Travel Guide, Travel Tips

The Ten Biggest Rules for Two-Person Traveling

Once upon a time, in a previous blog post, I quoted John Steinbeck:

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”

For me, this is one of the most accurate descriptions of traveling. Traveling is a volatile activity. This statement becomes even more relevant when we decide to travel with a second person.

Traveling alone does offer great benefits but organizing a vacation with a friend or loved one can yield the rewards of shared memories that will last a lifetime and a resounding sense of teamwork.

Achieving this feeling with a second travel partner requires a lot of effort. A two-person adventure is one of the ultimate tests of the strength of the bond between those involved. In my opinion, one doesn’t truly know another person until they’ve each put on backpacks and stepped into the unknown together.

I’ve been fortunate enough to plan various two-person trips, the longest lasting four months, and have seen journeys go well and not so well. If you’re reading this now and want to embark on a future trip with a second person, then I have compiled a list of ten important rules to follow for people who are considering this sort of adventure.

This list does not guarantee a positive traveling experience, but I believe it will increase two people’s odds of coming back happy and more importantly together.

Here it is:

Know each person’s travel goals

My longest two-person journey was with my best friend Jack. This photo was taken at the Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge in China in 2019.

This is perhaps the most time intensive step. If you can get on the same page with the other person then your trip will have a really good chance of being successful. What do you want to do on this trip? What does the other person want to do? Maybe one person just wants to party while the other wants to wake up early to visit museums. If you both know in advance what the other person hopes to accomplish then you can make an agreement to please both’s desires and necessities for the trip. Trips are most fun when both people either have very similar interests, or are flexible to let everyone do some of the things they want.

Respect the other person’s budget

Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

We all have different financial limitations. Agreeing on a budget, or at least agreeing on which things to splurge on, will create a fluid system of planning. Knowing the spending habits of the person you’re with will also prepare you for what to expect while on the road. Being flexible and willing to meet someone in the middle will go a long way.

Establish a payment system

Unnecessary frustration can be avoided if both people are prompt in paying the other person back on random expenses. For example, if one person offers to put a dinner bill on their credit card then the other shouldn’t hesitate to either foot the next one or send a mobile payment via PayPal or Venmo. To keep finances equal then an expense calculating app such as Splitwise would be useful. The financial aspect of a trip can easily become a tangled mess if both parties aren’t keeping track of their split costs.

Decisions now involve “us”

When electing to take a vacation with a second person, all decisions must go through both individuals. Agreeing to share an experience away from home means that both travelers have formed a temporary bond similar to marriage. As both people are investing time and resources into the trip, then both are entitled to make decisions and be in the know of the other person’s ideas. Communication is paramount here and both people should be flexible. Everyone involved should be able to do at least some of what they really want.

Establish a clear sleep system

Photo by Alexander Possingham on Unsplash

Not every traveling duo will have the same sleep cycle or habits. One person might enjoy sleeping in while the other is an early bird. Before traveling they should agree on a system for staying out or sleeping in. This will avoid any potential resentment or frustration because their time-clocks aren’t in sync. The early bird might be ok with going to a coffee shop to let the other person sleep or the night owl won’t mind checking out a bar alone once in a while.

Establish general boundaries

Knowing what your level of comfort is before traveling is important. Will you be willing to eat a fried scorpion or go bungee-jumping? Will your travel companion have similar restrictions? Being aware of how far each person is prepared to go will be good for avoiding any potential miscommunication or conflict of interest. Having similar boundaries will allow both parties to travel with greater ease.

Keep it balanced

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

It’s a good idea to give each person a responsibility during the trip. To avoid future resentment, it’s advisable to split tasks at different stages of the journey. For example, if one person did all of the reservations or research, then they might feel frustration towards their travel mate. Taking turns to book flights, bus tickets, or accommodation will help maintain harmony between both people.

Be empathetic

As I said before, we truly don’t know a person until we travel with them. It’s important to remain empathetic and free of judgement. This might be the first time you go on the road with that special person. Their morning ritual, funny little travel good luck charm, desire to call their mom, or random habit of cracking their knuckles before breakfast might not be something you’re used to. We are all weird people in our own special way and if we’ve said yes to traveling with someone then we’ve said yes to their uniqueness. On the flip side, we also must be aware of the fact that maybe our habits while alone aren’t proper for a two-person trip so we must be respectful of the other person. Remember: This trip is to have fun and not focus on the things you find off about the person you’re with.

Be present

This rule can be true for solo travel as well. If we agree to travel with someone, then it’s ideal to focus on the experience with that person rather than other people we meet or our devices. An optimal travel experience should involve less screen time and more focus on the surroundings. We miss opportunities when pegged to our smart phones and chances for meaningful conversations. Two people will have a truly memorable trip if they can remember to adhere to this system.

When one person uses the toilet, everyone uses the toilet

The last and most crucial rule for traveling with someone else is to reduce the number of bathroom breaks as much as possible. Let’s say you both find yourselves in a remote village or hidden beach and suddenly discover a chance restroom. In many areas of the world restrooms are a dime a dozen so it’s best practice to take advantage of this rare opportunity. If your partner has an urge to go but you don’t, you should still do it. Bathroom breaks equate to slowing down and stopping for a moment. Sometimes, if you’re in a busy place, there will be a line so why not have everyone have a go at it? The goal while traveling is to wander and enjoy rather than wait in line for a toilet so it’s paradigm to be efficient with these respites.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and can use these rules in your future wanderings. Right now the state of the world doesn’t allow us to fully enjoy traveling but we are getting closer to that moment.

Hang tight, stay safe, and take care of yourself.

Also, what are your rules for traveling? Do you agree with me in this article? I’d love your feedback!

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash
Travel Guide, Travel Tips

Smart Overseas Travel Hacks (Part 2)

How can we create an amazing overseas experience?

For me, the first two factors that strongly influence the outcome of a trip are proper preparations and maximizing safety. I dove into these ingredients in my last blog post.

What else can potentiate fond memories? Personally, I feel that the next step towards having a meaningful adventure is being a respectful traveler.

How to be a respectful traveler:

A few years ago, during a trip, I encountered some friendly travelers from Egypt. During the course of our conversation, they admitted that I was the first American that they’d ever met in real life.

This blew me away and gave light to a fact we often forget about while traveling:

Whether we like it or not, we are unofficial ambassadors for our countries, cities, and states while overseas.

I felt obliged to leave a positive impression on these people and didn’t want to be known as that American asshole.

How can we avoid being viewed as jerks while abroad?

Firstly, when we enter foreign countries it’s important to respect the cultures of where we’re going as much as possible (even if we don’t comprehend them). There’s plenty of useful information online about taboos, laws, and culture points.

The second thing we can do is learn a few words or phrases of the local language. Even “hello” “thank you” and “goodbye” shows that we’re at least making an effort to communicate in the native tongue. Knowing proper greeting and farewell etiquette is useful as well. Seemingly mundane details like that can go a long way. If you want to get some extra brownie points with locals, read up on some current events for where you’re headed.

Another thing to remember is that even when we’re on vacation, we’re aren’t on vacation from using good manners. Use common sense about when to speak loudly, slowly, or on the phone. Listen to what people have to say and respect their viewpoint, even if we don’t share their way of thinking.

Perhaps you’re going to do the hostel scene during the course of your journey and don’t expect to meet any locals. That’s totally cool too, and a good way to create meaningful relationships with other travelers is to remember that we all worked hard to make this journey happen. We all have stories and can teach each other something useful.

Additionally, I think that if we set an intention to try and learn something new while abroad while accepting as much as possible this new place’s way of doing things we’ll have a better overall experience.  

How to have the most fun:  

After we’ve successfully packed our bags, researched customs of the country you’re headed to, and taken all necessary precautions to stay safe, the last aspect to an amazing trip is this:

We want to do cool activities.

If we don’t want to spend much time digging around for inspiration then the easiest thing we can do is consult advice from friends or family who have been to where you’re going. A quick Facebook post will probably generate lots of leads.

If you want to do your own activity investigation, then there are a throng of websites which specialize in helping travelers become inspired. My go-to’s are TripAdvisor, TripSavvy, Lonely Planet, Matador Network and Culture Trip.  These sites are packed with quality advice and can even help you reserve tours or various excursions. Additionally, Airbnb provides intriguing experiences for travelers. 

After reading up on various activities, I then like to dig through Instagram. Thousands of pictures will help convince you or change your mind about certain places/activities. It’s a solid way to wash away any doubts of what you think could be fun.

Some great ramen was once discovered in Sapporo, thanks to a helpful article from Culture Trip!

Also, reading up on cultural festivals for your intended destination can also offer an extra fun boost. For example, Valencia, Spain is a wonderful city that deserves a visit at any time of year but it’s at the apex of excitement during Fallas. Your future self might regret missing an incredible cultural event.

