2020: Year of the Rat

Today is the last working day of the Lunar New Year and it was difficult to get out of bed and go to work. Honestly, the office felt empty with most of my colleagues off to their hometowns for the new year celebration.

With a week long break, where are you guys off to?

If you’re staying in the city, might be a good idea to visit the Flower Street along Nguyen Hue. It’s interesting how the city government transformed the street into a garden featuring the Year of the Rat.  I’ve always been envious of the local women dressed in their ao dai having their photos taken along the Flower Street.

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The mousy rowing team is my favorite among all the installations.

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A mini orchidarium has been a staple in this yearly event.

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I really like the Rubik’s cube-inspired installation but am not sure how it connects with the Year of the Rat. It looks fun though!

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Here’s the Squeaky Ville.

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This area below looked a bit barren but am pretty sure this looks terrific during the night all lit up.

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Hope you all have an awesome Lunar New Year celebration! Chúc mừng năm mới!

Posted in Exploring Saigon | Tagged , | 1 Comment

5 Unique Souvenirs and Goodies to Bring Home from Hanoi

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Finding a memento to remember your Hanoi holiday by shouldn’t be hard in a city that is known for its quality souvenirs. From delicious edibles to delicate ceramics, there’s a perfect souvenir to add to your collection or give as a gift to a loved one.

Traveloka’s Hanoi travel combos are a convenient way to get into the Little Paris of the East, allowing you to save money on both flights and accommodations. However, before finalizing your travel plans, make sure you know exactly what to bring home! Here are some of our recommendations.

Ô Mai

Bring the taste of Hanoi back with you by stocking up on these delicious bite-sized snacks. Ô Mai are a popular local delicacy made with dried fruit. They can be sugared or salted, but also come in hot and sour flavors. What’s available changes depending on the season; it could be peaches or apricots in April or plums in June. Ô  mai made with cranberries are a hot commodity around the Tet season. Lemon, mandarin orange, tamarind, and jackfruit ô mai, on the other hand, are available year-round. They are often enjoyed with tea, which smooths and balances out the treat’s intense taste.

Certain kinds of ô mai are believed to possess medicinal properties and are often used as home remedies for common ailments. Apricot ô mai is taken to suppress coughs and soothe sore throats, like a lozenge. Citrus ô mai can be taken with honey and ginger to aid with symptoms associated with the common cold. For the widest seasonal selection, head to Hàng Đường Street in Hanoi, where you can find piles of these treats being sold out of numerous storefronts. They are easy to store and will keep for a long time, making them the perfect souvenir to bring home to your friends and family.

Vietnamese silk

Silk in Vietnam is still loomed by hand, guaranteeing a higher-quality product than those sold in other Southeast Asian countries. Silk scarves, handkerchiefs, and bed linens are available off the shelf in many souvenir shops and are an easy suitcase-filling choice. Head to Silk Street or Hang Gai Street in the Old Quarter for a wide selection of items to choose from. A good number of shops in the area also specialize in Vietnamese hand embroidery if you’d like your purchases to have a distinct personal touch. Certain tailors in Hanoi can also outfit you or the man in your life with a bespoke silk suit, given a lead time of at least 15 hours.

Keep an eye out for establishments where you can save by buying the fabric wholesale. Silk is usually sold by the meter, and you can then bring it to a dressmaker or tailor who can turn it into a custom shirt or áo dài for you. The Vietnamese national garment is also an attractive souvenir that any young lady would love to receive as a gift.

