You know that feeling you get towards the end of a vacation—when you start dreaming of sleeping in your own bed, cooking foods you love in your own kitchen, and when things like ‘running errands’ sound weirdly appealing. Well, when you’ve been traveling for five months, that feeling comes and gos on the regular. And it becomes especially apparent when travel conditions are less than ideal. Like, say, riding for twelve hours on the world’s shakiest train, or staying in a town with customary 8-hour power outages, or eating rice for every single god damn meal, just to name a few.

Although Bali isn’t anything like the home I know, there’s something semi-familiar about it. It’s easy, and comfortable, and accommodating. It’s also the place where I met up with a very familiar travel companion: my adventurous momma.


It seems there are four things that make up a pretty great vacation: Fun people, lots of adventure, relaxation, and, of course, good food. If you know my mom, you know we can tick off the first credential. I think it’s safe to say we checked the other boxes as well, but I’ll let you be the judge.


Before I flew to Bali I was in Myanmar for a month. Myanmar food is very interesting and actually quite good. But nearly everything is greasy and a base of either rice or noodles. The same was more or less true in Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam. So, as you can imagine, my tolerance for rice and noodles was wearing thin.

When I first arrived in Bali I almost felt guilty ordering non-Balinese food. Food is such a huge pillar of a country’s identity and when you opt for familiar western food in these foreign places, it feels like you’re missing out on a huge component of their culture. But when the thought of eating yet another bowl of fried noodles is nearly nauseating, missing out on a little culture becomes more and more palatable.

On Mother’s Day, my mom and I had dinner on Sanur Beach and split a seared tuna steak served with a simple cream sauce. A supper club-style dish. Nothing groundbreaking, but simultaneously, perfect.


We also each ordered a big salad. This was the first “real” lettuce salad I had in months. Back home, I think I eat salad 4-5 times a week, at least. I’m not talking about little side salads, but hefty, filling medleys, packed with beans, cheese, eggs, sometimes meat, roasted vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Man, I really miss those salads.

This untraditional ceasar was a suitable substitution. Again, I can’t say there was anything particularly special about it, except for the fact that it was exactly what I was craving. Fresh crispiness. Nothing fried. No rice or noodles in sight.


Little did I know that this salad would serve as a gateway drug leading to a temporary lettuce addiction. Take this seared tuna salad, where the tuna resembled a pork chop, both in appearance and texture. A very meaty piece of fish.


And then there was this rainbow bowl. Equally delicious and Instagram-able.


Let’s not forget about this tempe bowl topped with an egg and entire avocado.


Or this simple, salad-like burrito bowl. Hard to screw this up.


And last, but not least, this tuna carpaccio served alongside a cheese-filled-pasta salad. Ok, this one doesn’t really fall into the salad category, but let’s pretend.  


In between this salad daze, we even managed to fit in a few traditional Balinese dishes. Here’s proof.

“Babi guling” or suckling pig from Anthony Bourdain-approved Ibu Oka in Ubud

“Babi guling” or suckling pig from Anthony Bourdain-approved Ibu Oka in Ubud

Cart corn at mystery festival we stumbled upon

Cart corn at mystery festival we stumbled upon

Buffet of local flavors

Buffet of local flavors

Fried rice with styrofoam-like shrimp chips

Fried rice with styrofoam-like shrimp chips

It probably goes without saying, but the “great food” component of a vacation also includes great drinks. Or even just decent drinks, but enjoyed in a great setting. Bintang is the Balinese beer of choice. It’s not great. But when you’re drinking it steps from the ocean with Mount Agung on the horizon, it magically tastes delicious.


“It’s Bintang time somewhere” became a common term of phrase.  



My mom and I’s first major excursion was to Nusa Penida, a 45-minute ferry ride from Bali. It’s a fairly undeveloped island, best explored by scooter.

The most extreme activity we did on the island, or maybe even on the whole trip, was a snorkeling tour. Yes, that’s right, the most extreme thing we did was snorkel. But hear me out. The boat ride alone was rough, with massive wave after massive wave. Our first stop was Manta Bay, with crazy choppy water. The boat stopped and the “guides” dumped us off with no information, no lifejackets, and no indication of how long we’d be there. There were probably 12 boats in the bay, each with eight or so snorkelers. It was impossible to keep track of your boat, let alone your group.

I did get to see a couple manta rays gliding by, which was pretty awesome. But a bit difficult to enjoy while you’re gulping down mouthfuls of saltwater, trying to spot your mom somewhere in the sea of snorkels.

I took one photo that day. Although the rest of the stops were much calmer and more pleasant, I was focused on keeping my breakfast inside my body.


After the (admittedly overdramatized) snorkeling event, something more low-key was on the agenda. And we certainly found it at Atuh Beach. My favorite place on the island, for obvious reasons.


That crystal clear, turquoise water and craggy cliffs are what paradisiac dreams are made of. We hiked down to the beach, relaxed and swam for an hour, and then hiked up the other side. The views, in every direction, were incredible.

A close second to Atuh Beach was Tembeling Beach, which was less of a beach and more of a steep hike to some picturesque freshwater pools.