Murcia, Spain is fun at any point during the year. It’s even better in April during
Bando de a Huerta!

In a previous another blog post I shared ways for travelers to make new friends while overseas. If your goal is to meet people and you’re going to travel alone then this article might serve you well!


Thank you for reading! I hope some of this information helps you plan the most amazing journey ever.

As stated before, this is all based on my own personal experiences and might not be of use to you. Either way, I appreciate your time and wish you the best. If you have additional questions then feel free to connect with me.

Have a nice day, keep up the great work. 😉

-Daniel Catena

Asia, DACKasia2019, Travel, Travel Guide, Uncategorized

Five Ways to Get Lost in Hong Kong

A handful of moons ago, my best friend Jack and I went to China.

Well, depending on who to speak with, it wasn’t technically China. It was Hong Kong.

At its origins, Hong Kong was a sleepy fishing village. Nowadays the city is at the epicenter of world trade.

The Qing Empire ceded Hong Kong to the British Empire after the First Opium War. It would remain a British colony until 1997, when power was transferred back to China. Even with a completely contrary system of government and a fierce sentiment of independent pride, Hong Kong is classified as a “special administrative region” to mainland China.

We didn’t have an opinion about whether it was a territory, colony, or space station; we just came to explore and to eat.

We left the tranquility of island life in Bali, we were greeted with a Bali from a parallel universe.


Bali and Hong Kong share something in common: They’re engulfed in nature. Between the tropical monkey forests of Ubud or the endless coastline of Seminyak, travelers in Bali get a sense that the’ve found Valhalla. Hong Kong is no natural slouch; it consists of two hundred and sixty three islands which leave plenty of outdoors to be enjoyed.

I didn’t notice any of Hong Kong’s islands, however. I was distracted by the forest of gigantic concrete buildings, the ocean of pedestrians swimming between metro stations, and the sensation that I was a helpless spectator to an event called progress. Valhalla comes as desire for success and the constructing of buildings that race towards the sky.

Our friend Becca had a connecting flight back to the Bay Area from Hong Kong so she was able to join us for part of our stay in the city which was nice. We based ourselves in the Wan Chai district and our itinerary in Hong Kong was pieced together through many welcomed recommendations from friends.

Ozone Bar

This is the tallest rooftop bar in the world, located on the 118th floor of the Ritz Carlton Hotel. During a chilly evening we ordered a beverage and contemplated the endless horizon of building lights. Ozone technically isn’t the highest bar in the world as the Ritz was built almost at sea-level, but it’s still a noteworthy place to visit. 


Kam’s Roast Goose..

Kam’s Roast Goose

Up until Hong Kong, I’d never eaten at a restaurant with a Michelin Star. This all changed when we ate lunch at Kam’s Roast Goose. What should you order here? It’s simple: succulent roast goose.  We stood for about an hour in a line that brought back horrific memories of our December visit to the Chinese consulate in San Francisco. Lunch cost about $15 and was well worth the wait.


Butterflies saying “hi” in The Iron Fairies

The Iron Fairies

Sukhumvit is a lively district of Hong Kong that takes on a new face when the sun sets. Bars, clubs, and destinations for all sorts of entertainment await there. Jack, Becca, and I were looking for a place to go in Sukhumvit, and our friend offered us an incredible recommendation: The Iron Fairies. Over ten-thousand paper butterflies on copper rods dangle from the ceiling and we were welcomed with one of my favorite genres of music: Latin. I was sold.

We also planned our Hong Kong experience with spiritual guidance from our trip’s unofficial shaman:

Anthony Bourdain.

The late food icon visited Hong Kong on various occasions during the filming of his shows Parts Unknown and No Reservations. His tales of the city took us to:


Chungking Mansions

Are you looking for the cheap housing, a used iPhone, and perhaps a warm bowl of curry? In Hong Kong, there’s a place where you can find all three in one convenient location: Chungking Mansions. Built in 1961, this is a seventeen story complex that spans five city blocks. The bottom floors are all restaurants and retail places, while the higher floors are mixed between apartments, guesthouses, and inexpensive hotels. Over the progression of time Chungking Mansions has slowly become the biggest melting pot of cultures in the city. Immigrants from every continent call this place home. I felt like this was the Hong Kong version of the “American Dream” as most people there were seeking asylum, refuge, or simply a better life compared to the country from which they originated.


Leaf Dessert

One of the most savory noodle dishes that I’ve eaten (Cantonese Soup Noodles) was at Leaf Dessert, an open-air corner food stall (dai pai dong) that boasts less than seven tables. If it hadn’t been for a segment of Parts Unknown, when Bourdain and legendary cinematographer Christopher Doyle shared lunch there, we could’ve easy walked by without knowing that it existed.

According to Bourdain, one could get a true feel of a city simply by taking a seat on a plastic chair on a street corner and trying a bowl of whatever was cooking in a mysterious pot. He expressed concern that places such as Leaf Dessert were in danger of extinction in Hong Kong, due the unceasing desire for change and new regulations.




After hopping between trains with our Octopus passes for three days, Jack and I said farewell.

It’s difficult to say whether I understand anything about Hong Kong but it’s easy to appreciate its visual grandeur and energy.

We’d only scratched the surface of a city with it’s own entangled history and eight million stories.

As quickly as we arrived, we soon found ourselves going onward and northbound to mainland China…




Thanks for reading this blog!

If you have any questions or want ideas for a trip to Hong Kong feel free to contact me.

Have a wonderful day and take care,


Life, Travel, Travel Guide

Searching for Elephants and Buddhas

(Excerpts from Chiang Mai & Bagan)

Once upon a time,

Jack and I finished a month-long journey through Vietnam.

We came back to Hanoi in a mosquito-infested bus from Ninh Binh. During our final Bai Hoi session we toasted to give thanks for all the fantastic memories and delicious banh mi’s.

The very next morning we were gone, but not far.

Minutes after reaching cruising altitude, our flight began its descent towards a country that wasn’t a complete stranger: Thailand.

Just when Jack and I thought that our time in Thailand was over, we somehow found ourselves in Chiang Mai.

Located in the north, we decided to forego the countries’ fourth largest city (175 thousand people) until after Vietnam.

Quite far from Bangkok, and only an hour and some change outside of Hanoi (flying), it made logistical sense to visit during this leg during our trip.

We were missing Pad Thai, cheap juice, and generally friendly people, but more importantly we were coming back for something else:


An iconic Thai symbol is the elephant, which can be seen on murals, as statues, as shrines, and even tattoo’d on people’s bodies. In many parts of the world this sacred animal is unfortunately a victim of exploitation and subject to harsh treatment by shady tour companies and circuses. Fortunately, in Thai provinces such as Krabi and Chiang Mai, a new industry has taken root: Elephant sanctuaries. Thanks to sanctuaries, elephants which have been rescued from lives of abuse are able to return to an almost-natural habitat. Jack and I paid for a tour of one of these places, and in doing so we got to feed and bath a group of elephants over the course of a day. This was high on our bucket-list, and we highly recommend Elephant Jungle Sanctuary to anyone looking to have the same experience.

Muay Thai:

Various friends from back home recommended that we attend a Thai boxing match. Muay Thai is known to many as “The Art of Eight Limbs” and is similar to kickboxing but its roots come from Thailand. During our last weekend in the country we happened to coincide with a tournament taking place at the Chiangmai Boxing Stadium. We discovered that these tournaments happen three times a week, so the crowd was sparse but we could still feel the energy behind each match. Each fight was preceded by a spiritual ritual called the wai ku, and usually the competitor who appeared the most exuberant and devout ended up winning.

Night Markets:

Sunday Market in Chiang Mai

Thailand, along with most countries in the region, shows it’s finest colors after the sun disappears. Chiang Mai is no exception. On Sundays, Pae Street of the Old Quarter blocks motor traffic and replaces it with endless rows of art stalls, craft hawkers, and food booths. Our “window shopping” ended with us caving on some new clothes, herbal oils for bug bites, and a few delicious snacks for the road. A surefire way to indulge the senses is to take a stroll in one of these markets. Some necessary bites to try there are curry noodle soup and mango sticky rice.

North Gate Jazz Co-Op (The Best Nightlife in Chiang Mai)


Sunrise in Bagan

After three nights in Chiang Mai, we left Thailand for probably the last time and hopped a flight to Yangon, Myanmar. Formerly called Burma and previously the countries’ capital, we arrived into Yangon during a sweltering Monday afternoon. This wasn’t our final stop and we hauled our backpacks to the domestic terminal under a shadeless sky. We trotted next to the freeway as motivated taxi’s reduced speed and honked to solicit rides but by the time they caught our attention we were already hiking up to the check-in pavilion.

