Local(e) Info

Los Angeles may be a city famous for cars and smog, but there are also lots of outdoor spaces. This is mildly delayed but spring is a perfect time to visit a lot of these places while the weather is warm and not yet hot. I am not covering the popular Griffith Park, the Malibu area, or Runyon Canyon areas as I’ve been making an effort to explore places I had not been yet.

First up is Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. I’d been here many years ago on a misguided mountain bike adventure that I am still not skilled enough for. As a hike it is lovely with a small fishing area, barbecue and picnicking areas, hilariously fake waterfall, and lots of beautiful, if somewhat smoggy, views of Los Angeles.

20140526_132243It’s near impossible to find a map of the park online for some reason. The trails are outlined but it’s hard to find your way around them as there are a lot not shown on this map. Luckily the 308 acre park is easily navigated.

20140507_182654It feels like an oasis of plants in the middle of what is otherwise an endless sprawl of buildings. I’m not sure if it’s technically the same park as the Baldwin Hills stairs but they are only separated by La Cienega and an oil field. This park is much bigger with better trails, less people, and similarly great views.

20140607_200538This is the view from an empty lot near where I live. The oil fields are not the most scenic or full of nature but it is probably an important cause of why this area hasn’t been completely developed yet.

April brought the annual blooming of the poppies at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. I wanted to go in years prior but the drought meant that there were not many flowers to be seen. This year was not the best bloom they’ve ever had but it was enough to make the trek out there.

Panorama_PoppiesIt felt like endless fields of orange and yellow. I can only imagine what this park looks like on a good, non-drought year. On our drive in even the highways are lined with endless fields of wildflowers. Purple, white, yellow, silver, orange and pink explode in patches everywhere. Even the car is not immune as the monarch butterflies were out in force and can’t seem to avoid your car.
20140420_115636The season for these beautiful flowers is not very long but luckily it is before the desert gets too hot. The park is about an hour north of the city and requires lots and lots of water even for these mild 90 degree days. I’m not sure I want to know what full summer looks like. I love how the flowers ranged from pure yellow to pure orange and every fade in between.

20140420_110529On the way back we stopped at Agua Dulce park. I am amazed that Los Angeles handles so many parks of this size and across such a large area. This park is famous for being the filming spot for many television shows and movies, particularly for the original Star Trek series.
20140420_153638 I often take the Ballona Creek off street path but not the other paths so I ventured out to Playa Del Rey to check out Cabora Road. Unfortunately it is not great for road bikes but would probably be fine for mountain bikes. It seemed great for all the walkers and their dogs. The only information I could find about this path online were outdated from 2007 and mentioned the path being closed. Luckily it seems very much open with helpful signs and even paper maps.

20140609_152317Now the path mostly looks over tech companies but the area has an interesting history as well. This is the old Hughes Aircraft headquarters and warehouse where the Spruce Goose was made.

20140609_163205Riding out to the beach takes you past lots of condos and high speed roads with no bike paths but you also get this beautiful view of the Ballona Wetlands.

I grew up in the South Bay area of Los Angeles but wasn’t much of a hiker while growing up. My parents’ idea of the great outdoors involved staying in cabins and maybe doing a nature walk. I revisited the area recently and it looks like various groups have popped up to make the area’s trails more accessible.
20140517_105020The views are incredible as always and the tide pools and caves are fun to explore. The strange part about this area of Palos Verdes is that there are technically four cities so as you pass through trails they are in different states of accessibility and marking.

I also visited the Lake Balboa park in the San Fernando Valley but did not get any good pictures. I’m happy to see such large expanses of green space set aside for everything from picnics to model airplane flying. I have also revisited the Griffith Park area and note that the river bike and pedestrian path has been improved a lot in the last few years. You can even take a kayak down a portion of the river now. Get out there Los Angeles, and enjoy the seemingly endless perfect 70 degree days.


