Best Day Trips from Tokyo, Japan

Most first time travelers to Japan never leave the capital of Tokyo. While the big city offers many cool attractions, great nightlife and shopping, the real charm of Japan is in the countryside. Here are some places that are within couple of hours reach and make for great weekend getaways and day trips.

NIKKO

Nikko had been a center of Shinto and Buddhist mountain worship for many centuries. It is a charming small town near the hills designated a World Heritage Area. When you arrive, there are shops selling local ice creams and cheesecakes right by the train station. Walk about 20 minutes or take the local bus to the temples and shrines entrance.

Walk through oak and cedar forests to see the mythical Shinkyo Bridge. There are a few restaurants near the bridge that offer Japanese set menus.

See one of the largest wood tori gates in Japan and a complex of shrines at Nikko Toshogu Shrine, and the Buddhist temple next door. Toshogu is Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine and the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. Plan to walk for couple of hours if you want to see everything.

Nikko National Park also offers scenic landscapes, mountainous landscapes, lakes, waterfalls, hot springs, wild monkeys and hiking trails. It is a spectacular place to see fall colors.

KAMAKURA
Located only an hour drive from Tokyo, Kamakura is home to the second largest bronze Buddha statue in Japan at Kotoku-in Temple.  The statue was cast in 1252 and originally located inside a large temple hall, destroyed and later rebuilt in open air. You can even go inside the statue for a small fee
There are also a dozen other temples in the area, but my favorite place was the Hokoku-ji Temple, a resting place for the samurai. Here, you can stroll through tall bamboo forests and have a cup of tea overlooking peaceful nature. Also, check out the dove shaped peace cookies popular in the area.
Kamakura is located by the sea and has resorts and apartments overlooking sand beaches, as well as boating, sailing, swimming and surfing sites.
HAKONE
Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, less than one hundred kilometers from Tokyo, approximately 1.5 hours by train.
This is a great place to see Mount Fuji, the sacred volcanic mountain of Japan. Take a boat ride in Lake Ashinoko to catch the best views.
Watch volcanic activity in action on the Hakone Ropeway through Owakudani Boiling Valley. The sulphur has strong odor and can burn your eyes when it’s windy so bring protective covering. There are also a number of open air museums in Hakone. Many people prefer to stay overnight at a ryokan in the area to enjoy the natural hot springs. 

5 Reasons Why I Could Live in the Philippines

What did I like most about the Philippines? Well, a lot of things! Beautiful beaches, quiet islands, fresh fruits, friendly people, to name a few. Each day, I thought about what it would be like to live here and thought about the five most compelling reasons I would want to move to the Philippines.

Mangoes Grow Year Round – Mangoes, undoubtedly, are my favorite fruit. I have been known to eat a lot (record 15 in one sitting)! Growing up in India, I use to anxiously wait for summers when mangoes were available. In the Philippines, there is no one season for growing mangoes. The tropical weather allows good quality production year-round. As a result, you can get fresh mango juice, fruit, yogurt, desserts and anything else you can think of. Dried mangoes from Cebu are world famous and even available in grocery stores across the US.

Coconuts Are Everywhere – Philippines is the largest producer of coconuts in the world. It is a spectacular sight from an airplane to see rolling hills full of coconut trees on many of the islands. Whether you are driving, walking or visiting a home, there’s a pretty good chance you can find a fresh sweet coconut readily available. Coconut water is good for circulation, blood circulation, skin, provides energy, healthy for the heart and helps with weight loss. Where else in the world can you find a superfood for only $0.20?

coconuts in philippinesFilipinos Have The Fountain of Youth – Well, not a fountain as such, but most Filipino look at least 10-20 years younger than they actually are. I asked a few people I met about the reason for their young appearance, and they replied that it was staying happy, always smiling and not stressing too much. “You must exercise your face muscles a lot” one lady told me. In fact, all of the Filipinos I met were very friendly and smiling all the time.

