View from the top: EON 51 at Bitexco Financial Tower, Saigon, Vietnam

Cafe EON 51
Bitexco Financial Tower, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
http://eon51.com/cafe-eon/

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If there’s a better view in Saigon, I don’t know where you’d find it…

The day after we arrived in Saigon, we went out on a tour to see the Cu Chi Tunnel complex, and our tour guide was amazing. She was a young lady who spoke English particularly well, and as clearly very well educated. She told us so much, not only about the tunnels and the history of the area, but so much about life in Vietnam for the average citizen. One of the other things she told us about was the Bitexco Financial Tower, the big, shiny high rise in the middle of the city. She said it would give us an incredible view over the city, but not to bother paying to get up onto the observation deck; it was cheaper to just buy a drink each at the cafe on the level below!

While the drinks up there weren’t cheap (we paid around AUD$18.00 for a fresh coconut and a mango juice), it was still cheaper than the observation deck tickets (around AUD$12.00 per person), and gave us the advantage of being able to sit down in an air conditioned cafe and enjoy our drinks without rushing. And with the most spectacular view…

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If you’re visiting Saigon, this is definitely something to add to your to-do list, because seeing such a big city from that high up is pretty amazing! They also do food, coffees, cocktails and desserts, so you’ll be well catered for any time you decide to drop in – I feel like sunset would be pretty incredible up there…

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Through my eyes: The Yellow City of Hoi An

I read an article on Singapore Airline’s inflight magazine, SilverKris on our way to Vietnam; it featured some stunning photos by a photographer whose name I can’t now recall of Hoi An. He decided to base his photo series on the beautiful yellow shades of the city, which you can’t believe the brilliance of if you’ve never seen them.

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I may not be a professional photographer, but I know beauty when I see it, and did my best to capture the golden city through my own eyes (and watercolours)…

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My favourite Chicago eats

I had fun mentally re-eating all the good stuff I had in New York… let’s do it again!

This week, I’m going back to Chicago. Initially, I only agreed to add it to the itinerary because husband wanted to go; I really didn’t know much anything about the city, other than it’s home to the Chicago Bulls, and as children of the 90s/the Jordan era who both grew up playing basketball, that’s obviously our NBA team of choice. Other than that, it was a bit of a blank city for me.

After spending almost a week there over Christmas, though, my opinion changed completely; I loved that city. I can’t tell you why, either – it was just one of those places that felt good to be in. Beautiful buildings, the gorgeous river than runs through it, friendly people, and amazing food. The food scene reminded me a lot of Melbourne, actually, which may be one of the big reasons I loved it so much! We ate a lot in that week, and it was hard to narrow it down to the favourites, but here they are….

 