One hour from Chiang Mai and about two from Yangon, Bagan is the primary tourist attraction for the country that’s seen its international image deteriorate in recent years. Bagan is part of the Mandalay Region of the country, and for four hundred years (9th-14th century) was the capital of the once mighty Pagan Kingdom. At one point over ten thousand Buddhist temples, pagodas, and religious structures were erected throughout the city. It’s hard to call modern-day Bagan a city. It’s more like a town that’s been taken over in vegetation and trapped inside a sea of relics from its rich history. Currently, around two thousand ancient buildings have survived the evolution of time.

We didn’t see the tension and solemnness that’s been encircling the countries’ national issues. What we did see, however, was a place that sparks curiosity. The locals we encountered were friendly, outgoing, and openly interested in knowing why we visited their country. Some people even stared at us like we were Matt Damon, perhaps in part because they hadn’t laid eyes on a westerner before. We also learned that the food here is incredible, cheap, and there even exists a booming vegetarian foodie scene.

Sitting along the banks of the Irrawaddy River, it’s broken down to two districts: Old Bagan and New Bagan. What makes Bagan so interesting is that both districts are already inside the “Bagan Archaeological Zone”. Stepping outside our hostel, looming pagodas were already within eyesight. No one’s allowed to climb any of the buildings, however most are open for entry. The usual sight once inside a pagoda be at least one shrine dedicated to Buddha, and sometimes a stray dog or bat.

Normal motorbikes aren’t permitted for foreigners, so we rented electronic bikes and wandered in every direction. The wind was fierce at times during our stay, and many roads were more like hungry patches of quicksand. Echos from Angkor Wat followed us and youngsters on motorbikes relentlessly hovered around us, advertising “secret” sunrise viewing points. We ended up trusting a guy named Bagan Rapper, a self-proclaimed artist with no desire for money of course. He guided us to a pagoda with open access to a rooftop to see the sunrise. This was maybe one of the better sunrises that I’d seen before and he refused a tip until we declined an invitation to look at his artwork.

Our stay in Bagan was short-lived, and in three days after unpacking our belongings we started the moving process again by boarded a night bus destined for Yangon. Three nights is hardly enough time to experience a cultural hub like Bagan, let alone an entire country like Myanmar. We came to count Buddha statues, for the sunrises and sunsets, and for the sense of accomplishment after navigating between palm trees.

Perhaps the best lime and mint juice in a while.

By the time you reach this sentence, Jack and I will already be far away from Yangon.

Right now we’re a few thousand feet in the air, in an airplane that just took off from Beijing.

Have you been to Myanmar or Chiang Mai? How was your experience?

Thanks for reading this blog, have a great day and talk soon 🙂

-Daniel Catena

Asia, DACKasia2019, Travel, Travel Guide, Travel Tips, Vietnam

Take Three (Vietnam Part Two)

It’s about ten in the morning and the flavors of powdered coffee are loitering on my tongue as this update gets written.

Jack and I are in Ubud, Bali, a small town on a medium-sized island that belongs to Indonesia

I’d like to talk about the weather and the happenings that are taking place over here, but that will be for a different day!

Returning to where the previous post left off, Jack and I recently concluded our stay in Hoi An, Vietnam. This was on February 10th, exactly three weeks ago. We christened our Anthony Bourdain culinary-inspired quest with an unfortunate fail on the first try, however, we knew that there’d be more opportunities to rebound in our next destination.


A perfectly stress-free Hanoi morning.

Welcome to a Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam

The flavors that circle your palate during each meal are as varied as the visual sites you encounter while on the streets. After a shuttle to Da Nang, a flight to the Noi Bai International Airport, and a Grab ride to our Airbnb, we were already absorbed. Through the haze of either heavy mist or light smog, we felt an eery relation to the movie Blade Runner while we crossed the Nhat Tan Bridge at night. Engulfed in a swarm of motorbikes, none of which were obeying traffic laws, and an endless string of seemingly makeshift stores, I felt like I’d been transported to a future where this was the surviving colony after some grizzly apocalypse. 

Hanoi feels like a place with no beginning or end. There exists a forest of buildings with French and various Asian design influences that stretches as far as one can see. The pinnacle of this tangle of streets is the Old Quarter, also considered to be the heart of Hanoi. Jack and I rented an Airbnb here. The traffic was intimidating so we opted to either walk or call a Grab between destinations. 

The craziness and invasion of the senses make Hanoi a unique spectacle, and its lack of aesthetic beauty left me curiously enamored.

I could spend an entire blog post about Hanoi, but in order to save the headache and potential boredom, I’m going to mention three things that were pretty awesome about this city. 

The Food:

Fried Seafood Rolls in the “Obama Combo.”

Following the guidance of ever-so influential Anthony Bourdain, Jack and I gained a lot of weight in Hanoi. We sat next to the famous table where he and Barack Obama had lunch at Bún chả Hương Liên. We ordered the “Obama Combo,” a popular choice for foreigners. On our final morning we ordered pork noodle soup at Bún Chửi 41 Ngô Sĩ Liên, also known as “Cussing Noodles” to Bourdain followers. The place was packed to the brim and we didn’t get cursed at by the chef (at least I think), but the experience was as authentic as we could have ever hoped. 

Pork Noodles at “Cussing Noodles.”

Bia Hoi:

Meanwhile, at Bia Hoi Ha Noi

Continuing with Bourdain’s travels in Hanoi, we became fans of an experience he shared during the filming of Parts Unknown called Bia Hoi. What is Bia Hoi you ask? Well, it’s simple. There are specific neighborhoods in Hanoi where locals and travelers mingle on the sidewalk, ordering keg beer that costs about twenty-five cents and sitting on uncomfortable plastic chairs that could even reward a child a sore back. In certain places, a passerby can see hundreds of beer drinkers enjoying the water-like taste of beer in plastic cups.

These are either restaurants or bars that have taken over the sidewalk by illegally adding chairs onto the walkway for whoever wants to order something.  Many of these establishments offer a wide range of local cuisine and the magic words here are “Bia Hoi” because this signals to the order taker that you want the cheap elixir. When the police do their rounds, the staff hastily orders everyone to evacuate as they stack all the chairs and hide them from sight. It’s like a sting in a speakeasy except it’s outside. You don’t have to be a beer fan to enjoy this activity, simply watching the thousands of people walking during a now chilled evening by is worth the visit. 

The Friend Reunion:

John and some random guy.

It’s hard to say what was better than catching up with my good friend John. We met back in 2012 at a hostel in Quito, Ecuador and by a grand chance, he now lives in Hanoi. John’s an ESL dojo master and he had some time between classes to show me around Hanoi. I’m thankful for the existence of social media for these moments because if it didn’t exist we wouldn’t have been able to keep in touch. John’s a fantastic guy and I’m thankful that we got to catch up. Hopefully, our next reunion will happen sooner than later.

Halong Bay:

Views from a Halong Bay ferry

Halong Bay and Hanoi are similar to a perfect married couple; Halong is the Ying to Hanoi’s majestic Yang. Where Hanoi severely lacks in visual grandeur, Halong Bay picks up the slack with intense visuals of natural landscapes. Halong Bay is perhaps a culinary dungeon, one of the few destinations in Vietnam which can be given this title, so Hanoi balances the enigma by being a mecca for foodies. We didn’t take a four-hour bus to eat in Halong Bay, we wanted to cruise around the emerald waters and ponder life between towering islets. 

Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and enjoys a tropical-style climate.  “Ha Long” translates to “descending dragon” because according to Vietnamese lore an emperor unleashed a mother dragon and her children to repeal an invading force. The dragons spat fire, jewels, and jade into the waters, thus forming a natural barrier to defend against the outsiders. Today, Halong Bay spans one hundred and thirty square miles and consists of nearly two thousand islands. A common stopover for tourists in Vietnam is Halong Bay, and a few weeks ago two good-looking Americans joined the fray. 

Our Airbnb was located in the town of Bia Chay, the nearest mainland town. A vacation hub with large apartment buildings and hotels, the appeal of this place isn’t its looks but its close proximity to the bay. Here are three highlights from our handful of days there:

Renting Motorbikes:

Drivers in Vietnam, especially the ones who sport Vespas, Hondas, or any other brand of motorbike, are a curious case. The driving laws, once again, don’t exist in Vietnam so navigating here can feel like a scene from Death Proof. Halong Bay is sparsely populated, the roads are nearly all straight, and they continue until the horizon practically disappears. This is unfavorable for anyone who doesn’t have their personal method of transport, but a dream to someone who does. Jack and I wanted to be in the latter category and rented a pair of motorbikes at the horrible price of $5.50 a day.

Cat Ba Island

Horsing around in Cat Ba.

Tucked behind a maze of limestone rocks in Halong Bay sits Cat Ba Island, the largest of the archipelago which also is a Vietnamese National Park. Jack and I took a day-trip here, riding our bikes onto a ferry and taking them to the island to do our own personal tour. It’s too large of a place to explore only on foot, so bikes are a necessary travel tool. People can spend the night on the island, as bountiful numbers of hostels and hotels are located along the southern tip. We explored a cave that was converted into a hospital bunker for the North Vietnamese during the “American” War and hiked up to the viewpoint of the Cannon Fort. Other options for Cat Ba include kayaking, sunbathing, and traversing the diverse landscapes of the National Park. 

Cat Ba Island

Halong Cruise

Ferries around Halong Bay.

Almost every single boat that one can spot in Halong Bay is most likely a part of a tour company offering cruises. Cruises can vary between a half-day, full-day, overnight, or multi-night experience. Part of the allure for Halong is watching the flow of boat traffic and see how small they are in comparison to the countless rocks that inhabit the area. Jack and I opted for a full-day cruise, getting picked up at 8:30 in the morning and not returning until about 4pm. Lunch was provided, along with pit-stops at Thien Cung Cave, Ti Top Island, the Kissing Rocks, and a tour of a pearl farm. A cruise through Ha Long is an obligatory activity, and it’s a nice site for any sort of traveler. 

Views from Ti Top Island.

Ninh Binh:

Lying Dragon Mountain, Ninh Binh

Ah well, here we go. Ninh Binh.

The only thing I can say to you is that Ninh Binh is a small town in central Vietnam. 

It’s a point, on Google Maps, and it’s pretty fast to find. 

It definitely wasn’t peaceful and by no means was it one of the most beautiful places we’ve seen before. 

Everything else, well, I think you have to go there and find out for yourself.  🙂


A major perk of writing this blog is knowing that there are some wonderful people who read it, so thank you for your time. Even if you just skimmed this post, and missed the part where I talked about getting scurvy, it’s totally fine and I still appreciate you a lot.

Have a wonderful day and take good care. More updates are on the way! Until then, lots of love.

-Dan Catena

Travel, Travel Guide, Travel Tips, Vietnam

A Tale of Many Vietnams (Part 1)

It’s Sunday in Ninh Binh, Vietnam. 

The windows of our Airbnb are wide open and a flurry of almost soundless rain is washing the horizon. Through layers of mist, the Bái Đín Pagoda towers in the distance. 

Why are we in Ninh Binh? What the heck is a pagoda?

Firstly, we came to this rural northern town on a recommendation from someone back in San Francisco. Also, we needed an escape from the entanglement of motorbikes, noises, and large crowds of other tourists. A pagoda is another term for a tower built somewhere in Southeast Asia, most commonly to practice Buddhism.  

We dropped our belongings here yesterday, and it’s been nearly three weeks since arriving into the country from Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Dense vegetation, a looming pagoda, roosters clucking, and a cyclist donning a conical hat just peddled nearby. It’s a peaceful sight in what has been a beautifully chaotic experience so far in Vietnam. 

It’s hard to connect the dots between the last blog post and right now because a lot has transpired. Because of this, the story of Jack’s and my time in Vietnam will be divided into a few separate chronicles. 

Ho Chi Minh City

Mayhem in Ho Chi Minh City

In 1975 the United States evacuated their embassy in Saigon, officially marking an end to the Vietnam War. On January 31st, 2019, Jack and I set foot in this urban sprawl which has since been renamed Ho Chi Minh City. 

With eight million inhabitants in a Communist country where the national median age is about thirty years old, Ho Chi Minh City is in the south of Vietnam. 

Fifteen minutes was all it took before being confronted with the racing face of death, also known as crossing the street. We soon learned that sidewalks and crosswalks are more symbolic than actually serve a purpose. Crossing streets are like asking a hungry hyena to a romantic dinner. Trust in some higher force is imperative for avoiding a collision. Finding gaps in traffic, followed by no stopping or changing of pace was the key to preserving our bloodlines. 

We wanted to be in Vietnam to experience Tết, also known as the Vietnamese New Year, which coincides with the Chinese New Year. 2019 is the year of the Pig. We anticipated a large party, similar to how the lunar calendar celebration is started back home. We learned that this was actually not the case, and for ten days almost every business would either be closed or have oddly determined hours of operation. The decorations, however, were beautiful and we saw people buying bonsai-style trees as a symbol of good fortune. 

Tet festivities

Our five-day stay in Ho Chi Minh City was luckily pre-Tết, so we didn’t have to worry about sudden changes. By pure coincidence, we booked a hostel (Suite Backpackers Inn) located next to Bui Vien. This street is similar to Bourbon Street in New Orleans. With the help of the hostel owner, Lin, and another friend we made named Anthony,  Jack and I managed to take in various nighttime events without getting trapped in the neon lights and invasive sounds of this hectic street. 

The highlights of Ho Chi Minh included shopping for vintage shirts at Mayhem, an introduction to Vietnamese coffee, exploring the wonders of Banh Mi and Pho, while also meeting some interesting people. Banh Mi’s are sandwiches with French style baguettes and Pho is a noodle soup that comes in delightful variations. Another somber yet vastly necessary place to visit is the War Remnants Museum. It sheds light on an opposing perspective of the Vietnam War, calling Americans “henchmen” and the former Southern Vietnamese government a “puppet”. 

Da Nang

Da Nanging out…

Da Nang is a coastal city in the center of the country. We were faced with two choices: Hop a fairly priced flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Da Nang that would last about an hour, or pay for an outrageously affordable bus ride that would take seventeen hours. We valued our time, and more importantly our fragile sanity, so in the end we headed north on a Jetstar plane. 

Besides a crying baby, water hoarding flight attendants, and a fake landing, we enjoyed the journey.  During the final descent, we were greeted with fireworks. At first I thought, “how did they know that Jack and I were here?” but then I remembered that it was Tết eve, so this was all part of the yearly holiday tradition. 

Morning in Da Nang, Vietnam. Good!

Staying at the Travellers Nest Hostel, we met some friendly folks ranging from the Vietnamese staff to laid-back weed growers who claimed to be programmers. We didn’t have much of an agenda for Da Nang, as it was Tết holiday, but we ended up with one of the best experiences of our trip. 

During the evening of Tết, we wandered the empty streets of Mỹ An and discovered an eating gem. The woman who runs Banh Mi Phan Tic is a wonderful person. The majority of travelers who come here make a visit to The Golden Bridge of the Ba Na. We, on the other hand, opted for a more independent activity and rented motorbikes in order to wander around the neighboring San Tra (Monkey) peninsula. It’s here where one can encounter the 236 foot tall Goddess of Mercy (Lady Buddha) statue. This is part of a pagoda named Linh Ung. We took photos here and then explored nearby San Tra Mountain on motorbike, a destination for spotting endangered Red-Shanked Douc monkeys

Hoi An

We took a forty-minute shuttle to Hoi An, a former trading port that sits along the estuary of the Thu Bon River, a bike ride’s journey from the South China Sea. Nowadays, Hoi An is a tourist magnet thanks to its well preserved historic quarter, culinary scene, world-class tailors, leather goods, and trademark Lantern Festival

When we arrived, the city was still recovering from Tết festivities. The streets were swarmed with visitors, both Vietnamese and from other countries. Hoi An isn’t an oasis from motorbikes, as honks serenaded us along most corners. It felt like we were in a city of aspiring social media influencers because there wasn’t a wall where someone wasn’t posing for a photo. The energy and motion of every street felt like my hometown of Sausalito on performance-enhancing drugs. Overall, Hoi An truly is a visual site to behold even with the vast numbers of crowds. 

Thu Bon River

The fellow backpackers at the Tribee Kinh were fun and the staff there was also really nice. Vietnam has an infatuation with lemon tea, and we tried our first one at Mót. We found perhaps a new favorite food in Cau Lao, a thick noodle soup with pork. Finally, we started our quest to follow in the footsteps of the late great Anthony Bourdain by visiting restaurants he ate at during the filming of “Parts Unknown”. We started our hunt in disappointment because Banh Mi Phoung, in Hoi An’s old quarter, was closed due to Tết.

We eventually hugged Hoi An goodbye and booked a plane to  ___________________.

Well, this is probably a good place to say farewell! Hopefully this post was a nice distraction for five minutes.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, it truly means a lot! Another one or two posts about Vietnam will be coming soon. 

Have you been to Da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City, or Hoi An? How was your experience there?

I’d love to hear about it. Take care and lots of love.

Guides, Travel, Travel Guide, Travel Tips

Playing Fair in Cambodia

Angkor Wat sunrise.

