Sunday, November 21, 2010

Montage Monday: Thanksgiving

Take a walk down memory lane with me on this three-photo montage highlighting my best memories from past travels! 

Last Thanksgiving, I had just moved out of Istanbul and returned to New York City for a visit with my friends. Here are some great memories from our Thanksgiving together.

My friends, Brian and Neil, get very excited about my Thanksgiving turkey. My secret? Butter. Lots of delicious butter to keep the turkey juicy! And garlic. Lots of garlic. 

We devoured that turkey in mere seconds! I guess there will be no leftover turkey sandwiches for me the next day.

After dinner, my friends and I all made turkey hand drawings, just like back in elementary school. We were so stuffed, but we still managed a nice smile to capture this great Thanksgiving dinner.

© Connie Hum 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hoi An: The Town That Tailors To You

The first thing you notice in Hoi An is the shops advertising custom made clothing. To be honest, I didn't give much thought to getting anything tailor-made for me. I'm a backpacker with no expendable income! I'm already carrying far too many things. What am I going to do with fancy dresses and thick wool coats as I travel through the rest of Asia?!?
Just a couple of the many tailoring shops in Hoi An
I blame Matt for the outcome.

Matt spotted a jacket he really liked and went in to try it on. I admit, he looked pretty good in the coat. He decided to get one custom made for him. Matt had his measurements taken and fabric picked out. It would be ready the next afternoon.

Matt getting fitted for his coat
The whole process was a bit fascinating to me and what girl doesn't want new, pretty things in her closet...even if her current closet consisted of a backpack filled with dirty clothes most of the time?

The next day, a brand new custom made jacket was in Matt's possession. The quality of the coat was fantastic and fit Matt very nicely. Matt was happy and I? Well, I was quite jealous.

Matt's new coat
Armed with photographs of dress designs from the internet that I liked, Matt and I went into store after store, trying to find a good tailor. Every store had more or less the same designs, fabrics and pricing. And frustratingly, every store also had very pushy and aggressive salespeople.

I was about ready to give up. I couldn't deal with another saleslady following me around the shops, trying to get me to try on every single piece, telling me that whatever I was trying on looked perfect on me.

We walked into the nearest shop, a small and unassuming place, and it was absolutely perfect!

Me and my tailor, Huyen, in front of Shop 45
Huyen, the owner of Shop 45 was friendly and laid-back. She put no pressure on us from the moment we stepped in. I asked her if she could produce the dresses I had in mind and she offered advice on type of fabric, color and fit, all without being pushy, aggressive or desperate. I knew right away that I had found my tailor!

It was so much fun to pick out my fabric and colors, deciding which would look best for each different design. Huyen took my measurements and I left the shop feeling quite happy to have found such a tailor I was comfortable and confident in.

Huyen takes my measurements
The next day I went in for my first fitting. I was absolutely astounded by the work the seamstresses at Shop 45 had done! The dresses were exactly as pictured, but tailored with all my little specifications. I made some suggestions and left feeling really good, not to mention excited to see the outcome of my dresses and coat!

The following day, I had three completed dresses and one amazing coat in my possession. They were all gorgeous, better than what I had expected and I was a very happy girl with new pretty things to put in my closet!

My yellow hooded jersey dress (with pockets!) for casual days

A gorgeous blue and I love the low back
Looking peachy keen in ruffles, lots of them!
Long fitted wool coat with flared bustle back, LOVE it!
* To find Huyen and Shop 45 in Hoi An, follow the river north, past the market. Shop 45 is located on 45 Hoang Dieu Street. If you go, please tell the ladies that Connie and Matt say hello! 

So, what do you think of our purchases? 

© Connie Hum 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hotel Review: Classic Street Hotel, Hanoi

Imagine exploring the Old Quarters of Hanoi, the 1000 year old capital of Vietnam, amidst all the chaos of honking and crowds of people in the street. It's fun and exhilarating, frenzied and frustrating all at the same time. It's also very exhausting. Luckily there is an escape.