I arrived in Banos weeks ago, the gateway between the Andes and Amazon.  Every tour operator in town is trying to sell you a package that is for some reason twice as much as most (probably outdated) guides tell you they should be, especially given the two 20 hour travel days involved.  $70-80 a day to go to an area that I’ve gotten confirmation from Ecuadorian tour guides is currently dangerous?  No thanks.  I considered going in another country or just sucking it up.  Then I met a nice American family while rafting that was taking an independent go at it and they let me tag along.  Warning: unlike my experience in the rest of Ecuador, there was a lot of gringo prices/overcharging on a small scale on this trip to get to the jungle.

So where does one start?  To head to Yasuni National Park, you get a bus from wherever you are to Coca, a riverside oil city.  If you take a night bus like we did, you’ll arrive groggy and confused at the incredibly modern bus station.  It had design reminiscent of the Madrid airport, was extremely bright, and even included a free movie theater.  From there you should catch a two dollar taxi to the port next to the Coop de Transportes Fluviales Orellana building.  That’s a mouthful I can’t pronounce, so just say you want to go to Nuevo Rocafuerte and they’ll know.  It appears by now they have boats every week day going in both directions but there was limited boating service due to the holidays.

We stopped for breakfast before getting on the boat.  The Oresco restaurant recommended by guidebooks wasn't open like it was written to be (shock), so we ended up at a fancy hotel that fed croissants to these monkeys.  Let the wildlife begin!

We stopped for breakfast before getting on the boat. The Oresco restaurant recommended by guidebooks wasn’t open like it was written to be (shock), so we ended up at a fancy hotel that fed croissants to these monkeys. Let the wildlife begin!

The port authority wasn’t open before the boat was to leave at 7:30 AM so we asked the times of a guy cleaning the place and bought tickets from random guys with clipboards at the port.  This guy sat there hemming and hawing about whether to give us the local price ($15) and we’d seen online reports of people getting charged $20 before another guy and our insistence at talking to the company finally got him to give in.

The scenery is exciting for the first hour.  Then there's about nine more.

The scenery is exciting for the first hour. Then there’s about nine more.

The boat ride is about a ten hour affair in the high water season, longer if you go during low river season.  It’s faster to get to Nuevo Rocafuerte because it’s downstream.  The seats are pretty uncomfortable and at least one of the boats doesn’t even have seat backings for you.  Bring a cushion and some cards.  The locals seemed fascinated as we played games.

While it was mostly pretty thick jungle, albeit shorter than I expected, I particularly liked this grove of tall spindly trees.

While it was mostly pretty thick jungle, albeit shorter than I expected, I particularly liked this grove of tall spindly trees.

Once we arrived we had trouble finding the hostel recommended to us by other travelers.  Turns out it was two blocks straight off the port and about five or so right, until you reach an ecotourism college.  At the end of the ecotourism college, take a left and the hostel run by them is at the end of the road.  They had comfy beds and friendly employees that knew Manuel, the guide we were looking for. It’s a small town, so when people figured out we were looking for the place, the employees found us.

More wildlife right outside my door.  Ribbit!  This guy was pretty big.

More wildlife right outside my door. Ribbit! This guy was pretty big.

It turns out Manuel is part of a community an hour and a half away called Martinica, in Cocaya nestled between the more famous Yasuni and Cuyabeno National Parks.  We took a canoe past Ecuadorian border control, waved to Peru, and ended up at their community house.  Why yes, we’ll take a whole reserve for ourselves.

Our guide Miguel ran inside and came back out with this centipede he let crawl all over him.

Our guide Miguel ran inside and came back out with this centipede he let crawl all over him.

As soon as we got to the community house, they tried to lure in some dolphins for us to see.  It seemed only one of us would see one at a time, as they breeched quickly and disappeared back under.  The river was high and running muddy and fast, making for bad dolphin watching.

After the tour we watched videos and realized the dolphins come up in clear water and eat the fish out of the guides' hands or sometimes even their mouths.  This time we had no such luck.

After the tour we watched videos and realized the dolphins come up in clear water and eat the fish out of the guides’ hands or sometimes even their mouths. This time we had no such luck.