philippines travel

Freshness in Seafood is Redefined – I have turned into a pescetarian over the years and when I walk into a restaurant, my eyes go straight to the seafood section of the menu. In the Philippines, many of the restaurants would display your choices of fish, lobster, crab, shrimp, sea shells, etc. (live in tanks or on ice). You simply pick out what you want and how much of it, and the chef does the rest. I ate the biggest king crab of my life (at 4 pounds), which was still alive when I placed my order.

seafood in manilaBudget Friendly Spas – Self care in the Philippines is a priority. Every mall, hotel and street corner has a spa, and most of them are no frills but offer really good service. Skilled professionals can do deep tissue, Swedish, or a local version of head to toe massage, leaving you totally relaxed. At $20 a massage, you can definitely afford to hit the spa a few times a week.

philippines spasPhilippines is an English speaking country. Even in the most remote places, people speak very good English, which makes it relatively easy to get around and interact with the locals. Other factors that make Philippines an attract place to live include – affordable cost of living, ease of finding domestic help, and year-round tropical weather. There’s also option to live in the bustling western capital of Manila with beautiful waterfront high risers, golf courses, international restaurants, and some of the biggest malls in the world; or at some of the isolated islands where you can enjoy quiet beaches, surf, swim, snorkel, and karaoke with the islanders at night.

 

The Best Summer Scenery From Armenia (Photo Blog)

Though Armenia is a small country (141st largest in the world), it has a lot of diverse landscapes. From snow capped mountains and alpine lakes, to dry deserts and lush green valleys, there are lots of micro climates within Armenia. Our Go Eat Give photographer, Amanda Villa-Lobos took over ten thousand pictures while traveling around the country last month. Here are our top 10 scenic views for you to enjoy…

caucus mountains
Volcanic regions in the Lesser Caucasus mountains and Armenian highlands.
Mount Ararat
Mount Ararat is the highest peak in Armenia. Parts of it are located in Turkey and Georgia.
Tatev monastery Armenia
Tatev monastery stands against a beautiful backdrop in the southern part of the country bordering with Iran.
canyon in Armenia
Canyoning, rock climbing and hiking can be enjoyed all over the country.
Lake Sevan
Lake Sevan is a nice place to relax, swim and eat fresh catch such as crayfish and whitefish.
Lake Sevan Armenia
Get an aerial view of the area while paragliding over lake Sevan.
novak-monastery
The canyon where Novak monastery is situation looks something like Utah.
wings of Tatev
Aerial view of the valley from Wings of Tatev, the longest non-stop double track cable car in the world.
tombstones
Khachkar at historic cemeteries, or Armenian cross-stones, give lots of good information about daily life.
marmashen-monastery
Marmashen Monastery 10th-century Armenian monastic complex consisting of 5 churches.

Has this inspired you to travel to Armenia? Read more blog posts from our visit.

~ Photos by Go Eat Give photographer, Amanda Villa-Lobos.

10 Things I Learned About Armenia

I have a confession to make. Until recently I didn’t know much about this tiny country the size of Maryland. I have only 3 friends from Armenia. I did go to an Armenian restaurant once while I was in Russia and have visited the Armenian quarters in Jerusalem. That is pretty much all my exposure to Armenian food and culture, until now.

Fortunately, I was invited by TATON and USAID on a media trip to Armenia, for 10 days. Here are some of the things I learned…

  1. Armenia is located in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia. It was not always landlocked. The current day landmass is actually 1/10 of what it use to be at it’s peak.
  2. The history of Armenia dates back to early civilization. One of the caves we visited had the world’s earliest known leather shoe, skit, and wine-producing facility dating back to 4000 BC. Noah’s Ark is said to have landed on the peak of Mount Ararat (then Armenia, now Turkey) during the biblical flood.
  3. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as a nation in 301 AD, though Christianity was practiced before that. There are over 3,000 churches and monasteries in the country, making it the highest per capita Christian monuments in a small area of land. Incidentally, many modern Armenians are not religious.

    armenia
    Monastery of Tatev in southern Armenia
  4. For a country its size, Armenia has the most varied landscapes. You can find snow year round on top of its highest peaks, mountainous terrains, colorful valleys, deep gorges, and one of the largest alpine lakes in the world. While Yerevan is a bustling modern city, scantly populated villages across the country are mostly rural.

