Month: <span>July 2018</span>


Day 325: High rise #officeoftheday at San Marino Sky Bar

If the difference between a sky bar and a rooftop bar is how high you are then this definitely feels like a sky bar as I’m getting productive 17 floors up today. I’m sat here on the 17th floor peering out over Da Nang, Vietnam at the San Marino Sky Bar.

It’s just for residents but it features an infinity pool, a bar and a wall of floor to ceiling windows with laptop sized desks peering out over the landscape.


Day 318: Staying safe from the rain in Lamenda Cafe #officeoftheday

Today we moved out of our respective hotels/hostels and met up in the closest laptop friendly cafe, Lamenda Cafe.

It got off to a rough start because the cafe exists in the bottom of several AE Hotel buildings and somebody had moved the map marker from another branch which resulted in a wasted taxi fare for my friend. We got set up quickly though in the plush surroundings and opened her laptop to plan the next location. In the end, we booked flights for that evening to take us up to Nha Trang, got an amazing apartment and had lunch and dinner there before heading off to the airport.

It was a good day, even including the knockdown, drag-out that the Vietnamese family had behind us over a defaulted family loan. Prices are on the high side but the WiFi was good and the tables had great seating.

Also, I got to share my table with three funky jazz dudes.


Day 317: Solo #officeoftheday in the hotel room at Ace Hotel Ben Thanth

After leaving it to the last minute to extend my stay at my last hotel, I ended up having to pick another one. Ace Hotel was just around the corner, priced right, had a desk in the images and… well that was the entire criteria I was looking for.

I spent the day sat on the bed working with this wallpaper in the background which genuinely span my eyes out. I think I might have spent a few hours just locked in a transcendental gaze with it. I went on a journey with that wallpaper.

WiFi was strong though and the bed was comfy. Didn’t even end up using the desk that drew me in there in the first place.


Day 316: Checking out L’Usine Heritage, the original at Dong Khoi for an #officeoftheday

This was another one of those businesses so effectively tucked away that I’m amazed we weren’t the only ones sat in there. I’d actually come to this location a few days before to meet my friend after failing to realise there was more than one L’Usine. After walking up and down the street a few times and finding no L’Usine it came to light that I was at the wrong branch anyway. Still, I didn’t understand why I couldn’t find the wrong branch. It was alleyways again.

This time my friend was already waiting for me and had predicted her foreign friend would have trouble so she had snapped the alleyway for me that I had to go down. It was named something completely different and it wasn’t until you had walked a long way into it that you saw the first sign pointing the way.

We had been lured back because she was given a free coffee voucher at the last L’Usine, but it wasn’t a hard decision to make. The food was great and the WiFi was strong.

Story Time

Day 316: How does a chicken cross the road, and other Asian traffic tales

Rush hour? Not rush hour.

Arrived in Vietnam! Got in a taxi at peak rush hour yesterday. It looks like we drove into a pedestrian zone? No that’s wheel to wheel floods of moped riders trying to get home.

(Actually, I showed this to some Vietnamese people and this is not rush hour at all, somehow it gets even more intense).

Just like a dogs leg goes when you scratch him, my foot was stomping on the imaginary brakes at every twist and turn. Each time there was the slightest gap in traffic my driver put his foot down to get moving, while at the same time mopeds in front would suddenly lurch out at 90-degree cross angles to us and cyclists just seemed to exist carefree in the middle of this. It was gut-wrenching!

It seems that the only responsibility you have as a driver is to make sure it’s clear in front of you. It’s then everyone’s job behind to swerve you, no matter what mad stunt you have just pulled.

There were people riding the wrong way down the street, on the paths, and doing u-turns all around us.

Somehow it works. I saw no one even bump, let alone crash while I was peeking out.

How does a chicken cross the road?

OK, so watching it from the relative safety of a Grab taxi is one thing. However, the next stage of becoming one with the traffic was finding myself at street level, feet on the tarmac, face to face with the bustle and throng.

I’ve been to Bangkok, and I thought I had learned the secrets of crossing traffic. I was fresh off the plane. Everything was an exciting, eye-catching distraction. Now I was stood at the edge of a 6 lane major road in downtown Siam, wondering how anyone got anywhere.

As I prepared to dash out at full speed the first time there was a glimmer of a gap in the traffic, two older ladies arrived at the edge of the road. I’d already been having a hard time imagining how I would make it to the other side, how were a couple of nice old ladies possibly going to fare well?