Even the ferry ride back to Bali was an adventure. The boat was busy so my mom suggested we sit on the exposed tail. The joke was on her. The five-engine-speed combined with the enormous waves and runoff from the roof resulted in a mini monsoon, with the edges of the boat getting the brunt of the storm. I couldn’t stop laughing. It started as a little splash here and there and by the time we got off the boat Mary was drenched from head to toe.


Back on the main island, we stayed in Ubud for a few nights. If you’ve ever read or seen Eat Pray Love, you know of Ubud. But the Ubud we experienced was not the same place where Elizabeth Gilbert fell in love. The Ubud we experienced was packed with people and Polo shops. It was less of a zen oasis and more of a chaotic clusterfuck.

We did stroll around the city, enjoyed some meals, and did a bit of shopping. But the best parts of Ubud were the trips outside the city. For our first stop we headed north to the Tegalalang rice terrace. Touristy, yes. But undeniably beautiful. And the further you walk into the terrace, the less selfie sticks you see.


While we were scooting to our next stop, a Balinese guy named John pulled up next to me and mouthed the word, “police.” Obviously, this was intriguing, so we pulled over to get the rundown. He said there were officers ahead who were checking for international driver’s licenses and giving tickets to tourists who don’t have them, like us. But, conveniently, John and his family own a coffee plantation and it’s just ahead, right before the police sting. We could go for a free coffee sampling and by the time we’re done, the cops will be on lunch break.

At the time, we were so appreciative of this guy’s concern and kindness. But now it seems so obvious that we were tricked into buying his shitty, quite literally, weasel coffee. Oh well. The coffee tasting itself was pleasant and, if we pretend there was any truth to his story, we avoided a ticket.


Full of more sugar and caffeine than any human needs, we hoped back on our scooters and headed to Mount Batur, an active volcano with its most recent eruption happening in 2000.


It almost looks like a shadow, but the darker section of the mountain is actually a lava flow. I’ve never seen anything like that before and found it very cool.


We also made our way to Besakih Temple, the largest Hindu temple in Bali. I’m going to practice the golden rule of ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all’ because I’ve grumbled enough in this post. So, here’s a picture, and the only thing I will say is that for a religious tour, there was a lot of dishonesty involved.


One of our last and most beautiful excursions was to Nungnung Waterfall. Getting to the waterfall requires trekking down many sets of steep, stone steps. This is usually a good indication that the attraction will be beautiful and relatively unoccupied. And it proved true at Nungnung. The area was dewy and green. The sun came streaming through the trees. And it smelled very alive, healthy.


We brought our swimsuits with the intention of taking a dip, but the water was chilly and the mist kept us cool. But that chill quickly disappeared as we started the climb back to the top. And lucky for us, we got to the top just as it struck Bintang-time.  


The last component of a great vacation is relaxation. My favorite “do nothing” day was at a beach in the small port town of Padangbai. To get there, you hike along a rocky path just on the outskirt of town. If you see cows grazing, you’re on the right track.


The end of the path opens up to a small white sand beach and big aqua sea. There are a few little huts selling food and drinks and a handful of other tourists lounging in the sun. The occasional, big rolling waves made it so fun to swim here.


And, like everywhere in Bali, there were relentless locals selling knickknacks and massage services. Here, Wayan tries to convince my mom she needs a locally made coconut hair oil. He made the sale, although sealing the deal took a little caressing.


On our final days in Bali we stayed in Uluwatu, a popular surfing community. Along the coastline there are a bunch of different beaches to explore. We’d leisurely cruise around, stopping for a swim, snacks, and San Miguels along the way.


And as the day wound down, we’d find ourselves perched at a cliffside bar or seaside restaurant where we’d watch the sun go down over the Indian Ocean.


It takes a very long time to get to Bali from the United States. It’s an expensive flight. And traveling to a country, let alone a continent, you’ve never been to isn’t easy. But my mom was willing to do all of these things to have an adventure with me.

Countless times on the trip we would be talking to a local, usually as we were hiking up a set of impossibly steep stairs or renting an under-serviced scooter, and they’d say something along the lines of “strong momma.” It always made me laugh, but they were right. She is a strong momma. In more ways than one.

AuthorMolly Streuli
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Newsflash: Southeast Asia is hot, hot, hot.  

But it turns out Northern Thailand in April is the exception to this rule. Because it’s not hot. Northern Thailand in April is a smoky, sweltering, fiery furnace that likely makes hell feel temperate. And this is coming from someone who genuinely likes the heat.

You’d think this environment would call for smoothies and salads. Forget that. The people of Chiang Mai walk to the meat, I mean, beat, of their own drum.


One of my favorite Portland restaurants is Mee-Sen Thai—a funky little noodle shop—and my favorite dish on the menu is Khao Soi. So, when I discovered that Khao Soi is one of the staple dishes of Chiang Mai, I was excited, to say the least.

I tried it at a few different places in the city, with my favorite bowl coming from Khao Soi Lam Duan – Fa Ham. It seemed both creamier and spicier than most of the other shops I visited. The tender chicken leg nestled in the soft noodles, then topped with crispy fried noodles. Textural bliss, baby.


But my favorite part of Khao Soi is the pickled cabbage they serve on the side. A nice, sour contrast to the heavy, savory dish.


Just down the road from Fa Ham, is an unassuming street stand serving some very traditional dishes. I ordered the larb by recommendation. Larb, by definition, is a “meat salad,” which seems like an oxymoron. A rich, spicy oxymoron, best served with cabbage and cold beer.