Coffee & tea
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Hanoi is Vietnam’s coffee capital, and it would be a shame to miss out on taking home bags of their famous robusta coffee and the implements that can enable you to replicate the memorable cups you’ve had during your holiday. You can buy expertly roasted and ground robusta or arabica beans from many cafés in the Old Quarter. It would do well to remember where you had your favorite cups and simply head back to those outlets, or go to reputable purveyors of fine coffees such as Oriberry, Highlands, or Huong Mai Café, the oldest roasting coffee shop in Hanoi. Don’t forget to purchase a phin or Vietnamese coffee drip filter for that perfect cà phê đá!Teas are also a popular souvenir item. In particular, lotus tea is a well-known Hanoian specialty. The lotus is Vietnam’s national flower, and its stamen is used to imbue high-quality green tea with an enticing lotus fragrance. You can buy it in bags or packed into beautiful gift boxes for your loved ones also at Oriberry or Huong Mai Café, or at specialty souvenir shops like Vui Studio near Hanoi’s Train Street.


Glossy lacquerware is one of Hanoi’s most well-known handicrafts, and artisans in the city have elevated its manufacturing into a fine art. Popular lacquerware items to take back home to adorn your home or to purchase as gifts include bowls, vases, decorative plates, frames, jewelry boxes, elaborate wall hangings and more.

Be sure to purchase lacquerware only from reputable vendors for the best quality. Poorly made mass-produced lacquer items can be found all over the city and can be bought for temptingly low prices. To make sure you don’t get a bead deal, head to Marena Hanoi, Tanmy Design, or Hanoia where high-end products are sold. Other handicrafts you may wish to look into include dó paper products and ceramics.

Vintage memorabilia

Reproductions of war-time posters used for propaganda purposes are a curiously popular take-home item in Hanoi, and you can find them being sold all over the city. Check out The Hanoi Gallery for framed reproductions painted onto rice paper, or Old Propaganda Posters and Thang Long Gallery for original posters dating all the way back to the French colonial era and the Vietnam War.

Vintage curios are common, too. The weekend-only Antique Market in the Ba Dinh District can yield old coins, trinkets, and other items that allegedly survived the war such as bullets, compasses, water canteens, and weaponry. Best steer clear of the land mines and grenades, but you may be able to pick up a vintage watch or spent lighter here that can be a good conversation piece back home.

When buying souvenirs, use your common sense and steer clear of items that are gimmicky and impractical. Conical hats are hawked all over Hanoi as a souvenir item, but do you really see yourself wearing them? Practice discernment and make things easy on yourself by stuffing your suitcase with items that are both meaningful and easy to pack instead.

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BCN Vietnam Benefit Concert: a night of music

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In 2017, one of my closest friends, Mariz was diagnosed with breast cancer. Little did I know, that I too would battle the big C soon afterwards. It has been over a year for Mariz but it’s just half a year for me.

Without Mariz, I think my fight would have been much more challenging. Mariz gave me the support that I needed throughout my whole treatment and her warmth and humor was a great comfort to me. Her resilience is a shining example of what I hope to be — not just in this fight, but as I live my life.

Join us on Saturday, November 30 for the BCN Benefit Concert happening at the SOMA Art Lounge in Thao Dien. Mariz’ sons’ Jeth and Jean Mark organized this as a thanksgiving event to honor their mom and to raise cancer awareness in the Vietnamese community.

All proceeds will be donated to the Breast Cancer Network Vietnam, a non-profit organization helping women (and men) in need of support as they fight breast cancer.

Send me a message for more details or would like to get in touch on how you too can help.



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Importing Personal Items And Household Items To Vietnam

by Jason Mueller, Guest Post

The beauty that exists in the landscapes of Vietnam is nothing short of breathtaking. Vietnam is positively booming with economic growth, rich culture, and friendly people. It won’t come as a shock to anyone when you tell them that you’ve decided to make the move, or that you’ve organized an extended stay.

Moving or vacationing internationally is stressful. There is no doubt about it. If you have a plan and a little help along the way, it’s possible to make it easier. Dare we say it might even be fun?

Traveling out of your country of origin is an adventure, sometimes a once in a lifetime event, and it should be treated as such. Soak up every second of it.

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Establishing A Timeline

The problem isn’t the move or the stay itself. That’s the exciting part! The issue lies in packing up everything you own to start your life somewhere else. Even if you aren’t planning to plant roots in Vietnam, the prospect of packing for a long stay can be overwhelming. How does one even go about doing it?