After barely a pause they just stepped out into the traffic. The thought flashed through my mind that I was about to see two people get run over, but that’s not what happened next. It turned out that their age was the magic sauce for the situation. Their slow pace blended perfectly with the pace of the traffic and they merged together like the teeth on a zipper. As they stepped into the gap between two cars, the drivers slowed slightly and by the time the car would have been worrying about hitting them they were already into the next lane.

It was my only option so I did the same as them. The next few moments were a blur but I found myself on the other side of the road with no scratches and nobody cursing me for this reckless behaviour.

But I digress, I’m not back there in Bangkok any more, I’m stood about 750km away in the tourist district of Ho Chi Minh City and I need to summon the courage to take the same leap of faith.

What’s changed this time to set me back to square one? Well, it was one thing to step out into the mildly progressing Bangkok traffic but Ho Chi Minh City has a very different traffic profile. It’s not 2-3 cars you have to contend with, its 30-50 mopeds, motorbikes, cyclists, taxis and buses that you have hurtling towards you at “that will hurt” speeds.

Like before in Bangkok, the last thing I thought before I stepped off the pavement was “my mum will be so disappointed with me if I get myself taken out in such a stupid way”, but I’d already been told success was for the bold so I started to walk out into traffic. I suppose you have figured out that if I managed to type this up I somehow survived. Maybe you are secretly hoping I’m going to reveal this was typed from a hospital bed? It would have made for a fun post but no, I am fine, the traffic is fine, and despite me going against everything my parents and teachers taught me about crossing the road, the world is still fine.

In Vietnam, when you step out into fast-moving traffic you are not met with anger, you don’t become the target of a honk or fist shake, you are not immediately mowed down causing a 20 moped pile up. No. They want to get to their destination just like you do. You just become part of the contract of the road. As long as you proceed at a casual pace the traffic will adopt you as their own and flow around you.

It’s maybe better to do it the first few times either with a local or just be not really looking. Mad I know, but staring oncoming traffic down inspires the sudden need to dive out of the way and that’s the worst thing you can actually do on these roads.

I actually saw a taxi do a u-turn on this roundabout. Imagine that middle left white taxi, just slowly turning right and going back the way it came. It blocked everyone up for a minute but nobody got angry. I also saw a white couple just stroll from bottom left to top right without anyone batting an eyelid.

What the beep?

The sound of beeping horns is the bedrock of Saigon’s background noise. It is an erratic yet consistent sound that will lull you to sleep at night. I could sense there was some kind of pattern to the siren song but I couldn’t crack the code. Luckily I have a babysitter while I am here in Vietnam so I have access to a source of local knowledge when I have these types of questions.

I just couldn’t figure out the tone behind the beeps. It wasn’t conversational – they hadn’t spotted a friend. It wasn’t confrontational – people were not shaking fists. Yet, it didn’t feel functional either. No matter where I looked I couldn’t see what it was that was actually being beeped at.

So obviously I concluded that if it wasn’t obvious to me then they were all insane, erratic honking madmen.

As I’ve written earlier, it appeared like it was every driver for themselves on the roads which had stopped me from thinking laterally about these strange honks. My local guide told me a tale of her father and how he beeps almost constantly when he is driving, so much so that she has to tell him that she can not hear any more honks, please. Why is he doing this? Well, I cannot possibly drag this out any further, despite my obvious attempts to do so.

The reason for many of the honks is that, as I observed before, the riders are only interested in whats in front of them. Often riders will simply come barreling out of a side road without stopping to check if there is any traffic on the street they are joining. So many of the honks are actually not at anyone or anything, they are just to warn the potential side-street traffic that there are other players in the game.

The rest of it seems to form a kind of sonar-location system that gives the drivers in front a bit of information about the traffic behind them. Car wants to get through? Honk. Somebody is trying to merge into a space they don’t want to give up? Honk. You just joined the back of the traffic. Honk.

And yes, once I did see a rage-honk from my taxi driver when somebody didn’t get the message. That was more like honk, honk, Honk, Honk, HONK.

Daily Life

Day 315: Weight up!

In other news, I was gifted the lovely experience of being the 7th person in a 9 person rated elevator today and I set the weight limit alarm off.

I’d already dashed for it, only to miss it by a hairs-breadth. Luckily one of the riders pressed the door open button and gave me a second chance at travelling up with them.

