Katie and I just wrapped up 19 nights in Hanoi. We visited for the first time almost exactly a year ago, but only for three nights. That previous visit was part of our first trip to Asia and our last vacation ever. At the time, I thought the city was totally crazy but also a lot of fun. It’s a cacophony of sights, sounds, activity, and traffic that’s both entertaining and intimidating. I assumed that a longer stay would allow us to explore at a slower pace, help mitigate some of the sensory overload issues, and be more enjoyable. I was wrong.
Tet is the most important holiday on the Vietnamese calendar and a very festive time of the year. The city of Hanoi, which can otherwise be somewhat drab, comes alive with color. Multiple parks are outfitted with freshly planted flowers. Brightly colored banners are hung. Displays are set up to celebrate the next animal on the Lunar New Year calendar. Locals dress in fancy attire and take family pictures by the lakes. And like every other new year celebration across the globe, there are booming firework shows.
A little over six months ago, Katie and I kicked off our nomadic early retirement by taking the long flight from the US to Thailand. That initial visit had us starting in Bangkok and moving south to explore three gorgeous Thai islands. Tourist visa restrictions meant that our visit had to end within 60 days, but the Thai people and their awesome food made a lasting impression. After spending four months traveling through Cambodia and Malaysia, we decided to make a return trip to Thailand. This time we headed north to spend a month in Chiang Mai.
Thailand is the king of the night market and Chiang Mai has perfected the art. There are night markets that happen everyday in different parts of the city, but the crown jewels are the Saturday and Sunday Walking Street markets. These popular night markets are filled with tons of food, clothing, jewelry, household goods, trinkets, art, and so much more. They are a fun (and delicious) way to spend an evening. I’ve put together a list of tips to maximize your experience if you visit or to just give you a taste of the experience from afar.
By any measure, 2019 was one remarkable year. We experienced such drastic changes that the beginning of the year almost feels like a whole different lifetime. The top among these changes was retiring from our jobs at the ripe old ages of 41 and 42. Even though we have only been retired for 8 months, it might as well have been a decade ago. It feels like forever since I stepped foot into a fluorescent lit office partitioned into cubicles. Part of the reason for this distance is that we completely uprooted our lives upon retirement. If we had stayed in the same place but just stopped going to work, it may not have felt as drastic. Instead, we not only quit work, we also sold everything we owned and got on a plane bound for Thailand. Lots of other things happened too.
Kuala Lumpur is a cosmopolitan city with a green twist. The downtown area could be mistaken for Chicago or New York at first glance. It’s full of tall buildings, trendy shopping, and plenty of traffic. Yet despite the gigantic skyscrapers of glass and steel, nature still exists here. The sidewalks often pass by huge trees that were here before there was concrete or asphalt surrounding them. The tropical climate means that everything grows fast while frequent rains keep things clean and green. It’s a city that was literally carved out of the middle of the jungle and it shows.
We left Malacca and arrived in Kuala Lumpur on November 19th. This timing meant that we’ve been able to watch the Christmas decorations go up around the city. Most office buildings and apartment buildings offer festive decorations for the season. They are nothing compared with the displays at the malls though. Even halfway around the world, the Christmas season is synonymous with shopping. Kuala Lumpur is quite a wealthy city, so there are plenty of malls around to decorate. Each one seems to be competing with the others for the best display. I’ve narrowed it down to three finalists.
Situated in the middle of Kuala Lumpur’s vast botanical garden is the KL Bird Park. It’s a gigantic free-flight aviary that is home to thousands of different birds. While there are a few cages in the park, the vast majority of the residents at the KL Bird Park are living in an open environment under giant netting. The most noticeable of these are the giant birds like storks, peacocks, and pelicans, but there were plenty of smaller flyers as well. We were in awe of the sheer number of birds flying and walking around.
On the surface, Malacca appears to be a great destination for us. Despite not being a large city, there are a lot of things to see and do. The historic downtown area is a UNESCO Heritage Site. It has a lively weekend night market. There are a ton of museums. But it seemed like there was always something a little bit off. Despite staying for a month, we were never able to settle into a local living groove and couldn’t wait to leave.
Historic downtown Malacca is filled with dozens of museums. Maybe it’s due to the fact that there are so many, but most of them seem to leave something to be desired. A lot of them are pretty small, which means the interesting parts (to me) were even smaller. Some of them are poorly laid out and hard to follow. It also seems like they all use creepy mannequins in one form or another. Or maybe they just suffer in comparison to the House of Museums. Despite the generic name and unassuming storefront, this private museum is the best Malacca has to offer.