As we had no luck spotting any pink dolphins and had trouble even seeing gray ones, we dressed up in wellies and headed deeper into their reserve.

I went to Disneyland a lot as a kid and kept thinking the guide was going to stop to fire a fake gun at rhino ears sticking out of the river.

I went to Disneyland a lot as a kid and kept thinking the guide was going to stop to fire a fake gun at rhino ears sticking out of the river.

Every twist and turn of lush green looked the same to me and I could’ve been easily lost.  Luckily our guide knew every inch of the land he grew up in and would stop the boat to show us wildlife or to duck into lagoons.  Parrots, toucans, and macaws flew majestically in the high reaches of the trees as we spotted other colorful birds and monkeys lower.

There were self sustaining little forests on islands in the lagoons full of birds.

There were self sustaining little forests on islands in the lagoons full of birds.

The day was gray and water muddy but it was still gorgeous as we floated down the much smaller and intimate calm river.

We could see such beautiful reflections as we floated along.

We could see such beautiful reflections as we floated along.

After a bit of river bird watching we stopped to take a short nature hike.  The guide seemed to know everything and would stop when none of us saw a thing to point out a ridiculously camouflaged frog or tapir tracks.

"Here, taste these ants, they taste like lemon!"  Indeed, those ant eggs did taste like lemon.

“Here, taste these ants, they taste like lemon!” Indeed, those ant eggs did taste like lemon.

The other ants in the forest were gigantic.  I’m sad we didn’t see a tapir, which they had a platform for watching at night, but I’m also happy to not run into a jaguar or snake.

We saw lots of beautiful colored butterflies.

We saw lots of beautiful colored butterflies.  I really wish I had managed to catch the other animals as clearly as this.

Right at the end of the hike it started pouring rain.  Expected since we were indeed in a rainforest.  As our canoe wafted into the water we saw some river otters duck away.  Lunch was back in the community house and consisted of traditional dishes, although they didn’t try to make us eat the giant grilled grubs the region is known for.

Maito: fish wrapped in what I assume was banana leaves and grilled over a fire with onions.  It's pretty delicious served with plantains and rice.

Maito: fish and wrapped in what I assume was banana leaves and grilled over a fire. It’s pretty delicious served with plantains and rice, just beware the bones.

After lunch we relaxed by the riverside again.

Our guide ran up again this time with a prehistoric looking fish.

Our guide ran up again this time with a prehistoric looking fish.

We awaited the sight of a pink dolphin for a while but had no luck.  I had better luck spotting dolphins in Cambodia on the river.

Miguel was introduced to us as a dolphin expert but they seemed to be scaring the poor things away more that day.

Miguel was introduced to us as a dolphin expert but they seemed to be scaring the poor things away more that day.

Sadly I didn't get any very good photos and these look more like Loch Ness monster sighting than dolphins.

Sadly I didn’t get any very good photos and these look more like Loch Ness monster sighting than dolphins.

After a while we gave up as we’d seen enough brief glimpses of dolphins backs and headed back.

There was a piranha just hanging out in our canoe back.  I'm not really sure why, but hey, a piranha in the Amazon!

There was a piranha just hanging out in our canoe back. I’m not really sure why, but hey, a piranha in the Amazon!  Look at his sharp pointy teeth.

When we got back into town we spotted this pet parrot in a home and it was the only clear shot I got of a bird all day.  He giggled at us.

When we got back into town we spotted this pet parrot in a home and it was the only clear shot I got of a bird all day.  Locals tell us his name is Pepito.

Locals tell us his name is Pepito.

The trip was made a tad short as we rushed back to cities for New Years.  Our guides later recommended that they could show us way more animals and their cultural traditions if we had two to three days instead of one.  The next morning we stumbled onto the dock at 5 AM just to wait some Ecuadorian time for the boat to finally arrive and whisk us back up the river, stopping to let on and off the jungle citizens who used it as their local bus.

I was more alert on my way back and spotted traces of the oil industry destroying the forest.