Classic Street Hotel is a budget to mid-range hotel that stands out from the others available to travelers in Hanoi with its friendly service and comforts of a home away from home. Centrally located on Hang Be, one of the original streets of Hanoi, Classic Street Hotel is within walking distance of everything on a tourist's radar in Hanoi, including restaurants, bars, cafes, sights and the famed Ho Hoan Kiem lake. Within the walls of Classic Street Hotel, guests can find the calm and relaxation they will surely be seeking after a day walking the streets of Hanoi, though being so central, they will not be able to escape from the street noise completely.

The entrance to Classic Street Hotel on Hang Be in Hanoi

From the moment you walk into the traditional Vietnamese family home-turned hotel, you are greeted by the staff, who provide you with good service during your stay. The 15 rooms at Classic Street Hotel are simple and uncluttered, designed with your utmost comfort in mind.

On-site, there is a kitchen churning out delicious Vietnamese and Western meals, computers in the lobby outfitted with internet for guests, wireless internet (currently only available near the lobby and dining area) and tour information and booking services for Hanoi and its surrounding area, including Ha Long Bay overnight cruises and Sapa trekking expeditions.

The airy lobby and lounge of Classic Street Hotel

Rooms at Classic Street Hotel are currently moderately priced between $33 and $38 USD, though with its current plans for expansion and renovation to double capacity, the room rates are expected to increase to $40 - $50 USD by summer of 2011.

The interior of a Classic Street Hotel room

All in all, my stay at Classic Street Hotel was a good one, giving me an opportunity to unwind in a comfortable environment. Although a bit pricey for the average backpacker, I would definitely recommend staying at Classic Street Hotel if your budget allows for it.

For more information on Classic Street Hotel, please visit their website.

*Disclaimer: Although my stay at Classic Street Hotel was sponsored by the hotel, this hotel review is an accurate and honest view of my experience there.

© Connie Hum 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Montage Monday: Spain

Take a walk down memory lane with me on this three-photo montage highlighting my best memories from past travels! Okay, so I'm cheating this week and only including two photos, but I only have these two on my laptop! The others are on disks back at my parents' house in California. Forgive me...

The incredible architectural building that is the Bilbao Guggenheim Art Museum. Really, with an exterior like this, you hardly need to go inside. I did and unfortunately nothing could compare to what I had already seen walking in. I spent much of the afternoon admiring the building from the nearby benches outside.

These tiled benches surrounding Plaza de Espana in Seville, each representing a different province within Spain, were simply beautiful! So much color and detail! Seville ended up being one of my favorite cities in all of Spain for its vibrance and pulsating energy.

© Connie Hum 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Follow Your Heart, That's What I Always Do

Guess what? Today is my 30th birthday! WHOA! Where did the time go? I've been thinking recently about life, and my life in particular, what with this momentous milestone. This post is something that I wanted to share with you on my birthday, since I consider birthdays a great occasion to be celebrating life, yourself and all the reasons that make you...well, you!

My children's-themed 27th birthday party

We, as women, often get told that we're too "emotional". We think "too much with our hearts and not enough with our heads". My response? So what?

Everything, and I do mean, EVERYTHING I have ever done in my life was a result of me following my heart and I have absolutely NO regrets in my life! If my heart is the reason behind all this, then I am grateful that I was brave, courageous, and strong enough to listen to what my heart was telling me.

The first time I truly followed my heart was immediately after I turned 21. I was in a three-year relationship with a GREAT guy. My family adored him, his family adored me, and we loved each other. But something just didn't sit right in my heart. Even to this day, I still can't explain it. All I know is that my heart was telling me there was more to my life to live. It was practically screaming in my ears and eventually, I broke up with him. It's pretty safe to say that if I hadn't listened to what my heart was telling me, I would probably be some years married and with at least two children by now. That's not a bad thing, it's just not the life I wanted back then.

Another time listening to my heart paid off was when I went to New York City for the first time. I met another GREAT guy who was studying at NYU. My head told me not to pursue the relationship since I was living in San Diego and he was in New York City, but my heart convinced me otherwise. Emails turned into long late-night calls, which led to a six-month long-distance relationship (and lots of accumulated mileage) before we decided to travel Europe together for six months. Ultimately I moved to New York to be with him. The relationship didn't work out in the end but by following my heart, I got to live in New York (my heart of hearts), experience all the wonders that that incredible city had to offer, make friends with some of the MOST amazing people in the world, and most importantly, I really came into my own in New York. It was truly the first time I felt like the real me.