It’s questions like this, left unanswered, that keep up from following through on big plans.

Moving out of the country is a lot of work, to say the least. You’ve got a lot to take care of.

Chances are, you’re a tad bit concerned about the added “excitement” of your personal belongings failing to successfully make the trip with you. We can’t say we blame you. That would be awful.

Seeking help from a reputable and reliable international shipping company will make your life easier in almost every aspect of your move.

Start with a timeline. The idea behind a well thought out timeline is to keep your move planned, and as stress-free as possible. Knowing every step along the way will allow you to relax and enjoy your move to Vietnam.

Proper Documentation

Before you start packing be sure to know how long it’s going to take so you can plan your move accordingly. Contact Vietnam Customs and ask them if you have to be present at the time your shipment is delivered. This step is essential to your move going off without any hiccups!

Once you know if you have to be there when your things arrive, the shipping company you choose will be able to coordinate arrival times with you. They will take care of the details at customs, as long as you have all of your documentation in place.

Speaking of documentation, you’ll need a few things to make your move legal in the eyes of the Vietnam government. In order to move, you’ll need your passport, a Vietnam visa (which is not required in all situations), travel insurance, health insurance, ID cards, school documents if necessary and your debit card.

You do have the option of becoming a permanent resident of Vietnam, if you plan on staying awhile. There are rules and regulations that apply, so be sure to brush up on them so they don’t take you by surprise. Residency rules are different for every country.

Packing It All Up

You’re at the point now where you know exactly what you need to move or settle in to your extended stay, officially getting things in order. It’s almost time to start packing, so let’s talk a little more in depth about shipping companies.

Occasionally, a good shipping company can be hard to find. It can be incredibly time consuming to call and ask for quotes, but a reliable company will make your move that much better.

A majority of shipping companies will do an in home estimate of your belongings, so they can figure out what is coming along on the trip. The choice to leave something behind is completely up to you, but recreating home on a different continent is considered perfectly acceptable and normal.

Estimates done over the phone can be just as accurate, as long as you give honest answers to the questions asked. It’s not uncommon for estimates to change, because weight, items and billed time can fluctuate from the original estimated numbers.

Some estimates can also be done over the web, although they aren’t always the most accurate. The link here will provide some general ballpark quotes for moving to Vietnam.

The company you choose can advise you of what to expect. They’ll be honest and upfront about everything, numbers included.

If you’re moving, they’ll assume that you want to bring everything with you. While this might be the case, in preparation for a move, you might want to consider selling or giving away some of your things. This is a great way to lighten your load as well as make a little side money for your relocation!

Personal and household items are shipped to Vietnam via ship or air. The shipping experts that you’re working with will let you know which way your things will travel. Many companies use both methods, but it will come down to individual shipment cost and convenience for everyone involved.

It’s advised to always inquire about packages to make sure you’re getting yourself the best deal. Truthfully, it doesn’t matter how it gets there as long as it gets there on time.

If you don’t want to hit the pavement on foot everyday during your tenure in Vietnam, you will probably want to think about shipping your car. International vehicle shipment is incredibly easy if you’re using an experienced company.

Of everything you have to move, your car should be very high on the list of take care priorities. You’ll need it when you arrive at your new destination, completely intact and working, so choose with a trustworthy company that can boast great reviews and past client support.

Living In Vietnam

Once you arrive, you’ll never want to leave. The cost of living is fantastically affordable, and the ease of eating healthy is an extension of that affordability.

Living in Vietnam will open up a whole new world of travel to it’s new residents. Flights to places like Thailand and Cambodia are quick and easy on the wallet. There is no limit to what you can see, even on a very slim budget.

The people are kind, forgiving, helpful and welcoming. You will never feel like an outsider, from the second you step off your flight. Plus, Vietnamese coffee is delicious, and perhaps as rich as the culture. It’s also very caffeinated, but delicious.

