Must have communication tools

Buy a phone that takes sim cards. I suggest a blackberry or Nokia or any unlocked phone with Wi-Fi capability. You can purchase a sim card to use once you land at your destination for $8-$20USD depending on what you need. This will give you access to a local number. It’s also good to know the country code when dialing in or out.  When I was traveling throughout Asia, I used an old Nokia (blackberry look a like) and an unlocked IPhone 3GS. I used the same sim card interchangeably.  The battery on the Nokia lasted longer because it was a smart phone, so I would switch the sim cards. The iPhone was good for free Wi-Fi and downloading apps.   Magic Jack Magic Jack is another great technology that allows you to utilize a land-line phone or your computer to make phone calls at reasonable price.   The Internet Internet café’s are all over the place no matter where you travel. You can use these places for a small fee to book flights, hotels, hostels, and to print. For example, Singapore has free public WiFi throughout most parts of the country, so if your device has WiFi capabilities, you can pick up the internet. When I was in Vietnam, the internet would come in and out, that’s because sometimes the government shuts it down for periods of times. Most hostels and hotels have free wi-fi or a lobby that has the internet. You can find the internet pretty much anywhere. That should be the least of your worries.  If you plan on backpacking throughout any part of the world or living there for a few months, I suggest you get a local plan and not try to use your phone from back home as your main service. Unless you have the money or you have a company paying for your expenses, using your phone abroad is expensive and a waste of funds. Skype, Ovoo, Google Voice, and other video services You can sign up to any of these tools to make phone calls and video-conferences to your friends, family, and co-workers. Read the terms of use because this technology tools might be restricted to just the U.S.A and affiliate countries.

Budget Airlines

Throughout my 6 months in Singapore. I mainly used budget airlines to travel between the southeast countries. It’s the best and cheapest way to fly around Asia. Many of the major airlines such as Singapore Airlines; which is a world-class airline company are building their own budget airline to try in get into the market. That’s how wildly used and profitable the business is. Below is a list of the most widely used budget airlines in the region
  • Tiger airways
  • Fireflyz
  • AirAsia
  • Jetstar
  • Scoot
Out of the list above, I used Air Asia and Tiger airways. They had the best deals for my travel destinations. You can sign up on their website to get great deals. I bought a round trip ticket from Singapore to Vietnam for $50USD.

