in southern Malaysia is full of trinkets, local produce, cheap fashion and even the kitchen sink. Whilst not everything on sale will warrant a place in your luggage to take home, it’s a great place to dive into Malaysian street food and sit back and watch the world go by. A community market at heart, the vendors wind themselves along Jalan Hang Jebat – a short stroll from the central square. Surrounded by world heritage listed buildings, the street is rich in history with fascinating Chinese and Portuguese fused architecture. Whilst the vendors have interesting wares, the shop fronts also sell a range of oriental products including Chinese medicines, artwork and housewares. Best Buys: Antiques (Fake or real Ill leave it up to you to decide), trinkets, electronic gadgets and cheap oriental souvenirs.      3. Ubud Art Market, Bali Very touristy and slightly claustrophobic, the Ubud Art Market in the central mountains of Bali in Indonesia is an old favourite of mine. The market is known for is locally created art work, Balinese handicrafts, and its growing boutique fashion scene. Many of the products are crafted in the out lying villages then brought to market to be sold. You will need your bartering skills at this market as the Balinese start high with their price, but its worth noting that your money often goes directly back to helping the local villages – so don’t barter too aggressively. It’s best to stay in Ubud when visiting as you will be able to get up early or visit late in the afternoon to avoid the loads of tourists that arrive by  bus. Also, dont forget to try Pork Sucking at Ibu Oka, the best in all of Bali – the locals can point the way. Best Buys:  Local handicrafts, artwork, wooden statues, Babi Guling (Suckling Pig) and colorful gifts      4. Lantern Market in Hoi An, Vietnam If you’re anything like Niki and think that your life would be complete if you were surrounded by thousands of colorful Lanterns, then the Hoi An Lantern market in Vietnam is for you. Popular with the locals and travellers alike, this market in the streets of the old town of Hoi An comes to life at night as paper lanterns of all shapes and sizes light up the balmy evening. The streets fill with children as they run and play, the local river becomes a place of mystical creatures, whilst young couples canoodle on the ‘love’ bridge. The relaxed Hoi An Night market is a mix of street hawkers and historical shop fronts selling local artwork, boutique homewares and everything in between. After a night of shopping, I would recommend...

The Vietnam Conclusion

By on Apr 1, 2011 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam.   After three intense and chaotic weeks of travelling through Vietnam, Nic and I had made it to our last destination, Ho Chi Minh City airport for our flight home. It was with a mix of sadness that we were to be concluding such a great adventure, yet relief as my travel worn body, challenged at every corner on this overland trip, was glad to be heading home to the comforts of a clean shower and a comfortable bed. We had done it! A journey that so many dream of and a journey that will remain with me for the rest of my life. In retrospect, Vietnam is what I had always been looking for in my South East Asian adventures, rough and ready travel, chaotic Asian influences, amazing food and the chance to really get off the beaten track with no one holding my hand. Yes I nearly got Niki injured a few times, yes Giardia is not a good travelling companion and yes I was pick pocketed, however we can’t overlook the most important aspect. We had successfully travelled from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City for our honeymoon and Niki and I were still married by the end of it (not to mention the rules of marriage I learnt) – that tells me my marriage is as strong as Vietnamese rice wine. Wrapping up the Hello what’s your name? Blog Series, I want to share my thoughts with you on a country that is rapidly opening to tourism and some of my highlights over the three weeks. Hanoi, like an estranged lover, just as you get close it bitch slaps you and puts you back in your place. I liked Hanoi for this reason. It’s a political capital city with hard liners and a do or die attitude which more resembles China than South East Asia. I won’t lie though, I can see why this city wouldn’t appeal to everyone. It’s not relaxing, you’re constantly on edge from touts and manic traffic and you never quite feel like you’re welcome. Halong Bay. It’s touristy, it’s expensive and its one of the best indulgent activities I have ever participated in. Let’s face it, this is Halong Bay, nothing else in the world is similar! Splash out and spoil yourself with this one, its well worth it. Sapa’s uniqueness comes from the gracious Hmong indigenous people of the area who single handedly make it worth the 12 hours of train travel it will take you to get here. Its cultural vibe is rivaled by nowhere else in South East Asia as its not staged for tourists like Thailand. Well worth a trek to Ta Phin if you get the chance and the whole experience is a must when travelling to Vietnam. Hoi An is Vietnam’s tourist town and is polished, buffed and presented in a neat package. Needless to say Hoi An is popular and you’ll be surrounded by tourists from all over the world and from all walks of life. However if you’re like me and you wish you could have seen Asia in the times when Singapore was the whore of the east, Hong Kong was the opium capital and sea traders ruled South East Asia, then Hoi An can give you a glimpse into what a trading port would have looked like. No opium or ladies of the night (not that I saw) but heaps of great restaurants, relaxed nightlife, clean beaches and of course lots of lanterns. Hue! I don’t really understand where Hue fits into Vietnam. Torn apart by war, centered on its cultural history of emperors and moving forward whilst watching its back. Perhaps I was in a travel low whilst here or perhaps travel shouldn’t always be fun, sometimes it should be hard going and thought provoking – which Hue certainly is. Nha Trang is a small town and reminds me of the coastal towns of Spain – English breakfast cafes, themed pubs, tourist development, the beach and not much to do. Nha Trang was comfortable but I personally don’t know why people stop there. The beaches are better near Hoi An, there aren’t many attractions and unless you’re into getting cheaply drunk all night………ohhhh that’s why people stop there. Apparently it’s a good dive spot too! Ho Chi Minh City. I have to admit I didn’t give enough time to explore this city, only staying here for two days. Saigon as it was formerly known is just as crazy, chaotic and thrill riding as you expect it to be. It’s also very sobering with the War Remnants Museum and Reunification Palace giving a horrific glimpse into Vietnam’s history. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time when visiting this city and hold onto to you knickers you’re in for the ride of your life! So with that I say thank you for sticking with me over the last five months, the trip to Vietnam was life changing. I really encourage you to visit Vietnam before it starts to open to the mass western tourism that so much of South East Asia has already adopted. Vietnam isn’t a walk in the park however if you’re thinking of travelling to Vietnam, you probably already know that.  That’s it for “Hello, what’s your name?” and with that I’d like to say my name is...