When you live in Vietnam, you are never very far from the beach. The country itself is long and thin, and it sits on the coast. By car, the beach is just a couple of hours away from most places inland.

The economy in Vietnam is off the charts successful these days, and a wonderful place for many people seeking an entrepreneurship or start up. People are headed in droves to Vietnam for the financial freedom of success. It may not be imminent, but it might be just around the corner.

You Made It

Importing your personal belongings and household items to Vietnam is not anymore difficult than it is to transport them anywhere else, internationally speaking. Living in Vietnam is well worth the hassle, and we can say the same about an extended stay.

To reiterate, set yourself up on a timeline, get your hands on the proper documents and do any research necessary to land an incredible, helpful shipping company.

Assuming that you’ve arrived, belongings and car intact, let us welcome you! You will love every inch of Vietnam, from the delicious food to the vibrant people. Every day brings new adventures, new experiences and something beautiful to look at.

Posted in Exploring Saigon | 2 Comments

Food Trip: Benaras Club

Admittedly, am not too fond of Indian cuisine. The explosion of flavor in every bite gets my palate dazed and confused. But the husband is a big fan and so, I want to try what he likes.

There are a few choices in our district for Indian cuisine and we’ve never really ventured out in other districts to see what other Indian restaurants offer.  Enter Benaras.

Benaras Club is conveniently located just behind the Saigon Opera House along Nguyen Sieu St. in District 1. With it occupying 3 floors, Benaras offers space for fine dining, private dining, and casual dining/ lounge.

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We stayed in the private dining area and it was like a maharaja’s dining room. I was unsure if we could really eat off the plates here. But dined we did, and it was a memorable night.

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Ashutosh, the waitstaff assigned to us, gave us a traditional Indian welcome and even gave me a tour to the different dining areas.

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Benaras offers a wide range of North Indian dishes made only from organic ingredients. What is interesting in the way they cook is that they only use minimal oil. I remembered eating naan before and I’d have several napkins to wipe off the oil from my fingers Though I have to confess that I still used a whole lot of napkins at Benaras not because of the oil but because I have gustatory rhinitis (yes, I had to look that up) due to low threshold for spicy food. You can of course request the waitstaff to adjust the spicy-level of dishes you order.

We met with Benaras’ Managing Director, Nidhi Arora and gave us a taste of mouth watering dishes and a peek into Indian culture. We had a 5 course meal which included appetizers, soup, snacks, main course, and dessert.

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Aside from gourmet dishes, Benaras offers street food of India and home delights. The kebabs, naan, and the mutton were absolutely delicious!

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For dessert, we were served the betel leaf with rose petal jam and fennel.

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I enjoyed the sweet dessert served below (far right) made from semolina flour, nuts, raisin, and cardamom.

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I think my favorite would be Pani Puri dipped in tamarind sauce (below). Nidhi showed us how to eat it and it was really interesting — it was crunchy and chewy, sweet and savory. Am craving for it now as I write this. Haha! I think my boys would love pani too.

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Nidhi recommended the Frozen Paan which is a perfect drink when eating flavorful food. This cleanses your palate.

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Manuel tried the Kingfisher and he gave this two thumbs up. Nidhi imports this beer directly from India.

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I also took a peek at the casual dining area at the topmost floor and I loved the atmosphere of the whole place. It’s designed for diners to comfortably eat and chat. When I checked it out, there was a buffet ready for a group that booked the entire 3rd floor.

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There’s also a separate room for lounging equipped with a widescreen projector just near the bar – a perfect place to watch your favorite sport while of course sampling the variety of liquor offered.

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During weekdays, they have set business lunch offered and even do deliveries. You can check out the usual suspects — Vietnammm, Grab, and Foody.

Benaras is also located in Thao Dien and I hope to bring the whole family there next. I heard they have brunch till 11 am, have a Filipino band playing in the weekend, and is quite spacious.