1. Do-Rite Donuts (donuts)
The food: A traditional buttermilk glaze
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The memory: Ohh I loved this place! Our first day in Chicago, it was cold like I couldn’t believe, and it was Christmas Eve! We were on our way to the Christkindl Christmas Market, and noticed a giant donut pointing the way to a cute little store. We grabbed a donut and some hot tea, pulled up our hoods and sat out the front in the cold to take it all in… a kindly old man sitting on the table next to us struck up a friendly conversation, and it was the most wonderful welcome to any city we’ve ever had!
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2. Au Cheval (diner, burgers)
The food: The Au Cheval cheeseburger with a fried egg; same thing everyone else was ordering!
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The memory: The wind was like little frosty daggers this day, and after a morning of sight-seeing, we couldn’t have been happier to get into Au Cheval and escape the cold! After much pre-trip Googling, Au Cheval’s fried egg cheeseburger seemed to be the must-try burger for Chicago, and it didn’t disappoint. We were lucky enough to get a seat at the counter where we watched the most well-oiled machine out together the most spectacular looking (and smelling) food for the Saturday lunch crowd; it was mesmerising, and really made us think of Chicago as a proper food city.
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3. Portillo’s (hot dogs)
The food: A Chicago dog. Obviously.
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The memory: Another day of walking and walking and more walking, we finally found ourselves in the neighourhood of a Portillo’s, and it was finally Chicago Dog time. I remember sitting on the second level of the restaurant watching over all of the happy people and families with their tables of dogs and fries, and thinking how lucky we were to have made it all the way across the world to enjoy something as simple as a hot dog, which so many people would completely take for granted!
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4. Billy Goat Tavern (burgers)
The food: Double cheezborger. No fries, CHEEPS! No Pepsi, COKE!
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The memory: This was another exciting one – we love watching travel shows, especially the ones that are food heavy. And on all of the travel shows about Chicago and food, the Billy Goat Tavern shows itself. We sat there in the crowded sub-street level diner with our burgers re-hashing the Bulls game we’d been to the night before, and talking about how long ago it felt that we were sitting on the couch watching this place on TV wondering if we’d ever actually get there…
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5. Lou Malnati’s (deep dish pizza)
The food: The Malnati Chicago Classic – sausage, cheese and vine-ripened tomato sauce. Simple.
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The memory: I know that “real” Chicagoans don’t do deep dish pizza, but to enjoy it, you just need to not think of it as pizza. It’s a quiche pizza hybrid. A quizza, if you will. This was one of the deep thoughts that was discussed over dinner, sitting at a high bench table, finally out of the -15°C cold. Sometimes we just act like kids…
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6. Rubi’s Tacos (street food – tacos)
The food: Pork tacos – amazing!!!
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The memory: Market and street food are two of my favourite things, and when we came across Rubi’s with a massive line, we figured we should probably join it – I remembered reading somewhere they did the best tacos. When we realised no one in the line was speaking English and there was no real menu, we figured a) we were definitely in the right place for breakfast and b) it was lucky I knew how to order pork tacos in Spanish. Sitting among the crowd, we stood out like green elephants, and really enjoyed feeling so out of place – that’s what travel is all about!
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7. Doughnut Vault (donuts)
The food: A vanilla glazed raised and a buttermilk old fashioned
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The memory: A tiny little place with the delicious smell of fried dough in the air and nowhere to sit – it felt just like being back in Melbourne! Another freezing day, we got there nice and early, grabbed our donuts and enjoyed them outside – I remember my butt being freezing against the cold concrete sidewalk we were sitting on, my fingers being sticky as all hell, and the two of us giggling like we were two kids who’d stolen a piece of birthday cake. Good times in Chicago! 🙂
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5 ways to make the most of that layover in Kuala Lumpur

2.1** Disclaimer: This post was sponsored by Traveloka, however all opinions contained herein are based on my own experience.

 

If you live in Australia and love to travel, chances are you’ve had at least one decent layover in Kuala Lumpur. It’s one of the bigger gateway cities for us Aussies on our way out to the rest of the world, and when you’re travelling on a tight budget, you can often find yourself with a few hours to kill before your connecting flight on to the rest of Asia or Europe.

As we’re starting to prepare for our next big adventure, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we planned for the first one; when we travelled to Europe a few years ago, we had the option of saving a few hundred dollars on our flights, with the compromise being a 14 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur. We were already going to be ticking 5 countries over 2 continents off our list, so we figured it would be a great opportunity to see a bit of the city and add another continent to the itinerary! When we told people we planned to do this, they all told us we were crazy; the standard response is to complain about the long mandatory waits, and here we were ready to take advantage of it instead (any exuse!). And with a little bit of pre-trip organisation, it’s actually not that hard to do – here are a few tips that helped us enjoy the layover…

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1. Book a hotel for the day
If you’ve saved money on your flights, the small amount of money you’ll spend by booking a hotel for the day will be more than worth it! If, like us, you’re arriving into the city around 7am and leaving after dark, having a hotel room is an absolute godsend; you’ll have somewhere secure to store your luggage for the day, and be able to have a shower and get changed into fresh clothes after a day out before you jump onto your next flight. You can book a room in Kuala Lumpur online with Traveloka with hotels a stone’s throw from the airport from as little as AUD$20.00 for a day – that’ll save the stress of finding something when you land!

 

2. Check the booking options
Some hotels cater specifically for layover guests, like the Plaza Premium Lounge KLIA 2; they have options for stays as short as 4 hours from AUD$65.00, as well as 6 hours, 10 hour and overnight bookings. If you’re only stopping over for a few hours, you may find that you can get a better rate on a 6 hour booking rather than an overnight booking. And money saved on accommodation is money to spend on shopping and food (roti bread… ohhhh roti bread…)!

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3. Check out the hotel facilities
Because the more that’s included, the easier the layover will be! A lot of hotels will offer things like airport transfers, wifi, luggage storage and 24 hour reception, and they make the world of difference when you only have a short amount of time to work with. Most hotels also have multi-lingual staff who are happy to help out, so it’s worth speaking to team on the check in desk to see if there’s anything going on in the city that may cause extra delays in getting back in time for your next flight.