A Weekend in Ho Chi Minh City

When I first decided to head out to Vietnam. I didn’t know what to expect. Most of what I knew was from textbooks about the Vietnam War that we studied in grade school in the states, which did not depict Vietnam is the best way. My friend that I met earlier that month who was also from the states just came from a trip to Vietnam the week before and he had an amazing time. How I planned it out Before I go on any trips I do my research on the area. This means, I check out the crime rate, crime against tourists, local laws, popular backpacking locations, hostel locations, and tourists reviews. I print out a map of the area and I never wear my best clothing. Although you are on vacation, you have to be aware of where you are and not make yourself a target for thieves. Once, you arrive at your destination, take your time to recognize landmarks and nearby streets. Ho Chi Minh City is broken down by districts, if you plan on staying in a hostel on Pham Ngu Lao street which is located in district 1, you do not need a taxi to go to any of the tourist locations that I am about to mention. This means you can walk everywhere. As a foreigner, you need to apply for a Visa before entering the country or else they will send you back. This can be done by going to the Vietnamese embassy’s website or any site similar to this Once you get approved for you Visa on arrival. The visa cost me about $50USD for a double entry. Please make sure you do both visits before the Visa expires. I believe you get 30days to use up the double entry. Once your visa expires, you have to reapply. It is time to book your flight! If you use any of the budget airlines such as Tiger Airways, you can find a round trip flight from Singapore to Vietnam for $50 USD. (Remember I did all this while I was in Singapore, so prices will be cheaper). After I got my flight, I searched the web for places where all the hostels and backpackers reside. That street is called Pham Ngu Lao. On that street and the crossing streets you find at least 20 hostels and lots of backpackers who are passing through. Since, this place was filled with backpackers and hostels I didn’t book my hostel for more than a night.  I wanted to go Hostel Hopping!!! I think I just created that term, I could be wrong. Please don’t sue me. You can get a list of hostels on that street by searching and of the popular hostel sites. Once, you book your hostel online, you do the official payment when you arrive. You should not pay more than $15USD for any of the hostels. A lot of them are as clean as hotels! Hence why I went Hostel Hopping, if I didn’t like a place, I moved on to the next. The first hostel I stayed in was not good, so I went to Saigon Hostel, which opened up that day so everything was brand new. How wonderful it is to be the first person there. The staff treated me like gold. Every room had king size beds and desktop computers. They ironed my shirt and pants and served me breakfast in the morning. They gave me advice on places to visit and things to do during the day. King James is HERE and FEELING GOOD!!!! Once you arrive in Ho Chi Minh City (about 2hrs later) you have to go through customs and get your actual stamp.  Make sure you bring a passport size photo to speed up the process and some Vietnamese Dong (Vietnamese money). While waiting on the line to get my visa, I met an American who was working in Singapore and was taking a holiday (holiday also means vacation, the word holiday is used instead of vacation in most parts of Southeast Asia) to different parts Vietnam alone. So we decided to hang out.When you exit the airport, please get into an official taxi if it’s your first time visiting and have a print out of where your hotel is. The ride from the airport to Pham Ngu Lao is about 20-30minutes depending on the traffic. The taxi cost less than $10USD. What you will notice A lot of the signs will be in English and the people speak English. Remember, you are a guest, so try learning a few words in Vietnamese. There are Pho’ restaurants everywhere. Please read the article a taste of Saigon (which was written by my Vietnamese friend who lives in Vietnam) for more information on what to eat. There are wires everywhere on the light posts. There are motorbikes everywhere. Out of all the countries I visited in Asia, Vietnam had the most motorbike motorists so be careful as you cross the streets. Vietnamese people are very skilled on the motorbikes and they can fit 3 or 5 people on one bike. If you are good at negotiating, you can get one of the motorists to drive you around for a really low price. Make sure you ask one of the managers from the hotel to grab a motorist that they are familiar with to drive you around. There are lots of cool restaurants and shopping centers. People will walk around asking you for money and in some instances they will make their kids do it. Most of the museums are closed for lunch between 11:30am-1pm Thursday Upon arriving on Pham Ngu Lao. My friend and I went to our hostels to drop off our stuff and met up for dinner at one of the nearby restaurants whose name escapes me at the moment. Food and beer for the both of us cost around $15. The night was young so we decided to check out what else was on the block. To our surprise we run into a bar filled with other Americans and Australians who are working in Vietnam as Dj’s and teaching abroad. One of the guys offered to buy me a drink if I took a professional picture of him doing some break dancing moves and some shots of his band. So my friend and I hung out with that crowd for the night and they told us all about life in Vietnam and how they came to Ho Chi Minh City a few years ago and never went back home because they loved it. We all exchanged numbers and decided to meet up the next day.   