Category Archives: Uncategorized

Reunification Palace Saigon

~K~

There is quite a bit of war tourism in Vietnam: In Ho Chi Minh, the main spots we saw related to this were the Cu Chi Tunnels, museums (including the War Remnants Museums which we have yet to write about), and the Reunification Palace. 

The Reunification Palace was just a few kilometer walk from our AirBNB (into the heart of District 1). The streets there can be a little crazy, but really, it wasn’t too difficult to manage. We set out just after noon and made our way towards the Palace. It is located at 135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, in District 1.

Approaching The Palace

You enter the grounds via a small entry building, where you purchase your tickets. The tickets cost 30,000 Dong each (~ $1.50). There was a short line when we visited. From there, you are free to wander the grounds and explore the expansive campus. 

Palace Ticket

We made our way around the outside perimeter first, before venturing inside. The grounds were well kept. A large fountain graced the front and a few tanks (including the one that crashed the gate in 1975) were off to the side. We also found a nice patch of grass to practice some AcroYoga in, which we’ve been slacking on for years now. It felt great to do. Near the back end of the palace are some tennis courts and a few other sports courts.

Tank That Crashed The Gates
MIG That Bombed The Palace
A Large Tree In The Surrounding Garden
A Tree Out Back

From there, we proceeded in towards the palace itself.


Approaching The Side Entrance
Briana On The Back Balcony

The palace was originally built in 1873 and served as the governor’s residence from 1887 to 1945. During World War II, the palace changed hands from colonial France to Japan, and then back to France. In 1954, after years of fighting with the French, the Vietnamese managed to win independence, and became divided along the 17th parallel into North and South Vietnam. The South declared the palace, Independence Palace, and it served as the primary government building. In 1962, a North Vietnamese assassination attempt bombed the entire left wing of the palace, rendering it impossible to restore. So the current ruler of the time, Diem, ordered the whole palace demolished and commissioned a new building. The palace was built in 1963 and inaugurated in 1966. It served as the headquarters for the American campaign during the Vietnam War. On 8 April 1975, a communist spy managed to pilot a F-5 undetected and bombed the palace but caused no significant damage. The Palace fell on April 30, and signaled the end of the war. In November of 1975, negotiations between the North and South brought the two Vietnams together and the palace was renamed the Reunification Palace.

Front Lawn Fountain

The palace is quite opulent, with 5 floors and a roof top, all of which can be visited. A large central staircase could get you up and down, as well as stairs at the end of each wing. Elevators also are placed throughout, but they are quite tiny and can only hold two or three people at most. There are many halls, adorned with gold, ivory, and all manner of luxurious materials. Each hall also served it’s own purpose and function.

Reception Room
Reception Room
Reception Room
Reception Room
Palace Theater
Plaque

A residential area was near the top with a nice grotto open to the sky to admire.

Foreign Dignitaries' Quarters Courtyard
Animal Mountings

On the roof was an area originally designed as an area to meditate, but was eventually turned into a dance floor for partying. The entire palace was very open air, and felt quite welcoming.

Bonsai On The Roof
Helicopter Pad on Palace Roof

On the bottom floor, you can check out the industrial kitchen that served the entire palace.

Palace Kitchen
Palace Kitchen Mixer

We managed to spend a good two hours checking out the grounds. If you want, you can take a tour with a guide. But we just elected to walk around by ourselves and read the placards. It’s certainly worth checking out if you’re in Ho Chi Minh, plus it’s located near a bunch of other great sites!

Plaque
Gold Plaque

Blogging For Book – Super Genes

~K~

This is our second entry for Blogging For Books. A neat service where you’re sent a free book if you provide an honest review of it on your blog. You can see our review for The Tunnels here. This time, we’re reviewing Super Genes, by Deepak Chopra, M.D. and Rudolph Tanzi, Ph.D. We both really enjoyed the book and learned a lot that we’ve begun to incorporate into our lifestyles.

It seems all the rage these days is about your genes and how they affect you. But the narrative has been woefully incomplete and stuck in the past. Whereas in the past we’ve been told that our genes are static and the result of a roll of the dice on part of parents, Chopra and Tanzi bring to light the interactivity we share with genome and our abilities to affect them.

The book approaches the subject of genetics and epigenetics (the customizable genes that lay atop our ordinary genes) with a simplicity and clarity that would not be thought possible for a subject so complex and deep. The reader is carefully guided through the history of the discoveries, the mechanics of the genome, and the decisions one can make to take command of what was once believed to be beyond our control.