I can’t say this is the best larb I’ve ever had, but it’s likely the most traditional. The flavor was deep, earthy. I think I prefer a brighter, more acidic take. But it was tasty, nonetheless. And the setting was imperfectly perfect.



I have a complicated relationship with chicken wings. A weird thing to say, I know. Sometimes I think they’re the most delicious food in the world and other times I’m totally disgusted by them. I guess like with most things, the quality of ingredients and the way they’re prepared makes all the difference.

Judging by the before and after pictures, I’ll let you decide how I felt about these particular wings.

I also ordered a plate of vegetables in an attempt to be healthy. But they came floating in a sweet, sticky sauce laced with pork belly. Oops.   


I never would have ventured out to the Rice Barn if it wasn’t for a recommendation from a food photographer I met a few years ago. Hot tip: Always take food photographers’ restaurant recommendations. The Rice Barn is a peaceful little oasis outside the city. And it convinced me that the world’s best breakfast may be a bowl full of stewed meat served alongside a plateful of smoked meat.

What I remember most about the pork stew is the tang and the texture. It was the perfect amount of sour and it fell apart in your mouth. The sausage had the ideal distribution of fat, herbs, and chili. And it was spicy. Really spicy. Especially when you’re sitting in the sun on a 95 degree day.

Are you sweating? Me too. Now if only there was a way to cool down…


When I booked my ticket to Chiang Mai, I was completely oblivious to Songkran, Thailand’s New Year. Upon arrival, I was quickly enlightened by locals, but it’s one of those things that you have to see to fully grasp.  

Every year from April 12 to 16, Thailand turns into a water war zone. The act of throwing water is to wash away the bad luck; a well-wish for the new year. It’s a religious holiday, with many traditional activities taking place, but for tourists and locals alike, it’s a massive party. Everyone gets involved.  


Earlier that week, while motor biking the Mae Sariang loop, I met two very fun British guys, Adam and Brandon. We deemed ourselves B.A.M. M.C. (motorcycle club) on the road and thankfully this partnership continued into the festival. I don’t mean to be insensitive, comparing Songkran to a war zone, but there are some definite similarities. Chaos. Confusion. And ambush can happen at any moment, like when you’re trying to snap a photo.


In these situations, it’s great to have a team on your side.  



After two days of Songkran craziness, I was especially looking forward to quiet, friendly Myanmar, my next destination. But when I arrived in Yangon, it seemed the peaceful, Buddha-loving Burmese had been replaced by EDM-infatuated party animals. Thingyan, the Myanmar New Year, had just begun.

Thingyan gave ‘soaked to the bone’ a whole new meaning. It was like Songkran on steroids. One thing I quickly discovered is that when you’re one of the only light-haired, light-skinned women in the city, you are walking around with a target on your back. The first day I ventured out to find coffee and in three minutes was ambushed by a group of young boys armed with buckets and hoses. In three minutes, I went from dry to drenched. 

And that was just the beginning. I eventually made my way to the main celebration area, arriving in disbelief; both of the size of the celebration and the state of my wet rat appearance. Although it was incredibly overwhelming and chaotic, it was impossible not to smile. The people of Myanmar seem to live for this holiday and the joy it brings them is contagious.

After a couple hours and bucket #784 was dumped on my head, I began to make the journey back to the hotel. Along the wet walk, I miraculously stumbled upon a beautiful little street that looked relatively dry. Like a life preserver for a drowning tourist.

As I neared the end of the street, where I’d be shot back into the war zone, a heard someone say “hello” and “beer?” Music to my ears. I turned around and was welcomed by a group of seven or eight smiling men sitting on plastic chairs in the street. I sat down, they poured me a glass, and offered me snacks.


One of the men spoke a little English, but I understood less than 10%. It didn’t matter. We drank and laughed until the sun went down. When my clothes were finally dry and the festivities seemed to have settled, I decided to head home. And just as I got up to leave, I felt that all-too-familiar rush of water down my back accompanied by a smile and the words “happy new year.” A parting gift. I said “happy new year” (although I would have preferred to say something else) and walked home, trying to remember that the water is intended as a gift. 

If this splashing really does rid bad luck, consider me the luckiest person alive.

AuthorMolly Streuli

Vietnam is refreshingly practical. If someone needs to bring twelve cases of water across town, they (defy the laws of gravity and) load up twelve cases of water on to their motorbike and drive them across town. There’s no search for a larger vehicle, corralling a crew to help, or coordinating pickups. They just get it done.

When things are broken, they fix them. When things aren’t broken, they don’t fix them. And when they’re tired, they take a nap, even if it’s behind their convenience store countertop or in the bowels of an incredible cave.

Pairing perfectly with this practicality is the Vietnamese sense of playfulness. Vietnam radiates fun and it’s infectious. These people have fully grasped the concept that life is too short to spend it stressed. I’m no expert, but I think it would be really difficult to have a bad time in this country today.  

After writing this post I realized I used the word “fun” about eight thousand times. Instead of pulling out the thesaurus and tossing in “enjoyable,” “merry,” and “pleasant,” I decided to make them bold as an enthusiastic punch that this country so deserves. Because Vietnam isn’t “enjoyable,” or “merry,” or “pleasant.” It’s raw, and rough, and a good ‘ol fashion barrel of FUN

Really this “guide” could be condensed into three words: Go to Vietnam. But where’s the fun in that? So, here are a few key measures I took that resulted in a pretty incredible month in this Southeast Asian Wonderland. 


