Posts of a more general topic

Local Food

I know this blog will fall into the ‘well duh’ category for seasoned travelers, so this is for the rest of you.

In Ubud I did a comparison of ‘local’ food vs. tourist food. I ordered the same thing (Nasi Campur) for lunch two days in a row at two different restaurants.

Restaurant 1, Warung Makan Teges: $2.25, all other customers were Balinese when I was there.

Restaurant 2, Sari Organics: $5.50, all customers were westerners when I was there.

Can you tell from the photos which was which? Which would you rather eat?

Local version:

  • Much more flavor / spices
  • More meat
  • Everything pre-cooked, and served room temperature

Westernized version:

  • Healthier ingredients, less fatty
  • Cooked up fresh
  • Very mild spices / rather bland

Overall I preferred the local version, since I like spicy food. But both were good in their own way. And cheaper is always better, especially on a long trip.

Both restaurants had similar atmosphere and cleanliness. If anything the local restaurant might have been slightly nicer. You can also next this dish for around $1.50 at local places that are not as good and/or nice.

In general this difference between local and tourist food was the same everywhere we went, tho tourist food can be WAY more than 2x local food in many places.

Posted by me in General, SE Asia, 0 comments


People always ask us: “what was your favorite country?”. Since we typically only spent time in 4-6 places in each country, I don’t want to over generalize. But here is a list of some favorites:

Favorite Places

We really enjoyed pretty much every place we visited, but these are a few favorites that stood out:

  • Japan: Mt Fuji and Kiso valley
  • Vietnam: Hoi An and Hui
  • Laos: Luang Prabang
  • Thailand: Pai and Khao Sok
  • Cambodia: Koh Rong
  • Myanmar: Hsipaw and Inle Lake

See previous blog entries for links to photos and more details on each of these places.

Favorite Foods

Picking a favorite food is hard, as different countries excel in different areas. A few categories include:

  • Best ingredients: Japan (by far)
  • Best overall flavors: Thailand
  • Best use of fresh herbs and vegetables: Vietnam
  • Best grilled meats: Cambodia
  • Best satay: Bali
  • Best coffee: Vietnam
  • Best bugs: Cambodia
  • Best beer: Myanmar and Laos

Vietnam might have been my overall favorite if they used less MSG.

Favorite Tours

The category of best tour is a combination of interesting itinerary and great guide. We had so many great tour guides and great excursions that its really hard to pick favorites, but these stood out:

  • “I heart Hui” motorbike tour
  • Phenohm Pen with Vespa Adventures
  • Plain of Jars tour with Backstreet Academy
  • Hike with Jason in Cameron Highlands
  • Hsipaw trek with “Mr Bike”

See previous blog entries for links to these tours.

Favorite Guest Houses / Home Stays

  • Sapa Homestay
  • Homestay outside of Siem Reap, Cambodia
  • Hostel in Pai, Thailand
  • Hostel in Cat Ba, Vietnam
  • Homestay in Hui, Vietnam

See previous blogs for links to each of these.

Favorite Apartments

I don’t think we could have traveled for 7 months without the existence of AirBNB. After a while you get tired of staying with other people and eating in restaurants, and just want your own place with your own kitchen. Now with AirBNB this is easy to find, and often as cheap or cheaper than staying at Guest House.

My favorite AirBNBs were:

  • Tokyo: we got to experience living in a typical Tokyo studio apartment (which is TINY), and live in a real neighborhood, not a hotel district.
  • Hoi An: Great Apartment on ‘Herb Island” to watch the typhoon go by
  • Ubud: Fantastic house with 3 dogs and a cat

Favorite city I’d consider moving to

After spending time in a new place I think most travelers ask themselves “could I live here?” There are many places that are great to visit, but would you really want to live there? The only place where I said to myself “I could see living here for 1-2 years” was Chiang Mai, Thailand. Mostly because there is a great jazz club there with an open jam on Tuesdays, but also because there is a good mix of familiar western comforts and exotic Asian options. And I love the food there. Other places I might consider are: Hoi An, Osaka, and maybe Bali.