Diving into the subjects of diabetes, allergies, Alzheimers, inflammation, and more –  Chopra and Tanzi brings genetics to the public in a digestible way that maintains its potency through the use of real-life examples. They also bring to light how much our diet can affect our genes and those of our descendants. All of this, while bringing hope to those who have always struggled with health problems they previously thought were beyond their control.

This book is an excellent and engaging book for anyone who has ever had an interest in why their body behaves the way it does, or the layman who just wants a better understanding of the power of DNA.

Belgrade Serbia

~K~

At the confluence of the Sava and Danube, rises Belgrade – the capital and largest city of Serbia. The city has been settled, on and off, since the 6th millennium BCE, and has come under the rule of numerous empires such as the Byzantine, Frankish, Bulgarian, Hungarian, and Ottoman Empires.

Where We've Been Belgrade

The city has seen 115 wars, and been razed 44 times. It was even attacked by Attila the Hun in 442. Debatably, Attila is buried beneath the Kalemagdan fort.

Today, the city is a peaceful and charming city, that offers a lot to do, at a very cheap price.

Clue 4- building

The Kalemagdan fort is a centerpiece of the city, rising above the rest of the city where the Sava and Danube meet. It’s a wonderful park, that is free to visit, and can easily keep you and a family occupied for a day or two.

Kalemagden Front Cliff

The city is filled with parks, and is incredibly easy to navigate on foot, or by tram if you so wish. And astonishingly, the locals have done a phenomenal job of training their dogs. They’re everywhere, they’re off-leash, and they cause no problems.

Clue 6- Dog 2

Other icons of the city are the Temple of St. Sava and St. Mark’s Church. As a whole, the city offers a slew of churches and cathedrals to visit.

St Sava

When it comes to enjoying the more cosmopolitan aspects of life, you can head over to St. Mark’s Square. You may catch a rally happening (as we did) or you may instead check out the national theater which has shows frequently. We visited and saw the ballet “Don Quixote” at a wonderful price. As well, numerous shops ranging from clothes, to antiques, to souvenirs in the large shopping complex.

Clue

If you have the time to explore, you’ll find botanical gardens, parks, cemeteries, shops to your liking. Street art adorns the walls of buildings. The people also hold a pride for their heritage – most notably for their highly esteemed citizens such as Nikola Tesla, who you can find on the Serbian Dinar. There are numerous museums to visit and even an old concentration.

Bust of Nikola Tesla

As well, the food is cheap and plentiful, and has a delicious cafe culture.

Clue 8- Cafes
Belgrade bakery popular

It’s easy to grab a Plejkavica, or Serbian hamburger, for what amounts to barely a dollar or two and could feed a family, along almost any street.

The soviet history also brings to the city an imposing, yet oddly charming character. In Belgrade, you’ll be surprised at just how welcoming it can be. We spent five weeks in Belgrade, and enjoyed all our time there.

Clue 12- around town

Cats eating

Video: Our Cyprus Housesit Watching 7 Cats

~B~

I first attempted to make an overall Cyprus video, but our “tourist” clips just didn’t blend well with all the cat videos. So this is a video mostly featuring the seven cats we watched in Dhoros. Gotta love cat videos, though!  I will probably make another short video showing some of our activities out, though. Enjoy!

Pretty City

Budapest Video

~B~

Here is a brief video showing off some of our time in Budapest, Hungary. It seems that in Europe (Cyprus, Serbia, Hungary) we focused a lot more on taking pictures and follow/spin videos than taking other video. There were quite a few of these (follow and spin videos) from these countries which I did not find until after I made those video or did not include for some reason. Therefore, despite the fact that we spent a substantial amount of time in each of these locations, we just don’t have a ton of video footage. As per normal I also had to get rid of all the videos that were just too shaky, bad angles, too short, etc. which is typically well over half of them. The video does show many of the top touristy spots, though.

Navigating Bangkok

~K~

Getting around Bangkok is not too difficult a feat to accomplish. It’s a large metropolitan area however, so you’re not going to be able to just walk around to get where you need. It’s not as easy or extensive as Seoul – though it’s less daunting; but it’s also far more convenient than Kuala Lumpur or Vietnam. There is a wide variety of ways to manage getting around.

Briana At A Temple In Bangkok

Tuk Tuk:

In this entry, I’ll also include motorbike taxis or Xe Oms. They’re easy to discover, they tend to wear orange vests that display their license (which is nice). The motorbikes are not likely able to carry multiple people or with large packs, but can be great for a short distance.

