George Town is the capital of the island and state of Penang, on the west coast of peninsular Malaysia. One of the most charming features of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is its well-preserved colonial core that boasts many restored shophouses dating from as early as the 19th century.

These lovely, often colorful, old buildings line most streets, creating a wonderful Old World character to the city. You will definitely find a mix of old and new, refurbished and diamonds in the rough. Here are a few of our favorites.

Our guide at the Tropical Spice Garden stops along the path to pick and crush a leaf. He hands it to us with a friendly challenge, “Can you name it?”. We breathe in the unmistakable sweet-spicy fragrance that we associate with the Thanksgiving desserts of our childhood. “Clove”, we respond confidently. “Very good”, says our guide. He points out the unopened flower buds on the tree and explains that those will become the dried, nail-shaped, spice that we see in the spice aisle at the grocery store.

When we were visiting friends in Ho Chi Minh City, we asked them to take us somewhere that our 8-year-old could run around and play outside. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we figured that we’d be happy with any open greenspace that had shade. We were very pleasantly surprised when we arrived at Van Thanh Park. It was huge, with over 13 acres of land and 6 acres of water. It’s a wonderfully green, tranquil, and well-designed space with plenty to keep both kids and adults entertained.

When we travel, we prefer to stay in vacation rentals whenever possible. It’s just more comfortable, it’s a better deal than a hotel, and it makes you feel like a “temporary local”. So, not surprisingly, we ended up renting an apartment in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City).

We found an apartment on Airbnb and rented from a great guy named Tram for our 6 night stay. 

VietnameseBBQ_4Some of our friends in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) took us to 5KU Station for Vietnamese BBQ. It’s a popular open-air restaurant filled mostly with locals, but there were a few tourists and expatriates there as well. Our table included all of the above.

The menu included both BBQ and hotpots. It was reasonably priced and varied. Tons of options from safe to adventurous. Diners have the option to cook their own or let the kitchen do it for them. I thought it would be fun to do it ourselves, so we opted to have the small clay pot grill brought to our table. This small table-top grill was filled with very hot coals, the real thing not charcoal, and then topped with a removable metal rack.

When we were visiting Ho Chi Minh City, some of our local friends took us to visit the Thien Hau Pagoda in Chinatown.

Also known as Chua Ba, this beautiful and popular Saigon pagoda was built by the Chinese in the early 19th century and dedicated to Thien Hau, goddess of the sea and protector of sailors. It is believed that Thien Hau can travel over the oceans on a mat and ride the clouds to save people in trouble on the high seas.

We have some friends from Portland that had plans to visit relatives in Saigon (the center of Ho Chi Minh City) at the end of June. Since we’d been hoping to visit Vietnam and we were already in Southeast Asia, we decided to meet them there. Our son went to school with their son. At the tender age of 8-years-old, Ethan is an intrepid traveler, but he does miss his friends. There was only one thing to do… Video Games in Saigon!

It was a bit overcast when we visited Wat Chedi Luang yesterday, but even with the cloudy skies, it was simply stunning. This was our second visit to this temple complex. The moment I saw it for the first time, I told myself that we’d need to return. Not only because the batteries on my camera had just died, but because it was the kind of place that overwhelms you with its grandeur and beauty.

Thailand is HOT! What better way to beat the heat than to treat yourself to some gourmet ice cream in a fun and creative setting? Iberry was established in 1999 by two brothers out of Bangkok. Their commitment to quality natural ingredients, development of more than 100 tasty recipes, and quirky design has resulted in great success. There are now 11 branches of iberry shops around Thailand.

If you’ve traveled in Europe and toured several cathedrals, then you probably noticed that after a while they all start blending together and your bar for “being impressed” keeps getting higher. Well, the same thing can happen when you’ve visited several wats (Buddhist temples) in Thailand. After a while, you see and appreciate the beauty, but they can all start looking pretty similar. That’s what makes visiting Wat Sri Suphan such a wonderful and unexpected experience. 

After our stroll through Chiang Mai’s Wat Kate area, we needed a place to cool off and rest. We happened upon the Vieng Joom On Teahouse and decided to pop in for a refreshing drink. What a wonderful surprise! The decor is beautiful and the selection of teas and drinks make for a perfect afternoon treat. It was a bit on the pricey side (for Chiang Mai), but that’s not surprising considering the location and the setting. We felt that it was definitely worth the splurge.

We decided to head over to the east side of the Ping River for lunch today. Afterward we decided to stroll through the Wat Kate Neighborhood, south of Kaew Nawarat and east of Charoen Rat.

If you spend most of your time in or near the moat or in the Nimman neighborhood, then this area will seem tranquil and green by comparison. You will find plenty of cute shops and restaurants to visit though. Here are a few things that caught our eye along the way.

Some friends took us to Khaomao-Khaofang Restaurant on Ratchapruek Road between Hang Dong Road and the Canal Road. The restaurant’s tag line is “The Imaginary Jungle” and that’s quite fitting.

Here you will find an open-air restaurant covered with a dome and landscaped with beautiful large trees, gorgeous tropical garden, waterfalls, ferns, streams, a carp pond and even a lake. The bathrooms are even decorated to feel like part of the outdoors.

We were on the look out for a delicious and affordable seafood dinner on the beach in Koh Samui, so we asked some locals We were pointed toward Bang Por Seafood (Takho) without hesitation. Like many of the simple family-owned open-air restaurants along the island’s ring road, the decor leaves much to the imagination but it has a certain charm about it. Bang Por Seafood (Takho) not only provides some of the freshest, most authentic Thai seafood dishes on Koh Samui, it provides a wonderfully beachy atmosphere and gorgeous sunset views.

A couple of our Thai friends offered to take us on day trip. We visited the beautiful Wat Phrathat Haripunchai temple in Lamphun, just outside of Chiang Mai. This temple is one of the most famous temples in Northern Thailand. The chedi is said to be built on the site of Queen Chamadevi’s palace. Construction on the chedi probably began in the late ninth century, but it was enlarged at the beginning of the 12th century.

We recently spent two weeks on Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand. The plan was to relax and spend time on the beach. That’s pretty much all we did… and it was fantastic. Here are reviews for the best beaches on Koh Samui.

Most people that visit Koh Samui stay in or around either Lamai or Chaweng, the two most popular beaches and the biggest tourist areas. Both beaches are lovely, but we also wanted to explore the islands “less visited” spots.

Chiang Mai’s “Chinatown” and Warorot Market are both worth a visit and you can do both easily in just one day. The Warorot Market, locally referred to as Kad Luang (big market), is located in Chiang Mai’s Chinatown district, so it’s a two-for-one. The market is comprised of a sprawling 3-story covered market as well as a series of street markets that spread out on both sides of Chang Moi Road and cover an area roughly between Ratchawong, Tha Pae Road and the River. It’s just north of Chiang Mai’s famous Night Bazaar.