Tag Archives: Vietnam

LA eats – phorage

6 Nov

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Brian and I fell in love with the dish pho when traveling through Vietnam this past spring. There is just something so satisfying about a big bowl of noodles with slices of tender meat and fresh herbs, especially when you add hot sauce to the mix! We have both been craving it ever since we returned, so we did some research and found a restaurant in Los Angeles, called Phorage that had great reviews. It was decided that we would go there for lunch rather than dinner because really is there anything worse than going to bed with a belly full of noodles? I think not.

You would never know that the restaurant was there unless you were looking for it. It’s a teeny tiny place located in the corner of a strip mall. This immediately tells me I’m in for a horrible or fabulous meal- there really isn’t a middle ground in such a situation. Luckily, the meal was fabulous. The menu is small but that doesn’t matter because they do each dish right. We had three options when ordering our pho…washugyu beef and brisket, free range chicken or natural oxtail. Brian and I both settled on the beef and brisket combo. Brian also ordered a Jidori chicken Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich) & a Cafe Sua Da (Vietnamese ice coffee). Clearly, there were going to be leftovers.

The meal was so damn good. I felt like I was transported back to the streets of Vietnam!

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Phorage LA

3300 Overland Ave

Los Angeles, CA 90034

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Ho Chi Minh – day 3

4 Aug

After eating breakfast at the hotel we headed back into the sweltering heat to explore. First up, a very sobering morning at the War Remnants Museum. So sobering in fact, I didn’t even make it through parts of it due to the graphic nature of some of the photographs. You forget how truly devastating the Vietnam War was. The morning left me in tears. Don’t worry this post gets less depressing.

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 After the museum we decided it was time to try the southern Vietnamese pho. As I mentioned in a previous post there is a bit of a debate as to whether the northern or southern pho is tastier. After polishing off a big bowl of southern pho, I came to the conclusion that it was the winner. I found it lighter and more fragrant. There were also more options with the vegetables you could put in, including basil (although basil is a herb isn’t it? but you get the point), which added such a nice kick. For Brian the pho debate was more of a tie…noting that he liked the meat better in the northern pho. So there you have it folks!

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After filling our bellies (thank God we were walking as much as we were otherwise I am convinced I would have gained 20 pounds on this trip) we headed to “antique street” to look for…you guessed it, antiques! Brian and I love to come home with treasures from our travels- my favorites include…a bright blue woven hammock from Nicaragua, a plush orange blanket handmade in the mountains of Nepal and the colorful bells from Nepal that hang around water buffalos necks on the trekking trails to warn you that they are coming. I make Brian wear them around the house sometimes. HA.

That day I was on the hunt for a small elephant statue with his trunk in the air, which supposedly brings good luck. Brian was much more open to what his treasure would be. We strolled from tiny hot store to tiny hot store.

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After hitting the whole block we circled back to our favorite one to do some bargaining- something Brian excels at and I fail miserably at. You can pretty much sell me anything. On the table…one elephant with his trunk in the air, one buddha head and two opium pipes (to be used as table art and not for smoking said opium). I let Brian do the talking while I continued to explore the shop. I can’t even watch people bargain with out getting uncomfortable. Finally I heard Brian say, “Do you take American Express?” and I knew we had a deal. We were now the proud owners of an elephant, a buddha head and two opium pipes. Winning! Clearly our antique street success called for Bintang beers so we decided to head back to Tiny’s in the backpacker district.

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After a few Bingtangs we headed back to our hotel for the routine three-hour afternoon break in our air-conditioned room, but not without a stop at the famous pastry shop, Tous Les Jours. Yes, this trip to Vietnam was becoming quite indulgent. Because of the French invasion in Vietnam many French influences can still be felt and I quickly learned I had a favorite…the baked goods!

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After picking out a few (I blame Brian) we walked back to the hotel where we then proceeded to eat pastries in bed while sipping on iced Vietnamese coffees.

After our siesta, we went out for Greek food followed by after dinner drinks at Casbah. Casbah had a completely different energy than the previous evening. The place really livened up as the evening wore on. It was packed with people and there were even belly dancers! The place was jumping. Luckily we found a quiet spot outside and away from the chaos. After imbibing in a few too many beverages, Brian and I decided it was the perfect time to face-time with Frank (yes, you read that correctly), via my sweet mama who was staying at our house to watch him. We both did the math and concluded it was 10am in LA, so we dialed and eagerly watched the phone as it rang. Suddenly my moms sleepy face appeared on my screen and she confusedly said  “Kate??? Hi honey. I can see you? I can see Brian? Why are you guys calling me at six in the morning?” Two thoughts crossed my mind at this point…shit we woke her up!….and….I can’t believe she’s never face timed before? It was then she shrieked “Does that mean you can see me?!! OMG I’M NAKED!!!”. At that point the screen went black and all I could hear was yelling. Poor thing! Not only was she rudely awakened at six am but now she was convinced her son-in-law just saw her naked. I was laughing so hard I was literally crying. Moments later she reappeared in a robe and just as I was about to reassure her that we couldn’t see anything the volume of the music went from 0-100 and a belly dancer appeared in front of our table. Clearly, it was our turn for the show. I tried to yell over the music but she couldn’t hear me and there was only one thing to do…wave and hang up. She must have thought we were insane.

After the required belly dancing show we strolled back to our hotel laughing about the evening. My heart and my belly feeling very full that night…day three in Ho Chi Minh was a good to us.

Ho Chi Minh- day two

28 Jul

With our wretched first day in Ho Chi Minh behind us and a good nights sleep under our belts, we awoke in much better moods and excited to explore the city. First up on our itinerary was a stop at the Ho Chi Minh Museum. It was relatively close to our hotel so we decided to walk. The minute we stepped out of the hotel doors the thick hot and humid air enveloped us. It felt even hotter than the day before. How was that even possible? While I am not a huge fan of humidity, I quickly learned that my husband reallllllly doesn’t enjoy it. I won’t go as far as calling him a baby but I will say that there was some serious complaining going on.

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can you see the pain in his eyes?

After a twenty-minute walk, we arrived at the museum looking as if we had just showered. This weather was definitely going to take some getting used to! The museum was interesting (despite not being air-conditioned)- we both learned so much about Ho Chi Minh’s life before he became the president of Vietnam- I never knew he lived in France for a period of time working in kitchens or that he traveled many other countries in Europe working on a boat from 1911 to 1917. I’d say the museum is a must stop when in Ho Chi Minh…I mean the city is named after him and all.

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After the museum we headed over to Pham Ngu Lao, which is the backpacker district. It is made up of two parallel streets- Bui Vien and Pham Ngu Lao and a handful of tiny connecting alleys. I am a fan of exploring the backpacker district whenever I’m in a new city- they always feel more alive than the ritzy tourist areas. We wandered through the maze-like alleys taking in the sights (I could easily see into the locals homes from the narrow alleys, which was very exciting for a nosy person like me!) and smells (considering, nobody has air-conditioning and it was lunch time, the fragrant smell of food wafted out of the open doors…making me very hungry).

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With intense hunger pains now occupying both of our brains we decided it was time to break for lunch and picked a restaurant named Tiny’s at random. Well, maybe it wasn’t so random- it was the cleanest. We grabbed a table in the corner, luckily by a fan and quickly ordered two large Bintang beers to combat the heat. While I am not much of a beer drinker in my everyday life, it is pretty much all I ever order when I’m in Asia. Mostly because, my normal glass of chardonnay costs more than a meal for six and well, it just seems more authentic. You can safely say I wouldn’t be ordering a Bintang beer if I was in the south of France.

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After a decent lunch (nothing fancy at Tiny’s) of chicken hotpots (chicken, veggies & rice) we decided it was time for us to take break from the heat and headed back to the hotel. This became our daily routine – explore the city until around 3pm and then scurry back to the hotel for a few hours to read, write, shower (I showered three times a day in Ho Chi Minh) and nap in the cool air before heading back out for the evening. After our break we went to a Moroccan themed rooftop bar named Casbah that overlooked Notre Dame Cathedral for sunset cocktails (more bingtangs please!) and then had a truly amazing dinner at Thai restaurant named Golden Elephant.

Day three up next!