Other Favorites

  • Best cheap meal: Bun Cha (Obama special) in Hanoi and Panang Curry in Chiang Mai
  • Best Art: Bali (by far)
  • Best local culture: Bali and Myanmar
  • Best haircut experience: Vietnam (be far)
  • Best waterfall/swimming spot: Kuang Si Falls outside of Luang Prabang, Laos
  • Favorite place to eat squid so fresh its still moving in your mouth: Hakodate, Japan
  • Favorite Hedge Hogs: Tokyo
  • Favorite Punk Rock Bar: Tokyo

Japan has a number of things on the favorites list, and not just compared with Asia, but compared with everywhere I’ve been. Some of these include:

  • Best convenience stores: Lawsons and Family Mart ROCK!
  • Best public transit
  • Best public rest rooms
  • Best baseball fans
  • Best department stores with amazing food in the lower level

The list goes on and on.

Posted by me in General, SE Asia, 0 comments

Foody Travel, or how to get the most out of local cuisine

For us, one of the main reasons to travel is to try new, interesting foods. Our goal is to try all the popular foods in every city we visit, and have been surprised just how much foods can vary between towns that are only a 3-4 hr drive from each other.

Doing this well requires doing some research on what’s out there, and what its called. We start by doing some background reading and YouTube viewing. Antony Bourdain shows (Parts Unknown and No Reservations) and “Migrationology” (videos and articles) are good sources. For Japan, “Trails to Tsukiji” is super interesting. But just searching for “street food CityName” in YouTube and Google often brings up some useful/interesting videos or articles. Use the YouTube download option to watch these videos on the bus to your next destination.

Its easy to get overwhelmed with the number of options for foods you’ve never even heard of. We recommend making a list of the things you particularly want to try, and checking them off as you go.

Next we try to find a street food / market tour. Many towns have street food tours these days, and some include a market tour, which is even better.

Some of our favorite tours so far were:

The website is also a good source for food tours.

Some sample useful food pages include:

Many ask: “Isn’t it risky eating street food. Won’t I get sick?” In 4 months of traveling, we’ve only got mild cases of food poisoning twice each. I don’t think its all that much more risky than eating in restaurants. If you are worried, avoid raw vegetables/herbs and shellfish. And what’s life without a bit of risk!

Posted by me in General, SE Asia, 0 comments

SE Asia Travel Advice

Now that we’ve been traveling for 3 months, I wanted to write up some general advice/insight.


  • our favorite site for finding a wide range of lodging, and best search filter options
  • Best way to find a condo with a full kitchen, which is really nice once in a while
  • Great offline maps app
  • Kayak: My favorite app for finding cheap flights
  • Google maps: Learn to use the ‘save for offline use’ and ‘starred locations’ features.
  • Uber/Grab: often cheaper than regular taxi’s, and you dont have to haggle. I prefer the Uber interface, as Grab sometimes got the locations wrong.
  • Google Translate
  •  Several of our favorite tours/classes were booked thru this web site. They specialize in ‘unusual’ activities. has some good tours too. Some cities also have good AirBNB ‘experiences’.

Depending on exactly where you plan to go, you don’t need warm clothes. The most important thing is a good pair of shoes that can get wet and dry quickly. I LOVE my Keen Newport sandals, which are perfect in SE Asia. Pharmacies are everywhere and seem to carry every thing, so don’t worry about stocking up on meds. Bring a spoon and a small food storage box for leftovers. Help cut down on plastic bottle use and bring a water filter! A small roller bag is all you need. Laundry is cheap and easy everywhere. Usually about $1 per kilo. A good day pack is very helpful, as well as a small shoulder bag. A small Bluetooth speaker is nice if you want to listen to music in your room from your phone.

Here is really all you need in terms of clothing: 4 shirts, 2 pair shorts, 1 long pants, 4 underwear, 2 pair socks (in general you wont be wearing socks), 1 light jacket, Sun hat.

How to not burn out on a long trip

  1. Spend at least 1 day / week doing as little as possible. Just read, research your next destination, watch TV, etc.
  2. Try to spend at least 5 days in each city. Travel days are the most tiring, so try not to have too many of those.
  3. Try to get a place with a kitchen at least 1 week/month. Eating in restaurants all the time gets old. AirBNB is a good source for places with a kitchen.


In general here is what we have been spending in South East Asia:

  • Lodging: $20-30/night, mostly a room with AC in a small guesthouses, often includes breakfast
  • Local food: $1-$2 per meal
  • budget tourist food: $2-$4 per meal (places with English menu, and western options)
  • Taxi: $2 for 1-2 miles
  • Beer: $1-$2, cocktails: $3-5. (More in Malaysia, as taxes are higher. Less in Cambodia, where taxes are lower)
  • full day guided tours/trips: $20-$100, depending on on the tour
  • Flights: $50-$130 to get around within SE Asia. Anything over a 6 hour bus ride we flew instead.

