Tag Archives: traveling

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

Vietnam Vegetarian Restaurant

Loving Hut(s) in Hanoi (Vegan Food)

~B~

I was happy to find that Hanoi is a place where it’s pretty easy to be a vegetarian (or even vegan- relatively). I could almost always find something vegetarian to eat at a given restaurant and there were a number of exclusively vegetarian/vegan restaurants as well. One, or rather, at least two, of these was Loving Hut.

Outside The Big Loving Hut

While I didn’t know about Loving Hut for a long time (but have been a vegetarian for a long time), if you are vegan or vegetarian and have lived in a major city, you probably know about it as it’s one of the few vegan chains out there. I first found out about it when I was in college. I would regularly feed the homeless with a group (though a couple times it was just me) starting my freshman year and the local Loving Hut would regularly donate food for the feedings. Thus it would usually be a stop on the way to downtown. While waiting, I would occasionally watch their (what I thought was) strange television programming. I thought it was just some Asian religion which they used as the basis for their beliefs. This, in fact, was true. I have since discovered that the founder of Loving Hut, Ching Hai, developed her own sort of spiritual method (the ‘Quan Yin method’) and has her own tv channel which plays in many Loving Huts. Anyway, despite the television programming featuring the founder, I’m not sure I even realized that it wasn’t just a local restaurant until several years later when I saw one in another state. Since traveling, we have found out that Loving Huts are all over the world (there are something like 138 locations) and the founder, Ching Hai is actually from Vietnam.

We went to two locations in Hanoi. The first place we planned into our itinerary on one of our first outings in Hanoi. We did not yet realize how veg-friendly the city was and wanted to ensure that I would not go hungry as we were planning to do a lot of walking that day. The second we just stumbled upon.

Loving Hut 1: 192 Quán Thánh, Ba Đình, Hà Nội, Vietnam

Inside The Little Loving Hut

On our first stay in Hanoi we were staying a bit farther up/away from many of the more touristy activities. One day early on we were walking down this direction to see Chùa Trấn Quốc and to buy tickets to the Water Puppet Theater. We almost missed the restaurant as it was a little off to the side. Not surprisingly, the relatively small (it maybe had 6-9 small tables) restaurant primarily contained other westerners. Vietnamese will sometimes be vegetarian for religious reasons but it did not seem to be very common.

Waiting On Food In The Little Loving Hut

A board to the right showed various famous vegan people and the extensive menu contained many dishes with fake meat ranging from chicken and beef to tuna and shrimp. There were vegan versions of many local Vietnamese dishes. I personally tend to not be much of a fan of the fake meats seeing as I have absolutely no taste or interest for real meat but there were plenty of other options too. I don’t remember the name of the dishes  but I think we both ordered normal vegan-ified Vietnamese dishes and they were good. Our meals together cost 65,000VND (~$2.91).

Little Loving Hut Meal
Delicious Loving Hut Meal

Loving Hut 2: Loving Hut, 33 Bà Triệu, Hàng Bài, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam

Outside The Big Loving Hut

Not only was this the nicest Loving Hut I’ve ever been in, but it was probably the nicest restaurant in which Kyle and I have dined, ever! After finishing up at the Vietnamese Women’s Museum, we were hungry. All we had to do was walk down the street, though and we saw a Loving Hut sign. Yay! 

As we walked towards it, we could not discern the location of the restaurant, though. It looked like there was just a Loving Hut grocery store, something which I didn’t even realize existed. We were a little disappointed as we wanted to eat right then but then I saw another sign which said restaurant. I asked a guard who was standing outside and he said “Yes, right this way,” or something along those lines and escorted us into an elevator. ‘Uh-oh!’, we thought, both in the elevator and as we stepped out. I’m pretty sure the restaurant had only been open a couple months (if even) when we visited (March 2016). The waiters were wearing tuxedos and the decor was elegant. I would have taken more pictures (which don’t really do it justice) but we were pretty much being watched the whole time so I tried to be discreet. We were worried we might not be able to afford anything but we couldn’t really turn around now as there was a guard/escort at the elevator and it would have been rather embarrassing.

Dining Room Of The Big Loving Hut
Table Settings

They presented us with the menu and we were reminded that, while this was a very nice restaurant, we were still in Vietnam. Prices for many items were a little high for our very tight budget at the time, but it was all extremely reasonable (even cheap) considering the great quality of the place, service, and food. We ordered a single green tea to share in case water was not complementary (as we have found is the case in most restaurants in Asia). I think we may have received water, though. Because we were quite hungry, we also ordered an appetizer to share. We both opted for meals which were at the lower price-end of their dishes, with me getting the fried eggplant and Kyle ordering bun chau him chay.