Reuniting with a friend always seems to give me that “this is what life is all about” feeling. The reminiscing, the laughs, the familiarity—sort of unbeatable. Now pair this with the insanity that is Saigon and you’ve got a lethal recipe for a fun time.

On my last night in Ho Chi Minh, I stayed with my high school friend, Miah, and his awesome girlfriend, Kelsey, in their beautiful apartment in the outskirts of the city. A couple years ago they decided to shake things up: They sold all of their belongings in California, got English teaching certifications, and moved to Vietnam. Uprooting yourself and moving to a foreign land is no easy task, but these guys make it look like child’s play. They’re not just living in Vietnam, but totally thriving in their new environment.

We started the night with some craft brews at one of their go-to spots before making our way to an outdoor seafood restaurant. We ordered big bowls full of cockles, one in a creamy coconut broth and another in a sweet, sticky sauce. Plus, a massive, expertly grilled fish.

Although it was tempting, we passed on this alien-sized lobster and instead ordered another round of beers. 


We ended the night with drinks on the rooftop of their apartment building. The climb to the top was an adventure in itself. (Have you ever tried climbing a ladder with a glass of red wine?) 

Before meeting up with Miah and Kelsey I hadn’t seen a familiar face in over two months. Hanging with them was crazy fun, but also very comforting. I think it’s true when they say there’s no place like home. But when you’re not quite ready to go home, there’s nothing like hanging with your homies.


I met Blas drinking beer and eating spring rolls in Ho Chi Minh. And this likely set the tone for our nearly-month-long-eating-drinking-expedition up the country together. I’ve met loads of really nice, friendly people on this trip. But I wouldn’t use either of those words to describe Blas. Sarcastic, assertive, and goofy seem a bit more appropriate. As it turns out, sarcastic, assertive, goofballs make pretty killer travel partners.


Over the last couple months, a lot of people have asked me what it’s like to travel alone. Most of the time, I really, really love it. Traveling alone puts you out of your comfort zone and into situations that you may not otherwise experience when traveling with others. It’s empowering and leaves you feeling extremely capable.

But traveling with Blas reminded me how much fun it is to travel with someone else. In a way, it allows you to relax a bit more, to breathe a little easier, and to just enjoy the ride. For instance, motor biking through a huge thunderstorm and taking cover under a random house’s garage alone would be pretty stressful and scary. But motor biking through a huge storm and taking cover under a random house’s garage with someone else is fun and thrilling.


Appreciating a new culture alone is great. Independently seeing some of the most beautiful landscapes of your life is also great. But there’s something very cool about sharing these experiences with someone else. Someone who is simultaneously observing and absorbing these same unforgettable moments.

So, next time you find yourself alone in Vietnam, keep your eyes peeled for an Argentinian travel buddy. Bonus points if they’re hilarious and always up for an ADVENTURE.


When I arrived in Vietnam I had no intention of renting a motorbike. From what I heard (and saw) scooting around the streets, especially the metropolises of Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, seemed dangerous, stressful, and difficult. I’ve ridden a scooter plenty of times before, but when you see that massive wave of two-wheeled, metal machines coming towards you, the last thing you want to do is dive in.

When I flew into Ho Chi Minh my plan was to take a series of buses up the country, ending in Hanoi. But after one motion-sickness-inducing van ride, another last-minute bus cancellation, and a long-delayed flight, I opted for a more hands-on transportation method: the motorbike. This was, by far, the best decision I made in Vietnam.


Riding a bike not only gives you more travel freedom, but it also allows you to experience the more conventional or overlooked parts of the country. Some of my favorite moments in Vietnam were biking through small towns and villages, with farmers working the rice fields, cows grazing in the ditches, and kids playing in the streets, many of them throwing you the peace sign. The nuances of everyday life.

One day, around the golden hour of 4pm, on the ride from Cat Ba to Hanoi, we took the longer route to avoid the busy highway, and ended up driving through a small village just as school was getting out. Uniformed kids were flooding out of the school yard, this song was playing in my headphones, and it was, in every sense of the word, delightful. A small slice of Vietnamese life that, for whatever reason, I was lucky enough to experience.

Each day I felt more and more confident on the bike; dodging stray dogs, weaving around potholes, and passing dirty, dusty delivery trucks. When we finally arrived in Hanoi, after nearly a month and 500 miles on the road, I felt at least a quarter as cool as the locals.

Although driving a motorbike may not be the safest way to explore Vietnam, it is, without a doubt, the most fun. If you don’t belive me, just listen to the Queen.


Every morning (and mid-morning, and afternoon, and early-evening) felt like a great time to treat myself to a Vietnamese coffee. I’ve always stuck to black coffee, but Vietnam introduced me to the dark side. Or should I say, the milky brown side? The strong, dense, bitter coffee paired with thick, sweet, custardy cream is a match made in caffeine heaven. Especially when the ratio is roughly 50/50.

On hot afternoons, you’d toss in some ice and, presto chang-o, you’ve essentially got a milkshake.  