Loving my life in New York City

Fast forward three years and my heart was once again feeling restless. I was still living in NYC and working for an international consulting company. My social life was filled to the brim, I had incredible friends and I was living a life close to a dream. Yet I felt I had bigger dreams to catch. I wanted to travel more.

I struggled between my heart and my head for a long time. I couldn't shake the feeling that I needed to do more with my life, that I had been so lucky and I needed to start giving back to the world. My head, on the other hand, sounded like my mother. I was soon to be 28 and needed to settle down, not give up a great job just when the economy was started to crack. In the end, with the love and support of my dear friends, I conquered my fears and decided to follow my heart.

I saved up my money to fund my travels, sold off and/or gave away my possessions, quit my job, gave up my lovely apartment in Manhattan, and packed my bags.

Oh, I miss my Hell's Kitchen apartment

That was in February 2009. Since then, I have lived in Istanbul for six months teaching English, sailed the Mediterranean, belly-danced in the streets of Cairo, scuba dived in the Red Sea, slept under the stars in the mountains of Petra, visited distant relatives in Burma, learned meditation in India, trekked the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal's Himalayan range, volunteered for three months in Thailand with Burmese migrant workers, watched the sunrise over Angor Wat, rode along the backwaters of the Mekong Delta, and that's just the beginning!

Getting down with the locals in Cairo

If all that I've done with my life is a result of me being too emotional and not thinking logically with my head, then I fully embrace my heart and if I could, I'd bow down to it and offer the most gratuitous thanks I could possibly muster! Logic can only get us so far but it's our hearts that will make us leap and soar to allow us to make our "impossible" dreams a reality. My heart has made me the person I am today and I have absolutely NO shame in that! So maybe I do think too much with my heart. Good for me!

© Connie Hum 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Top 5 Food to Eat in Hoi An

Many people come to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hoi An for its well-preserved architecture. Walking around Hoi An, it's easy to get lost in time and be shuttled back to an age when the river-front city was the largest harbor in all of Southeast Asia. It's very easy to understand why Hoi An is such a top tourist destination in Vietnam.

I, however, came to Hoi An to eat. It just worked to my benefit that I had suc
h lovely setting to do it!

There are a number of local delicacies specific to Hoi An that can draw a traveler to and persuade them to stick around Hoi An for awhile. I know because I fell in love with Hoi An's specialties and ended up eating my way around town for almost two weeks (well, also because I was having clothes custom-made but more on that in a later post)!

Although many restaurants serve up all the usual Hoi An dishes for a few dollar
s a plate, heading to the street stalls is really where you'll get the authentic taste and the local price!

Com Ga

Com ga is as ubiquitous in Hoi An as pho is in Saigon on so you'll be able to find it on nearly every street corner. It's a straightforward meal of seasoned rice and shredded chicken, served with a side of fresh onions, greens and mint leaves. Nothing about com ga will change your life but it certainly makes for a filling meal when you're in the mood for something simple and fast. The tastiest spot I found was away from the city center, near my hotel on Hai Ba Trung at the family-run Cafe 619. I'll let you in on a secret though, their com ga is good, but not half as good as their savory pork. Same meal, different meat, but trust me on the pork! 

Cau Lau

Cau lau is a bowl of doughy flat noodles served with bean sprouts, green vegetables, slices of juicy pork and croutons. The secret to a good cau lau is said to come from the water from the Ban Le well in town. Whatever the secret ingredient may be, the taste is simply delicious! The best street cau lau can be found along the river, just outside the Citronella Re
staurant near the old Japanese Bridge. They add sprigs of fresh mint into their bowl of cau lau, and it makes all the difference!

White Rose 

With such a pretty name as White Rose, you can expect something as delicate and light as these steamed shrimp dumpling-like appetizers. Trust me, they're small and you'll need something more substantial for a full meal. In any case, no meal in Hoi An truly starts without a plate of White Rose on the table.