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Ho Chi Minh – day one

16 Jul

Day one in Ho Chi Minh was hellish. Hands down the worst day of our whole  trip. It was the perfect storm… Brian was terribly miserable because he was covered in a thousand mosquito bites (I swear that boy must be super sweet because those mosquitos LOVE him). I was terribly miserable with cramps and a rough bout of pms. We had a truly miserable flight from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh with a snotty and sneezing old man seated next to Brian and two very loud and annoying kids seated next to me. I honesty didn’t know two hours could feel so long. When we finally arrived in Ho Chi Minh it was 100 degrees and humid as F*%k, which made us both even more miserable. In addition we happened to arrive in Ho Chi Minh on a national holiday (May Day) and everything was pretty much closed (great planning on our part). Do you see where I am going with all of this? It was just one of those days.

We took a cab from the airport to our hotel, The Hotel Continental, which is a beautiful historic hotel located in the heart of district one (upside of the day). After settling into our room, we attempted to shake off our nasty moods by planning a fun afternoon. First up, we headed to Cholon, Vietnam’s “Chinatown”, home to over half a million people, making it the largest Chinese community in Vietnam. The area was something I was dying to see during our stay because I was keen on going to all the Chinese medicine shops.  Sadly, most of the shops were closed due to the holiday. So instead we aimlessly walked the  sticky, hot and humid streets of Cholon in silence (total grumps). Finally we stumbled upon one Chinese medicine store that was open- WINNING! I excitedly walked up to the two women behind the counter, equipped with my fancy English to Chinese translation app on my iphone and eagerly asked them for the magical herb I was on the hunt for. They both stared at me with a look of disgust and then rudely waved me off. I’ve never been so offended! Clearly, they were not fans. I left the store defeated.

We spent the next twenty minutes continuing to wander the sticky, hot and humid streets of Cholon, while I recounted the Chinese medicine shop experience over and over to Brian (clearly, unable to let it go). Then suddenly (as if things weren’t bad enough) the sky turned dark and it began to rain. This day was officially a wash. At that point we decided to call it quits and hailed a cab back to our hotel (which took forever due to the national holiday), where we holed up in our air-conditioned room reading our books for a few hours. It was exactly what the doctor ordered. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s ok to hole up in your hotel room while traveling. It’s impossible to be on the go non-stop for thirty days.

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After recharging our batteries we went to a fabulous dinner at a romantic little restaurant Brian found, May restaurant which served French/Vietnamese cuisine that was delectable. After stuffing our bellies we went straight back to our hotel room and climbed back in bed.

END SCENE.

 

well, hello 32!

14 Jul

I turned 32 last week- I am officially a woman in my 30’s! The celebration was pretty mellow this year…I went to a sweaty morning yoga class, spent the afternoon at the beach with my momma, got a mani/pedi and then Brian and I went out for sushi. It was a day filled with all my favorite things. As I am sure it goes with many people, my birthday always causes me reflect on the past year. The last year has been a wild ride. The highs include marrying Brian (I still pinch myself!), building a home, getting off the antidepressants I was taking for my anxiety (more on that in a later post), taking a month off to travel through Vietnam and Bali on our honeymoon, as well as a few epic weekend trips to Sedona and our mini moon in San Francisco and Tomales Bay, Frank (in general) and lastly watching so many of my dear friends get married, get pregnant and have babies.

The lows have included work stress (which invariably caused money stress), disappointing friendships, the separation of a couple that shocked me and the whole gallbladder saga. I feel like that silly surgery stole a few weeks from me, not to mention my digestion has been screwy ever since.

All in all 31 was pretty damn good to me. I have so much to be grateful for. When I look at my life I can’t believe how many things have fallen into place exactly the way I wanted. Is everything perfect? No. But is it ever? The last year has taught me that I am always going to be ok. No matter what. I am much more resilient then I give myself credit for.

I am still working on my goal list for this next year but until then here are a few of my favorite moments from 31.

look at that little puppy face. I die

look at that little puppy face. I die

bachelorette weekend in Sedona

bachelorette weekend in Sedona

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dancing with my maid of honor after much too much wine

dancing with my maid of honor after much too much wine

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with my momma at my wedding shower

with my step mama at my second wedding shower

with my step mama at my second wedding shower

walking down the aisle with my pops. I'll never forget that moment.

walking down the aisle with my pops. I’ll never forget that moment.

first kiss

first kiss

the pure joy I felt at that moment

the pure joy I felt at that moment

a lot of my favorite girls in one silly photo

a lot of my favorite girls in one silly photo

I will never forget this moment. It's hard to pee in a huge gown!

I will never forget this moment. It’s hard to pee in a huge gown!

eating oysters in Tomales Bay on our mini moon

eating oysters in Tomales Bay on our mini moon

the time Brian herded a bunch of cows

the time Brian herded a bunch of cows

the moment it really hit me that I had a husband

the moment it really hit me that I had a husband

our first Christmas in our new home as a married couple

our first Christmas in our new home as a married couple

these two

these two

our first New Years as a family!

our first New Years as a family!

dinner club with baby Margot

dinner club with baby Margot

when my sweet husband crawled into the hospital bed with me to cuddle

when my sweet husband crawled into the hospital bed with me to cuddle

meeting my little sister Briana for the first time

meeting my little sister Briana for the first time

celebrating Frank's 1st bday!

celebrating Frank’s 1st bday!

leaving for Vietnam!

leaving for Vietnam!

morning sunrise in Halong Bay

morning sunrise in Halong Bay

ho chi minh

ho chi minh

temples in Bali

temples in Bali

feet in the sand in Bali

feet in the sand in Bali

celebrating Rachel and PJ saying "I do"

celebrating Rachel and PJ saying “I do”

my best friend is having a BABY

my best friend is having a BABY

me and my little boy

me and my little boy

Thanks for the joy 31! I can’t wait to see what 32 brings!!

Halong Bay : day two

20 Jun

On our second day in Halong Bay, Brian set his alarm for the crack of dawn to take pictures of the bay in the early morning light. I’m not usually one to wake up that early, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see the bay at that hour. So I followed him up to the top deck and I am happy I did because it was worth it. It was so peaceful, all the other tour boats were still quiet and the emerald colored water was so still.

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When we came down, the crew was awake (and I think very surprised to see us) and hot coffee was ready. We both poured ourselves a cup of coffee and retreated to our room to hang out until breakfast was served. Not a bad view for morning coffee right?

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After breakfast James informed us that normally the whole group would board a smaller boat for the day to cruise to Lan Ha, a remote corner of the bay, but since we were the only guests staying on board for another night we would be getting a private tour for two. Clearly, some very good honeymoon luck, right? So we said our goodbyes to the group and boarded our boat for a day of fun.

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After an hour (it wasn’t the fastest boat I’ve ever been on) we arrived at Lan Ha and dropped anchor. Brian immediately jumped in the water for a swim, choosing to make that jump from the top deck.

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can you spot Brian?

can you spot Brian?

After our swim, our guide informed us it was time to get suited up in our orange life jackets again because she would be taking us on a tour of the surrounding caves. I had been on the fence about the whole cave thing when I had read about it on the itinerary. I am terribly claustrophobic but she assured me that the ones we would be going to would be large. So into the kayak I went. We were joined by two Serbian men from another boat. They were a riot and perfect companions for the adventure. They were even kind enough to snap photos of us since we didn’t have our camera with us.

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It’s true, the photos are rather blurry but at least we have them! After a few hours exploring the caves and attempting to spot monkeys on the islands, we were back on our little boat and headed for Three Peaches, where we would be spending the afternoon. When we arrived at Three Peaches, we dropped anchor again and  were served the most insane lunch. Seriously, it was a meal that could have easily fed a family of six but it was delicious.

After lunch we sunned ourselves for a bit before deciding to get back into the kayaks to make the short trip to shore to play on the beach and take a swim.

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The day was perfection from start to finish, made even better when we arrived back on the main boat and were informed that the new group that was supposed to be joining us on the boat cancelled.  This meant we had the whole thirty person boat and a crew of twelve to ourselves that night. WINNING. I mean, best honeymoon luck ever, right! Below is a picture that Brian snapped of me doing my happy dance once I heard the news.