I was more alert on my way back and spotted traces of the oil industry destroying the forest.

It was a shorter trip than I would’ve liked but that’s how timing works out.  What a beautiful oasis out in the far eastern side of Ecuador.  All that nonsense that most sources spout about it being impossible to do it independently are bullocks.  Bring lots of mosquito repellent and patience and it’ll be about a third of the price of those silly tours.

Contact info for guides in Nuevo Rocafuerte:

Canton Aguarico
Manuel (Spanish speaking only)
Telephone: 062382226 or 0993104290
Just ask around, some locals saw us wandering around and said “Manuel’s house is that way!”

I’ve been in Malaysia for just about a week now, mostly lounging about.  Just before I head down to Singapore we decided to take a day trip to historical Malacca.  The historical colonial part of town has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site and has accordingly become quite touristy as the past industry of the port disappears.

Our first stop was to get the Hainan chicken rice balls the city is famous for at Chung Wah.  I mistook being told this as chicken rice with the addition of meatballs.  No it entails chicken rice with the rice rolled into balls for convenience.  A namesake of the country, chicken rice entails boiling a chicken until perfectly tender, then taking the stock from the chicken to cook the rice in.  The result is a greasy, tender mess you eat with cucumbers and spicy dipping sauce.  While I could eat chicken rice all day, I found eating the rice in ball form more a novelty than a delicious evolution.  The rice itself was too dry for my tastes as I prefer it much moister in this preparation.

Lunch stop two was a hole in the wall known as Long Fatt, which is what I’d be if I lived near this place.  It was run by an adorable family who earnestly told me the few dishes they had left after the lunch rush were all individually delicious.  I barely recognized it as we wandered by in a blog post I had spotted earlier, but the old family puttering around behind the counter looked identical to the picture I saw.  The younger generation proprietress stopped to ask us where we were from, we were unlike her other customers, much younger and speaking English.  The food was not fancy, but it was home cooked style fare with salted fish curries and stewed vegetables to go along rustic chunky rice porridge.

After two lunches we did a bit of walking until sweaty, which is about five minutes in.  A quick jaunt in the air conditioned gallery and museum did no good so we stopped for some cendol.  This is a dessert of rice noodles, jellies, red beans and other goodies in coconut milk and palm sugar.  Here we got ours with durian, which I was told was better than the Thai durian I disliked.  Alas, I still do not like durian.  The strong Malacca style palm sugar is delightful though.  As with most businesses in town, you could see where the back of the store was set up for family use and stairs leading upstairs to where they lived.

This old bar is run by the barely toothed smiling old gentlemen beckoning to wary looking tourists wandering down this otherwise quiet street.

After two meals and dessert we could no longer eat, so we went for an early drink on 5 Java Lane (Javan Jawa in Malay).  We walked along the river to an old bar near where the port used to be, in an area where the ghosts of opium dens and brothels linger.  The streets are full of original colonial style Chinese housing with open drains and guard dogs afoot.  My Malaysian friend amusingly noted “This alley smells like my Grandma’s house”.  These days the neighborhood is full of a few storefronts and guesthouses on the edge of the tourist area.  The two fifth-generation owners of the bar don’t drink but they happily invited us in to rest on their ancient wooden bar and enjoy some rather strong mango and lychee flavored liquors.  I’m not really a whiskey or rice wine fan but I greatly enjoyed the old couple.  I almost kept drinking just because I want this bar to last forever.  The other foreigners who wandered in right after us cautiously sipped at some Chinese herbal liquors before quickly switching to beer.  They told us they didn’t go out the night before because the area is quite dark and overrun with rats.  I guess a few things from the more colorful port days remain.

The remains of a satay celup with peanut sauce, empty skewers, and beer everywhere.