Tuk tuks are the pretty much the same as throughout the rest of Southeast Asia. They can be convenient, and if you find a reputable driver – nice. But it’s very easy to get ripped off, scammed, and just generally fed up with them. We don’t like using them, but it’s up to you if you want to use them. We wouldn’t recommend using them if you’re traveling a long distance, but for a short distance, it may be ok if you agree to a price before hopping on.

Taxis:

As with most other cities, taxis are the first and most obvious mode of transportation that you’ll take. They’ll overcharge you if you come from the airport (don’t they always?), but elsewhere, the rates are pretty reasonable. We only took a taxi a few times – but they were usually quite straightforward. Our first taxi didn’t quite seem to know where he was going, but figured it out rather quickly. Our second taxi didn’t really speak English, but I showed him the address and a map and he got us there for 100 Baht (~$2.50). Our final taxi took us to the bus stop quite easily as well for around 150 Baht.

Grabbing a taxi is very simple as well, we never bothered to call for one – we simply walked out to the street and waved one down. There always seemed to be a taxi no matter where we were. It literally took me 30 seconds to flag down a taxi each time. One thing to keep in mind, is that traffic is awful in Bangkok, so the taxi will ask you if you want to take a toll road (highway) to get where you’re going, which you’ll have to pay for. We didn’t do it the first time, and it cost us over an hour’s drive – we took it the second time, paid 70 baht, and got where we were going within 20 minutes.

Be sure to use a metered taxi though! It will be cheaper, despite what the driver may say, but generally if you say use the meter, they will do it without complaint.

Boat Taxi:

If you find yourself anywhere along the river, you can take boat taxis. In fact, if you want to get to some temples, you may need to use these (Temple of Dawn). We never did end up using them, mainly because we just didn’t have it in our itinerary, but if you do there are a few things to keep in mind.

Canal Near Station

There are three main waterways: Chao Phraya River (the main river), Klong Saen Saeb (cuts across Bangkok), and Klongs of Thonburi (networks of canals throughout the city.

There are 6 boat types: River Taxis, Long Tails (tuk tuks on water), Ferry, Canal Boats, Private Cruises, and Hotel Shuttles. These are pretty self-explanatory and unless a tour or hotel has already arranged these for you, you will only be bothering with River Taxis, Long Tails, and Ferries.

There are 5 types of River Boat, indicated by the flags, and these will be how you decide which you want to take:

No flag (local line) – Stops at every Pier

Blue flag (tourist boat) – Stops when you want. Will cost more, but may be more convenient.

Orange flag – Stops at main piers

Yellow flag – Large express boat for commuters

Green flag – Express boat for commuters

If you want to take one, it is easiest to access the Sathorn Central Pier, located in front of BTS Skytrain Station Saphan Taksin.

Canal Near Traimit Station

Buses:

City buses are a convenient way to get around as well (though we never did use them). Generally quite cheap, with fares ranging from 7 to 20 Baht. They run 24/7, so they may be your go-to if you find yourself out after the metro has shut down. There are 12 lines of service, and most will have a stop near the main hotels.

Buses with blue signs in the window will run normal routes and stop at all bus stops, while yellow sign buses use expressways and have a limited locations. You purchase your ticket on the bus itself. You may want to do a bit of research before hand though, to know which route you want to take.

You can also arrange for a bus across international borders, such as we did for entering Cambodia. You read more about that here.

Van / Minibus / Truck

You may notice as you go about Bangkok what appears to be vans or trucks, with open backs and benches along the back. These are like buses, and tend to run some of the same routes, and some of the smaller routes that normal buses won’t frequent. You can simply hop on and pay the attendant a small fee (5 – 20 baht) and simply ride until you get where you need to go. Just let the driver or attendant know when you want to get off and you can simply walk off the back.

Metro / Subway / MRT:

Our primary method of getting around Bangkok was via the Metro, Skytrain, BTS Rail. It is not a streamlined as Seoul by any means – but they aren’t too difficult to manage. There are numerous stations that you can enter. When you come into the station, you will have your bags checked for bombs/contraband, but it’s pretty simple, and nothing at all like the airport (just open your backpack and you’re good).

Subway Card

Once in, you’ll usually find a small assortment of stalls selling food or drink. There are ticket vending machines which are convenient and will run in Thai and English, simply tell the kiosk which station you want to go, then feed in the bills or coins (wonderful way to get rid of excess coins). Once purchased, you will receive either plastic coins or cards to swipe to get to the platform. If you would prefer to talk to a person, there are regular kiosk operators as well (great if you have large bills to break).

