Mamacita’s: First Pop-Up Burrito in Hanoi, Vietnam

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Happy to see The Culture-ist piece I wrote about Mamacita's featured in The Huffington Post. Man do I miss those burritos!

Oisin Barr speeds on a Honda Win motorbike, comes to a halt, parks, and begins setting up shop. Off comes his helmet and out come frying pans, flour, and containers of freshly made pico de gallo, Argentinean-style beef, and shredded cheese. He plugs in the portable gas tank, powers up the stove, and begins rolling tortillas. Within five minutes, a line has already begun to form in front of Mamacita's. Within fifteen minutes, the mobile burrito stall is open for business.

Disco and Dine: Slow Food Youth Network makes one man’s trash another man’s disco soup

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I was recently in Tel Aviv when the Slow Food Youth Network Israel put on their Disco Shuk, an incredible seaside disco party that turns perfectly fine dumpster-bound food into a communal feast. The experience inspired me to write about the Disco Soup movement around the globe for The Culture-ist.

When you think of food headed to the dump, the first thing that pops into your mind probably isn’t disco music. Yet the Slow Food Youth Movement thinks it’s the perfect pairing. Their global initiative Disco Soup brings local communities together to dance to disco while cooking up free food for the community using ingredients that would have otherwise been trashed.

Where to work out in Hanoi: Gyms for the cheap, the Elite, and everything in between

The hunt for a gym in Hanoi has been a workout in itself! After testing out plenty of the gyms – and going on wild goose chases to many more that are no longer open – here’s a comprehensive guide to gyms in Hanoi, broken down by type and price. If there are any others that are missing, feel free to give me a shout so I can keep it updated. 

If you’re looking for cheap, get ready to get grimy…

There are a range of hole-in-the-wall gyms in Hanoi that start from $1-2.50 for entrance. But be warned: these extremely basic gyms are  not known for cleanliness and often lack in basic machines. They are notoriously hard to find, as addresses are unreliable and many gyms close unexpectedly. Note: Club G in Tay Ho is now closed down.

However, one staple dirt-cheap gym that seems to be here to stay is Thanh Cong Club Gym (88 Hang Buom, Hoan Kiem). This cramped gym in Old Quarter offers a simple, cheap workout for those who just want to lift some weights and don’t care about fancy facilities or classes.

Bang for your buck: The best of the budget gyms

A step up from the super cheap gyms, these budget gyms all have pretty good facilities (lockers, showers, and sometimes a sauna) as well as a range of workout machines and weights. They cater primarily to locals, so don’t expect an English translation of prices or classes, but daily rates are normally VND50,000 (about $2.50USD). These budget gyms offer great quality for a super low price.

 

  • BodyStyle (343 Doi Can, Ba Dinh): With two stories of weights and cardio equipment (including a punching bag), this is by far the best of the budget gyms. The only downside is no information is available in English, and opening hours are often inexplicable. There are many times this gym is closed in the middle of the day for no reason, but I keep coming back!
  • Club Olympia (4 Tran Hung Dao, Hoan Kiem) One of the only mid-range gyms with a lap pool. The facilities improve constantly, although some have mixed feelings about cleanliness. It’s still a go-to for many expats, especially those searching for an indoor pool.
  • Texas Gym (4th Floor, 101a Nguyen Khuyen, Dong Da) Although Texas is more cramped than Olympia and BodyStyle, it’s hours are reliable and it’s facilities are very clean.

Top-tier Health Clubs

These state-of-the art facilities are the best Hanoi has to offer. They have personal training, an enormous range of classes, and any weight or cardio machine you could want. Many have multiple locations, so see individual websites for details. The prices are high (around 200USD a month, but sometimes less if you talk to a representative about a special or get a long-term membership), but you get what you pay for.

Specialty Gyms

Zenith Yoga (Two locations: Tay Ho and Old Quarter) Coming from Santa Barbara, where yoga and wholesome food were in abundance, it was a delight to find this yoga and Pilates center. Both locations offer a calm escape from the busy Hanoi streets, and the Old Quarter location also has a WiFi-equipped cafe that serves delicious vegan and vegetarian food, fresh fruit shakes and juices, and kombucha! The center also offers specialty workshops in meditation, yoga, and healing.

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VietClimb Gym (40 Ngo 76 An Duong , Tay Ho)  Ideal for climbing enthusiasts, this bouldering center has six circuits spread across a 200 square meter area. New circuits are set up regularly, and the gym organizes regular trips and activities for members.

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Vietfighter (44 Au Co, Tay Ho). This mixed martial arts gym offers a weight room, a variety of classes, and personal training. The facilities are clean; however, the lack of AC can make the already intense classes hard to manage. Monthly membership (weight room only) starts at VND 1,000,000.

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B Garden Fit’n’Dance Studio (So 68, Ngach 50, Ngo 310 Nghi Tam, Tay Ho). The focus here is on dance classes, with some classes integrating yoga and meditation and others that focus on dance skills or cardio. There is a gym and a pool, but both are very small. However, all the facilities are impeccable, the staff is friendly, and the surrounding garden location is a true oasis. In the summer, lounging at the pool and bar area among the flowers and Buddha statues is a rejuvenating post-workout treat. Membership starts at VND800,00 per month.

 

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In the Past Year – A Look Back at 2013

In the past year, I have acquired ten stamps on my passport. I’ve fallen in love with a place, returned to the place that captured my traveling spirit, and said goodbye to places I once called home. I’ve eaten guinea pig and cockroaches, visited tropical islands and glacier lakes and desert oasis towns. I raced swan boats on Lake Titicaca, hiked the Quilotoa Loop in Ecuador, floated in the Dead Sea in Israel, and sailed Halong Bay in Vietnam. I’ve passed innumerable hours on sweltering, overcrowded busses, and I have spent countless nights in creaky hostel beds.

But it’s not about where I’ve been or what I’ve done.

If anything, the past year has shown me destinations are not nearly as important as the lessons you learn and the moments that transform you. Backpacking solo in South America taught me independence, but it wasn’t until I felt deep loneliness even while surrounded by masses of people that I understood being alone and being lonely are two very different things. Despite the raucous parties on the Thai islands, it was there that I learned to be content in stillness. Lingering days with nothing to do or see and only my own head for silence ended my need for constant motion and distraction. Although I met many people and made new friends in the past year, I also lost one friendship, and that taught me more than any of the others. 

I learned home as many definitions, as I tried to define for myself what home meant to me.

In the past year, I’ve returned back to the U.S. twice, believing each time I could make myself stay. I tried to force myself into what I believed a “real adult life” looked like, telling myself I’d had my time to travel, and now, it was time to grow up. I got a job with a 40-hour workweek and a daily commute that drove me insane. I gritted my teeth and drank my coffee and went, day after day, until May came and I sold my car, packed my belongings in boxes, and bought a ticket.

I learned the grave danger in saying never. I would never backpack, would never be an expat, would never like rice, would never move across the world for someone, would never permanently move my life to another country. I would never regret, because I believed every decision provided a lesson. But I grew to understand that there are some choices you can’t take back, and saying never is the biggest setback you can create for yourself.

I grew to understand the lessons the world was throwing at me by the handful would be forgotten as easily as I learnt them until I put them into action. I understood I was taught the most important lesson of all: changing the circumstances of your life – where you are, who you are with, what you are doing – is simple, but changing your self is much more difficult.

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