narita layover

i decided to scrap the flight out of beijing after not finding decent flights to there from saigon and not making much progress with the sales agents at china southern airlines, or their awful website. plus i had found a cheap one-way ticket on American Airlines through Japan.

the new route extended my total trip time considerably, mostly because of the 8-hour layover in a little jewel of a town – narita.

taking the excellent advice from Mike Newman’s Narita Layover site, i checked my luggage straight through to L.A. from Saigon, and hopped off the plane in Narita, through a quick customs and immigration check and on a short train ride into town.

it was early, saturday morning and a few of the street-side shops were just opening up, but most of the town still seemed asleep. beautiful hills, a bright, clear sky, and cool, brisk breeze woke me up as i wandered down the quiet little main street from the train station.
narita japan

i found this tiny cemetery tucked away a few blocks into my walk:
narita cemetery

i instantly loved this town. the quaint shops and friendly owners drew me in and made me feel welcome:
narita shop

then i saw the temple/park: naritasan and thought i could probably live here:
naritasan temple

great urns burning incense:
incense in narita

pagoda, naritasan

beautiful landscaped grounds, stone walls, and architecture:

and hands down one of the cleanest places i’ve ever been in my life. seriously, there wasn’t a scrap of trash to be found anywhere. even the garbage cans were mostly clean.

the cherry blossoms were in full bloom and the whole place just put me at peace:
naritasan bowing

naritasan water

then again, maybe it helped that there was actually an entire ginormous structure on the grounds called the Great Pagoda of Peace:
great pagoda of peace, naritasan

and a beautiful park with more cherry blossoms and a waterfall:
naritasan waterfall
naritasan waterfall

next trip back to viet nam, i’m going to stay a couple days in japan i think.


narita layover

im in narita japan for a few hours during a lengthy layover. it’s a nice little town with super friendly people. using a public computer, so i’ll upload pics later – maybe during my layover in L.A.

off to see the naritisan temple down the street. and looking forward to heading back home.

the beaches of bai sao in phu quoc

our second and final day in phu quoc we explored the island considerably more, including another stop at donny’s property and a meeting with the farmers that are taking care of it for him, and a visit to Cúc’s new waterfront restaurant that’s under construction. most of the island roads are dirt, so traversing it by car took 2 or 3 times longer that it normally would, and we were in the car for most of the morning. fortunately there were little roadside food stands everywhere:
roadside market in phu quoc
and Cúc grabbed some bananas for us:
phu quoc bananas

i don’t know the acreage of donny’s property, but he bought a ton of waterfront land on the northwest part of the island last year, before there was even a decent road to get there. months later, the government started building a real road to that area, and within a year it should be finished. his friends joke that he has this midas touch – wherever he buys land the value doubles, triples, etc. soon after.

it definitely looked to be teeming with potential – as does the whole island. i was telling him he should go green – build his house with solar panels and alternative energy and get completely off the grid.

it would be great if the whole island could adopt an eco-tourism approach now, while everything’s just starting to develop. they’re going to aggressively push tourism here soon, i don’t think there’s any stopping that, but if they could do it smartly, imagine the long-term potential.

donny’s started landscaping, planting trees, laying down grass and irrigation systems and bringing in tons of soft white sand. i snapped this shot of the upper part of his land the night before:
phu quoc land

here’s the farmer who’s taking care of the land:
phu quoc land
the best stop of the day was in bai sao at a little restaurant/jet ski rental spot called Lang Toi (pronounced lang toy).

lang toi, bai sao, phu quoc

the beaches there were beautiful – supposedly the nicest on the entire island:
beaches of bai sao, phu quoc

the owner there, hanh, was really nice girl who was probably in her late twenties. she knew donny and took great care of us, and hooked us up with a fantastic spread for lunch:
lunch at lang toi, bai sao, phu quoc

after that we rented some jet skis so we could explore other parts of the island. we found a bright blue and yellow concrete buddhist shrine tucked away up a little hill in a forested, undeveloped chunk of coastline. no one was there, but incense was burning everywhere and there were fresh cut wildflowers on the front, inside and all around the place.

i went inside and saw a bell/gong with a striker and decided to go ahead and ring it. it was a really nice moment, and though i’m sorry i couldn’t take my camera with me, it was also nice to just experience it without feeling compelled to capture it.