If you’re craving for some Indian food, do visit Benares and let your taste buds do the choosing from their over 200 dishes on the menu.

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Enjoy Vietnam’s Coffee Capital By Visiting These 5 Da Lat Cafés

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Located high above the Lang Biang Plateau, Da Lat City is gifted with a chilly climate. This makes it a great place to both grow delicious coffee beans and enjoy a hot cup of the resulting beverage. Luckily, you won’t have a hard time finding and sampling a cup of joe, whether you’re staying in a modest guest house or perhaps somewhere fancier like the  Traveloka Luxe Hotel. However, if you want to truly enjoy what Da Lat has to offer for coffee lovers, then you’ll want to try the coffee from any one of the city’s five best cafés. Read on to know which ones you should go to.

One More Café
If you’re looking for a straightforward coffee-enjoying experience, go ahead and pass by One More Café along Hai Ba Trung Street. And if you’re environmentally conscious, you’ll be glad to know that they serve high-quality arabica coffee that’s been grown in sustainable conditions. The café also serves delicious English-style breakfast to help you start the day right. But if you’re looking to match your coffee with some sweet desserts, you can also check out their selection of cakes.

For coffee-lovers looking for a more unique café experience, BicycleUp is an ideal choice. Behind its lowkey façade hides a well-furnished Soviet-themed interior—complete with old Russian bicycles, cameras, schoolbooks, and other memorabilia. The old-school theme makes for a one-of-a-kind environment to enjoy the establishment’s rich-tasting coffee. And aside from the delicious locally sourced coffee, you can also order various teas and juices that represent the best flavors of Da Lat .

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An Café
If you want to drink your coffee from a great vantage point, then why not try out this rooftop café. Indeed, An Café rests high on one of the buildings along Ba Thang Hai Street. Along with its elevated location, this café is also decorated with many garden plants for a very naturally relaxing atmosphere, one that happens to go well with their rich and smooth café latte. Plus, you can have your coffee with some delectable dishes which have Central and Southern Vietnamese roots—all of which also feature organically sourced ingredients.

The Dreamer
If ever you find yourself in Da Lat’s old French Quarter along Tran Hung Dao Street, then go grab a cup of coffee at the Dreamer Café. It has a very intimate and very tasteful interior design, allowing for a very cosy time. They even have tables that offer a scenic view of the old Da Lat Railway Station. Aside from coffee and tea, they also serve a variety of smoothies if you’re looking to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Biang Bistro
Despite not strictly being a café, Biang Bistro serves some of the best coffee in Da Lat. And curiously, the establishment’s look has a mix of Thai and Indonesian Balinese design elements. The result is an eclectic yet relaxing atmosphere that you can savor while you’re having a cup of coffee, or maybe even when trying out their delicious meals. Indeed, they serve delectable latte that comes with a dash of cinnamon for added flavor. And if you’re hungry, their menu features a wide range of Vietnamese and Western dishes—along with some vegan and vegetarian options, to boot.

A hot cup of coffee goes remarkably well with Da Lat’s cool and relaxing climate. So, if you’re up for trying the best cups of coffee the city has to offer, make sure to check out the above establishments. With most them, you can even have a satisfying meal to go with your hot coffee.

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Have you tried Be?

With the frequent evening rains in Saigon lately, it became increasingly difficult to hail a taxi or even Grab. With Uber out of the picture and the fact that the price of Grab becomes enormously expensive during rush hours and rain hours, I had to find an alternative. Um no, still no bikes for me.

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Strangely, a Grab driver told me about Be. Well, it’s more like he reminded me about Be. Be launched sometime mid-December last year and yes, I’ve heard about it for a while but wasn’t too keen on trying it — until this month.

Downside is that it’s all in Vietnamese. I had my Vietnamese colleague help me register. After that, it was pretty much the same app as Grab. But am sure am missing good deals and other options since I couldn’t decipher the app fully. But am all good as long as I get from point A to B.