Once upon a time, in a part of the world fairly far far away, my best friend Jack and I landed in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

By once upon a time, I mean last Saturday. 

A 6am flight from Phuket, Thailand landed at the Siem Reap International Airport at 7:25am. If you’re a United States citizen, a trip to Cambodia is straightforward. Upon arrival, Jack and I each paid $30 for a thirty-day tourist visa. We each needed to provide a passport sized photo, which we had already brought from the US, and completed an application. Within half an hour the immigration official stamped our passports and we were granted permission to enjoy Cambodia. 

Why did we go there?

The first reason why we opted to spend four days in this Southeast Asian country was simple. Cambodia is sandwiched between two neighbors that were very high on our list of destinations: Thailand and Vietnam. Continuing east from Thailand, it was sensible for us to dedicate a few days to discover another country before visiting Vietnam. The second reason why we stayed in Cambodia was thanks to numerous positive accounts in regard to the temples of Angkor Wat. Stepping foot in Angkor Wat was an important personal goal for this journey, so a stopover didn’t require much debating. 

About to see some Wats.

Angkor Wat (Capital Temple) is the most iconic temple in what is a massive complex of temples (Angkor Thom) constructed in the 12th century in Siem Reap, by Khmer King Suryavarman II. The Khmer Empire was the predecessor state of what is currently Cambodia. They were originally Hindu, however over the course of hundreds of years they converted to Buddhism. Their empire ruled in this region of Asia for over six hundred years. Angkor Wat was built to be a dedication to Vishnu, the Hindu God, and serves as a proud modern-day symbol for Cambodians. I’m not really a historian nor do I have the capacity to remember such facts; all of this data has been gathered with the wonderful help of Wikipedia. One of the temples in Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, was used as a set in the original “Tomb Raider” film, starring Angelina Jolie. 

Walking through Bayon Temple.
Bayon Temple.

Ok, so back to the story. Jack and I arrived early on Saturday and we had to wait about six hours before being able to officially check-in to our hostel called Lub D. The price here was very affordable, and the hostel came equipped with a pool, bar, cafe, and a friendly team of staff members. 

We didn’t come to Siem Reap to do anything except visit Angkor Wat, so once we got settled we learned a few necessary details: The best (and most affordable) way to visit Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom is to hire a personal tuk-tuk driver and have him or her transport you between temples. We also learned that a single day Angkor Pass costs $37 and that the majority of visitors start their experience by witnessing Angkor Wat at sunrise or at sunset. We discovered that the city of Siem Reap is a car trip away from Angkor Wat, about twenty minutes in a rural zone of the region. 

Angkor Wat likes to reflect on itself sometimes.

A girl at our hostel referred us to a driver named Peng, an independent tuk-tuk driver who runs an enterprise by driving tourists around the famed temples. Based on our previous experiences with tuk-tuk’s and taxi’s in general in Thailand, I felt slightly unsure about trusting a stranger to drive around and wait for us as we explored the ruins. Peng ended up being a wonderful guy, with above average English, who was willing to drive us between the various sites and wait while Jack and I took in the visual flavors of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. In the end, we spent ten hours walking through various temples. Eventually, the heavy heat from the sun left us completely gassed by 3pm. It’s hard to describe Angkor Wat other than it’s an experience that is hard to match. If you’re thinking of going to Angkor Wat, definitely come prepared with sunscreen, a hat, and decent walking shoes. Absolutely consider hiring a personal tuk-tuk driver, then check out Peng’s Facebook page. The sunrise was spectacular and it’s worth waking up at 4am. 

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

In total, Jack and I stayed two nights in Siem Reap, as well as two in the countries’ capital of Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh is a medium sized city with heavy motorbike traffic, a beautiful waterfront that hugs along the Ton Le Sap river, and a handful of interesting landmarks such as the Royal Palace. Phnom Penh was purely just a layover for Jack and me. We stayed two nights at a hostel called Mad Monkey and the consensus among the fellow backpackers we encountered was same: Phnom Penh is an interesting city, however, it’s best served as a quick stopover before going to Vietnam or Siem Reap. 

I can’t say much about Cambodia, as our stay in the country lasted exactly four days. Four days in an entire country is insufficient; it simply wasn’t a high priority destination for us, so we kept it short. What I can say, despite this, is that Cambodia has left a lasting positive impression on me. Between our friend Peng, to the hostel staff, to even just random people on the street, it was evident that Cambodians are kind people. They are generous, polite, and proud of their country. The food was fantastic. We tried some incredible curry, beef lok lak, among other dishes. Compared to Thailand, it was clear that Cambodia’s tourism industry wasn’t as polished, nor was it accustomed to many foreigners. We weren’t treated like walking moneybags, at least that’s how it felt. The Cambodians we encountered seemed very grateful for our visit and business. The only place in Thailand where I left with a similar feeling was in Krabi, and for this reason it became our favorite stomping ground in that country. 

Some delicious spring rolls with beef lok lak in Phnom Penh.

Cambodia, for all the beauty that we witnessed, also has a somber side. It’s classified as a third-world nation, and it was apparent in all the homeless families we saw while driving in Peng’s tuk-tuk. More than once, we were approached by young children to either buy a pack of postcards or simply just give a dollar. Even security guards at Angkor Wat expected tips for any minute piece of information that they offered. We were told to avoid giving anyone money, especially children, as these kids are often being exploited by others who weren’t always their parents. It was a sobering reality that there exists a completely different world from what Jack and I are used to. Cambodia is developing, but we saw that there’s a still deep gap between those who live stable lives, those who struggle on a daily basis, and those who are in a near hopeless set of circumstances. 

At 6am, at the gates of Angkor Wat and before the ever-so-popular sunrise above the temples, two nine-year-old kids tried to cajole us into buying some postcards. Jack needed postcards and bought ten for one dollar, but I initially refused and tried to ignore them. The first kid ran off with her score, while the other started to pout at me in broken English: “Be fair, be fair.” This was all part of the game they were playing, but who was I to deny a Cambodian child of a dollar, which to me had very little value but to her probably so much more? I played fair, gave her a dollar, and let her keep the postcards. I don’t know if this donation helped anyone, but it made me grateful to have grown up with a loving family and in a first world country. Sometimes you feel helpless in a situation that’s greater than yourself, and this was one of those instances. 

A tuk-tuk commute in Phnom Penh.

Despite seeing the both good and not-so-good, Cambodia is filled with history, delightful people, and is ideal for anyone looking for adventure. 

Have you been to Cambodia before? Comment below, I’d love to hear about it!

Also, if you have any questions about specific restaurants, cafés, or general information about our time in Cambodia, feel free to message me any time. 🙂

Have a nice day, thank you for reading, you’re a great human being. 

More updates about Jack’s and my trip are coming in the not so far away future. 

Asia, DACKasia2019, Travel, Travel Guide, Vietnam

Bahts, Wats, and Feeling Krabi

Hey, is that you? 

Welcome back to my blog! 

It’s been a while, so please take a seat and relax! Now that you’re here again, where does this post begin? 

It might suffice to mention how it’s 6pm in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam right now. It perhaps is also appropriate to add that Jack and I have been here for exactly fifteen minutes. 

Kho Pha Ngan, the land of Massaman Curry

We just said farewell to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, in what was a quick two-day stop over after exploring Siem Reap in the northern part of the same country. 

I’d like to shed more light on what we’re doing here and what exactly are the plans we have in store during our wanders through Vietnam, but there exists a large time lapse of information between right now and the previous blog post.  

Ten days ago, my good buddies Jack, Eric, and I were in Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand.  We capped off our five days there with partaking in a Full Moon Party, which in the end gave the sensation of attending a massive frat party along a widespread beach. Haad Rin is a town along the southern edge of Koh Pha Ngan and serves as the entry point to a beach that dons the same title. It was here where countless makeshift bars were constructed along the shore, with DJ’s spinning various genres of music, and gangs of fire-dancers drawing in swaths of people like moths to a vibrant lamp. It was similar to a music festival with no headlining acts blended with a county fair. Overall, it was an interesting experience and we enjoyed the evening, but it felt nice knowing that we’d be moving on to a new destination soon. 

The next morning was a farewell to the island and also to our friend Eric. He took a ferry to Surat Thani and flew back to the capital, while we boarded a vessel to the mainland then bussed to Phuket. Phuket is Thailand’s largest island, located southwest of the mainland. It took us about nine hours via a ferry, a bus, then finally a shuttle van before we reached our AirBnB. During the next five days, Jack and I split our time between Patong (Phuket’s most active city), Phi Phi Island, and various beaches in Krabi.  