The Vietnamese café culture is the best I’ve ever experienced. There’s roadside stands, hip, westernized coffee shops, fun hidden reading nooks, garden oases, and everything in between. Amazing settings to relax and refuel.

Hidden Elephant Books & Coffee, Ho Chi Minh

Vietnamese Egg Coffee


Unlike almost everywhere else in the world, the Vietnamese don’t just order a beer or two with their meal. They order a case or two for the table. And as the night goes on, and they begin to make a dent in the box, they toss each can under the table. Like putting a notch in their belt; commemorating each cold, canned accomplishment.

On our way to Ninh Binh, Blas and I stayed in a sleepy, little city called Thai Hoa. We went out in search of food and came across a garage/community center/beer garden structure filled with, what seemed to be, the entire town, all with their eyes towards the projected screen (Thailand v. Vietnam soccer match. Vietnam won!). The place was radiating fun.

We walked in and, despite being the only tourists in sight, were warmly welcomed. One very friendly, semi-English-speaking man came over and helped us order. We thought we were getting rice with chicken and a couple beers. What we actually got was boiled peanuts, kimchi, round, toasty cracker things, an entire chicken, complete with head and feet, dusted with powdered sugar, an extra-large bowl of rice with bits of vegetables and sausage, and A. Case. Of. Beer.

Their confidence in our beer drinking abilities was both confusing and flattering. We came to find out that many restaurants will serve you a case at the table, you drink what you want, and then, when it comes time to pay, they charge you based on what’s left. An effective, efficient system. Extremely practical people, remember?  


The alcohol and sugar help with this step, but to really bulk up I’d suggest adding a heavy regiment of meat and carbs into your Vietnamese diet. Whether that’s a big bowl of noodles, a greasy, pork-filled sandwich, or both; the choice is yours. I, of course, went with both. On any given day, it wasn’t unusual to eat eggs with toast, a banh mi, some sort of salty, crunchy snack, maybe another banh mi, a noodle dish, and ice cream. I mean, when you drink like the Vietnamese, you’ve got to have a solid food base, right?

Fortunately, I found most Vietnamese food to be very fresh and bright; lots of crisp herbs, simple sauces, and semi-lean meats. So, although I ate a lot of food, it was a lot of real, whole, healthy-ish food.

It seems fitting that the first thing I ate in Vietnam was a bowl of pho. I don’t know if it’s the national dish, but it may as well be. It’s eve-ry-where.

I’m a sucker for a big bowl of brothy noodles, but I can’t say pho is my first pick. I tend to prefer something creamier, like ramen or laksa. Something a little less healthy, I suppose.

Or something filled to brim with plump, porky dumplings. Like this beautiful bowl that Miah and Kelsey introduced me to. The perfect breakfast after a night of rooftop libations.

And the best part is that it was served with a couple little surprises: A tiny tray of assorted dumplings and a love poem titled, Love Poem, revealed to you as you slurped away the salty broth.

Another great breakfast dish was this noodle bowl topped with grilled meat and thick, salty peanut sauce. Served from this ever-so-unassuming stand in the alley.

In general, that seems to be the Asian Golden Rule: The less flashy the establishment, the tastier the food. Another great example being this meal of fried rice and stir fried bok choy and beef. We ate this somewhere in between Cat Ba and Hanoi with mother and daughter duo manning the kitchen in perfect unison. You could tell they’d been doing this since the now-adult-daugher was a little girl.

Although it looks modest, I think it was one of the best things I ate in Vietnam. It was savory, sour, a little sweet, earthy, but fresh. Simple food done very, very right.

And I don’t think I can talk about Vietnam without talking about the banh mi. These small, pillow-y pockets filled with assorted meats and vegetables are addictive. I had too many to count, but these ones were particularly tasty. So much that I ate three of them in less than twenty minutes. (Have to uphold that over-consuming-American persona, ya know.)

These were perfectly toasty and greasy, stuffed with spicy ground meat, cucumbers, and sprigs of cilantro. And they were served alongside a little jar of garlicky vinegar that added a perfect splash of acid.

Again, they were from a completely random roadside stand. Essentially a family’s home, with an impromptu kitchen setup in the adjacent shed and some plastic chairs set out on the concrete slab.


I knew Vietnam was going to be beautiful. But beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe it.

I’ll start with the caves, which were particularly awful. Awful because they turned me into a pretentious cave snob who will forever have a ridiculously high cavern standard.

The caves of Phong Nha were jaw-dropping-ly impressive. Huge! Architecturally impossible! With beautiful rivers running through them!

And the tight, crevasses of Ninh Binh were mystical. Like I was 50% convinced we’d enter Narnia on the opposite end.

While driving on the curvy, mountainous, country roads, pulling around a corner, I’d look up and be in total awe. Amazed and astounded by nature’s masterpiece. And then, ten minutes later, pulling around another corner, it would happen again. And again, and again, and again.

Cat Ba National Park

The landscapes are so green and lush, picturesque and peaceful. They evoke an incredible, overwhelming sense of space and freedom. The absolute antonym of confined. Each region, each city, each hike, and each step offered a sensory-stimulating gift.

Cannon Fort, Cat Ba

Kayaking Near Floating Houses, Cat Ba

Hang Múa, Ninh Binh

Vietnam is practical. Vietnam is unbelievably beautiful. Vietnam is very, very fun. It’s a captivating country full of good-natured, resilient humans who seem to understand what it means to live more than most. I couldn’t recommend a visit more.