Vietnamese Green TeaFried Spring Roll
Fine Dining Nem Chay
Fried Aubergine

Each time the waiter brought a dish, another waiter would stand there along side, lifting up the special platter covering thing (or that’s how I remember it) basically and serving us. I think they might have even had on gloves. I remember being just a little uncomfortable from feeling under-dressed (though they did not treat us in this manner) and because I did not know any further etiquette I might ought to have been practicing there but the food was well-presented and delicious.

Waiting For Food At Loving Hut

Our meal at this fancy vegan restaurant which included one appetizer, one drink, and two meals came out to 205,000VND (~$9.19) We were given a discount due to International Women’s Day (though it was not technically on the day- but that was great!) which reduced the price to 185,000VND and we ended up paying 200,000VND. Tipping is not typical in Vietnam but with the discount and quality, we had to do so. I think we thought about giving more but did not have appropriate bills to do so. Plus, we were still on a budget. We had decided to call this a sort of anniversary meal even though it was a little early.

They provided us with a coupon for a future visit and we did think about returning but did not have a ton of time left in the city and it was not super close to us so we did not end up making it back. I would still highly recommend the place, though and if you don’t go to the cafe at the Vietnamese Women’s museum, it’s a good option for a place to get food afterwards.  

From what I can tell online, there may be at least one more Loving Hut in Hanoi as well (looks like: Loving Hut Nguon Coi Restaurant, 3 Ngách 10, Ngõ 121, Phố Chùa Láng, Quận Đống Đa, Hà Nội, Vietnam) but I cannot verify anything about it as we did not visit this location.

  • If you are looking for more delicious vegan/vegetarian food in Hanoi, also check out: Bo de Quan
  • For good vegan/vegetarian food on Cat Ba island (just a few hours from Hanoi), check out: Buddha Belly
  • And finally, for a nice vegetarian restaurant in Ho Chi Minh, take a look at: Hum Vegetarian

Our Backpack Reviews

Here we will give reviews of the backpacks we have been using so far while referencing the criteria we mentioned in “How to Choose a Pack.”

Kyle’s Backpack: Adrenaline by High Peak USA 75 + 10 L Pack

Overall: We would describe this pack as fairly strong and sturdy. At the same time, the material is pretty light and durable. It doesn’t feel like it can easily tear or rip. It has accumulated minor scuffs through travel, but no tears or fraying. The pack as a whole is pretty light, amounting to only a few pounds total weight.

How does it work as luggage?
Pros: This pack is strong, light, and durable. It can hold a lot of gear with large compartments to accommodate most items. It’s comfortable to wear and front and top loading allows for easy packing and unpacking as well as access to items. It has a handle for picking up and moving.
Cons: Many straps which can become cumbersome and possibly caught in airport machinery (benefit that things are adjustable, though). Some compartments seem like random add-ons that don’t serve much purpose. None of the compartments have the ability to have locks attached.

Information about the size: This pack is a 75+10L (85L) pack. It has worked well for us. It depends on what you put in it, but when full it has weighed anywhere from 33lbs to 45lbs. The size works fine in terms of checked luggage but would be too large as a carry-on most places.

Kyle's pack

Compartments and compartment size(s): There are essentially 4 main compartments and then numerous smaller compartments. The largest main compartment is a front/top load section, that is very easy to put a lot of stuff in. It’s very roomy and has the ability to stretch a bit as it’s not particularly rigid. There is an elastic section on the section closest to the back to put in a water bladder with the option of having the hose come out a special port for it. However, if the pack is full, there is no way a bladder will fit. This section also has the ability to extend further up to add 10L of space. It can be pulled close with a drawstring. This extension however, feels to be much thinner and less durable material – while it hasn’t been damaged I do worry about this section. The interior of the section has 3 straps that allow you to pull the pack into shape when it is very full, and keeps things dense and in place. The front has a dual zipper with a velcro latch. There is no ability to lock this unfortunately. The front flap has a small zipper container as well accessed from the inside only, it cannot hold much, but is good for small items you may want quick access to.

Main Compartmentmore

There are two side pouches that can hold a moderate amount of items, though nothing of large girth. These run up each side nearly the whole length of the bag. Each one has a single zipper to close, and feels quite durable. There are outside straps as well to tighten the shape and make the compartments compact. Again, it is not possible to lock the zippers.

Side pack

The top of the pack has a compartment that holds a built in rain cover and can hold a moderate amount of items. The underside of the compartment (shared with the main compartment) can hold a little bit and has a mesh netting to store some items as well. It serves as the lid to the main compartment and can be detached entirely if desired.

There are two outside water pouches with elastic bands that can hold large containers of water. But if the pack is full, it would be very difficult to put anything in these pouches.
The waist bands have numerous small zipper pouches, that are good for putting small amounts of cash, or cards and paper in for while wearing. But these pouches would not be advisable for putting valuable items in if not actively wearing. They also cannot hold anything of bulk in any way.