When I booked this morning from my place to work, I saved 80,000 VND compared to riding a Grab and 60,000 compared to a regular taxi. Does that even make sense? I mean why is Grab so expensive compared to a regular taxi? They should at least be competitively priced against a regular taxi fare.

The trouble is since most drivers are using multiple riding apps, am sure they’re checking the fare where they could get the most revenue. That’s why it’s not so easy to book Be.

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I downloaded Go-Viet too a couple of months back but it’s the same banana. It was in Vietnamese or was I missing something?

What ride-sharing app do you recommend?

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Dahi Handi: Authentic Indian Cuisine

Phu My Hung has become a mecca for those in search of a good meal. Amidst the Vietnamese and Korean restaurants, stands Dahi Handi bringing in only authentic Indian cuisine.

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Dahi Handi prides itself in only serving meals cooked to perfection by their top chef from India and his team of professional cooks.

Some of their signature dishes include Laal Maas, Mutton Dum Biryani, Mutton Rogan Josh, Paneer Tikka, Rahra Mutton, Dahi Ke Kebab, and Thandi Kheer.

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Enjoy these mouthwatering dishes and more only at Dahi Handi. Visit them during:

Breakfast : 8:30AM-10:30 AM
Lunch: 11:00 AM -2:30 PM
Dinner: 5:30 PM -10:30 PM

They also have an ongoing Happy Lunch Discount of 10% from 11 am to 2:30 pm.

Visit their website for more information on their menu, delivery service, and reservations. For real time updates, check Dahi Handi’s Facebook page.

Dahi Handi
48 Hung Gia 2, Phu My Hung,
Tan Phong Ward, District 7, HCMC
0917080044 – 028 5410 7955

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Bukchon Hanok Village

I’ve always been fascinated with traditional Korean houses called Hanok. I love wood so it’s amazing for me to see the harmonious combination of wood and brick in creating such a fascinating structure.

I feel for the residents in Bukchon as swarms of tourists visit their beautiful village. What all we could do was not make too much ruckus while admiring their homes. Am currently making plans to visit Seoul and possibly scoring an Airbnb in this area. Fingers crossed.

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From what I researched, typically, when building a house in Korea, there should be a mountain at the back and a river in front. This principle is called 배산임수 or baesanimsu. The Hanok style in the north are usually square with a courtyard in the middle while in the south, it’s L-shaped.

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I spied a cafe and a small art gallery in this area. Since I was with a group, I couldn’t openly explore the area, much less spend time to check out the gallery. Sigh.

Am definitely coming back here.

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Some tourists would come in the traditional Korean dress called hanbok and have their photos taken. Must be a great place to do prenuptial photos!

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There were signs on some homes asking tourists to be keep the noise down.

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The doors all looked heavy but interesting.

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I ofcourse had to stop by and buy postcards! They all look like mini works of art!

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Hope I find my way back here again.

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Cherry Blossoms at Yeouido Park

My first trip in two years was South Korea. It was unexpected and it made the trip more meaningful.

I was lucky enough to have gotten back to work after a furlough of about 10 months. And as soon as I got back, it was time for our office retreat.

Just sharing with you our first stop of our trip, Yeouido Park.

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I thought there was just too much hullabaloo on cherry blossoms in Seoul. So I wasn’t about to be amazed by it. BUT I couldn’t help it.

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I think I could have spent the entire day just looking at these enchanting blooms. My Korean Drama heart (yes! am into that too!) was happy!

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What perfect timing to come here in Spring and just walk under the shade of these delicate flowers.

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The only trouble was there were lots of people too so it was kinda difficult to get lovely shots.

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Needed some serious ninja skills to take photos without the crowd. But if you stay in South Korea in spring, there are actually lots of less crowded places to see the Cherry Blossoms. You might want to check this out.

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I can’t wait to come back with my family. Fingers crossed and toes too!

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