Hoi An is Pure Travel Porn

By on Nov 8, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam. Okay I’m going to say it, go out on a limb and just be done with it, no embarrassment or blushing, no pillow talk. Simply put: Hoi An is pure, unadulterated travel porn. There I said it! I’m so in love with Hoi An that I’m going to use every clichéd saying under the sun; It’s the perfect mix of old world Asian charm, home to some of the most tantalizing gourmet Vietnamese food and the perfect place for  romantic strolls under glowing paper lanterns that light the barmy evenings. Everywhere you look children play along the quiet alleyways and as you stroll along the river you are gifted with glimpsing insights into artist’s studios, ancient homesteads and a way of life long forgotten. Your senses are carried away with the aromas of simmering broths and incense sticks to a faraway place, all helping to suspend you in a sultry evening of everything you dreamed Asia to look like, plus everything you didn’t. Needless to say I think Niki and I really liked Hoi An. After a dramatic entrance and Niki collapsing, we ended up spending 5 amazing days here, just wandering through the museums and temples by day and strolling the along the river at night in search for the best dinner and of course dessert. It’s very easy to put on a few kilos in Hoi An, in fact my beloved told me I should “buy some fat pants” today. I blame Hoi An! Here are a few recommendations that are well worth the visit. Cargo Club: Neo Colonialism is still well and truly alive is this amazing bakery come cafe come restaurant. I knew about the  Cargo Club well before we arrived in Vietnam. Its name is legendary on the travel circuit and anyone who has been to Hoi An has certainly eaten themselves in to a slow death with one of their many, many, many pastries, desserts and gourmet delectables they have to offer. My brother’s girlfriend highly recommends the Tiramisu and I would have to agree! Needless to say, Niki and I had to be rolled home every night after we would finish here. Come to think of it, there were a few lunches that we need to be rolled home from as well. Secret Garden: Sort of defeats the purpose of telling you about this secret restaurant, however it’s a gem. I’ve always found my favorite places are down quiet alley ways that aren’t as popular with tourists, however this place is on the way though. Hands down and I surrender, this place had the best Vietnamese fusion in all of Vietnam and the restaurant is beautifully placed within an Indochinese setting. Yes its expensive compared to South East Asian standards, but the servings a big, the staff are beautiful and the food amazing. The free samplers you get at the start are indescribable. Phu Quoc Hotel: Another best of moment goes to this great hotel. Recommended in the Lonely Planet it’s a 5mins bike ride to the Old Town and has spacious modern rooms with room service, free breakfast, swimming pool, cable (hey I’m on my honeymoon, I can watch TV on my holiday), the most friendly staff and free internet. I’ve paid more for less in Australia and the flowers the gave us because it was our honeymoon was a nice touch. Rule No. 10 of being married – Never tell your wife a second helping of dessert is probably not a good idea, apparently women have a dessert stomach? Now for my last suggestion and one of my favorites. Wait for night, than head into the old town, cross over the bridge and head to the lantern quarter of Hoi An, it  truly is a kaleidoscope of colours and characters. Anyway what an amazing 5 days! I nearly killed Niki three times and I have only been married for 2 weeks, which so far makes it about a 30% chance when she wakes up that I’m going to some how endanger her life. It is definitely worth a stop in Hoi An and arguably the number 1 destination to visit in Vietnam. Tomorrow, we are off to Hue and the cultural heart of...