Friday Grab a map from your hostel or hotel and it will tell you where all the historical sites and shopping centers are located. Make sure you grab a card that says the address of your hostel or hotel. If you get lost, just give the cab driver the hotel card and they will find it. Mid morning my friend I decided to meet up and grab some Pho (read A Taste of Saigon for more information about Pho) and check out the shopping centers of the historical sites. Before we bought anything we wanted to get an idea of the price of some of the items. So we made sure to walk around and talk to the vendors.  The indoor markets are huge and contain a lot of products so make sure you set aside a good amount of time to check out each one. This could take all day. I did notice that a lot of the outdoor vendors had the same items, so after awhile you noticed that everyone was selling the same products but at different prices.   Historical Sites/Museums Around 1pm we decided to check out some of the historical museums. I specially said 1pm because if you try to visit any of the sites during lunchtime, they will be closed. The Reunification Palace During the Vietnam War it was the home of the South Vietnamese President. The palace is beautiful and kept in pristine condition. They have a lot of tours through the palace, if you like you could pay for one or just walk around yourself and take beautiful pictures. Please don’t touch anything! Depending on your schedule, it can take up to 1-3hrs to see the entire palace. I suggest you take your time and get to know the history behind the place. The place has old tanks, helicopters, president’s desk, a ballroom, and other great features. War Remnants Museum If you have a weak stomach I suggest you don’t visit this museum. The museum shows the affects that the American War (Vietnamese War) took on the Vietnamese people.  They have old artillery, helicopters, and tanks, fighter jets that were used during the war. The worse of the images were results of Agent Orange.  Images on the wall showed babies born with 2 heads and body parts in places that they shouldn’t have been. The museum was an eye owner to the affects of war. People’s Committee (City Hall) PC is not open to the public. It’s old French style building. A lot of tourists and locals like to take pictures in front of the Ho Chi Minh statue. At the night they have special lights around the building to make it look real beautiful. It is a big tourist attraction. Street food The streets are filled with street vendors. Just be bold enough to try it. Some of the best food that you will taste in Vietnam or any Asian country are from the street vendors. A lot of the locals will stop and eat on the street corner. It’s a way of life so join it.  Remember that when you visit a country, you should be one with the culture and leave your old ways behind, unless you are allergic.   Ben Thanh Market This is probably the main market. It’s best to see it at night because it is beautiful. People are walking everywhere. You can buy clothes, coffee, shoes, etc. If, you are big into shopping, this is the place for you. A lot of the markets are open at night. It’s a different atmosphere when you see some of these markets at nighttime. Just be careful of thieves. Bars and Clubs Bootleg DJ Cafe(9 Lê Thánh Tôn, Bến Nghé, Quận 1) After a day of walking around and seeing the sites my friend and I met with the Expatriates (expats) at this bar called Bootleg DJ Café. The owner is a DJ hence the name.  It’s a small bar with and a good place for locals and tourists to hang out and relax and have a few drinks. The music is really good and the staff is friendly. Through our Expat friend we met a few people from Russia, France, North Vietnam, and the states. Club Lush  or Lush bar as some may call it(located on Ly Tu Trong, Bến Nghé, Quận 1) is a great club for foreigners and locals to have a great time. The night that we went was the anniversary of the club and the owner brought out a 5-layer cake, dancers coming down from the ceiling on ribbons, champagne was given out to everyone. You can get bottle service for $50USD. Mixed drinks were anywhere between $1-5USD. The waitresses are nice and beautiful. The club has different nights like thirsty Thursday, ladies night, and hip-hop night. If you want to listen to great music and dance all night, club lush is the place to be.   Saturday Mekong Delta tour For a reasonable price, ($4-$15USD depending on your negotiating skills) you can book a tour to Mekong Delta through your hotel. The bus will pick you up around 8am. Please note that it’s a full day drip. The day that I went, it was raining, so the delta was really brown and murky. It was not an exciting trip. However, I did get to meet some cool travelers from Canada and Singapore. The tour takes you around small villages along the delta. You get to stop and eat lunch and see how life is like outside the city. A lot of the places don’t have power and they use boats to get from one place to another. It’s a different world between the city and the villages. The delta itself is massive, and the tour guides does a good job of explaining what you are seeing. If you get motion sickness, I suggest you don’t take the tour. If you know it’s going to rain, I suggest you don’t do the tour. Sunday I took the time to walk around the city and meet up with the people that I met at the DJ Bootleg Café and some of the other bars to say good bye. Visiting Ho Chi Minh City was/is a rewarding experience. I still stay in contact with the people that I met during my time there. I hope to visit the city again in the near future.  