After sliding in we all stood there for a moment looking at each other before we realised in unison that the beeping noise was because I was too heavy to ride.

Cue me shuffling out again backwards with an awkward smile and my new friends taking to the skies without me.


Day 315: Evening #officeoftheday with Mr 8 and egg coffee

After dinner, we decided to put in a few more hours at the laptops, but we definitely needed a boost. After walking around looking for a suitable coffee chain we settled on Mr 8 Coffee. It looked like a tiny 1 table coffee shop at first before we headed upstairs, where it looked like a slightly larger, tiny coffee shop. Big enough to set up a laptop so we were happy.

My friend convinced me to try egg coffee, which sounded like it was going to be some kind of raw egg but was actually a tasty sweetened experience more like a blended egg custard. We also spotted two names that had very funny accidental meanings in English which left us with the serious giggles.

Then I spotted another set of stairs going up and when I poked my head around the corner it turned out it wasn’t a tiny shop at all, there was a full-sized coffee shop layout, with another 10 or so tables and even a merchandise shop up on the third floor.

We found an entertaining spot that looked out onto the roundabout below and I mostly just wrote blog posts rather than getting anything done for my clients.


Day 315: Spending the day at L’Usine Le Loi #officeoftheday

My first taste of L’Usine was a literal first taste. As soon as I walked into the shop part of the business I was greeted by my friend who eagerly directed me over to a food cart. Turns out they were preparing for a new menu that day. In exchange for filling out a small form with my opinion, I was invited to sample 5 of the potential menu options. It was a delicious start to the day.

We spent the entire day there in the end, devouring coffees and smoothies before moving on to sharing cakes and a salmon bagel.

Update: Just looked it up and L’Usine means The Factory.


Day 314: The Snap Cafe #officeoftheday

This is a family-friendly cafe is in the posh area of Saigon, over in district 2. Upon arrival, we were teased between the choice of sitting over in the side with the childrens park or sitting in the quieter area. There was an attractive looking table that caught our attention in the kids area but just as we were about to set up one of the wait staff asked if we had children with us. We said no and he told us we couldn’t sit on this side then.

My friend said something in Vietnamese to him and I just had a gut feeling I knew exactly what she said. “Did you just tell him I was a big kid?”, I asked. “Yes”, she laughed, “but he still says no.”

I guess it turned out for the best as we moved to the quiet side and got an equally good quality table, near to a power socket and away from the distractions of playful children.

Daily Life

Day 314: Celebrating my digital nomad Pi day

I was going to hold off until my first year before writing another “I’ve been a nomad for X days” posts. Then I realised today was my Pi day and threw my reservations out the window.

Today is my digital nomad Pi day, which is not something I just made up, it’s totally a real celebration.

I took this screenshot and spoke about it a bit with my friends but didn’t get any further than that on the actual day. Even when I had planned to post this I was still just thinking that would be all I had to write about.

But it’s not going to be.

I went back to that day to look at my photos. This was only 5 days ago and it already feels like a lifetime ago.

I am always ready to tell people that “I’m not actually on holiday all the time, I just live there”. Taking a look back at this random day though it’s hard to deny I’m not cramming a lot of fun into life.

The day started off optimistically, with an attempt to convince you I had a healthy breakfast and a photo that was to be my “digital memory” later on:

The photo of the packets was the snacks that I had started devouring when I arrived at my hotel. I was excited to find a basket of snacks and a fridge full of beer. There was no price list anywhere so I concluded it was the same as the coffee and water; free welcome gifts. I had already chomped through three of them before I spoke to Giang (pronounced Yann), my Vietnamese friend. She told me this was a standard trick by the hotels and they would have the price list down in the reception. Don’t forget, she cautioned, I was staying in the tourist district of Saigon.

I had seen some of the snacks in the local shop so I planned to replace them before the hotel got involved. I ended up forgetting all about it though and when I arrived back that evening the snack bar was already refilled – it was too late to cover up my food crimes.

In the end, they charged me 30k a snack which I thought was good/acceptable/small enough to not care (1GBP each). And I really didn’t care, until I got to the next hotel and they had the price list in the room with a lot more reasonable 12k per snack (about 40p).

Deep breath. Breathe out and let it go Matthew. Moving on.