The Hoi An Cyclo Challenge, Vietnam

By on Oct 27, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam. Arriving back to our hotel from our anti-climax of a relaxing morning on the beach, we received a knock on our door, considering I just got undressed to change out of my bathers I decided to just go ahead open it whilst being completely naked!  Just as my hand gripped the handle to pull it open, my bravado encouraging me to do it, Niki walks out of the bathroom, looks at my hand trembling towards the handle, instantly she knows what I’m about do and before I can explain myself, falls onto the bed laughing as if this was the biggest joke she had seen all week. With my encouragement burst like an over inflated balloon, I yelled “just a second”, grabbed some clothes and opened our door to the friendly front desk attendant. The staff at Phu Quoc Hotel are the best in all of Vietnam and as we recently found the attendant  got married only a week before, Niki and she would enjoy a number of girly chats over the week. However this time her face was smiling yet straight to the point, she said with an almost life and death situation voice, “we would like to you to be in a game show for the hotel”. Instantly I knew I couldn’t pass this opportunity up, how many times in your life do you get to be in a Vietnamese Game show right? So before I knew what I was doing, I agreed. This was one of those times I should of clarified a few things before I agreed to it – my mind takes me take to a time in Bangkok when a Thai lady asked if I wanted a happy ending with my massage, this was another time I should of asked more questions before jumping in and just saying yes…..okay maybe not, but you get the point. So after getting dressed and running down the stairs, the request became a little more detailed, in fact, it morphed into a totally different concept all together, I was going to be riding in a Cyclo Rally from the town center to the beach we just rode from. This time I was to be the passenger whilst I left it up to a professional to do all the hard work, or so I thought.  As the challenge was only for me, I felt bad about leaving my new wife but before I could say “Comme onnnnn down”, Niki was being chucked on the back of a motorbike and became the official photographer for the event, whilst I was going to represent Phu Quoc Hotel in basically an over-glorified Miss Cyclo Universe challenge.  As Niki headed off, I jumped on the back of another motorbike and hurled myself towards the starting point and where my carriage awaited. Arriving to the starting line, drums were playing, beautiful Vietnamese women were walking up and down holding banners like at the F1, I had underestimate the seriousness of this event. All the other hotels and tourist companies each had amazingly decorated cycles and an adopted tourist to come for the ride. They were dressed in amazing Vietnamese silk, brightly coloured sashes and other iconic clothing and here I was, in an outfit more closely resembling pajamas than finely tuned racing gear….I was in trouble (I put all my clothes in the wash that morning). Mentioning my dilemma to my motorbike rider, he said Ill fix it and rode off into the sunset. Niki and I were sure he went to a local tailor shop and before I could say “can I buy a vowel please”, I was wearing a red women sash with the hotel’s name on it. Now I just looked like an over-sized candy cane, but it would have to! I met my cyclo driver, a man half my size but with legs built like rocks and Niki went off to begin her photojournalism. Half and hour of waiting and my driver suggested I sit on the driver’s seat and Niki in the passenger seat for a photo; this happened to be the same time the race began! So before I could say “What is a three wheeled bicycle”, the driver gave me a sly smile and pushed me off. I had just become the next Michael Schumacher of the cyclo world in this PR stunt and it was about to backfire. Pushing the heavy pedals  to get up to speed whilst following the 20 other cycles along a route that would take us through the old town of Hoi An before onto the final destination, Cua Dai Beach.  It was surprisingly easy once you got momentum, Niki was loving it and people were lining the streets to wave and cheer. Naturally I embraced this. As I turned the first corner, watching all the cars still on the road as I was riding along, this was about the time I realized I hadn’t had the chance to ask the basics….like where the brakes were for instance? And as I waved back at people, who for some odd reason seemed to be overly waving at me as if they were trying to tell me to look out for something, I heard Niki yell out “PETER WATCH OUT”! Well apparently they weren’t so much waves of excitement and love for me, but...