Trains tend to arrive every 10 minutes, and can be a little crowded. We didn’t make it in once and had to wait for the next train, but usually it’s not a problem.

When you arrive at the station you will either leave completely or transfer to the next station. The stations are not as seamlessly integrated as Seoul, so you may need to leave your current station and enter a new one, especially if you’re changing from Skytrain to Subway. It’s not too difficult to manage, but it can throw you for a loop the first time you encounter it. You will need to purchase a new ticket at each station though.

BTS_MRT_Chao_Phraya_Express_Khlong

If you are going to be Bangkok for a while though, you can simply purchase a longterm card which you simply recharge remotely and swipe, so you can have a more streamlined process.

Keep in mind, that there seem to be no bathrooms within the metro system – so take care of business before you travel!

Vietnamese Style Thai Temple Bangkok

Cyprus Beaches

~K~

Being an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, you’d expect Cyprus to have some wonderful beaches, and amazing coastal views – and you’d be right. The island has a wide range of beaches to visit, all with stunning views and great water. While we didn’t get to visit all the locations we would have liked, we still got to see a fair bit, and they all offered something a little different. It was great to finally get to a beach. It was really our first opportunity since we’d left Florida.

So I’m going to go ahead and show off the beaches of Cyprus we visited, in the order that we did.

Pissouri Beach
Pissouri Beach Cyprus

Pissouri Beach was the first of the Cyprus beaches we visited. The homeowners of our house sit were meeting up with friends and they asked us if we’d like to come along. They had decided on Pissouri because of a restaurant they liked as well as the ability to avoid the supposed crowds of Kourion Beach.

The beach here was very rocky, and we would have liked to have had water shoes – the homeowners did. But aside from that, it was really quite nice. Cliffs stood out against the sea as gentle waves came ashore.

Pissouri Beach Cyprus

The water was nice, with only a gentle swell and little to no current. You could easily spend hours floating in the water. It was also nice that once you made it about ten feet out, the large stones and pebbles made way for sand and easier walking.

Alykes Beach (Pafos Waterfront) and Municipal Baths
Pafos Swimming Pen

Alykes “Beach” we visited several times, though never actually got in the water. The first time was on my birthday when we decided to go to Pafos to celebrate. We walked past the beach, and discovered that it’s really hard to call it as such. There is no shore to speak of here, but that doesn’t stop hundreds of tourists and locals from enjoying the water.

Lounges and chairs line the waterfront. Ladders and small platforms allow you to enter the water.

Pafos Swimming Platform

As these are also a municipal baths, you find well equipped changing rooms and bathrooms right next to the water as well. The water seemed to be a little rougher here than at Pissouri, but if one was searching for calmer waters, there were walled off sections that could easily be used for younger kids or lap swimming.

Pafos Waterfront Boardwalk

One thing that is certain though, is that the water is crystal clear.

Kourion Beach
Kourion Beach Overlook

Our visit to Kourion Beach was the wind down to a long day trekking the Kourion ruins on the above cliffside with my parents. The beach was certainly a bit more crowded, but when we went all the way down to the end of the beach, we found some more private areas to swim, and enjoy a meal at a local restaurant (the best squid I’ve ever had).

Kourion Beach, like Pissouri Beach, is primarily smooth pebbles and rocks that gives way to sand once out in the water. Gently sloping, with easy waves, it is an enjoyable beach with great views of the surrounding sea cliffs.

Lady’s Mile Beach
Lady's Mile Beach Cyprus

Lady’s Mile Beach is located very near to the new Limassol Port. The beach, like the previously mentioned, is primarily a pebble beach. The water is very shallow though, so you can easily wade out into the water without it coming up high on you. The water is normally pretty calm here and can offer you a nice relaxing place to watch the local birds and cargo ships come in.

Lady's Mile Beach Cyprus

The road is a little rough though, so if your car is low-riding or not in good shape, you may not want to try this one out. If you have a 4 wheel drive though, you should have no problems at all.

If you drive far enough, you’ll eventually find sandy beach – but we stayed close to the start because of the rough roads.

Lady's Mile Pebbles
Molos (Limassol Waterfront) Beach
Limassol Beach

A few miles further north along the shore from Lady’s Mile is a nice beach called Molos Beach. This beach is a well-manicured park, that stretches for several miles along the Limassol waterfront. Here, a grassy, shady park lines the shore.

The beach itself is a soft sand, and as such attracts many locals and tourists. Most likely, it will be busy.