Driving in India

They say if you can drive in India then you can drive anywhere.  I quickly found out why. The typical drive down a street in Indian goes something like this.  Pull out onto the street on the left hand side of the road (same as British).  There will have been a constant stream of traffic, and so you will most likely have to cut off multiple vehicles to get onto the road.  You will get beeped at several times and soon be surrounded on all four sides by motorcycles.  Then, since your destination is in the opposite direction, you pull a u-turn into oncoming traffic to get going on the opposite direction on the other side of the road.  Again, this is followed by multiple high pitched honks from other drivers.  You drive off weaving in and out of traffic and then have to slam the breaks as an unfazed and oblivious cow lazily makes its way across the street.   You continue driving until a Rickshaw, a 3-wheeled motor-scooter taxi, is coming at you in your lane.  A line of unfazed Indian drivers slows down, delivering gentle beeps that seems to accomplish little more than to note the event.  You finally see your destination on the opposite side of the road and so you cut over into oncoming traffic.  You drive head on into the oncoming traffic for about 200 feet until you arrive at your destination. No drive is completed in India unless you’ve delivered at least 10 to 12 beeps of the car horn.  Now in India beeping doesn’t mean you’re angry at someone.  While the long wailing horn on American vehicles gives out a “Waaaaaah!!!!…. You’re a bleep” blast, the horn on Indian vehicles gives out a “Babeep! - Hey friend!” high-pitched honk.  Another thing to note is that in India you beep for any reason you can possibly think of. Below is a list of the main reasons you beep your horn while driving in India:
  • When you approach a scooter that is going too slow.
  • When a motorcycle crosses in front of you without looking.
  • When you’re about to cross in front of somebody.
  • When a Riskah taxi is coming at you the wrong way down the street.
  • When you are going the wrong way down the street at a Rickshaw taxi that is going the right way.
  • When someone is making a u-turn and you have to slow down.
  • Whenever you pass by a cow.
  • Whenever herds of cows mindlessly cross the street in front of you as if they were invulnerable to fast moving cars.
  • Whenever you are trying to park and pedestrians are surrounding the parking space for no particular reason.
  • Whenever you get behind a slow moving truck.  Slow moving trucks have “Honk Please” written in bold letters on the back of them, so give a honk when one is in your way and it will pull over to let you go.
  • Whenever a popular party song that you like comes on the radio.
If none of the above has happened and you haven’t given the car a good beeping in 5 minutes or so then beep 3 or 4 times just to let everyone know you are ok. Additionally, cargo trucks will drive down the highway beeping in unison to classic Indian songs on the radio. Indian cows don’t go the long way around. Ummmm…probably the coolest van ever.  Road trip anyone? I’m a slow truck.  Please honk at me! Rickshaw taxi.  Locals rate: $0.40/km, Tourist rate $1.00/km     This article was written by Jesse Freda

Why Hostels are Great!

Up until two years ago, these words wouldn’t have come out of my mouth. However, since working in Singapore for about 6 months and had a chance to explore Asia, my opinion about hostels has changed for the better. I remember in the early 2000’s a movie called Hostel came out and it didn’t depict hostels in the best of light. I formed my opinion about hostels from that movie (very bad idea). I promised myself that I would never stay in one for fear of disease, kidnapping, hair in strange places, you name it and I thought it. I remember planning my trip to China from Singapore. I booked my hotel ($60USD) a night, flight was a couple hundred, and I think the total price of the trip was about $1000USD. I booked the hotel for 3 days because I was planning on visiting Shanghai, Beijing, and Suzhou, all in 9 days. However, I only booked my hotel for Shanghai, hoping I could negotiate a better deal once I was in China. When I arrived at my hotel, I was impressed, and thought it was well worth the $60USD even though I hate spending a lot of money on hotels. Let’s face it, you only use it to sleep and shower, most of the time you want to spend your vacation exploring, so why waste all that money on a hotel. On my last day in Shanghai, I couldn’t get tickets for the bullet train to Beijing. Tickets were sold out for months. Turns out you have to order tickets ahead of time which I didn’t know. I didn’t want to go over my budget so I started walking around the streets of Shanghai looking at better deals for hotels. I ran into one of the international hostel chains and met an American from Texas whose been backing across Asia for the last year. I was jealous and impressed at the same time. I wanted that lifestyle! I explained my dilemma and he told me all about hostels and how I could save a ton of money by staying in one. At first I was skeptical but decided to take his advice.   Benefits of hostels
  • If you are a member of some of the top international chains all you have to do is go to one of their hostels and you can get a discount when you provide your member card. In most cases, it costs about $10 to become a member.
  • You can get a private room for $6-$50 depending on the country you are visiting.
  • Most of the time it’s cheaper if you stay in a dorm format which is a group of 3 or more people.
  • Single or twin beds are available
  • Wi-Fi is available
  • Cleaning service
  • Hot shower and other toiletries
  • You meet great people from all corners of the world
  • Hostels are usually located in backpacker areas like Khao San Road in Bangkok Thailand.
  • If you are traveling alone or with a group of people, hostels are a great place to meet friends.
  • Great for budget travelers
  • Some of the top chain and non chain hostels are just as cleaned or even cleaner than most hotels
  • Breakfast and kitchen provided in some cases
  • lounge areas
Since meeting that person in China, I continue to stay in hostels. I’ve saved a ton of money and met a lot of great people who I continue to stay in contact with. If you haven’t tried staying in a hostel, do so.  You will find that the managers of these places are accommodating because they need the business. I remember I was staying in a hostel in Ho Chi Minh City called Saigon Hostel and they ironed my shirt and served me breakfast while I was waiting for them to finish ironing. Just remember to read the reviews on a particular hostel before booking it. If you are traveling in area that has a lot of hostels on the same street, try switching hostels every other day to get an understanding of how hostels are being operated. If by some chance you do have a bad experience, don’t forsake all hostels because of one bad apple. There are bad hostels just like there are bad hotels. Unless you’re on a family vacation or on a honeymoon, I suggest you save your money and use it towards trying new food.