we headed back to Lang Toi and I took a quick picture with hanh before we left for the hotel:
hanh, owner of lang toi in bai sao, phu quoc

before we got to phu quoc, we grabbed a bite in the saigon airport. kittee, here’s that bún you requested:
bún and tofu in vietnam

i also grabbed some snacks for the trip, which i enjoyed this morning for breakfast:
vietnam snacks

they looked good in the airport, plus, they’re “high quality”, with “delicious smell” so i really couldn’t resist:
vietnam snacks

our hotel is a relatively modest one, but it’s right on the beach and my room is small and clean:
huong bien hotel phu quoc

with free wi-fi and an interesting view:
view from huong bien hotel phu quoc

the food here has been pretty good. we ate lunch yesterday at Cúc’s place, Chez Carole. there were scallops in this dish, but i just ate around them:
scallop and veggie stiry fry from chez carole phu quoc

it was cooked in some kind of seafood stock, and i can’t stand being difficult for such gracious hosts, so i’m thinking i may need to modify the blog title to American Flexitarian in Viet Nam for the rest of the trip.

that’s not to say i won’t try to stick to a vegan diet though. like last night, we headed back to chez carole and they hooked me up with some tasty mi xao mem – my favorite dish since i’ve been here. not only because it’s tasty and vegan, but because it’s one of the few vietnamese things i can actually pronounce correctly:
mi xao mem

after dinner we headed back to the hotel and slept like rocks. today was jam packed with more property touring and jet ski’ing at bai sao. i took some nice pics and am uploading now. will try to post before i go to sleep tonight.

off to dinner again for now.

phu quoc island

boy on motorbike in phu quoc
Correction: PARTS of phu quoc remind me of what hawaii might have been like in 1820, while other parts are bustling with tourists, cafés and street markets.

My friend Anh says Phu Quoc is one of the last undeveloped Vietnamese islands. But not for long. It’s undergoing massive development right now.

Huge roads are being built around the clock and there are restaurants, hotels and resorts under construction as well – one after another after another. The island is crawling with steamrollers and construction equipment.
new road construction in phu quoc
My friend Donny says it’s a very poor part of Viet Nam, but all this development seems to be lining up Phu Quoc’s cards to become a major tourist destination in the coming years, and positioning some people to benefit greatly from it.

We picked up Cuc, a friend of Donny’s, at her restaurant – Chez Carole, which is in a more developed, touristy part of the island, and then drove into “town” to meet one of her friends who runs a luxury resort off the north west coast of phu quoc.

While we waited in town I snapped as many pics as i could.
guys hanging out in phu quoc

bún stand in phu quoc

little girl in phu quoc

phu quoc vendors

phu quoc street scene
The hour-long ride to his property – half of which was over dirt road – was incredible. I wanted to get out of the car every 500 feet and take pictures, but alas, we were in a hurry to get to the land before sunset so I just snapped as much as I could from my seat.

This guy had just crashed into another motorbike and was shaking it off I guess, on the side of the road. the wreck looked bad, but maybe the fact that it happened on dirt helped minimize the injuries.
motorbike accident watching

bike ride in rural phu quoc

gas station in phu quoc

this was a pretty common site on the ride up north to donny’s land, as most of the folks along the new road are farmers:
cattle in rural phu quoc

cattle in rural phu quoc

the road north:
new road in phu quoc

donny’s land:
land in northern phu quoc

i’m up too late after such a long day. more tomorrow, with some food pics as well.

phu quoc!

we made it to phu quoc, and we’ve got wi-fi at the hotel. pics and stuff later tonight, but it reminds me of what hawaii must’ve been like in the 1920s, except with a gazillion motorbikes.

shopping, saigon style

i’m not a big shopper at all – unless i’m buying computer or a/v gear, i’d probably rather be somewhere else. but i wanted to get a few things for mary and nicolas since they’ve been so great about me leaving for 2 weeks – and they both have birthdays next week.

so, saturday after the market, hang and our driver took me to a couple different shopping malls. my vietnamese friends from new orleans recommended i avoid the street vendors and stick with the shops – no haggling, hassling or sudden price increases at checkout.

first up: saigon square:
saigon square shopping mall
it wasn’t a thrilling experience by any measure, but interesting for sure – the place is jam-packed with tiny stalls busting at the seems with mostly clothes, though some had dvds, some had electronics, shoes, parkas, backpacks, computer bags, leather goods, belts – each stall specializing in its own niche. fortunately, between saigon square and the second mall they took me too i got some stuff that i think they’ll like.

since i couldn’t take pics of that without ruining the surprise, here’s a crazy looking mannequin from saigon square for you to enjoy:
saigon square mannequin in shop

and a large orange dragon or lion from the second mall:
orange lion in saigon shop

headed to phu quoc island with donny tomorrow afternoon for a couple days and am not sure if my mac is making the trip, so this may be the last post for a couple days, unless i can knock one out tomorrow morning.