    armenia6
    Preparing to go paragliding over Lake Sevan
  5. Armenia is bordered on the north and east by Georgia and Azerbaijan, and on the south and west by Iran and Turkey. Thought its political relations with its neighbors have not been so good in the past, it is still a peaceful and safe place to travel.

    armenia7
    A fraction of our dinner table in Armenia
  6. The food scene in Armenia is amazing! The cuisine has influences of it’s neighboring cultures and different parts of Armenia have regionalized dishes. Every meal is a festive occasion where families and friends come together over piles of plates of fresh salads, cheese, bread, meat and fruit. My mouth salivated as I saw picture perfect fruits and nuts at the farmers market in Yerevan. They taste as good as they look!

    armenia3
    Fresh fruits at GUM market in Yerevan
  7. The wines are great too. It seems everyone in Armenia makes their wine and harvests their own honey. The wine making tradition has been going on for 6k years and no special records have been kept of it. You can buy 1 liter of homemade wine for 1000 Drams (less than $2). There are also excellent wineries around the country that are gaining popularity in the international scene.

    armenia2
    Wine tasting at Vozkavaz winery
  8. The people in Armenia are extremely friendly. If you meet someone for the first time, they will invite you to dine with them and give you small presents. This happened to me at multiple occassions. My American friends who live there safely hitchhike around the country as a mode of transport. There is practically no crime, though gender divides give rise to domestic violence.

    armenia5
    Amanda with her adopted Armenian grandparents
  9. Armenia as a travel destination is affordable and not overcrowded with tourists. Hostels in Yerevan can be found for as little as $10/ night, and even the most expensive hotels are $100+. High end restaurants cost $10-30 per meal, while delicious local fast food like shawarma goes for $2-4. Bus and subways can easily be accessed for $0.20/ ride while taxis are also very cheap. I never paid more than $5 for a ride inside the city.
  10. I also learned more details about the Armenian genocide, beyond what is talked about in the West. While I had some prior knowledge about the historical events, I came to learn that the impact of these events is still felt today. Many Armenian families mourn their lost family members and are not able to overcome their grief, leading to deep depression that ultimately interferes in daily work and life. One of the locals told me that if the world comes forward and acknowledges that what happened in Armenia in the 19-20th centuries was a genocide, they might be able to get some closure.

More about my experiences with Armenian food, sights and culture on my next blog….

Myths of Bhutan Revealed

Up until recently, when I visited the tiny country of Bhutan, it remained a mystery to me. I pictured this magical place where the entire nation practices Buddhism, animals roam free through the protected forests, and everyone is happy and content all the time. Some of the movies I watched also suggested that one becomes very peaceful and all the illnesses go away when you go to Bhutan.

As an eager journalist, I wanted to find the facts for myself. What I discovered was very different from everything I knew, which is generally what happens until you actually travel to that destination.

Here are some of my questions answered…

Is everyone in Bhutan Buddhist?

Technically, Bhutan is a Buddhist country. Majority of the population is Buddhist, followed by Hindu. Though the influence of Buddhism is strong in many areas, not 100% of the people observe all its beliefs and rituals. About 15% of the population are Buddhist monks. There are both male and female monks in the monasteries.

female monk in Bhutan

Do Bhutanese eat meat?

If you look at the traditional Bhutanese menus, they tend to have a lot of meat dishes, including pork, beef and chicken. The government does not allow killing of animals for consumption. In fact, you can get arrested and fined if you slaughter an animal for food, fish from the rivers, or even accidentally kill a stray dog. Therefore, the meat you find in Bhutan is imported, mostly from India.

Though the Buddhist belief does not allow consumption of animals, many of the Bhutanese people do eat meat.
bhutan food

Is everyone in Bhutan happy?

In 2016, the World Happiness Report published by the United Nations ranked Bhutan as the 84th happiest country. According to the domestic survey done to measure Gross National Happiness in Bhutan, 90% of the population reported that they were happy. Now the definition of happiness can be subjective. In Bhutan, you will find a lot of poverty and access to very little resources. Infrastructure is undeveloped, there is high unemployment, work is mostly in agricultural sectors, and practically everything is imported into the country. One might question, how one can be happy having so little? In fact, while walking around shops, I didn’t particularly find anyone smiling or laughing with joy. Most people went about their day very seriously and responded only when spoken to.

Perhaps the people in Bhutan are happy because of their culture which embodies the teaching of Buddhism. There is strong emphasis on living as a community, helping each other, doing good deeds and finding happiness from within.

Is there any crime in Bhutan?

Though Bhutan is a peaceful country and quite safe, there is some petty crime especially among the youth. You can find instances of pick pocketing, theft, domestic violence and an occasional murder as well. When I asked one of the judicial officials regarding this, he mentioned that most cases of crime are committed by adolescent boys, perhaps overcome by peer pressure, alcohol or just hormones. Crime in Bhutan is significantly less than other countries.

Is Bhutan a mountainous country?

Given that the country is half the size of Indiana, there is unimaginable diversity in nature. Valleys, subalpine mountains, rivers, and plains are spread through the country, making it hot and rainy in the south, and dry and cold in the north. 60% of the country is protected as forest land under a strict regulation for maintaining the environmental impact. It is home to many animals including leopards, tigers, musk deer and takin. There are also some of the highest peaks in the world found in the Himalayan mountains of Bhutan, making it a great destination for trekking and mountaineering.

punakha bhutan scenery

The highest point in Bhutan is Gangkhar Puensum at 7,570 metres (24,840 ft), which has the distinction of being the highest unclimbed mountain in the world

Can you feel the monarchial presence in Bhutan?

Bhutan’s political system has recently changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. In 2005, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck transferred most of his administrative powers to the Council of Cabinet Ministers and allowed for impeachment of the King by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly.

In everyday life, you can feel the presence of the monarch though. Pictures of the royal family, including the current 36-year old king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema are displayed at homes, shops, museums, hotels, etc. They make ceremonial appearances at festivals and assemblies, and give motivational speeches to the kingdom on the importance of education, giving back, and following one’s customs.

How much freedom do the Bhutanese people have?

In 1999, the government lifted a ban on television and the Internet, making Bhutan one of the last countries to introduce television. They believed that exposure to the western world makes people unhappy as it encourages desire and greed.

There are few bars and clubs in Bhutan, mostly frequented by young people. Certainly not a destination for party lovers.

happiness wine in bhutan

Traditions supersede freedom of expression. The King requires everyone to wear the national costume to work, school and temples. Only during free time, one can choose to dress as they like.

Women and men have equal rights in Bhutan. Even in jobs involving manual labor, such as construction and agriculture, you can find women working alongside men. Respect for women is also an important part of Buddhist culture. Bhutanese men perform domestic duties including cooking. Traditionally the groom moves to the bride’s family home after marriage.

people of bhutan

What shocked me most about Bhutan?

The poverty in Bhutan was very noticeable from the moment I landed in Paro. There were dirt roads right outside the airport, and lots of garbage on the streets. I guess I was expecting this enchanted land with forests and mountains, where everything is squeaky clean, and the people in a constant state of eternal bliss.

Bhutan facts

Destination Laos

THIS EVENT HAS BEEN POSTPONED! Please stay tuned for the rescheduled date & sorry for any inconvenience.

Join Go Eat Give on a culinary and cultural journey to the Southeast Asian country of Laos. Enjoy an authentic menu at Pattaya Café (under new management) including Laos cuisine – one that displays a blend of flavors and textures unique to the region and its roots. Family style dinner will include a Spicy Papaya Salad, Laos Sausage, Beef Jerky, Pad Lao, Soop Pak (vegetable salad), Bamboo Soup, Nam Khao (Laotian Crispy Rice Salad), Jasmine and Sticky Rice, and Nom Van for dessert.

Meiling Arounnarath, the 2016 President of the Laotian American Society will speak about Laotian culture, immigration and Laos-US relations. Arounnarath has been a writer and editor for the national Lao Roots Magazine, North Carolina chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA). She received her Bachelor of Arts in Print Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Georgia, and Master of Business Administration from Georgia State University.

Entertainment for the evening will be led by Elizabeth Bee Vichathep, who at the age of 14, was one of the first few students to dance as a LAS Natasinh dancer before the dance program became formally known. She has performed at more than 50 performances for LAS and for other events. Vichathep has been involved with the Laotian American Society (LAS) since 2004 and is currently the LAS Treasurer and Dance Instructor.

Tickets at www.destinationlaos.eventbrite.com

What You Need to Know Before Traveling to Bhutan

Not many tourists think about the kingdom of Bhutan as a top travel destination. This is mainly because Bhutan does not advertise itself among global vacation spots and is perhaps still, a well kept secret. Those who do know about Bhutan’s rich culture, beautiful scenery and colorful festivals, make it a bucket list item. Traveling to Bhutan is very different from other countries, so it is important to make yourself familiar with it’s policies and procedures.

Paro bhutan

There are Limited Flight Options

The tiny country is located between China, Nepal and India. There are flights only from four countries into Bhutan. These are from Singapore, Thailand, India and Nepal.  Flights are generally very expensive. For example, New Delhi to Paro on Druk Air can cost between $400-700 round trip.

Bhutan is Not a Cheap Country

Bhutan has consciously remained closed off to the world, as they don’t want to flood their attractions with bus load of tourists. To keep travel to Bhutan exclusive, Bhutan Tourism Council maintains a minimum per day fee. You must pay a $250 per person per day royalty fee to the government. In return, they provide visa, accommodations (in basic 3 star hotels), 3 meals daily, guide, car and sightseeing. If you want to upgrade to a 5-star hotel, expect to pay additional $400+ per night. This does not include the “++” taxes, that amount to another 20%. You can also choose to camp or stay at farm houses, though this will not lower the price of your visit. Low budget travel and backpacking is out of question in Bhutan. Citizens of SAARC countries are exempt from the minimum royalty fees.

Bookings Must be Done in Advance

Because you need to obtain a visa well in advance and pay the royalty fee, it is best to contact a travel agent. You can book hotels online as well, but you cannot enter Bhutan unless you have all other documents in order (including guide, itinerary, visa approval). Bhutan Tourism Council also books trips directly or can recommend you a company.

Buddha point bhutan

Coincide Your Visit with Festival Season

There is really no bad time to visit Bhutan, though summer months tend to be wet. Winter runs from November – March and some of the places can get quite cold. Depending on which part of the country you visit, you can see freezing temperatures, as well as snow.

Punakha festival bhutan

There are several festivals taking place throughout the year, the most famous being the ones in Paro and Thimphu during spring and fall. Festivals are a great way to indulge in Bhutanese culture as families dress up in their finest traditional dressed and spend days enjoying history and storytelling. Here is a list of all Bhutanese festivals.

Though a Small Country, You Will Need Some Time

Thought Bhutan is a small country, there is much to see, and getting around is not very easy. Road conditions through the mountains are not so good, making travel time consuming. There are a few domestic flight options too.

You should plan to spend 1 week in western Bhutan, visiting the main cities – Paro, Thimphu and Punakha. In Central Bhutan, visit Bumthang Valley and Gangtey to see origin of Buddhism and Royal history. Eastern Bhutan may require another week to see the agricultural lands, rainforests and local artisans in Mongar, Tashigang and Trashiyangtse.

There are also trekking routes spanning 1-10 days, for those looking for outdoor adventures.

tigers nest paro bhutanTips on Safety, Money, Language, etc.

Bhutan is a very safe country. Men and women are treated equally and there is very little crime. Tourists should not feel threatened when traveling through Bhutan.

The local currency is Ngultrum, though most shops will accept US dollars and Indian rupees as well.

The official language of Bhutan is Dzongkha, but everyone also speaks English quite well and without any accent. You won’t find any Bhutanese going out of their way to make friends, but if you stop them for a question or ask for any help, they will pleasantly oblige. The locals keep to themselves for the most part, but are not unfriendly.

What Do To If You Have Only 48 Hours In Sydney

Whether you have a long layover in Sydney, or are planning a weekend getaway, this urban capital of New South Wales is full of exciting choices for food, drinks, sightseeing and adventures. Here are some highly recommended things to do in Sydney based on my recent visit. sydney harbour

Travel like a celebrity. From the airport, ride in style with Astra Limousines. The fleet of luxury cars include Ferrari, Maserati, BMW and Mercedes, driven by friendly chauffers.