Malin Plaza, Patong

Patong is a seaside city that doesn’t have very much to offer besides sweltering heat, bustling night markets, and many opportunities to lose money. At first glance it’s a tourist hub, with lots of Russians, English, French, and Thai tourists on vacation. Its allure is the weather, the affordability, and also nearby Patong Beach. Patong could be Las Vegas, except the hotels aren’t as tall and there’s no ferris wheel. The traffic is heavy with racing motorbikes and, contrary to Koh Pha Ngan, internal stress from so many accelerating gears brought back memories of Bangkok. We primarily just relaxed, ate at some delicious street food at Malin Plaza, and looked for a quality kebab after checking out the energetic nightlife along Bangla Street. We turned down offers for massages and bouquets of roses but got suckered into a few games of Connect 4 with the bartenders and a “working lady” of one only slightly-seedy establishment. 

Phi Phi Island is a haven for visitors in search of sunburns, scuba certifications, snorkeling, and anything related to playing in turquoise water. With endless postcard-worthy sights such as Maya Bay (famous thanks to the film The Beach), Monkey Beach, and Long Beach, guests of the island have plenty of distractions. We snorkeled for a day, relaxed at our hostel, then hopped a ferry the next morning across Phang Nga Bay to Ao Nammao Pier. On this day we checked into the Reset Hostel (it soon became our favorite of the trip), which is located in Klong Muang. At the last minute, we made an agreement with a longboat taxi to take us to Kong Island. With limestone rock formations, mirror-like water, and temperatures reaching the high 80’s, we found a gem. The longboat taxi didn’t try to swindle us, making us feel certain that Krabi was our favorite part of Thailand. We also wandered along the rock-climbing mecca of Railay Beach, which is located along an opposite shore of Krabi. We opted to rent kayaks instead of climb and ferried back to Patong. This was on Friday, and early on Saturday we reserved two seats on a plane destined to Siem Reap, Cambodia. 

Koh Hong, Krabi

Writing this post, Thailand feels like a lifetime ago. It’s been a whirlwind of ten days, and I’d like to keep going but it’s probably best to wrap this post up. Now that Jack and I have migrated east, through Cambodia, and now to Vietnam, it’s easier to reflect on Thailand. 

Thailand has many good’s and bad’s. It’s fantastic for spice and an endless selection of mouth-watering dishes. It’s wonderful if you want to start your day with strong coffee or with a blended fruit shake. If you want to ride a cheap motorbike or stay up until sunrise on a beach then you’ve found the place. It’s not good if you don’t like humidity, mosquitos, or people constantly soliciting you for a massage, tuk-tuk ride, or something else. If you need a 7-11 then you’re in luck, but if you want to throw away your garbage there aren’t many places to toss your rubbish. Due to the overly developed tourism industry, the interactions with locals in Thailand felt more transactional than personable. The language barrier didn’t help, and very rarely did we meet a Thai who could speak conversational English. Overall, Thailand is affordable and scenic. It makes sense why so many people come out there and I’m glad we started our trip there. 

Well, it’s time to go. Thanks for reading, you look great! Have a wonderful day, the next post will be about our stay in Cambodia and a visit we paid to Angkor Wat. Take care. 

Asia, DACKasia2019, Guides, Travel, Travel Guide

To Live and Die in Surat Thani

One week ago my best friend Jack and I were using the Grab app to go between places in Thailand’s capital city, Bangkok. 

Today we find ourselves on a rain-soaked tropical island that’s been described as a destination for “hedonistic hippies”, also known as Kho Pha Ngan. Traveler’s don’t have access to Grab in this part of the country and the taxi’s are too opportunistic. Rather, we’ve chosen the preferred method of transportation for Thai locals and the vast majority of visitors: motorbikes. 

Without a visible speed limit and caravans of bikers in swimwear blazing back and forth on roads that are not always paved, Kho Pha Ngan gives me nostalgia from watching the movie Mad Max. The only difference would be that instead of a desert landscape we’re cruising through a lushly vegetated coastline with photogenic sunsets and coconuts. 

Alongside our good friend Eric, who hopped a flight from the capital, we’ve been riding around Kho Pha Ngan in search of the meaning of island life. 

Kho Pha Ngan sunrise

Before going into further detail about our current whereabouts, it’s necessary to mention a few things in regard to where Jack and I just were: Koh Tao. 

Koh Tao, Kho Pha Ngan, and Koh Samui are three medium sized islands that sit along the Gulf of Thailand, and belong to the Surat Thani Province of the country. This is basically the Deep South of Thailand, and a few skips away one can find themselves in Indonesia. Six hours via bus and two more via ferry, Jack and I left the vastly illuminated Bangkok and checked into the Bed and Ink Hostel, which is situated in the backpacker neighborhood of Koh Tao. A handful of travel websites call this destination “The Death Island” because a few tourists disappeared a couple years back and the cases remain unsolved. This isn’t a fair nickname because Koh Tao surprisingly receives over three hundred thousand tourists a year, and hardly anyone has a bad experience. 

Fortunately, we saw no signs of suspicious activity during our two nights on Koh Tao. What we did see, however, was an island that valued its beauty sleep. On both nights of our stay we tried to explore the nightlife of the island, only to become aware that many visitors were either staying in a resort or waking up early the next day to take a snorkeling tour or get scuba certified. Because scuba diving is such an essential industry for the island, most businesses seemed to be respecting the need for an early night. Koh Tao, as we discovered, is recognized around the planet for its wealth of scuba certification schools and picturesque habitats for viewing sea life. 

Ko Nang Yuan

We did go snorkeling around Sairee Beach, where we navigated around small pockets of coral and some schools of fish. We learned our first valuable lesson of the trip on this beach: never trust the word of a longboat taxi driver. We got quoted a price to get driven via water taxi to a nearby island called Ko Nang Yuan then back to the port where our hostel was located. The views were beautiful, but upon docking at Ko Nang Yuan, our driver said that we needed to pay more baht for the return trip. He lied, saying that the original price wasn’t for the entire ride, just to this point. We’d been swindled, but there didn’t exist another alternative other than haggle a second deal. It was either give him more baht, or stay stranded on the island. 

Mae Haad Pier (Koh Tao)

Despite this small negative encounter, we had a very positive experience in Koh Tao. I should once again say that all the people here are friendly, and despite the language barrier, we’ve managed to communicate. I’ve already accepted the fact that Thai is too challenging of a language to merely pick-up and that even “hello” or “thank you” are completely over my head. Luckily, if I use poor grammar in the simple present tense (I want americano, I use credit card, I no have money), people generally understand what I’m trying to say. 

Kho Pha Ngan offers a more mixed bag of entertainment for visitors. Besides a developing scuba scene, there are numerous yoga retreats, meditation centers, and also monthly Full Moon Parties which attract thousands of young people. The Full Moon Parties draw substantial numbers of backpackers and tourists looking for different experiences, which gives this island a reputation for debauchery. Jack, Eric, and myself are grown-ups and responsible humans. This being said, we all share a similar curiosity to see what takes place during a Full Moon Party, so we’ve made this the primary reason for our stay on the island. 

The party itself is tomorrow, so in the meantime we’ve dedicated the past few days to discovering where to get the next delicious Massasman Curry and some of the nightlife. We’ve hit an unlucky streak in terms of weather, as each afternoon has been soggy with rain. During the one day when the sky was clear, we put our trust in another scheming water-taxi. This instance, along the shore of Haad Rin, we paid for a roundtrip voyage to a difficult to reach yoga retreat because we wanted to try out a class. After finishing we backtracked to the pickup point to get taxi’d back to Haad Rin, but this time the driver claimed that we never paid and then demanded a higher fare. Long story short, we found another taxi to take us back. The only downside was that it was at night. 

With angry ocean swells in the nearly perfect darkness of a Tuesday evening, a small group of Russian tourists and ourselves instilled our faith in a Thai water-taxi driver to take us to Haan Rin. He kept yelling, “No worry, no worry!” and “No butterflies!” which in turn made me pretty worried and sick to my stomach. His poise told me that he was an experienced captain, and we made it to the other shore without any problems, however there were a few moments when I said a prayer to Mother Nature, Poseidon, and Nemo to please get us back in one piece. The waves weren’t friendly, and I shook the man’s hand as we jumped off the boat and onto the glorious beach. I don’t think our lives were really in too much danger, but it was enough to make me want to be a better person going forward. 

I can’t tell you much more about Kho Pha Ngan because the party hasn’t happened yet, but more updates are coming in the near future. 

Thanks for reading, I hope you have a great day!

Ko Nang Yuan
Asia, DACKasia2019, Travel, Travel Guide, Travel Tips

Letters from Bangkok

Today is Sunday, at least in Jack’s and my part of the world.

At this hour, our friends and families in California are most likely getting ready for bed. However, in Bangkok, Thailand the sun is shining and shortly it’ll be lunchtime.