Cua Dai Beach Vietnam

By on Oct 3, 2010 in Vietnam | 0 comments

Hello, What’s Your Name? A three week adventure around Vietnam. After our disastrous ride from the day before, today I decided to treat Niki to a lazy day by the beach, so with that we jumped on our bikes…..pedal power this time for the 5km ride to Cua Dai Beach. It was a relaxing early morning ride, pass rice paddies, lily fields and kids heading off to school. We followed the Thu Bon River as it bends towards the sea, finally arriving at the empty beaches of Cua Dai. Parking our bikes up and paying 100k dong for two sun beds, we relaxed into an inspiring view of crystal blue water lapping against perfect white sandy beaches. The water was cooling against the already sticky morning, the sand was burning and the slight breeze was appreciated. The perfect touch was a beautiful old lady, with aged lines intriguingly crafted into her face who sold us fresh mangoes and a pineapple expertly cut, quartered and skinned. This woman knew how to use a knife and I was envious, if not slightly afraid, of her skills. This lasted for about 2 hours… Rule No. 8 of being married – Providing relaxation time is always good for your wife = Happy wife, happy Life! By 11ish the mainstream tourists had woken from their slumbers and nosily made there way down the beach and decided to plunk themselves on both sides of us. This was the beginning of the end of our relaxation time. Now I’m not usually so grumpy and anti-tourists (each to his or her own), but today was meant to be quiet, meant to be relaxing, meant to be chilled – and then the pawn (I can’t spell it the other way as Google will hate me) star pervert come camera man arrived. You know the type. The one with a camera pretending to take images of the ocean, instead zooming in on women in bikinis as they sunbath, as the put sunscreen on or participating in any other American college year movie stereotypes. What got me was he was so blatantly obvious about it, that I cant believe no one else noticed. So if you were on the beach in Hoi An in July perhaps keep an eye for “girls go crazy in Vietnam” DVD which might be released on YouTube soon. This was also the time that three lively tourists plunked themselves down and decided to roast themselves to oblivion and I’m talking blisters and skin cancer territory. Not to mention the loud, boisterous and slightly rude bargaining they begun with the pineapple lady. Is it really that important that you pay 20 cents more than a local? We can afford it. However this was nothing compared to a particular badly behaved British couple that were about make an appearance. So let’s set the scene: All the sun beds are lined up under umbrellas, so everyone has a perfect sea view of the beach in front of them and can pull the beds forward to get into the sun without blocking the other person sight. So lets welcome our tourists, who stroll in and instantly throw their clothes to the ground, pull out their beds and then in the most bizarre thing,  turn them sideways and place them in front of everyone else so they can’t see the water. WHAT THE!?!?! I was seething, this isn’t good beach etiquette and totally disrespectful. So what did I do? I wrote them an imaginary letter. Dear British Couple on the Beach in Hoi An I am writing to you to inform you that just because you think you have god’s gift of a body, it doesn’t mean you have the right to make everyone look at it. And no, contrary to popular belief no one wants you to pop your pimples in front them, it’s just not cool. I didn’t pay my money to witness that! So next time you come to the beach, please don’t put your chair in front us so that you completely block our view from the beautiful sea view.  Instead, grab a mango, be a little more considerate and chill out! Your sincerely Peter PS Get a wax! With that, I felt my stress levels going through the roof and decided enough was enough, jumped back on our bikes and headed back to the hotel to mope. I thought of putting a book together of all the rude and annoying things travelers and tourists do – what do you think? Dear American Tourist in Italy, no one wants to hear you sing to your boyfriend at the back of the bus for 2 hours, and then turn to him and say “I think I should become a singer” in a non joking manner. I’m sure I’ve done some rude things and I’m not perfect, but generally I try to think of others whilst I travel.  Anyway enough of my soap box, for today was just warming to be one of the most memorable days in Vietnam…I was about to become a...