Its also easy to spend $100 night for fancy 4-star lodging and $30-$50 for overpriced international cuisine if thats what you prefer, but why?

Mobile Data Options

  • Get a local SIM card: you can get a local SIM card with a reasonable data limit for $5-$10 everywhere, but then you have a new phone number in each country
  • Project Fi: works in 170 countries, $10/GB for data, unlimited text messages, $.20/min for voice calls
    • Advantages: It ‘just works’ almost everywhere in theory. In Vietnam it did not work, and while it was supposed to work in Laos, it didn’t. We could send text messages, but no internet. They added Myanmar just before we arrived.
    • Disadvantages: Must use one of 2 fairly expensive Android phones, and I really prefer IOS to Android.

We went with Project Fi, as we where going so many places and transiting thru Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur a couple times. It was really nice to not have to worry about getting/changing the SIM card all the time. Our monthly total cost for 2 people averaged around $70. But local SIMS are a lot cheaper. If you are just going to couple countries, I’d go with that option.

Posted by travel_b1p6zj in General, SE Asia, 0 comments

Motorbikes vs. Cars?

Being mostly in the land of motorbikes (aka scooters) for the last 2.5 months has made me think a lot about the advantages and disadvantages of cars vs. scooters. I think for the parts of the world that tend to be 60-90 degrees F (which is most of SE Asia, and even parts of the southern US and southern Europe), scooters are the clear winner. This will be even more true as electric scooters catch on.

People use scooters for most everything here, and you’ve probably seen some amazing photos of loaded down scooters. It’s also easy to turn a scooter into a taxi that can hold 2 passengers and their luggage (see below). There is secure parking for scooters everywhere, and you can buy gasoline in recycled water bottles everywhere. Many places you can even do an Uber on the back of a scooter.

In Vietnam, kids 12-16 can ride electric scooters, and so are a very popular ways for kids to get to school. Electric assist bicycles are also very popular. In Cambodia and Myanmar it’s coming to see kids 12 and up riding small scooters to school.

The only city on our trip so far where cars outnumbered scooters was Chiang Mai, Thailand, and the traffic was horrible there. In much bigger cities like Denang Vietnam where scooters still dominate, the traffic was way better.

I discussed this with several locals in all the countries we’ve been to so far, and they all have said that everyone wants a car as soon as they can afford one. Clearly this will be a big problem, as most cities here do not have the roads or parking infrastructure to handle it.

It would be great if all places in the world that have not made the scooter to car transition (or even the bike to scooter transition) to create large tax incentives for people to stick with scooters over cars. Maybe this could even work in places like San Diego too? Probably not….

Posted by travel_b1p6zj in General, SE Asia, 0 comments

Backpacker Hostels for the over 50 set

We decided to see what it would be like for 55 year olds  to stay at at a backpackers hostel. Dorm beds $7/night, private rooms $25/night. Of course we did the private room.

Overall it was almost exactly the same at when I was in SE Asia 30 years ago. The hostel was full of Europeans (mostly German college students) in their 20s. Also Danes, Dutch, Brits, Aussies, 1 other American, etc. I even heard both ‘The Wall’ and ‘Hotel California’ on the stereo within 15 minutes of arriving, just like 30 years ago! (They did play more current music too later). The food was mediocre, the beers where cheap, and everyone was exchanging info on good places to go and how to get there. And there was AC and hot water, something that was rare 30 years ago.

Even tho we were the only ones over 30, everyone seemed happy to hang out with us and hear about what is was like backpacking in the 80s and 90s. We also booked a day trip with the hostel ($16 for a full day of activities) that was great, and got to meet even more backpackers.

Hostels are still a great way to travel, meet people, and gather information. We plan to stay at places like this periodically, especially when first arriving in a new country. More older folks should travel this way. Or at least find a hotel across the street from a backpacker hostel, and book some day trips with them.

Oh, and in Vietnam they all sell balloons of nitrous oxide for $.50 too, if you are into that.

Here is the place we stayed. Backpacker hostels don’t usually have pools, which helped us make the decision to stay there. 😉

Posted by travel_b1p6zj in General, SE Asia, 0 comments