Get your Visa

Before going on an adventure to a foreign country, make sure you have a visa otherwise you will not be permitted into that country. Depending on your country of citizenship, you may or may not be required to get a visa to enter a foreign country. Check with your embassy and that of the foreign countries embassy to see if a visa is required.  Most requests can be filled online and paid with a credit card and you can complete the process once you arrive at your destination. When filing for the visa you must say why you are visiting that country. Examples are business, vacation, school, and to visit family. In some Asian countries, vacation is called holiday or leisure. In some instances, your length of stay in a foreign country is dependent on the nature of your visit (business, vacation, school, and to visit family). Most countries have a Foreigners section of the public Security Bureau where you can apply for an extension to stay longer. Depending on the country you are visiting, you will be given the option of one entry or multiple entries. Single Entry visa Single entry into a foreign country is usually valid for 3 months for a maximum of 30 days. Double entry visa Double entry allows you to have two entries on a single visa which means you can leave and renter without reapplying. For example, when you apply for a Chinese visa you can apply for a single or double entry for the same price. You will have a window of 3 to 6 months to travel around the country. Once your 30days are up on one of the entries, you have to leave the country and come back on the same visa if you have a double entry visa. Vietnam gives you multiple entries but you have to do it all within 30 days. Once the visa expires, you have to reapply. Visa Waiver Program Allows for citizens or nationals of countries participating in the program to enter a country for 90 days without a visa for business and tourism. According to the United States of America’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website, these countries are part of the Visa waiver program.  
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • San Marino
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia 
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan (see note below)
  • United Kingdom
  Click the link below for more information about the visa waiver program from the DHS website E- Passport Most modernized countries have high tech airports that contain electronic passport reading machines. So if your passport is equipped with the E-passport symbol you can use the machines to get in and out of the airport quicker. Most countries have their  own rigorous requirements to obtaining an E-passport. The best way to get information is to visit the customs and border protection department of your country of citizenship. Picture of E-Passport taken from U.S.A DHS website        

15 Keys to Negotiating in a Foreign Country

15 Keys to Negotiating in a Foreign Country

  1. If you are the first person to arrive at the shopping outlets in the morning, the vendor must make a sale to you because they feel it is bad luck to start the day off without closing a deal. Call it superstition but it is what it is. Be prepared to negotiate.
  2.  Most of the outlets sell the same items so walk around and get feel for your environment before purchasing
  3. You will not pay the same price as a local
  4. Everyone speaks your language when it’s time to buy
  5. Be assertive but not rude, show no fear
  6. Never look at the item you want to purchase, focus on the items surrounding it to get a feel for the price range and work you way up to the item that you want to buy
  7.  Know how much you are willing to pay (print out a currency conversion chart so that way you won’t have to do manual calculations) I used to print out the conversion in small font and tape it on the back of my phone or within a tiny notebook
  8. Most of the shopping outlets use calculators when negotiating, so know how to use one
  9. If the vendor is trying to sell you something for $20USD and you know it’s supposed to be less than that, you should respond with a price that is extremely low like $3USD. This is done so you can meet in the middle.
  10. Be prepared to walk away! If negotiations are not going well. 85% of the time, the vendor will call you back because they don’t want to miss out on a sale.
  11. Listen in to other negotiations to see what prices are being thrown out there
  12. If it's just you and the vendor, take him/her to the side and negotiate privately to get better deals
  13. Depending on the time of day, you will get different deals. Mid afternoon to evening, you will get cheaper deals because vendors want to close shop on a good note. 
  14. Ask the vendor “Do you want to make money today? Because I want to spend.” “So give me a great deal.”
  15. Good luck and have fun, the more you practice, the better you get at it
If you like this article please subscribe and send to your friends. Let me know of any additional negotiating tips and I will add it to this article  