We ended the day with satay celup.  It is a fondue like set up with a boiling, bubbling pot of peanut based satay sauce, chopped peanuts and spicy sambal.  In one corner of the store is an open refrigerated case full of things on sticks.  Meats, fish cakes, tofu, veggies, veggies and tofu things stuffed with fishcake, and you tiao line the large area.  The attentive staff come by every few minutes to mix up your separating sauce, add more if necessary, and check the temperature as you eat to your heart’s content.  At the end they count the number of sticks to get the bill.  It’s certainly the most interesting hot pot set up I’ve seen of the many I’ve been to while I’ve been in Asia.  This also goes very well with beer or as a late night snack.

Malaysia is a mix of cultures, and Malacca embodies that past in the form of buildings and a mixed people.  It uncharacteristically did not rain all week, leaving a permanent haze of the burning from neighboring Indonesia.  Just our luck, it poured on our way back making our time on the bus just as long as the time we had in town as we got stopped by a flooded freeway.  I wish that meant we had more time in Malacca, absorbing a fading former port town and the friendly families who still toil generation after generation at the same crafts.

It is low season in Southeast Asia.  I thought I wanted to escape before then, before the torrential rains.  It is a particularly dry year though, so it only rains for a few hours a day and not every day.  Bad for the rice harvest, good for me.  The low season does mean that business owners have a lot less customers and a lot more time to chat.  For some reason, in Kampot that meant about twice a day I got asked “you are traveling alone?”  It was nice to not be asked if and why was I not married for once, but this felt just as isolating.  A small talk killer about three sentences in.  At one riverfront restaurant I got approached by two separate waitresses who incredulously asked if I was alone before removing more plates from my table.  They later giggled in a group behind me.  Even some tourists looked at me funny, but I think that may have been my enthusiasm at eating the crab I had.

I look odd eating crab? I’m not the one with a huge durian statue in the middle of town! A lot of Cambodians are illiterate so roundabouts have giant statues to give directions.

My experiences in this otherwise sleepy riverside and near ocean town quickly snapped me out of any self pity at my plight.  I’ve had a ravenous sweet tooth that has been insatiable even when I’ve found tasty western style desserts.  It led me to find the Epic Arts Cafe, an NGO run cafe staffed by deaf members of the community.  The NGO also runs a community center that makes the special ed programs in my public schools growing up look unpolished.  To have such great help for people with such things as down syndrome out here was not something I expected.  The city is also full of blind massage parlors, which unlike my experience in China, actually appear to be staffed with blind people.  I visited Srey Chan massage, run by a delightful old woman named Srey Chan out of her house.  I wondered about the futility of changing behind a screen if my masseuse was blind, but the whole operation did face the street.  I still find Cambodian massages a tad soft even if she was proud of how strong I had asked for, and it was a tad much on the butt and breast massages.  However it was pleasant and relaxing, and she seemed like the nicest old lady.  Encountering others with disabilities certainly puts a few bored locals constantly killing conversations by asking if you are alone into perspective.

Everywhere I’ve been in Cambodia has been near a waterfront of some sort and I greatly enjoy hanging out in the evenings watching the locals come out of sun hiding.

Boys everywhere will be boys, and play with guns popping bb pellets into things.

Locals and expats approach me to practice or get to use their English.  Although scams exist along these lines in bigger cities, it’s usually just conversation.  In this particular town I got scoped out by a young looking girl.  It turns out she had just moved back from Malaysia, where she was a babysitter.  Ah this is where cheap foreign help comes from.  Her mother was sick and she wanted to be near her if she passed.  The starting of a scam like story but luckily not.  She at some point even told me never to give money to anyone in Cambodia who asks, she’s been mugged before like that.  This is the second time on this trip a local girl has told me she’s been robbed or mugged places I’ve hung out, stop harassing young ladies bad guys!  Although she spoke decent if spotty English she told me her lack of writing skills meant she was having trouble finding employment with high enough salary to buy her mother medicine.  I hope this girl finds work soon, she sure was motivated.  I handed her my entirely useless to me Lonely Planet Southeast Asia phrasebook and hope it helps her more than the little it’s helped me.

Slow and charming with traces of French architecture, Kampot is a town I could lose myself in for a few days.