We didn’t get out into the water because we were visiting a cat cafe at the time, but we could see the the water was protected with stones a few hundred feet out, to make for a nice and calm swimming experience.

Finikoudes (Larnaka Waterfront) Beach
Larnaka Beach Front

The sandy Finikoudes Beach can be found in Larnaka just past the Tomb of St. Lazarus. A picturesque beach, filled with tourists and locals alike, you’ll find that there are many restaurants, cafes, and shops that line the beach.

Larnaka Beachfront

As well, you can visit the Larnaka castle which sits right on the beach.

The water itself is gently sloped and remains shallow for a fair ways out, so you can easily take a stroll in the water without worrying about getting soaked if you don’t want to.

Petra tou Romiou (Aphrodite’s Rock)
Beach Near Aphrodite's Rock

Down the coast about twenty minutes from Pafos, lies the mythical Petra tou Romiou, also known as Aphrodite’s Rock. According to myth, it is the place that the Greek Goddess Aphrodite was born – emerging from the sea foam.

It is said that if you swim around the rock, you will be granted with youth and graceful aging. We decided to not try to test this superstition out however, as the water here was pretty rough, and we didn’t want to get thrashed against the rocks.

Instead we elected to have a picnic on the beach with pita, hummus, yogurt, and wine.

Picnic at Aphrodite's Rock

Getting down to the beach can be a little bit tricky, as the tunnel which takes under the road and onto the beach isn’t obvious at first. It’s located next to the restaurant with the same name.

The beach itself is very much a rocky beach, with stones, pebbles, and boulders primarily being present. Not the greatest place to lay out, but the location is very scenic and quite iconic.

The water here, is far rougher than the other beaches as it sits on a point of land that juts out. Strong currents, cold water, and a steep and almost immediate drop off make this beach not super friendly for young children or weak swimmers. However, it’s awesome for one key feature: the jumping rock.

Just about fifteen feet out into the water sits a pretty large rock mount, and as we witnessed – you can climb it and jump off into the waves. Some of the people were really being risky and making huge dives and just barely skimming the rocks, while others were showing off with flips.

Aphrodite's Rock Guy Jumping

I decided that I wanted to jump too, so I followed someone’s lead on climbing the wet, vertical, and sharp rock. It was a little difficult at first to climb, the rock was very slick and sharp (I actually did cut my hand a little) and was quite literally – vertical. But once about ten feet up, the rock began to slope and it was far easier to climb. It was fun to climb and jump from – I do regret only doing it once.

Kyle Jumping from Aphrodite's Rock

Honorable Mention:

There are many, many more beaches on Cyprus that we simply didn’t make it to for whatever reasons. But you can check out the key beaches that we wish we had made it to here – we really wish we could have made it to Ayia Napa:

Cyprus Island

LoveCyprus2Site

Bcharre

Lebanon Travel Videos

~B~

I tried making a Lebanon travel video but it didn’t feel right so I made the Bcharre and Beirut videos separate. I did not add music to these videos because 1) they are short and 2) it’s always a struggle so I just avoided spending the time on it this time. The videos can also only be monetized (not that we make more than a penny like every few months) if they don’t have copyrighted music so there’s that too. I used the original sound (mostly) for the Bcharre video and no sound for the Beirut video. I would have used sound but I didn’t decide that was a good idea until I began making the Bcharre video (I made the Beirut one first). The Beirut video is also very shaky, practically hurts my head, but we didn’t have much stable footage (you should see how much I don’t include at all each time- we need to use tripods more) and I can’t stabilize video which has been sped up. Kyle recently told me I could pre-render and add stabilization, but I am not completely thrilled with the stabilization tools anyway. Even if I tell them only stabilize- don’t stabilize and crop- they still often do crop! Well, whatever. I’ll work on it. Here are the videos for now.

Additionally, you may remember that the last specific-area video I did was in SE Asia (Bali, Kl, plus bits of others combined) so sequentially Sri Lanka should be next, but Kyle claimed it long ago. I’m sure he’ll do it eventually. The next videos will be Cyprus, Belgrade, and Budapest.

Seoul In 60 Seconds

~K~

With my new job keeping us squarely in California for the moment, I have been getting a little more experience in doing some video editing.  I know we haven’t put up as many posts lately, we’ve just been busy is all, but I have taken the time to make a cool video presentation about one of our favorite cities: Seoul, South Korea.

I hope you enjoy, and if you all like this, I’ll make more of these for some of our other locations we’ve visited.