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4. Public transport is your friend
It’s quick, clean, efficient, and definitely the easiest way to get around. The Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) website offers some good information on how to get around using the Express Rail Link, which connects the airport to the main city centre in under half an hour. Much easier than car hire or taxis!

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

5. Be realistic
You’re only there few a few hours, so be realistic about what you’ll be able to see and do! The best bet is to pick out a couple of things close to each other, so you can enjoy a bit of time in the one area without having to rush too much. We decided to head to the Petronas Twin Towers which were every bit as spectacular (blog link) as we’d imagined them to be. We also spent a bit of time wondering around the shops below the towers at the Suria KLCC complex, and relaxed by Symphony Lake for a while.

From my travel journal: Chicago 2014

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“Went for a little walk around the city in the afternoon, got something to eat and walked a little more. The city is surprisingly beautiful, unexpectedly so. I’d heard that it was an impressive city architecturally, but it is just really aesthetically pleasing to me. I can’t quite put my finger on it; the mix of beautifully old brick buildings and the super modern, the lake that the city centres around, the trees scattered about… I don’t know, it’s not traditionally beautiful like a Paris, but it has my attention and I’m a little bit in love with this city.”

Through my eyes: Melbourne, June 2016. Winter is coming.

Just a few recent snaps of Melbourne coming into winter this year. Because this city, to me, is at her most beautiful at this time of year; when you’re as likely to get clear blue skies with cotton candy clouds as you are the get misty, foggy days. When you see the cafes lit up with that gorgeous golden glow early in the morning to caffeinate the city workers. When the beautiful winter coats and leather boots start to appear on the streets’ catwalks and leaves the most stunning shades of red and auburn and orange and gold litter the footpaths. When the rain washes it all away and everything becomes clean and new again…

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Eat here: Burger Project, Melbourne (burgers)

Burger Project
Shop 2.05, Level 2, St Collins Lane, 60 Collins Street, Melbourne CBD
http://burgerproject.com/

You certainly can’t complain about a lack of burger options in Melbourne. We have a horrendous hot dog shortage, but we’re good for burgers. I wrote last week that my fellow burger buddy and I were going to try out Burger Project, and try it out we did.

It’s perched atop the newly fancied up St Collins Lane on Collins Street, and going up the elevators, it kinda felt a bit Crown-casino like – big, la-di-da chandelier lighting, security guards doing laps outside designer stores, and a lot of suit-clad businessmen.

Getting to the top of the building and into Burger Project central really didn’t do much for me – it felt so white and clean and sterile. But the menu looked decent; Burger Project prides itself on quality, with their philosophies centering around sustainability and community support. They’ve sourced an impressive list of suppliers, including Cape Grim Beef (36 month grass fed Cape Grim beef chuck and brisket for the patties), Lilydale free range chicken, and Murray River Salt. And Mr Perry’s reputation for the infamous Rockpool Burger is obviously helpful when establishing little side ventures like this.

So, our orders. She got the CHEESE (grass fed beef patty, cheese, onion, pickles, tomato, lettuce and secret sauce, $9.90). Unfortunately, didn’t quite hit the mark – she likened it to a fish and chip shop burger. She did enjoy the chocolate thickshake, though!

As for me, it was the AMERICAN CHEESE (grass fed beef patty, cheese, onion, pickles, secret sauce and rose mayonnaise, $9.90) plus bacon, $2.00). I liked mine more, with the pros being the outstanding pickles, great sauces, patty cooked medium and nice salty bacon.

But, there were flaws:
– Wayyyyy too much sauce = soggy bottomed burger bun
– Cheese wasn’t melted. You cannot present a cheeseburger with unmelted cheese. Inexcusable.
– You can kinda make it out from the photo below, but patty to bun size ratio was way off, which, after the non-melted cheese, is my next biggest pet burger hate. The patty needs to extend out to the bun perimeter. It just has to. But this one didn’t  : (

Points for service, though – quick and friendly. And the food has potential, but honestly, I expected a hell of a lot better. When you’re in the CBD and competing with places like Royal Stacks and Grand Trailer Park Taverna, you gotta lift your game! Nice burger, not crap, but not amazing.

Burger Project Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato