Toilets in the outback were few and far between. After all, often buildings and people were few and far between. When they did come along, though, the toilets signs we saw had personality. With the exception of bathrooms around Uluru, the figures on the toilet signs were of white Australians, playing off of the ‘sheilas’ and ‘blokes’ theme. Maybe it was the image of the rough and tough outback explorer that sold well to the tourists, or maybe it was a deliberate political decision to ignore the original residents of those areas.
In northern Queensland, the toilet signs were typical.
Heading towards Alice Springs and Uluru, they began to gain more character.
Going north towards Darwin, the toilet signs were more tourist-oriented.
Although we had some delicious meals, sometimes the atmosphere was more noteworthy than the food. Other times, a calming cafe can be the perfect thing to break up the monotony of a long journey or offer a break from the hustle of a big city.
Here are our 6 favorite cafes that we visited in Southeast Asia.
Where: Hanoi, Vietnam Why: This eclectic cafe was beautiful in an mysterious way. Kind of like the way I feel about colonial architecture: it’s stunning and picturesque, but I just can’t shake the image of British soldiers beating Indians, for example. In this post I describe Cong Caphe as “uncomfortable grey area between historical knowledge and a Saturday Night Live sketch.” If that doesn’t ward you a visit, I don’t know what would.
2- Unknown cafe
Where: Hue, Vietam Why: Right after visiting Hue’s famed Imperial City, we stopped in this cafe for some refuge from the irritating mist (not quite raining, yet moisture isn’t letting you be). This cafe was our favorite not for the decor, but for two very important reasons: 1) A little nugget who gives gifts, and 2) insanely good lemon ginger tea. I don’t care about the cockroaches; there was no tea that compared to its crispness. Maybe they put MSG in it? Wait, is that insensitive?
The staff was open, friendly and accomodating, even given the language barrier. It was a stark contrast to the never-ending requests we got for us to buy someone’s product or take a cyclo ride. It was on par with being asked to ride a boat in Hoi An.
Where: Siem Reap, Cambodia Why: One day there will be a post without a mention of Sister Srey. We certainly couldn’t get enough of it when it was in our vicinity and now that I have free reign to write about whatever I want I certainly can’t stop talking about it.
Everything about this cafe (minus my doubts about the productiveness of training cafes) was perfection. The owners were present and clearly had excellent relationships with their staff. They were supportive and encouraging, and I loved seeing them interact. The food was spectacular, and the people watching was on point. Sitting at one of their picnic tables in the open air cafe, my sister and I watched street vendors, tourists, locals, motorbikes, bicycles, cars, and animals go past. It was the perfect place to write in a journal or just *be.*
Where: Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam Why: When I got a look at those floors, I knew I was going to enjoy my drink. At this cafe, instead of my usual tea or latte, I jumped at a chance to try a local brewery’s beer. I had Pasteur Street Brewing Company‘s Jasmine IPA. Since I’m not beer expert I’m not going to describe it for you, but I will vouch for it and say it was delicious. We sat on the top level in a wide, open room with the windows open. We felt the breeze and could hear snippets of life below on the street.
Where: Phnom Penh, Cambodia Why: Jennifer and I were greeted here by the very attentive and friendly staff. The bright atmosphere was calming. We sat at a table by the window and looked out onto the Tonle Sap river. We watched people pass, noticed the diversity of tourists and locals and watched the sunset. The green tea flavored cream puffs pictured above were delicious as well. This was a perfect cafe to reflect and digest our surroundings.
Where: Pai, Thailand Why: Although Pai was a relaxing town on its own, Cafe d’tist was an exceptionally calming place. Pictured above, Jennifer, our friend Patrick and I sat in a bungalow and savored a yummy brunch. It was cool, breezy and had a fresh scent. The wifi here was of exceptional quality and the coffee sharp. There was soft music that was low enough to create a mood and high enough to eliminate the silence. Their sugar packets had inspiration phrases on them (see one of them in this post).
This is how I feel when I’m so happy to eat food or drinks from one of these delicious cafes.
Featured photo: Happiness on the streets of Hanoi.
“It could be huge, or it could be nothing,” my driver said as he flipped through radio stations debating whether or not the snow would amount to what they said it would. “Depends on if you believe the mayor or the governor,” he explained.
I landed in JFK last Friday night, right as the flakes of the dreaded New England snowstorm began to fall. It was a miracle I even made it. “We’re not optimistic about it,” my friend Emily said referring to whether or not my plane would be able to land that night.
My flight from California was not one of the 13,000 cancelled as a result of snow. Winter storm Jonas, or “snowzilla,” as Wikipedia cheekily indicates, resulted in 30.5 inches of snow in New York City. For two days, residents had a travel ban and were advised to stay put.
Monday morning, things finally got moving again. I took my camera out and walked between 65th and 50th street from Lexington to 5th Ave. By midday, the snow had been plowed from the sidewalk and people were resuming their normal business.
The snow didn’t stop people from piling their garbage high above it.
The cold weather didn’t seem to make a difference whether or not people bought frozen yogurt. Or, it didn’t make a difference to its advertisers. Bikes made their way through the snow and slush faster than the fancy women in high heels boots tiptoeing around the puddles.
I couldn’t help but notice the absurdity of seeing a tanned, naked model in the midst of such a frigid, insufferable snowstorm.
During my walk through Midtown, I noticed a lot of older women in extravagant fur hats. Older men in wheelchairs were accompanied by caretakers of color and foreign nannies were telling kids not to run too fast or jump in the street.
Some of the women weren’t as elegantly dressed as others, but two older women I saw had color coordinated outfits. Perhaps they were going to yoga together.
While New York has colorful street art, the most provocative thing I witnessed in this neighborhood was a sticker that said #legalizeorgasms; I later discovered that it’s a marketing campaign by Foria, a company that sells “All natural cannabis infused sensual oil designed for female pleasure.”
Because normally humans eat at least three times a day (and we often eat more than that), we ended up trying a lot of different foods. We’re not Andrew Zimmern, but I’d argue we’re much more adventurous than your average twenty something North American “white girl.” We’re no experts, but we are hungry girls with a food blogger mother (see her blogs Yates Yummies and Oranges and Almonds) and lots of appetite.
Sadly, there aren’t many things that bring us as much happiness as a satisfying meal, and Southeast Asia had a lot of hits and misses for us. Towering highs and plummeting lows. Look at our 7 best meals of Southeast Asia, and please, do yourself a favor and visit the restaurants we ate them at. Don’t succumb to the pressures of a gag-inducing pho with a side of dripping spring rolls in a corner cafe in Hanoi. You’ll never forget the stain of red grease on your fingertips.
In case you’re dying to know, although we have a love affair with sticky rice with mango, it’s not included on this list because that’s technically a dessert. TBD, To be debated…
1 – Pad Thai
Establishment: Thip Samai Location: Bangkok, Thailand Why: Just go ahead and ignore the haters on trip advisor who call this establishment “overrated.” You’ve clearly never had to spend years getting the closest thing to Pad Thai you could at Noodles and Co. Paired excellently with fresh orange juice and lots of hot sauce. Fresh off the plane, we inhaled the pad thai and slept like babies afterward.
Establishment: Bun Dau Mo Location: Hanoi, Vietnam Why: Hot, fresh and delicious, this chicken hotpot made for a lengthy and relaxing lunch. The garlic, lemongrass, chilies and fish sauce all made for an incredibly flavorful experience.
3- Fresh and Fried Spring Rolls
Establishment: Góc Hà Nôi Location: Hanoi, Vietnam Why: This bright and cheery cafe in Hanoi had friendly staff and excellent service. The fried spring rolls were accompanied by a spicy dill dipping sauce and the fresh spring rolls had colorful rice paper. Although we didn’t order a huge quantity of food, we were quickly full.
4- Everything at Sister Srey
Establishment: Sister Srey Location: Siem Reap, Cambodia Why: Even though I discuss the ethical complications of being a patron at a training restaurant in this post, their food was some of the best I’ve ever eaten. Because we visited the restaurant so many times, we tried many dishes. Their “bowl of goodness,” filled with hummus, falafel and tabouli, mango chicken burger, and the detox salads were exceptionally delicious. Being there was also a pleasant experience. The staff was funny, friendly and inviting.
5- Chicken Shawarma
Establishment: Taste of the Middle East Location: Phnom Penh, Cambodia Why: I sadly didn’t get a picture of this dish, but you may remember this experience in this post about encountering refugees while being a privileged traveler. The welcoming Iraqi family invited us into their home and served us, with kindness, some of the best shawarma. It was exactly what we needed in that moment…when rice and noodles are just too much.
6- Laotian sampler plate
Establishment: Tamarind Location: Luang Prabang, Laos Why: Unlike avoiding Cambodian food in Cambodia, it was often difficult to find anything authentically Laos in the tourist areas of Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. Tamarind, a restaurant owned by an Australian-Laotian couple, prides itself on giving tourists education on Laotian cuisine and authentic food experience. We sampled fried, grilled, and fresh goodies pictured above. We ate sausage, stews, and lots of vegetables. It was spicy and satisfying.
7- Seafood and Entire Garlic Cloves
Establishment: Red Snapper Location: Koh Lanta, Thailand Why: Similar to the non-compliance of eating food native to place we were visiting we previously experienced in Cambodia, we suffered two bouts of food poisoning in Thailand and wanted something familiar. It took me a while to be able to eat red curry again. At Red Snapper, we sat next to the owner’s parents, two talkative and humorous Dutch folk. We ate giant shrimp, chorizo, and other tapa-style European favorites. Unfortunately, we didn’t take any photos of the excellent food. The food here was on the more expensive end, but well worth its price.
Noteworthy Bad Experiences
Because even though it’s important to focus on the positive, you’ve got to learn from your mistakes. Read: learn from our “mistakes.”
1- Love Strawberry Pai
In Pai, Thailand, we visited this strawberry-themed restaurant. I ate strawberry fried rice, which was good but I expected something more than just fried rice with dried strawberries sprinkled on top. I defied all odds and ordered it against our waiters insistence on having every order the pad thai. On a side note, my sister got food poisoning from there. And guess who didn’t…(but still got it somewhere else…).
2- Dried Octopus
In Ho Chi Minh, we were peer pressured into eating dried octopus dipped in chili sauce. Watch us discuss it in the video below. You just chew and chew and chew and chew… sounds like the time my friend Kourtney ate kangaroo.
3- The Pineapple Incident
After a meal in Hue, Vietnam, described as dismal at best, we went a little “wild” you could say and sprung for a flaming pineapple. After watching them struggle to make the pineapple flame up (all employees were rushing in and out of the kitchen for 10 minutes. We were the only ones in the restaurant), a thick slice of limp, gooey pineapple was delivered to our table. It was not worth $5. The pushy owner of our hostel had pushed (yeah, pushy people push) us into eating there. The depressing weather, cold and the restaurant’s proximity to our hostel made it an easy (but regretful) decision.
What were the best meals you ate in Southeast Asia?
Featured Photo: Khao Soi in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Another great dish but didn’t make the cut. Photo credit: Jennifer Yates
I am about to fly to Australia with Emirates. You know, the airlines that uses Jennifer Aniston in their marketing? The one with showers on board? They have a reputation. But a lot to live up to. I’ve already had a magical flying experience.
I was taking EVA Air from Houston to Taipei before transfering to Bangkok. When I checked in in Houston, I looked at my ticket. “Is this Hello Kitty?” I asked the flight attendant.”Yes, you’ll be flying in our special Hello Kitty plane,” she replied.
Excuse me? Is this the best day of my life? Have I always dreamed of this moment?
No, but it didn’t make it any less exciting.
I anxiously waited as the multitudes boarded the flight. I was one of the last ones on. I waited in a long line. Stopped in traffic, I had a great view of our festive plane. A woman burped loudly behind me as I took a picture.
The flight attendants were announcing information as I found my seat. The one speaking at the time sounded strikingly similar to Marcel the Shell.
I sat in my seat. I was in a middle seat, squished between an elderly man to my left and middle-aged man to my right. I think they noticed me sending selfies to my friends and family.
I curled into their amazingly warm blankets. I put on my pink slippers. I watched Bollywood and Korean films and was fed on no less than five different occasions. The highlight was the red velvet cake with cream cheese icing.
You may have already guessed I also frequented the bathroom. All pain from my bladder subsided as I walked into a pink wonderland of Hello Kitty mist, lotion, and soap, with Hello Kitty Dixie Cups and pink toilet paper.
If I had to take a 16 hour flight, I’m glad it was with you, Kitty.