Check in at Pier One Sydney Harbour, a contemporary hotel nestled alongside the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and centrally located in the heart of The Rocks, so you can walk to most attractions. The lobby looks like an upscale cabin, and the rooms are spacious with modern amenities. Breakfast is served in a homely setting at The Gantry, where you can grab yogurt and juice from the refrigerator, eggs and farm dishes from the kitchen counter, and fresh baked breads and homemade jellies off the buffet table.
Book your stay at Pier One through TripAdvisor

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 12.13.03 AM

Acquaint yourself with the city through an aerial tour with Sydney Seaplanes. Taking off from Australia’s first international airport at Rose Bay, this 15-minute ride will give you breathtaking views of the beautiful Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House, Sydney skyline, million dollar mansions, world famous Bondi Beach, and stunning sandstone cliffs rising abruptly from the sea.

catalina restaurant sydneyA Sky/Fly package will include lunch at neighboring, Catalina Rose Bay Restaurant, where you can continue to watch seaplanes take off throughout your meal. This iconic family-run establishment is known for serving the highest quality of locally sourced meat, seafood and wines. Enjoy house specialties like oysters on the shell, sushi, snapper and caramelized figs with salted caramel. Taste the light and dry Australian rieslings as you bask in the crisp Sydney sun.

After lunch, take a stroll at Bondi Beach, the city’s only in-town beach where residents flock to. At any time of the day, you can find people surfing the waves, walking their dogs, and exercising. Though the beach is not very long (a 10 minutes walk from end to end), it is a spot to catch the action in the summer.

Head over to see some of the touristy spots of the city – Royal Botanic Gardens, Circular Quay and The Rocks. Guided tours are offered at the Sydney Opera House, and the outdoors cafes are a great place to take a break as you watch the sunset.

sydney opera house

Visit the neighborhood of Potts Point, home to some of the trendiest cafes, restaurants and boutiques that are comparable to those in New York City or Paris. Don’t be surprised if you run into a superstar or two, as many of them live in this area. Grab a cocktail at MONOPOLE, a swank bar featuring over 500 rare and boutique wines.

Dinner at Missy French is a must. The classic French dishes are cooked using local ingredients, with a slight modern twist imparted by local celebrity chef, Josephine Perry. Try the flavorful grilled garlic prawns, goat cheese salad, and tender trout. All of the desserts, including the luscious creme brûlée are to die for.

After a good night’s rest and a hearty breakfast, start the day with a thrilling adventure at the Sydney Tower Eye. Experience bird’s eyes views of the city from the observatory, or go outside for the Skywalk. You will be tied to a harness as you feel the Pacific winds in your hair, walking 268 metres above. Sunset is perhaps the busiest and the loveliest time to be here.

It may sound counterintuitive, but one of the best lunch spots downtown is at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. CHISWICK at The Gallery boasts a contemporary dining room, casual bar area with a large communal table, and views overlooking Woolloomooloo and Sydney Harbour. Menu includes an extensive wine and cocktail list, small plates and few mains.

CHISWICK at The GalleryExplore the souvenir shops at Darling Harbour and Circular Quay Eastern Pontoon, from there you can catch a whale watching excursion. The Fantasea Adventure Cruising takes you on an unbelievable adventure to spot hump back whales. Note, the waters can be quite rough at times and sea sickness is not uncommon.

The CBD area is a good place to people watch as they hustle through crowds after work. On George St, you can see a mix of British and Romanesque Revival architecture, as well as old colonial buildings and glass skyscrapers.

sydney downtown

While there are many cool restaurants in Sydney, an unusual dinner experience can be had at the Sydney Seafood School. Located at the Sydney Fish Market, which is the second busiest seafood market second to Tokyo, beginner to advanced classes are offer daily. After a hands-on class taught by some of Australia’s celebrity chefs, cookbook authors and restauranteurs, you will be able to enjoy your meal with newly made friends. If you come early in the morning, you can also see the seafood market and trading in action.