Top-loading or front-loading? This pack is both top-loading and front-loading which we find pretty convenient.

Comfort (straps): The shoulder straps are comfortable to wear, thick and padded, wide – but not too wide. The waist straps also allow for the weight to be comfortably distributed to the hips, though still leaves a little weight to the shoulders which can cause strain over extended periods. There is also a chest strap, that can help keep the shoulder straps in a proper position with heavy loads. It is nice that it has an adjustment for body sizes so that the hip straps can comfortably fit with the shoulder straps. The pack as a whole can be fine-tuned to specific body size and shape, and ultimately can be worn without feeling too bulky so it’s easy to move around while wearing.

There are numerous straps all in all that can allow for the pack to be kept in a tight shape, to ensure the most comfortable wearing. It also allows for the pack to not get damaged while in transit. However, due to the many straps, they must be tied down, or banded so that they do not get caught in convey belts or machinery (not sure how much an actual risk this is but we err on the side of caution).

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Briana’s Backpack: Alpinizmo Luna (by High Peak USA) 65+10 Liter Backpack

Overall: This is also a good pack. We considered both getting the same backpack but figured 1) we would like to tell them apart 2) I didn’t want to put all of our eggs in one basket. We weren’t able to try them out prior so we hoped at least one of them would work well.
We would also describe this pack as fairly strong and sturdy with light, durable, rip-resistant cloth. It feels solid and the stitching does not feel weak. It has accumulated only light scuffs through travel, with no physical damage. The pack as a whole is light, but it is heavier than the High Peak Adrenaline pack by about 1.5 lbs, ultimately coming in at just under 5 lbs empty.

How does it work as luggage?
Pros: Pretty much the same as above. It had been fairly durable so far, is relatively comfortable, adjustable, and the size works for us.
Cons: See above. This pack is a bit on the heavy side at 5lbs, but it is not unreasonably large. The front pouch zipper handle may be easily mistaken for a regular handle. Only one compartment has the ability to lock.

Information about the size: This pack is a 65+10 Liter pack, though strangely, in many ways it feels and seems a little bit larger than the other pack. When full (and when empty) it also tends to be a little heavier.

Briana's pack

Compartments and compartment sizes: The largest main compartment is a front/top load section, that is very easy to put a lot of stuff in. It is roomy, and has the a ability to stretch a bit, though it has some rigidity to it. There is an elastic section on the part closest to the back which can have a water bladder placed in it or a thin object. If the pack is full however, it would not be possible to fit anything in here. The bottom of the compartment is slightly angled due to an additional compartment on the bottom. The top of this section has the ability to extend further up to add 10L of space. It can be pulled close with a drawstring. This extension however, feels to be thinner and of less durable material – the weakest part of the entire pack. The interior of the section lacks any straps to help maintain a dense pack and shape. The front has a dual zipper, attached via a plastic handle, with a velcro latch at the top. The zipper handle feels a little weak, and is easily mistaken as a pack handle by airport and transport stuff (hasn’t broken yet). There is no ability to lock this section unfortunately. The top of the front flap has a structure that allows for you to loop or tie objects to the outside.

Main compartment

Directly beneath the main compartment is a smaller (but actually fairly large) compartment that can hold a fair amount. It is half-spherical in shape, so some items may not be able to fit in here. It is flexible, but if the main compartment is overly packed, it may intrude into this compartments space. This section has one zipper with two tongs, so it is possible to lock this section.

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Like the other pack, there are two side pouches that can hold a pretty decent number of items as they run up each side nearly the whole length of the pack. Each one has a single zipper to close, and feels fairly durable. There are outside straps as well to tight the shape and make the compartments compact. This compartment is not able to lock the zippers.

Side pouch

The top of the pack has a compartment that a holds a built in rain cover and can hold a moderate amount of items. The underside of the compartment (shared with the main compartment) can hold a little bit and has a mesh netting to store some items as well. It serves as the lid to the main compartment and can be detached entirely if desired.

UntitledRain compartment

There are two outside water pouches with elastic bands that can hold large containers of water, though if the pack is full, it would be very difficult to put anything in these pouches. Unlike the other pack, the waist straps have no additional pouches or compartments.

Top-loading or front-loading? Like Kyle’s pack, this backpack is both top-loading and front-loading. There are zippers in the front which allow for front-loading and a drawstring underneath the top which then snaps down to allow top-loading.

Comfort (straps): See other pack comfort description (essentially the same). Additionally, There is a rigid, cup shape for the head to lay back against – however it can be uncomfortable if the pack is in a position not specifically upright.

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All in all, we think both of these backpacks work pretty great. Let us know if you have any questions about them!