If you too want to have a ridiculously good time in Vietnam, follow this “guide.” Or don’t. Either way, you’ll be happy you did.

City Highlights

AuthorMolly Streuli
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When my friend Nina and I were in high school we’d go to this park across from her house. We’d also typically bring along a little baggie of weed, because high school. We’d take a few puffs and sit around like morons making up nonsensical, bizarre phrases, like “The Purple Frog screamed, ‘Good Day!’” And “Uncle Christopher, where are your eyebrow reflectors?” And my personal favorite, “Malaysia has many.”

Malaysia has many. Many people? Many cities? Many cars? We weren’t sure, but it made us laugh for reasons no one will ever understand, myself included.

Weirdly enough, our stoned little minds were on to something. Because Malaysia really does have many. Many religions, many customs, many cuisines, and many cultures. Many places in the world are described as melting pots and those places have nothing on Malaysia. On a single block, it wasn’t unusual to see a Muslim mosque, an Indian restaurant, a Thai massage studio, a 7-11, and a barber shop owned by a Chinese family.

All of this sounds really cool in theory. And, in actuality, it is really cool. But when I first arrived in Kuala Lumpur, “cool” wasn’t exactly the word that came to mind.

Imagine you’re at a circus. But instead of each act entering the ring separately—first the trapeze, then the tight rope, followed by the bearded lady, etc., etc.—all the acts perform at the same time. The clowns are acro dancing above the ventriloquists who are lion taming, all while the elephants juggle the fire breathing unicyclers. Individually, these are all impressive, entertaining skills. But when they happen in unison, it’s an overwhelming mad house. You want to experience everything, but your brain can’t focus on anything. You can’t look away, but you don’t have a clue what’s going on.

This is Malaysia. And this is where my love story begins.


This romance doesn’t start like most. Instead of butterflies and love at first sight, it was more like torrential downpour and “what the hell is that smell?”

Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s capital—a monstrous city with gravity-defying high-rises, luxury cars, and business casual workwear. My first meal was at Central Market’s pinkish-hued food court with no natural light. I don’t know what this dish is called and frankly I’m still not exactly sure what was lurking beneath that inky black sauce. Definitely noodles. Definitely chicken. Possibly mushrooms. Despite its emo appearance it was actually quite good—salty and satisfying—especially washed down with the Malay-obsessed, Milo ice.


The only other notable KL food experience was the Alor Street Food Night Market: 8 or 10 blocks of restaurants, food carts, mobile bands, and aggressive masseuses. I went a couple different nights and tried Char Kuey Teow (a staple noodle dish with prawns and cockles), juicy mango with chili, and a rainbow of dim sum dumplings, each one packed with a different soft, salty filling.  


I spent most of my time in KL walking around the concrete jungle, gawking at the insane mega malls, meeting a series of strange individuals, and going to an overpriced (but kinda cool!) bird park.


At this point, if I saw Malaysia on Tinder, I likely would have swiped left. Luckily, the food was alluring enough to keep me interested, so I swiped right and headed to Georgetown.


Georgetown is on Penang island and is best known for its colonial history, street art, and vibrant cuisine. A total contrast to the highbrow capital.

I had high expectations. Maybe too high. The first couple of days in Georgetown were fine; not terrible, but not particularly fun or interesting. The street art was cool, the street food was good. Maybe it was my mood, home sickness, or fatigue. But for whatever reason, I was having a hard time getting into a groove.

Then I tried laksa. Tasting laksa for the first time made me realize that although Malaysia may not have swept me off my feet initially, there were certainly some layers waiting to be discovered.

Penang laksa is rusty brown with soft, thick noodles. It’s also fishy—like really fishy—a bit spicy, and amazingly sour. At most shops they tend to top the bowls off with something fresh, like chopped lettuce or herbs. Or thin slices of pineapple, adding a sweet little surprise. They did this at Penang Road Famous Laksa, my first laksa encounter.


The really interesting thing about laksa is that it’s a little mysterious. Each bowl came with a huge variation in ingredients and flavor profile. Each establishment (if you can call a fold up table on the side of the road established?) had their own tried and true recipe. All different, all delicious.  


I also enjoyed a couple other Penang staples, including Nasi Kandar (steamed rice with a variety of Indian-influenced meats and curries) and Nasi Lemak (coconut rice with spicy sambal, fried anchovies, peanuts, cucumber, and egg).


Malaysia was slowly, but surely, growing on me. 


When you travel to a place where beer is cheaper than water, I think you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a good time. Welcome to Langkawi, a duty-free island bordering Thailand, complete with white sand beaches, lush jungle, and killer sunsets.

Whereas Penang helped me see Malaysia’s, ahem, inner beauty, Langkawi introduced me to the country’s physical allure.   


I spent about 90% of my time at the beach, much of that bellied up at Ah Chong Beach Bar. I’m half proud / half embarrassed to admit they named a cocktail after me, the Spicy Molly. It resembled a margarita, with blue curacao and chili.


The meals I had on Langkawi weren’t particularly inspired, but everything was satisfying: some tasty fried noodles, lace pancakes called Roti Jala with curry, and really, really good hummus from an Indian restaurant (who’d a thunk?). 