It’s hard to imagine that our trip to Asia started exactly a week ago, and that tomorrow we’ll bid adieu to Thailand’s bustling capital. At 6am we’ll be boarding a bus to Chumphon, a small city along the southern Gulf of Thailand, then hopping a ferry to a small island named Ko Tao.

Our farewell to Bangkok commences a two-week excursion around three Thai islands: Ko Tao, Ko Pha Ngan, and finally Phuket. All three are in the countries’ southern region and they’ll offer a pleasant contrast to the massively populated Bangkok.

We chose Bangkok as our trip’s starting point for a handful of reasons: It was one of the cheapest airports offering flights from San Francisco, and more importantly because one of our best friends happens to be residing there.

Eric Umile has been a close buddy since first grade and he’s been an expat in Bangkok for a couple years now. He offered to show us around and we felt like that was an opportune way to catch up with a great guy and also start things off.

Thanks to Eric, we’ve managed to get a taste of Bangkok and see why he’s chosen this city as his home. After one week, here are a few things I’d like to share about this interesting city in the Far East. Bangkok is a city of abundance; not only there exists an abundance of people, but there are plenty of other things.

1. Heat


Exiting the Singapore Airlines flight and walking through the airport in Bangkok, the first thought that scurried through my mind was:

Frick, it’s hot.

Bangkok’s high temperatures are unforgiving. The humidity is also dense like an invisible curtain that you can’t seem to walk through. If you’re someone who doesn’t break a sweat from Mother Nature, then a second source of burning might come from the wide variety of savory yet spicy dishes that exist in a typical Thai menu. The food here is on point, however, I have burned my palate a handful of times since arriving here.

2. Malls


Some of the most impressive aspects of Bangkok are its abundance of super malls. It’s natural to assume that a cosmopolitan capital of over eight million people enjoys shopping, however mega centers such as Terminal 21 are so much more: They’re gathering places for all classes of Thai citizens, a destination for buying every product known to humankind, equipped with expansive cafeterias, bars, and nightclubs. If the zombie apocalypse ever occurs, you can find me in the Gourmet Market at Siam Paragon.   

3. Rooftop Escapes


Perhaps my favorite aspect of Bangkok is its bountiful supply of rooftop lounges, bars, restaurants, and clubs. A week wasn’t enough time to acquaint ourselves with the complete scene, but Eric showed us some fun places such as Above Eleven and Octave. Taking in the lights of Bangkok after dark, a chilled beverage in hand, while a DJ spun Reggaeton records, was a memory that will stand out in my mind for a long while.

4. Traffic


Despite the existence of a well developed public transit system such as the Sky Train or buses, plus waves of tuk-tuk taxis, motorcycle taxis, and Grab ride-share cars, Bangkok suffers from a mind-numbing traffic jam epidemic. The bumper to bumper congestion is heavy enough that pedestrians can be seen wearing masks to protect themselves from car pollution. A muggy haze engulfs the horizon at all hours and the air quality is visibly lower than back home, but I’m not sure if this is solely a result of excessive car emissions.

5. Contrasts


Bangkok is a hive of distinct landmarks. On one hand, a visitor can easily be left speechless from historical wonders such as the Grand Palace or Temple of the Emerald Buddha. A similar sensation can be gained from an elevator ride to the observation deck of the recently designed MahaNakhon, a pixelated skyscraper that stretches seventy-seven stories towards the clouds. The city has as many Wats (Buddhist temples) as it has construction sites where the sound of hammers and drills ring in progressive harmony. Additionally, stray dogs could be seen scurrying outside the Mandarin Oriental, a 5-star hotel where Jack and I treated ourselves to a memorable breakfast buffet. Despite the noticeable chaos of historical and modern, clean and dirty, poor and wealthy, everything seemed to blend together like a savory cocktail called coexistence. I must also add that nearly every person we’ve encountered has been very helpful and friendly.

So, after this random blog post, why should you go to Bangkok?

Besides offering anything from an extra plate of spicy chicken balls, boom boom, foot massages, or fried scorpions, this curious place can give you something else:

A feeling that you’ve reached a land of opportunity for adventure, for new beginnings, and for a reminder that we need to enjoy life as much as possible.

Thanks for reading, more updates on Jack’s and my whereabouts are coming soon!

Travel, Travel Guide, Travel Tips, Uncategorized

Essential Tools for Solo Travelers


It could take the form of diving face first into an ocean of a far off place, or even plunging into the next paragraph of a really interesting book.

Whichever way and whatever the medium, traveling gives us all something: a sensation of freedom, creativity, curiosity, and ultimately enjoyment. It’s a joy of life that generally brings people together, no matter their background, race, or political views.

In recent years I’ve given chase to that feeling that traveling emanates. I feel safe to say that traveling and me go together like cheese on pizza. With so many toppings to choose from, creating the perfect traveling pie depends purely on personal preferences and comfort levels. One example is traveling with friends, another is with family, and a less popular option for many people is traveling alone. I feel fortunate to say that I’ve tried all three, and all three leave me in a food coma of happiness.

This being said, one of my personal favorite recipes for traveling is booking a flight somewhere and going by myself. I love traveling with friends and family, but going alone has a distinct allure, mainly because I used to feel that it was an unfathomable act. There was a time in the past when the concept of going to a new place without another person sounded crazy, awkward, and completely horrifying.

Over the course of many trials and some errors, I learned that there exist tons of resources to help you actually not be solo while you’re traveling. There are tools to connect with other travelers and locals.

Here is a list of essential resources for solo travelers to help them not feel like they’re alone. What’s even better about this list is that most of what’s mentioned isn’t exclusive to those who are solo; it can be applied by groups of any size. I hope you find them useful for your next wandering in some far-off or not-so-far destination.   


I’m going to start with perhaps the best resource in the world (in my opinion) that exists for connecting with travelers, locals, and just overall minds with a passion for wandering. It’s pretty easy. You create a profile like Facebook, then afterward you can find other travelers or people who are from a place that you’re about to or currently visiting. I’ve used Couchsurfing for many language exchanges, to grab a coffee or beer, to crash in someone’s living room, and ultimately to make some amazing friendships. You can find group events as well. You can use this anywhere in the world, even in your hometown. Couchsurfing is my go-to whenever I’m checking out a different town or city and don’t already have friends there.


Michael Prewett

Next the Couchsurfing, Meetup is also a crucial tool to find groups of people who share a similar interest as yourself. I like to open up Meetup’s app or webpage to browse in cities where I’ll be visiting to see if any fun group gatherings are happening. Major swaths of cities around the globe have at least a handful of different events taking place through Meetup. As you read this post, individuals who enjoy languages, drinking beer, running and then drinking beer, dancing, hiking, reading, (you name it) are creating a Meetup that revolves around these hobbies. Looking for tea drinkers in Toulouse, coders in Chattanooga, or snake charmers in Slovakia? I’m sure there’s a Meetup for it. It can be a safer way of connecting with locals or travelers because the focus is on activities with larger quantities of people, rather than one-on-one.


The Flying Pig Hostel in Amsterdam…
The first hostel I ever stayed in back in 2009.
photo courtesy of

Are you looking for a place to stay that isn’t super expensive (hotels) and isn’t potentially a person’s couch or futon (Couchsurfing)? Are you visiting a new city and have zero contacts? Hostelworld is a prime way to stay somewhere with a budget, while also connecting with other travelers. Hostels have a bad reputation from movies (Hostel) but some of my best friends in this world were people I met in hostels. The most important thing is to think about what kind of environment you’re into and to of course do some research. is a search engine for hostels. All you need to do is type a city, the date of arrival, and how many people who are traveling. It’s pretty simple and depending on the city, you’ll likely be presented with a slew of choices for a place to crash. As stated before: do some research; some are indeed sketchy or of subpar quality. This being said, the majority do an excellent job. On this site, people can leave reviews about cleanliness, safety, location, etc.


Airbnb is starting to make a power grab against Meetup and Couchsurfing because this site now offers “experiences” for travelers to try interesting activities while they’re on holiday in a new place. I find this to be interesting, however I haven’t partaken in any such events. Unlike Meetup which is either free or cheap, or Couchsurfing which is free, the experiences with Airbnb can sometimes be overpriced. Taking this into consideration, it’s still a fun opportunity to meet fellow travelers. On occasion, one can strike gold and stay in a house or apartment building with a really cool host and or their family/roommates.


Volunteering for IVHQ with some great folks in Bogotá, circa August 2012.