Fried Won Tons

Delicate and crispy fried won tons topped with fresh ingredients is another Hoi An specialty to help start a meal right. I'm typically not one to indulge in fried foods, but the fried won tons are light and tasty, not greasy and oily. With a number of toppings to choose from such as beef and duck, as well as vegetarian options, these friend won tons can win over anyone, no matter how picky an eater.

Dessert at Cargo 

Perhaps the best surprise in all of Hoi An is the delightful bakery found at the wildly popular Cargo restaurant. The chocolate cheesecake literally changed my life! It's rich, creamy and the milk chocolate topping is absolutely divine. So good that I had to have a slice three days in a row! In fact, every dessert I tried at Cargo was fabulous, including the cinnamon waffle served hot off the grill with a scoop of ice cream. Magnificent! An evening is not complete in Hoi An without a stop in Cargo for dessert and once you try one, you'll find it hard to not keep going back.

Have you tried any of these dishes? If not, which one makes your mouth water the most?

© Connie Hum 2010

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Montage Monday: Cambodia

Take a walk down memory lane with me on this three-photo montage highlighting my best memories from past travels!

My friend, Judith, and I got up extra early to catch the sunrise over Angor Wat only to have it be an extremely overcast day. This was the most of the sunrise we got to see. Sunrise aside, the temples of Angor were absolutely incredible and the sheer vastness of it all left us astounded.

The near-remote island of Koh Tonsay, also known as Rabbit Island, off the southwest coast of Cambodia, was a perfect place to seek refuge after the massive crowds in Siem Reap and the Angor Temples. Clear, calm waters, fresh seafood caught right in front of you, plenty of hammocks and a little beach bungalow to call your own. What more could you want from paradise?

Bokor Hill Station, the abandoned French casino, is your own personal haunted mansion. Deserted and derelict, you investigate the many rooms and floors on your (gasp!) own. Even though plenty of natural light flood in through the empty windows, there are plenty of shadows and dark places to make your skin crawl. It was creepy, but very interesting and unique place to explore.

© Connie Hum 2010

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Top 5 Food to Eat in Saigon

Many who know me know how much I love to eat and how much I love food. Vietnam, and Saigon in particular, has certainly not been disappointing me or my stomach with its culinary delights! In fact, I had spent most of my days in Saigon eating. Just eating. The rest of the time was spent waiting for my stomach to digest so that I could eat again. Honestly!

I love good food and Vietnam has lots of it, with Saigon being the food capital of the country. I was quite possibly in food heaven here! My top five favorites

Goi Cuon

Commonly known as fresh spring rolls, but sometimes confusingly referred to as summer rolls, goi cuon is a savory way to whet your appetite before indulging in a Vietnamese meal. Moistened rice paper is rolled with vermicelli noodles, lettuce, fresh herbs and pork or shrimp (or sometimes, even a combination of the two). Not fried (hence, fresh) but served cold with either a peanut or hoisin sauce, goi cuon lives up to its name with the freshness of its ingredients. It's so good, it's hard to remember to save room for the rest of the meal! A single goi cuon will cost you roughly 50 cents USD.

Pho Bo Kho

Delicious beef stew and rice noodles makes for a hearty and savory meal. The stew is made with lemongrass, ginger, cinnamon, star anise and Vietnamese curry powder, among other tasty things. Allowed to stew for several hours to attain maximum flavor, pho bo kho comes out thick with tender, melt-in-your-mouth beef. Carrots and potatoes are added to the stew an hour before serving with chives on top as garnish. I add a liberal amount of fresh lime juice before digging in. Nom nom! A bowl of pho bo kho in Saigon will set you back $1 - $1.50 USD.

Bahn Mi

Probably one of the best things the French did for the Vietnamese was introduce the baguette. I'm not typically a huge fan of sandwiches but man, oh man, do the Vietnamese know how to bake a mean baguette! These crispy baguettes are stuffed with tasty fillings, such as pickled carrots, cucumbers, slices of various meats (including BBQ pork) and pâté, making for a great snack on the go! A bahn mi sandwich with all the fixings should cost less than $1 USD all over Saigon.