The nearby Bokor national park was a bust as my guesthouse staff had not warned me to take enough gasoline in the scooter, so I did not have enough to explore.  The pouring rain and rampant foreign development put a dampener on things as well.  What used to be rutted roads to see foggy ruins is now beautiful paved up to a garish Chinese casino and completely rebuilt structures.   Luckily the rest of Kampot with it’s lovely slow pace was enough to relax me for days.  They had great fruit shakes and friendly hardworking locals.  The proximity to the deliciousness of Kep helps as well.  I highly recommend the Kampot Pie and Ice Cream Palace (and guesthouse), run by a lovely Khmer lady who opened up without knowing how to bake and managed to have one Dutch visitor teach her everything she knows in a matter of two weeks.  She learns fast because she has objectively great brownies and the best pies with homemade ice cream I’ve had in Asia.  It is not a thrilling destination for those doing a rush tour of Cambodia but Kampot is a lovely place to be for those with a few days of relaxation in mind.

Cambodia is covered by a series of rivers and waterways that was key to the ancient Khmer civilization.  It was the transport method, the bringer of more rice harvests, and the road to success and control.  These days I’m finding a pleasant place to stroll and a good way to orient your way around every town I’ve been in.  To get to Battambang from Siem Reap, I took a boat across the Tonle Sap and into smaller rivers.

A pleasant if slow route from Siem Reap to Battambang that is lined with endless rice fields and riverside shacks. Vietnamese cannot own land so many of them live on water.

In modern times, the roads are much faster than the water ways. In this case it is 1/4 of the price and 1/3 of the time to go by bus. You better love slow boats!

Good thing I love waving at passing children and cows. Not an exciting ride for those on a tight travel schedule though.

The Tonle Sap is interesting in that half the year water flows into it from the Mekong, but when rainy season hits, the flow goes the other way.  I’d like to see that exchange.

I sat next to a nice Spaniard from the Canary Islands who told me he used to make commercials with puffy white clouds and loves the ones in Cambodia. I agree, the cloud watching in this country is first rate.

I toyed with the idea of going by bus and then doing some kayaking in town.  I’m sure the locals think foreigners are nuts.  Why would you pay to laboriously row yourself somewhere when you could way less money to get a tuk tuk or motorboat?!  Green Orange Kayak and Cafe 11 km out of town is run by the Feda Cambodia NGO and rents out kayaks and guides to those interested.  They’re a tad hard to contact by e-mail and I had better luck calling organizer Sokha directly.  After a confused motorcycle taxi finally found where I was supposed to be, I set off.

The awesome clouds continued. I particularly enjoyed this lonely puffy one rolling over the dry landscape.

They give you a correctly landmarked but not to scale laminated map.  The curves of the river tricked me into thinking I had made both more and less progress than I realized.  I’ve only been kayaking for maybe an hour or two before at a time as it isn’t cheap in America.  I didn’t realize three hours of kayaking downstream would be such a workout!  This is not for the out of shape.  Usually I enjoy waving to the various small children, but as I have the arms of a T. Rex, I couldn’t get out of range fast enough and they just would not stop waving and saying hello.  It’s more pleasant to exchange fast greetings on a bicycle than screaming hello constantly on the water.  I did enjoy the haunting chants I heard from one of the many pagodas I drifted by.

More beautiful views of brown waterways, rural villages, rice fields and blue skies.

I had a delightful chat with the two young men who helped me get in the kayak and picked me up again in town.  They were not pushy at all and almost forgot to collect money from me at the end.  If an “authentic rural life” scene is what you are after, I’d say the kayak trip is the choice for the fit or time crunched and the boat ride is for those who like to sit for ten hours at a time.   Enjoy it while you can.  As road conditions continually increase, a lot of boats have already disappeared and there seem to only be tourists plying the routes these days.  Going by water is certainly a gentler and more fun ride for me than by land.