After that, the day was beginning. So far we had been heading to local spots on foot. Today, Giang had ideas to take me a short taxi ride away over the Saigon river, to the posher District 2. We went to The Snap Cafe, a place she had worked from regularly before when she was remotely working for a company. Desks, WiFi, smoothies were good. I also randomly ordered myself a pint of Craft Ale and got my buzz on from that for a while.

You can see from the photos that it has some nice styles to it with plenty of greenery bursting forth from every angle. All of the desks had their own style to them and it was both spread out and kind of set up as private mini-areas at the same time.

There was also a pool table that you could unwind on, and there is a kids area over on the other side. Upon arriving you are given the choice between the kids play area or the quiet area. The kids play area had some really cool looking custom built kid-sized buildings. Stuff like a shop and house, with stairs to get on the roof. I was jealous, but I was also about 25 years too old to go play.

The risotto was either awful if they intended to do it that way, or just embarrassing if they forgot to put the cream into it. Seriously, look at it in the gallery above, it was a brown oily mess, not a white creamy dish like the rest of the world knows it.

We also had a friend-of-a-friend meet up with us for lunch while we were there. We had an interesting conversation about rent, locations, startups and travel – she had previously spent two years in Chiang Mai working for a company that has a base over there.

The night before we had met some of Giangs climbing buddies. During the conversations we had agreed to meet them today at the climbing gym, so after a productive day we got in a Grab and headed over to their location. The taxi got more than a little bit lost as this gym was tucked away in an essentially hidden location but we got there in the end and spent a few hours climbing:

Conclusion: I really like climbing! After some introductory tips from a local expert, I was ready to tackle my first climb.

They have colour-coded tags at the bottom which tell you how hard each one will be. I started off with the simplest and rocked up the wall so fast I felt like a superhero. The coloured rubber bits are called holds. You have to dangle from the top hold for 3 seconds to officially complete that route, then you can come down using any hold you want. Moving left to the next wall, I was again to the top before anyone could stop me.

I’m amazing! World-class! A natural, I said to myself.

Then I got to the one in the pictures above.

The combination of some long stretches and being tipped backwards quickly and very permanently brought me back down to earth. Over the next hour, I slowly exhausted myself taking runs at this course. I wanted to do it so bad and made it a little bit higher a few times but at the end of the day, my weakling little computer arms and rapidly deteriorating grip strength were not going to see me through this challenge.

Even though I spent the next 3 days with sore arms, I’ve been through that initial period of starting a gym many times and know that would quickly fade. I would go back another time for a climbing session somewhere for sure. New hobby!

After that, the night was still just getting started. I jokingly said I could do with a beer now and Giang was like “yep” straight away. Normally I am used to being told no when want to get some random drinks so I felt a bit spoiled that she is up for this sort of thing as well as being a great daytime motivation partner!

We said bye to our climbing friends and took a taxi back to District 1. This time we went under the river through the tunnel and got dropped off at drinking spot she is particularly fond of, Pasteur Street Brewing Co.

They do a taste testing option on the menu. You get 6 drinks of your choice, and as soon as we saw it, it was ordered without hesitation. They were all quite nice except for the dragons salty nutsack or something like that – the pink one in the middle above. Not recommended.

The rest? Recommended. The spring rolls – recommended. The company? She is also recommended, but limited edition. Spending 10 minutes trying to eat the bar nuts with chopsticks? Well YMMV but I enjoyed it.

We were definitely tipsy by the time we barrelled out of this bar but also starting to feel the rumble of tummies, so the journey wasn’t over. This time we weren’t going to miss out on the food court near her hostel. It shut at a, quite frankly, unreasonable 10pm each night so we had already missed it before.

This time we were there in time to order something, and that something was the abso-fricken-lutely huge Vietnamese Pancake pictured above. It was filled with bean sprouts, vegetables, shrimp and other interesting things. Next to it, there was a huge plate of green leaves which were for two things – the large tasteless ones to use as wraps, and the others to use as seasoning. Then sweet chilli sauce on the side.

I’m typing this and realising how grateful I am to my guide, I wouldn’t have figured out so many things on this trip without having her by my side (if you read this thank youuuuu!)

Despite her going into a serious food coma after our food, the night still wasn’t over. I walked her back to her hostel to drop her off. On the way, she went really spaced out for the first part of the journey, but then she rallied at the last minute and took me up to the roof bar on the top of the hostel.