Com basically translates to "rice." Nothing special you may say, but when the Vietnamese make com, it's not just your basic rice. The rice serves as the staple of your meal, but the real treat is what you put on top of it. Veggies are always good and always an addition to com. Try the bamboo shoots or morning glory greens! For meat-lovers, there is usually an array of curry chicken, stewed beef, crispy pork and grilled fish on offer. The choices are quite endless and every single thing that I've tried is absolutely delectable! Always ask for the price first though, because some vendors will try to charge unsuspecting foreigners extra but a plate of com with a helping of veggies and meat, usually served with a small bowl of soup, will typically cost between $1 -$1.50 USD.

Pho Bo 

Vietnam's beef noodle soup is the national dish of the country. There are probably at least five pho stalls in any given street. Lucky me! Filled with rice noodles, thinly sliced beef, bean sprouts and a side of basil, mint and cilantro, the broth is subtle yet flavorful, fragrant, delicate and well, delicious! For added flavor, I squeeze fresh lime juice into the bowl before mixing it all up. The accompanying plum sauce is absolutely divine as well, giving your taste buds just a little extra kick. It's no wonder every Vietnamese eats at least a bowl of pho a day! For $1 USD, you really can't go wrong with pho!

My love of pho and high regard for good puns led me to buy this tank top, which goes to show you just how much I love
pho if I'm willing to advertise it all over my front!

So these are my five favorite Vietnamese food in Saigon. What's YOUR favorite dish in Saigon?

© Connie Hum 2010

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Spotlight: SoloFriendly

Gray Cargill is the author of SoloFriendly, a solo travel blog, and The Vegas Solo, a website to help you plan your first solo Las Vegas vacation. She has been traveling solo for sixteen years and has visited more than sixteen states in the US and five countries. In her offline life, she works in the non-profit field and lives in Vermont.

1. What has been your best travel experience and why?

I guess I’d have to say my first solo trip to England was the best in some ways, because I learned so much from it, and it’s what served as the jumping-off point for future solo travels. It taught me that I could travel alone, that I could enjoy periods of solitude in a strange place, and yet also make friends along the way. It opened my eyes to cultural differences. It taught me to appreciate what I have. I learned as much from what I didn’t like about that trip as I did from what I did like. Every great travel experience I’ve had since then has been the result of the fact that my first experience gave me the confidence to travel alone.

2. If all your luggage was stolen but you could ask the thief to return just one item, what would it be and why?

My DSLR camera. It would break my heart to lose my vacation photos, and even though mine is a budget DSLR, it was still pretty expensive by my standards. I wouldn’t want to have to replace it.

3. There seems to be an undeserved social stigma to a woman traveling on her own. What
do you say to those naysayers?

If there is a stigma about women traveling alone, it’s generally fear-based, and it’s a person projecting his or her own fears and insecurities onto us. I’m sorry they feel that way, but it’s not going to stop me from going. My response is to usually question them about why they feel the way they do, and then respond to their concerns. But I think ultimately, the best response to the stigma about a woman traveling alone is be a woman traveling alone. The more we do it, the more people will come to accept it as the norm.

4. What do you look forward to most in your travels as a single female?

That’s an interesting question. I don’t think the things I look forward to have anything to do with the fact that I’m a single female. What I look forward to the most really depends on the destination, of course. I generally most look forward to seeing things I’ve always wanted to see, trying new experiences, and sampling the local food. I also look forward to travel as a means of getting away from my normal routine.

5. Okay, so HAVE you ever been placed in a dangerous situation while traveling?

Not while traveling alone. I’m pretty good at avoiding dangerous situations when alone. It’s always other people who get me into trouble!

6. What is the best travel advice you can give to someone considering taking a solo trip?

Do it! Yes, there are some drawbacks to solo travel, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. It’s a great treat to be able to do whatever you want at your own pace without having to worry about the needs of a travel companion. As long as you apply common sense, it can be as safe as any other activity in life. And if you are lonely, there are plenty of ways to meet other people when you travel, from staying in hostels or B&Bs to scheduling meetups with friendly travelers you’ve met online to taking an organized day tour—or just chatting up the person next to you at a restaurant counter or standing in line for a museum. To me, there’s just nothing sadder than hearing someone say they’ve always wanted to go to a particular place but haven’t because they have no one to go with. You don’t need someone to go with! Just go.

© Connie Hum 2010

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