Ok, “Deathtrap Highway” might be a little extreme, but Highway 1A is really quite terrifying.  Highway 1D back near Quy Nhon was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever taken, but 1A usually just involves lots of buses and trucks running me off the road in dire danger of falling into deep concrete ditches.  And that’s just when I’m riding on the shoulder.  The actual road is so run over by heavy vehicles that there are foot deep grooves making it feel like you’re riding between two deep speed bumps that you have to cross every time you change lanes.  Terrifying stuff.  It’s supposed to follow the coast but I’ve found getting off of it as much as possible to the actual coastal roads is definitely preferred.

Much better. These little roads can be hard to find, as they’re usually random turns off of the huge highway with signs only going one way.  Totally worth it to ride on generally much better roads though.

This time following the coast more led me to the tourist trap and water action sport capital of Vietnam, Mui Ne.  I got here during the not windy season though, so it was an eerie ghost town like resort town.  I think there are more resorts than people at this point.  Perfect, just how I like my resort towns, not full of touts selling me crap and tourists.

I passed the “famous” red and white sand dunes on the way into town. I wish there was somewhere to stop closer to the white dunes than where I took this, with a beautiful view of a lotus lake, wind swept trees, and forlorn green island on the sea.

The red dunes was the only place in Mui Ne covered in tourists.  I passed on the lame looking sledding where people could barely move.  The Vietnamese tourists all stay in nearby Phan Thiet.

Mui Ne is a small fishing village nearby the bigger provincial capital Phan Thiet.  Both produce fish sauce that I smelled for the last few days of riding. The smell of sun rotting fish is less delectable when it’s perfuming the air and not flavoring your food.

Shipyard from back in Ca Na. This whole stretch of coast is pocked in bright blue fishing ships that look like this.

Mui Ne resort area is actually Ham Tien village along the water.  I can’t say I’m a huge fan of a whole strip of resorts removing the locals and not giving public access to the water. Much like the Vietnamese, I think I prefer Phan Thiet with its public beaches and parks, restaurants, and less tourist town focus.  There is more interesting stuff inbetween the two and in Phan Thiet.

I’ve heard about how the Vietnamese revere the whale and have elaborate burial ceremonies for the beached specimens they worship as gods.  I found a temple in Phan Thiet (Van Thuy Tu) which claims Southeast Asia’s biggest whale skeleton (22 meters/66 feet) and has a shrine in front of a whole room full of whale bones!  I hear the temple is often closed for various reasons and indeed I thought it was when I arrived.  They were under heavy construction and the whale skeleton was under a tarp.  A construction worker happily showed me around before handing me off to an old dude in what looked like his pajamas smoking.  This guy talked my ear off not realizing I didn’t understand a single word but I enjoyed his enthusiasm.  He handed me some incense and beat a huge gong like drum for me as I prayed to the whales.  I’m not usually a temple person but I did enjoy this one.  While Vietnamese will eat just about any animal unfortunate to wander into their sight, they will not eat whales because they are sacred.  I’m surprised any creature in Asia is sacred enough to avoid that fate!

After weeks of sunshine in the rainy season, the clouds caught up. That’s one way to keep junior dry. Better than the other guy who covered his front lights with his poncho.

I ran into another Cham ruin, Po Sah Inu, overlooking a typical pastel candy colored cemetery. They sure know how to pick beautiful hilltop locations! Like a Champa! Har har har (the other name for Cham people).

A mix of the long past (Cham tower), the recent past (graves from what I assume is the war), and a gaudy present (pink triangle of the victory monument).

This site, like some of the ones I’ve visited, are still used for festivals. The local tourism department is also running weekend shows here to encourage cultural learning. Looks almost like a snake charmer!

The moves weren’t the best but it was fun to see their garb and stuff on their head. As Vietnam moves into the 21st century, this will be the last bastion of their culture. I’ll sit through a talent show like presentation to mostly tour buses to preserve that.  I like that young people are involved and the singing isn’t screechy like much of Asian traditional singing.

The view of Phan Thiet from the ruin site next to an old ruined French palace. I foolishly showed up as a storm started and had the site to myself for an hour but couldn’t take pictures due to low visibility.