In fact, she got back into it so much that she tried to order more drinks after last orders and started brainstorming somewhere else we could go before I sent her to bed!

So here I am 314 days deep into this journey. Life is still very new and exciting most days. I am really happy that I have found this opportunity to direct my energies into.

I guess people can end up having different digital nomad experiences. There are many different types of business. Peoples skill sets are developed at different levels. Their businesses are more or less stable. They are more or less disciplined.

I have been lucky that my 314 days have been pretty smooth sailing business wise and I have been free to concentrate on the experience itself.

If you can figure out a way to, and it interests you, I would recommend trying out this lifestyle to anyone that can come up with a way to make money remotely.

Story Time

Day 314: Stay humble and soak in the culture gracefully

Don’t get cocky when you have no idea about the history of a culture. That was my lesson for today.

I’d had a few drinks, that was true, but suddenly I thought I knew better than hundreds of years of Asian history.

I was looking at some art on the wall of a local food hall of a typical historical scene.

“Why do they make it hard for themselves?” I blurted out to my Vietnamese friend, “They should just get a cart with wheels!”

I was referring to the street sellers that carried their shops around by balancing a stick on their shoulders + dangling the wares at each end like a pair of counterbalance scales.

She was calm with me but I needed to be brought down a peg or two.

Firstly, she patiently corrected, the wheeled trucks don’t come for free and not everyone has the money to invest in something like this.

We had actually been talking about homeless people a few days before and this prompted a new thought to form in her head. “I think maybe the reason that Vietnam doesn’t have such a homeless problem is to do with the culture. Here, if we get into difficulties then we can always go and stay with our families for a short period. It is common for many people to live in the same room, which makes rent very affordable. Perhaps even as cheap as 10USD per person a month.”

“In fact, it’s very common to live together with your family when you are younger, in order to save money. People live close together because of the population levels. We have a high cost of land here compared to our wages.”

“Also it is very simple to get started with a small business in Vietnam. You can just get a stick to carry some things around, or buy some small wares to attach to a push bike and you can start to make some money. I think the combination of having the support of your family and the ease of getting going with a business like this means it’s more difficult to end up homeless.”

And secondly, she concluded, the sticks are a product of their environment. Often the sellers would need to cover rough terrain. Concrete paths and tarmac like in modern cities have not existed for long and even today the rural areas are hilly; a wheel just isn’t appropriate everywhere.

“Oh yeah”, was the best I managed to reply.

So I managed to both make myself look stupid and learn some new things at the same time. The important part, I think, is to be curious but not to assume I have better ideas 5 minutes after getting into a country vs centuries of established living practices.


Day 313: #officeoftheday The Maker, Ho Chi Minh City

The first time I’ve posted two #officeoftheday shots on one day. I feel like a digital nomad lothario, getting around town like this.

The second stop of the day was The Maker which was set inside a huge block of apartments, which have since been converted to a myriad of small cafe’s, fashion shops, and other establishments. It’s a complex building, wrapping around on itself in interesting ways.

The entrance to the building is down a small non-descript alleyway. Something that really caught me by surprise to start off with but I would later realise is actually standard practice for many of the commercial buildings in Ho Chi Minh City.



Day 313: #officeoftheday at The Workshop

I’m being guided around Ho Chi Minh City by a Vietnamese girl that I met while travelling.

The first place she has brought me to is a trendy cafe called The Workshop. It’s popular with coffee snob hipsters and co-workers alike. Ordered a blend that I did not comprehend and a filter that I couldn’t discern, but I still felt very cool doing it.

The photo shows my leather bound beaker that I decanted my fancy coffee from. Also part pictured is a plug-socket friend I made who asked if he could plug into our extension cable.

If this means anything to you, I picked from the pour-over category and went for a Kalita Wave.

Daily Life

Day 301: Street market scorpion attack

Close call in the night market this evening. So far I’ve seen cockroaches, rats, soi dogs, and even snakes. It’s day 301 though, and I did not know I was supposed to be on the lookout for scorpions as well!

We were just casually browsing some of the standard clothes when this little bad boy came barrelling out from under the rails and caused quite a kerfuffle.

The photo doesn’t have any post-processing on it, we were just nervous to get to close to its little snippers! Nobody knew how dangerous it was and even the locals were exercising caution, so I snapped this one and retreated quickly.

Eventually, it was captured in a plastic bag by a stallholder and taken off at arms-length. No fatalities.

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