A Taste of Saigon

A Taste of Saigon

Saigon is called ‘Far East Pearl’ because it influences culinary cultures from throughout the world.  Food here is like a ‘hot pot’ which is gathered and mixed between many different culinary cultures, traditional and modern. This city is the center of culinary culture in Vietnam. We can find different types of food from Northern to Southern Vietnamese dishes to many famous French and Italian dishes,  American burgers, German sausages, Indian curry, Japanese sushi, etc. Food from street vendors or big restaurants can bring great satisfaction. PH  Particularly, when we talk about Vietnamese food, no one can forget Phở, which is an interesting traditional food, usually served with beef (or with chicken). We can find Phở easily in any city/province from South to North with many different flavors depending on the style of each region. What makes a good Phở is the broth made from beef bones, yellow rock sugar, fresh onion, grilled ginger, cinnamon and anise (some use dried cuttlefish to make the broth sweeter). You can also add to Phở, Asian basil, cilantro, coriander leaves, sawtooth herb, rice paddy herb and a little lime juice to make the taste more delicious. Depending on your taste, bean sauce and hot chili garlic sauce may be added. You can choose the meat depending on your taste as well, choosing from rib-eye steak, brisket, flank, fatty brisket, soft tendon, tripe etc.   Saigon Phở has its own style – I love the taste of ‘Phở bò’ in Saigon Phở originated in the north of Vietnam where people usually call it “Phở Bắc”, but really started to spread when a million refugees fled south when the country was divided in 1954. What’s different between Phở Saigon and Phở Bắc? Well, the taste is very different – phở Saigon is a bit sweeter, and the broth looks sort of opaque, and a bit greaser than Phở Bắc. Try both variations and see which you prefer, as each kind of Phở has its unique flavor and both kinds have it’s own signature marks that would make it an unforgettable experience trying it for the first time. "Phở originated in North Vietnam" Besides the traditional Phở, there are many ways to break the old order and cook a variety of different versions of Phở, such as sautéed Phở (Phở áp chảo), Steamed rice crêpe rolls with Phở (Phở cuốn), dried Phở (Phở Gia Lai), Phở with sour sauce (Phở chua), and instant Phở (Phở ăn liền). Out of these, stir fried Phở is tasty – it is basically pan-fried rice noodles sautéed with beef. The noodles are pan-fried first, then sautéed with the sauce, for a crispy and chewy noodle that soaks up all the juices of the meat. The sauce is made in high heat – a bit of oil and sautéd  onion slices and beef, reserving the marinade. The important corn starch is the last step to start thickening the beef mixture into a gravy. Add the mushrooms, carrot, and bell pepper and sauté to make the dish colorful.   "stir fried Phở" Gia Lai dry noodles (Phở khô Gia Lai): this is a very special dish from the Gia Lai province. It is served in 2 separate bowls – one with dry noodles, with a mixture of fried ground pork, fried onion, and a raw vegetable like lettuce, bean sprout, and hot chili garlic sauce. The other bowl contains a sweet broth with sliced beef or meat balls. "Gia Lai dry noodles (Phở khô Gia Lai)" Phở with sour sauce (Phở chua): a unique type of Phở from Lạng Sơn Province, when it came to Ho chi Minh City (HCMC), it was cooked a lit bit different to be suitable for the ‘Saigon-ese’ people. What makes this Phở so delicious is the tamarind sauce. The sauce is very thick, sweet and sour, blending with the noodle, chicken, chicken giblets,cracklings, peanuts, and raw vegetables, together with a little bit chili oil and cracklings. This combination is a very unique. Besides the bowl of noodles, there is another bowl of broth with chicken and small spring onions. "Phở with sour sauce and cracklings op top (Phở chua)" Each kind of Phở has a unique flavor, and are made differently by Vietnamese cuisine. However, the traditional Phở is the best, and the most popular not only in Vietnam but also in many countries all over the world. So please try it if you have a chance to visit Vietnam - Highly recommended.
 Article written by Trang Mita, a Vietnamese Citizen and images are not property of okvaca