One of the reasons I moved on to Mui Ne was to get to blander resort and foreign food. I thought it would help my tummy. Instead it just upset my morale and I quickly moved back to things like this deconstructed stingray spring roll set. Take that, stomach problems that persist!  I assume it was stingray, that’s what the picture in the menu looked like. The fish came whole and the flesh was soft and delicious

After the rain at dinner on the beach, I caught the moon rise as the sun set. I may never catch a sunrise over the ocean as it is too cloudy, but I’ll take a beautiful moonrise!

I’m glad I showed up in low season.  The rain ruined my laying out on the beach, but I imagine the sand flies that have already bitten me silly would’ve done the same.  I do enjoy being in resort towns (Vietnamese or foreign) as I feel like I can be in a bikini safely.  The low season lack of people on the beach and generally around is nice too, if a little empty.  I have to wonder why the nightclub next door still blasts music on the weekends til 1 AM though.  Alas, I have finished exploring and eating here and will be moving quickly to Saigon and the Mekong Delta now.  Onwards and away from the beach!

The north of Vietnam has invented lots of dishes, including the most famous of all Vietnamese food, pho.  However it seems they get dolled up and fancied up in the south, which is how I’ve seen most of my Vietnamese food.  So now I am seeing some familiar dishes (finally, pickles in my banh mi!) as well as the continuing stream of things I’ve never seen before.  Throw in a good dose of seafood because I’m near the sea.  The only downside is that this is a vacation resort town, so many of the best restaurants are meant for sharing with large boisterous groups and not your lone, intrepid traveler.  I found this site pretty helpful for describing Nha Trang specialties.

As I’ve traveled through Southeast Asia I’ve seen rice used in all ways and rice noodles everywhere.  Things are getting different while still covering all the old bases.

There are a lot of carts on the street selling sticky rice covered in your choice of, or in my case all of, a slew of various meats.

Com tam is broken rice, or rice that was too small to make the cut. It’s steamed and topped with a grilled fatty piece of pork, fish or shrimp cake, fried egg and pickled vegetables.

Being by the ocean, one of the dishes to try here is jellyfish rice noodle (bun sua). While I like the texture of jellyfish, this just wasn’t very flavorful.

Why only use rice flour to make thin noodles when you can make a variety of different shapes and put them all on one delicious plate? I particularly liked the stuffed ones.

Banh hoi are rice noodles woven together into mat sheets and topped with sauteed green onions. Mine came with offal and blood sausage. That’s a filling breakfast!

This is banh can, a rice flour pancake like thing made on a cast iron brazier set over charcoal. To make them one ladles in watery looking batter and adds scrambled chicken egg or whole quail eggs before covering them to steam. They come out fluffy on the inside and crisp on the outside.

When done cooking, they end up looking like those browned little sandwiches. I should’ve taken a picture of the fish sauce with fish still in it. These banh can were served with a huge bowl of fish sauce, chiles, scallions and green papaya dipping sauce.

I’m a big savory food person, particularly for breakfast. This is my dream: steak and eggs. A thin steak, one fried egg, tomato sauce, sandwich vegetables and a crusty baguette. It doesn’t get more perfect than this, especially with the cow shaped cast iron plate. It’s called bo ne, so my five year old self made so many jokes.

When near the ocean, the seafood is cheaper than the meat. Here are some delicious grilled abalone and tiny conch in coconut milk & butter. Also, a rarity these days, a whole plate (well, a half eaten plate) of vegetables! I do love my okra.

I don’t really eat in restaurants that often, so this is my on the beach meal. You even get a tarp for the sand. That lime juice with salt and pepper is delicious.

When in big towns I have the opportunity to get some not local food as well. It may be telling that I don’t miss burgers and skipped the Texas bbq but got this sushi and Indian food. I did get a microbrew or two where I got this sushi. The beast on the bottom is a sushi pizza, a tempura fried disk of rice slathered in fish and sauce.

I’m really quite excited as each new town I’ve been in Hue surprises me with what seems like an endless amount of new foods.