Maybe it was the beer goggles, but Langkawi seemed to transform my fling with Malaysia into something a bit more serious.


After Langkawi, a detox was in order. I headed to Kota Baru, an old city with a 93% Muslim population and virtually no tourists. The city has a ban on alcohol sales with only three establishments allowed to serve drinks (they had permits before the ban was put into place). There’s a beautiful beach just east of the city center. I was shocked by the desolation. There were a few restaurants along the shore with zero customers. I walked along the beach for 45 minutes and saw one other person; a local, fishing. It seemed a little sad. But simultaneously refreshing.


What the city lacked in nightlife it made up for in culinary delights. I spent three days in Kota Baru, mostly eating, as there was nothing much else to do.

Peter, a local I met at Golden City (one of the three restaurants that serves beer), invited me to dinner to try Nasi Kerabu. A simple dish with blue-colored rice (cooked with flower petals), fried chicken or fish, egg, and a fresh little herb salad. This particular restaurant also included an entire bulb of pickled garlic. After trying it I immediately made a note in my phone: Attempt to pickle garlic.


Peter also introduced me to the breakfast spot, Kedai Kopi Din Tokyo, a KB institution. This was one of those meals I’ll remember for a long time. Like tasting a bit of the past. The shop is setup like a bar, with long wooden benches surrounding the center, where all the magic happens. The magician was a cheerful old man who appeared to be doing 30 things at once with incredible ease.

We ordered their staple dish: expertly soft-boiled eggs with pillow-y white bread that is toasted over coals and slathered with kaya, a sweet, custardy coconut egg jam.

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There were plenty of food courts throughout the city serving a variety of rice and noodle dishes. In the early hours of the day, many of them had buffets set up; long tables covered with 20-30 metals trays of chicken, fish, curries, starches, spiced vegetables, and unidentifiable sauces. I popped in on my last day and loaded up. The fuchsia-hued food against this minty green plate made me smile. My love for Malaysia was starting to solidify.



Borneo is equivalent to the New Year’s Eve party, when Harry tells Sally he loves her. When things start to solidify. This huge, lush island reconciled my love for this uniquely crazy country. It’s turquoise waters, wild jungles, and simple, distinctive dishes totally won my heart over.

The Malaysian half of Borneo is made up of Sabah and Sarawak. I started in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, best known for its tropical islands and namesake mountain.

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The first thing I ate was a big bowl of laksa. But get this, it was completely different than the laksa I had in Penang. Not just a variation on the rusty brown bowls I had a week before, but an entirely different dish. Sabah laksa is less of a fish stew and more like a coconut-based noodle soup. It’s orange and oily, topped with spongey tofu or chicken and fresh prawns. 


Choosing between Penang laksa and Borneo laksa is like choosing a favorite child. They each have so much to offer, so many unique qualities. Penang laksa is loud and proud, while Borneo laksa is more calm and approachable. I’ll take a bowl of both.    

Kota Kinabalu has a great waterfront with loads of bars, markets, and food courts. Navigating the bustling, tiny aisles of one of the markets I came across an unassuming food stand with a steaming vat of liquid. I ordered by pointing to a picture that looked appetizing. They quickly brought me a bowl of thin rice noodles in a clear broth topped with chicken (I was lucky enough to get the foot 😳) and mystery meatballs.


On each table sat a tray of bottles and jars filled with colorful sauces. One of my favorite aspects of Asian cuisine has been the customization. Serve a simple dish and allow each person to tailor it to their liking; a spoonful of chili paste, a dash of vinegar, a sprinkle of soy. It’s both fun and functional. 


I went back to this stand a few times, and by the last day they had my “regular” on the table before I even ordered. Talk about feeling welcome.


My last Malaysian destination was the city of Kuching in Sarawak. Kuching, more than any other place I’ve been so far, felt extremely livable. Non-touristy, the perfect size, surrounded by outdoor adventures, and great restaurants. Friendly doesn’t even begin to describe the locals’ demeanor. Plus, it’s an Anthony Bourdain-approved city, which doesn’t hurt.


My first meal in the city was at The Junk, a modern, Western-Malay fusion restaurant. I ordered a softshell crab salad and a glass of tuak, local rice wine. It was awesome. Hot, freshly fried crab, crunchy iceberg, marinated toms, tossed in an oregano-based vinaigrette. An incredibly satisfying salad. And a much needed break from rice or noodles.


Speaking of satisfying, check out this fried chicken from local restaurant, Rumah Hijau. This is the traditional breakfast dish, Nasi Lemak, that I first encountered in Penang, but elevated. The chicken was bursting with fragrant fennel seeds and the sardine were still sizzling. Served with a cup of hot, thick coffee, it’s the perfect way to start a day.


Knowing I’d soon be leaving Malaysia, I also ate all the laksa I could get my hands on. I had a bowl at Choon Hui. Anthony B. said it best with a simple, “Yessssssss.”


I had another, final bowl at Chong Choon Cafe. By far the spiciest variation that made me cough and smile simultaneously.


To end on something sweet, we’ll head over to Hava Café—a no-frills restaurant across from my Airbnb. One day I stopped in for a cup of coffee, was distracted by the rainbow cakes in the freezer, mentioned to the cashier how pretty they were, and she emerged 20 seconds later with platefuls of bite-sized morsels for me to sample. There were probably eight or nine different flavors, including a mint/chocolate combo, my kryptonite. I had no choice but to buy a loaf.