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That evening they served us an elaborate four course seafood meal. It was hysterical having the whole dining room to ourselves and a waiter standing there for us. So this is how the other half lives, I thought. I could make this work.

After dinner we were both asleep again by eight. Ahhhhh, the joys of being on a honeymoon.

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ps….the photos that are beautiful and not iphone photos were shot by my super lovely and talented husband

Halong Bay : day one

9 Jun

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After a few exciting nights in Hanoi we made the four-hour trip to Halong Bay, located in northeastern Vietnam. We decided to book a group tour during our stay because we wanted to see as much as possible while staying on a boat for a few nights and the easiest way to ensure that, is to book a group tour. So we chose a two night/ three-day option aboard the L’ Azalee through Buffalo Tours.

So on our fourth morning in Vietnam, Buffalo Tours picked us up from our hotel in Hanoi. The second the crowded van pulled up thirty minutes late, I was reminded why I hate group tours. We climbed into the van and introduced ourselves to the other couples and filed into the back of the van into the only seat available: a middle seat. It was a tight squeeze, making the four-hour trip seem rather long; especially with the loud and obnoxious woman sitting in front of me. Why did we decide to do a group tour again? When we finally arrived at our destination, I was exhausted and my legs were drenched in sweat from being pressed against the hot leather seats.

We all piled out of the car and into the crowded boat dock. It was packed with tourists. PACKED. Clearly, many other people got the memo that Halong Bay was a “must see” when in Vietnam. Not surprising considering it has been declared a Unesco World Heritage site, twice.

We were greeted by a handsome young Vietnamese man, who went by the name of James (clearly, not his real name), our guide for the trip. He explained that we would be boarding a small boat that would take us to the L’ Azalee. Minutes later we were strapped in orange life jackets and heading out of the dock.

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My first impression of Halong Bay…beyond gorgeous but dear lord I hope there are fewer boats once we get out on the open water…because there were tour boats as far as the eye could see, making Halong Bay feel less magical than I had expected.
After a quick three-minute ride we were at our boat and all settling into our rooms. Our room was on the top floor and had huge windows that opened up onto the green waters. Now Halong Bay was starting to feel magical.

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After putting our bags down we were invited to the dining cabin for lunch, which consisted of four courses of various fresh seafood (winning). As we ate, we listened to James give a welcome speech. As he went through the itinerary, I was immediately struck by one sentence…”On this one night / two-day trip you will see a lot of Halong Bay”. Shit, we’re on the wrong boat. We are supposed to be on the two night / three-day boat. Now what.

Brian and I nervously glanced at each other and just as I was about to stand up and say, “Thanks for the free seafood!” James informed us that we did indeed have a three-day tour, but the that the others had only booked one night and would be leaving tomorrow but more would be joining. PHEW, I thought, as I took another bite of shrimp.

On the itinerary after lunch..kayaking through the limestone islands. Despite not being a fan of kayaking (it all comes back to my fear of the ocean), I put a big smile on my face…because one, Brian had a huge one plastered on his and two, I wanted to get closer to those limestone islands and I knew that that beat up red kayak was my ticket.

Halong Bay literally translates to “dragon descending”, a name steeped in local legend. The story goes that a heavenly celestial dragon and her offspring were ordered by the Jade Emperor to halt an invasion from the sea. So to stop the invasion, the dragons spewed out bits of jade and jewels that turned into the islands that are there today.

So off we went in our red kayak and bright orange life jackets.

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The limestone formations were like nothing I had ever seen before. They looked so majestic protruding from the clear water. It was so eerily quiet as we kayaked through that it felt like we were the only  people on earth. Actually, I kept telling Brian that I was sure a huge dinosaur was about to appear on one of the islands…the scene was straight out of Jurassic Park.

The other thought that kept crossing my mind as we floated through the islands…what is there ever to be sad about when things like this exist in the world?

Once back on the boat we had a few hours to swim, nap or sun bathe before dinner. For Brian and I this consisted of having a cold Tiger beer on the upper deck while sitting in the fleeting sun.

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At dinner that evening Brian and I were given our very own romantic table for two, while the others sat at a big table together. The perks of being on a honeymoon. The evening was rather mellow. We had big plans of going squid fishing at 10pm but instead were both asleep by 9pm….

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