There is so much more to do in and around Sydney, and this brief narrative no way serves to summarize a complete list of attractions. If you have anything else to add to this brief Sydney travel guide, please leave a comment below for our readers.

Death Highway and War: A Tour through the Eyes of the Vietnamese

Arriving in Hue, Central Vietnam, I can immediately see the difference from the north. It’s calmer, more relaxed, the people are friendlier and the streets cleaner. Hue is a huge city with a lot of history, specifically regarding the Vietnam War. I am a little wary on how they would receive Americans, as one should be in every country that has been hit with about seven million tons of American bombs in a ten year period. I sign up for a personalized tour of the city on the back of a motorbike for $10, and thats how I meet Bill.

renting a motorcycle in Vietnam

Bill picks me up on the biggest motorcycle I’ve ever seen sporting an American flag and a huge smile. The local tour company, Easy Riders, had connected us. Easy Riders employs Vietnam veterans to take tourists around the south and tell them their story. At 21, Bill became a translator and advisor for the US marines from 1966-1973. He worked for the Americans, he is very clear about that. When I ask if he was also a part of the southern Vietnamese army, he yells, “No, American only!” His boss was American, his fellow marines were Americans, but he is Vietnamese. He didn’t say so, but I have a feeling his real name is something quite different, but Americans couldn’t pronounce it so they started calling him Bill. He’s quite proud of his past, and considers himself an American citizen. However, I can sense some underlying bitterness towards America as well. When the war ended, the south had surrendered, the American marines packed up their stuff and took off in helicopters, leaving a complete mess of the surrounding region, and leaving Bill. As he watched his fellow marines fly to freedom, he was imprisoned for several months. After being released, he wrote to the US embassy in Saigon for five years, asking for a visa to move to the States, and never heard back.

sites to visit in Hue, Vietnam He takes me to all the major sites in Hue, which aren’t very impressive. Not Hue’s fault, the Americans had heavily bombed the city, and its famous imperial citadel where the Viet Cong hid out. Bill shows me a local farming village where an older woman demonstrates how rice is made. I also visit an artist studio; like in other communist countries, art is a way to disguise political opinions. I end the day sipping beer with Bill and his friends. I am glad to ride on the back of his motorcycle, because in this crazy Vietnamese traffic, you wouldn’t want to drive.

But the next day I rent a motorcycle of my own and follow Bill and another girl to the DMZ, which is about a three hour ride outside of Hue, on Highway One or what tourists call the “death highway”. I quickly discover why, as semi trucks pass each other taking up both lanes of a bridge while bikers squeeze to the side. When a truck passed me coming so close it brushed my elbow, I decide that this is a terrible idea. The DMZ, or Demilitarized Zone, was the dividing line between the north and south during the war, at the “17th parallel”. No combat was to take place here, (although the Americans dropped three thousand bombs on it). Military leaders could meet and have negotiations here, families could reconnect in this area safely.

Vietnames war ventral Bill id card

As we walk around the 17th parallel bridge, Bill explains that even today it is still dangerous to speak positively about the south; twenty dissidents were imprisoned recently, and as he explains this he looks over his shoulder. Around the DMZ are the Vinh Moc Tunnels, a complex that stretches about 2,000 meters long and 30 meters

deep, with seven entrances and three different levels, all underground. Five hundred Vietnamese soldiers lived in these tunnels with their families, children were born here and an entire village thrived underground. The tunnels were a fascinating aspect of the war to explore, and as an American, I found it really important to see first hand the impact of our wars.

~ By Teresa Murphy of Tess Travels. Murphy visited the Thaipsum Festival, a Hindu ritual that takes place every year in the Batu Caves outside of Kuala Lumpur.

Food waste East vs West

According to the report, “Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40% of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill,” released by the Natural Resources Defense Council, about 40% of food in the United States today goes uneaten. The average American consumer wastes 10 times as much food as someone in Southeast Asia. Yet, 1 in 6 Americans doesn’t have enough to eat (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and food waste costs us about $165 billion a year and sucks up 25% of our freshwater supply. Continue reading “Food waste East vs West”