Not to be dramatic, but this Kek Lapis (layer cake) was the best cake, and maybe even the best dessert, I’ve had in my life. So incredibly dense and moist, indulgent and fresh, best served chilled. Look up ‘irresistible’ in the dictionary, and you’ll see this photo.


Although my relationship with Malaysia started a bit rocky, I couldn’t be more grateful for the time I spent here. The best love stories aren’t butterflies and rainbows. They’re challenging, complex, and taxing. And they typically spit you out as a stronger, more resilient human. This country has taught me lessons I’ll take with me, not only on this adventure, but throughout my life, when I’m back in the ‘real world.’

Malaysia emphasized the importance of patience; that uncomfortable situations are nearly always worth tolerating and can lead to unexpected surprises. The best things come with a little struggle.

This country also reminded me that a sense of humor is absolutely crucial. If you can’t laugh at yourself and your retrospectively silly decisions, good luck. Waiting 45 minutes for a bus that no longer runs? Comical. Getting caught in a monsoon with all your luggage? Ridiculous! Accidental ordering crunchy, hairy pig ear for lunch? WTF?!

Most importantly, Malaysia taught me that a bowl full of spicy noodles is sometimes all you need to turn a frown upside down.  

AuthorMolly Streuli
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Ko Lanta means “to decompress” in Thai. Ok, that’s not actually true. But if you’re looking to relax, there may be no better place than Ko Lanta.

Lanta is an island off the coast of mainland Krabi, Thailand in the Andaman Sea. It’s a place where scooters outnumber cars, clocks have seemingly disappeared, and shoes are always optional. It’s like a real-life Jimmy Buffet song, but more exotic.

I was blown away by the island’s hospitality, the endless beaches to explore, and the ‘come as you are’ attitude. The only thing that didn’t knock my socks off was the food. Don’t get me wrong, the food certainly wasn’t bad. But so much of it seemed to be prepared to please the tourist palette. For example, at the majority of restaurants the menu was thick and laminated and included everything from pad thai and lasagna to veggie burgers and fish tacos. The food in Bangkok was so good! So, in fairness, the bar was set very, very high.  

What Lanta lacked in cuisine, it made up for in total and utter relaxation. Something we could all use a bit more of, am I right? If you can’t hop on the next flight to Thailand, here’s the next best thing. Follow these steps and you too can be as cool as a cucumber floating in a seaside mojito.  

Before we get started, set the mood with this Feeling Krabi Spotify playlist. It’s full of songs that evoke the Island-spirit, many heard playing at the local beach bars. One bar had a thing for 90s American Country, hence the Alan Jackson hit.

Are you listening? Perfect. You’ve already completed Step 1.


My personal favorite is the Thai hit, Do Do Do by Job 2 Do. It was a nightly staple and I’ve caught myself humming the tune countless times. Fair warning, it’s an earworm.


Like the Spanish siesta, every afternoon in Ko Lanta the island would get very still. The lunch bustle winded down and local workers retreated home to escape the hottest part of the day. I’m not a big napper, but I followed the locals’ lead, both human and feline, and most days enjoyed a leisurely cat nap.


I woke up feeling recharged, refreshed, and ready for an evening of beach volleyball, another daily tradition on the island.


It’s the unofficial official slogan of Ko Lanta, especially at my frequented hangout, Blue Wave Bar. Seeing as I’m still working remotely for my office in Portland I had to stay connected (Side note: I’m totally awed by wifi accessibility. I stayed in a bungalow with holes in the wall and no hot water, yet had 5G high-speed internet!) but there were plenty of nights that I left my phone behind and enjoyed digi-free life for a few hours.


As for sampling the island herb? I’ll leave that up to the reader’s imagination.



In a place where punctuality and set schedules are obsolete, Lantians(?) certainly make sunset a priority. Nearly all the bars have a sunset special, like 2-for-1s or 40% off, from 4-7pm. And during this time, it seems 90% of the island’s occupants are on the beach with eyes on the horizon. A peaceful, thoughtful way to close out a day, only made better with newfound friends. (Another side note: I met the best people on Lanta. Fun, adventurous, interesting, kind, beautiful people.)


Even since I’ve left, Alec, one of said newfound friends, has been keeping the tradition alive by sending me sunset updates. Amazing.


A one-hour massage. On the beach. For $10. How could one decline?

My massage was…intimate, to say the least. No, no, it’s not what you’re thinking! Although Thailand has a wrap for giving “special” massages, there was nothing sexual about this experience. It’s just that, at one point I had both of my legs wrapped around the woman’s body while she was up on her knees pushing both hands into my pelvis. Fast-forward 20 minutes and my head’s in her lap and she’s pulling on my ears.

It was very different than any massage I’ve had in the U.S., but it was clear that this woman is master of her craft.

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There you have it! The Lanta Guide to Relaxation. Follow these five simple steps and let the stress melt away. And in case you need a reminder after a stressful Monday meeting or a brutal rush hour commute, feel free to save this handy dandy pocket guide ;) 


And for fun, here are a few of my favorite photos from Krabi, including some foooooooood.

AuthorMolly Streuli
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