Why not go abroad, help others in need, and also make some lifelong friends? Volunteering can be the just the ticket if you’re looking for a way to experience a foreign place but don’t feel comfortable going there alone. There exist options in the form of work exchange, where you trade in a few hours a day working in order to receive meals and accommodation. Websites such as HelpXWorkaway, and Wwoofing are useful, however, one must do their research in order to find a fitting host. I like these sites because the work opportunities span all across the spectrum from teaching English, hostel reception, childcare, social media management, etc. Instead of “trading time” one can also do a paid volunteer project with various NGO’s or non-profits around the world. Deciding on a platform to do this can be a tedious task, but one organization that I’ve tried and have confided in is International Volunteer Headquarters (IVHQ).

Runner-Up: Facebook Groups

In my opinion, Facebook has a lot of pros and cons nowadays. One major benefit that it offers is the opportunity to join groups based on your location and interests (just like Meetup). One thing I like to do is type in a search for one of my hobbies or some tag word and connect it to a city or country that I’ll potentially be visiting. For example: “Expats in San Francisco” yields a handful of groups that usually post invitations to events, happy hours, or random get-togethers between members. It’s like having access to countless digital bulletin boards. I’ve listed this as a runner-up because out of personal preference I enjoy using the previous tools mentioned above even though I can’t deny Facebook’s validity as a resource.

Second Runner-Up: Tinder

Wiktor Karkocha

Back a couple of hours ago when I started writing this post, I never expected to mention Tinder.

Boy, did things escalate…

Tinder doesn’t always have to be about hooking up or dating right? If there’s no one to meet up with on Couchsurfing, or a Meetup, or a hostel, then potentially Tinder could be a way to make friends in a new city or country.

This option is kind of meant to be a joke; I just felt like throwing it out there. In fact, the more I think about it, there probably exists options of way higher regard than Tinder, but this just proves that my mind is in the gutter…sorry Mom & Dad.

The key here, like every other tool I’ve mentioned, is to know yourself and what exactly you’re looking for.  It’s also necessary to be honest with yourself and whoever you end up meeting. Finally, be smart and never put your safety at risk.


Thank you for reading this blog! Sorry for the massive delay between posts, sometimes life gets in the way or we put off doing things we enjoy 🙂


Mexico, Puebla, Travel, Travel Guide, Travel Tips

Six Reasons to Wander in Puebla, Mexico

A little over six weeks ago I found myself far away from home in Puebla de  Zaragoza, Mexico.

The journey was fairly straightforward: a direct flight from San Francisco to Mexico City, followed by a comfortable Estrella Roja charter bus to my final destination.

In fact, I didn’t even have to leave the airport in Mexico City. I merely walked to the baggage claim, tightened the straps of my backpack, and wandered down a few escalators towards a sign that read “autobuses.”

Thirty minutes into the bus ride was when the sun decided to disappear beneath the hills of Mexican earth.

I harbored an abundance of fears about doing a trip to Mexico alone, but at the same time, I knew it was something that I wanted to prove to myself.

A wave of doubt about my decision to come here swelled immediately upon exiting the Estrella Roja bus at 11pm.

I’d need to find Hostal Leonara, and since I only had a random address scribbled onto a piece of paper and no available WIFI I was a little nervous. I didn’t know where in the city this bus station was situated, nor how far away I’d need to travel in order to check-in to the hostal.

Exiting the bus I was guided to a taxi ticket kiosk, and from there all my worries started to alleviate.

Behind the glass, a station employee casually asked me where I needed to go. Exhaling, I read off the address that I had written on the piece of paper. He quoted from his computer a price for a taxi, I accepted without knowing if I had just ripped myself off, and minutes later a white sedan pulled up with the guy in the window telling me to hop in.

With no idea about navigating through this new city and new country, I put my faith in this person to get me to Hostal Leonora.

Inside something told me that this wasn’t a wrong choice, and in the end, my intuition was right.

Jesus, my driver, was really friendly and gave me some rough ideas of things to see in Puebla. Before midnight I was already settled and ready to see what this city had to offer.

My trip in total was going to last eight days. The original plan in my mind was to see Puebla for three or four nights, then return to the capital and explore Mexico City before flying back to the US.

In the end, the only site in Mexico City that I visited was its airport.

Puebla surprised me in many ways, partly in thanks to my lack of researching, but also because of many other reasons. I ended up staying the entire length of my vacation in Puebla and in some of its neighboring towns. Despite wanting to also see Mexico City, my intuition was again telling me that it was the right decision.

I feel really happy with the experience there and the list you’re about to read is why I think you should add Puebla to your list of future travel destinations.

The Cities’ History:

The very first thing that struck me as interesting about the city of Puebla was its origins. During the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1531, a bishop named Julián Garcés claimed to have visions of angels coming from the heavens, pointing to a piece of fertile land to lay the foundation to a city that would be considered at the time to be “Utopia.” Built on an expansive network of gridded cobblestone streets, Puebla for this reason originally donned the name “Puebla de Los Angéles.” Fast forward to 1816, after Mexico’s eventual independence from Spain, Puebla would be the setting for one of the most important events in the countries’ history. An outnumbered Mexican army defeated a powerful invading French force, halting an attempt by Napoleon III to expand his empire. The French were considered the most powerful empire on Earth at the time, and this defeat not only led to their retreat from Mexico, but it led to their empire’s eventual decline. The celebration of this historic victory is held on the 5th of May each year (Cinco de Mayo).

Mole Poblano:


I came to Puebla to eat as much as humanly possible, and one item that danced with my taste buds was Mole Poblano. This is a sauce that has multiple variations throughout Mexico. In Puebla, there are twenty ingredients used, most notably chocolate. I tried a plate of oven roasted chicken topped with a dense, rich Mole and needless to say I was smitten. If you add some other typical Puebla dishes into the mix such as chilaquiles, tacos árabes, pozoles,  and cemitas and you’ll find yourself in dietary zen.











The agave plant is famous for being fermented to create delicious tequila and mezcal. However, by fermenting the sap of this plant that’s native to Mexico, a milk-colored beverage called Pulque can be created. Its flavor is slightly sour, but many places where you can try this alcoholic beverage (pulquerías) offer assortments that come blended with different kinds of fruit to alter the flavor. The Aztecs considered this to be the “drink of the gods” and even though it didn’t originate in Puebla, I got to try it for the first time in a town that’s a short bus ride away from the city center: Cholula.





I didn’t know what a “Pueblo Magíco  was until taking a bus ride to nearby Cholula. A “Pueblo Magíco” is a Mexican town that has managed to preserve its unique culture, or at the very least maintains a strong fixture of its lengthy past. In total the country offers 111 options for travelers to embrace the vibrant history of Mexico, and Cholula happened to me my first.  The claims to fame for Cholula are its 365 churches, fun nightlife, bohemian vibes, and great pyramid that sits in the town’s epicenter. Even though in modern times this pyramid now shares the appearance of a massive grassy hill with a yellow-painted Spanish church constructed upon its summit, it used to be a mythical center before the arrival of the Spanish. I spent a rain drizzled afternoon drinking Pulque here and then returned for a night of dancing with some great people who offered to show me around.

Los Murales de Xanenetla







There’s a neighborhood in Puebla that has an embattled past. Built in 1551, it’s famous for three things: It was one of Puebla’s original neighborhoods, it also was for decades one of the cities’ most dangerous to live (in the 1990’s) , and nowadays people say that Xanenetla is in its own way an open-air gallery of art. After years of crime, gangs, and delinquency, Xanenetla slowly found itself as the staging ground of a monumental citywide rescue to prevent this historic neighborhood from falling into irresolvable insecurity. A nationwide project entitled “Mural City” was created by an organization called Colectivo Tomate (Tomato Collective) as an effort to use the act of painting murals on faded walls of buildings of troubled neighborhoods in Mexico as a medium to create bonds between artists and communities. Xanetetla was included in this effort, and since then there has been a growing sense of community in the neighborhood, making it the most unique, vibrant, and visually stimulating in the city of Puebla. 75 murals can be found in Xanenetla; each paint the history of Puebla, its struggles, social issues, and elements of pride. The neighborhood slowly became a destination for tourists and has over time erased the dangerous reputation that is once carried on its shoulders.

The People:

There’s a lot more I could say about Puebla, however I feel that this post is starting to get too long. There are more interesting buildings, corners, and sites to discover in this wonderful city so if you ever want to know more then feel free to ask me! I also feel that only the surfaced was scratched here, so hopefully one day a second visit will be able to happen in the not so distant future. This experience wouldn’t have been complete without the generous help of some very special people who took time to help me out, show me around, and give me a truly great tour of their home city. I feel grateful for all the help that Fred, Caro, Alberto, Sol, Edison, Aldo, Jasmine, and Nayeli offered me. I wouldn’t have met these people without the help of Couchsurfing.

Have you been to Mexico? Where are some places you’d recommend? I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading my blog, have a great day!