Hanoi, Vietnam

What do you love most about this city?
I like the intensity of the place. It is a very striving, hard-working society.

Where would you take a first-timer to in this city? 
The Metropole Hotel – it’s my oasis of calm after exploring the chaos of the city.

What is the one thing that the first-timer must do in this city?
Walk! I don’t think you can experience any city by being driven from one tourist attraction to the next. You won’t experience Hanoi proper unless you venture out, take a stroll around the lake, get lost in the little side roads, try the food in the stalls, sit at a café, sip Vietnamese coffee and soak up the atmosphere.

Your favourite dish from here, and where might we find it?
Bun Oc. That’s snail soup with fried green banana, small and big snails and tofu stewed in turmeric broth. My favourite is on Lane 191 Khuong Thuong, Dong Da district. It’s quite hard to find, so ask the locals.

The best place to have dinner with:
a. family – Porte D’Annam; the food is great, and the atmosphere is a bit more genteel.
b. friends – Ngon Villa; it’s noisy, bustling and the food is, for the most part, outstanding.

The best thing about the locals.
While there are obviously some people out to make money off the tourists, the people of Hanoi live for the most part a life alongside the tourist trade. The city is still home to most of the locals. It hasn’t lost its identity and turned into a tourist attraction.

Name one souvenir to bring home.
Vietnamese coffee and the equipment to make it. Vietnam has upheld the old French tradition of the filter coffee in individual cups with a drip on top of it. Sweet condensed milk is ready in the cup and the very strong coffee slowly drips onto it. It wakes you up with a kick!

Five words that sum up this city.
Vibrant, Bustling, Striving, Fragrant, Chaotic.

Where might we find you at 1 am in this city?
At Unicorn Bar. They do an amazing Phò cocktail. It sounds disgusting, but it actually works really well!

Penang, Malaysia

One thing about the locals.
They have the reputation of being the stingiest people in Malaysia, but that’s not to say they aren’t generous to friends, family and visitors, they just drive a really hard bargain in shops, in markets and also in business.

What do you find most refreshing about this city?
I have been here hundreds of times and I have walked almost every street in the city centre and the place still has surprises in store. That’s what I like most about Penang. There’s always something new to discover.

The one experience that everyone must try.
Eat out in the stalls! Just wander around the city and try anything that looks or smells interesting. The city is overflowing with excellent food and eating in nothing but indoor restaurants would be missing the point entirely.

The one local dish everyone must try.  
It’s very hard to limit yourself to one dish when you are in Penang! Of course, the char kuay teow is famous, but for me it’s Hokkien mee that I crave. That’s my breakfast of choice.

The best thing you can do here for free. 
Go to the E&O Hotel, sit on the wall next to the old pool, look out over the ocean and watch the sun set. You can order a G&T, but that one’s not free.

Your favourite memory of this city.
My favourite memories are evenings spent with my friends, just eating out, sitting and chatting. It’s these moments that make life fun.

A lesson learnt from this city:

What was the best piece of souvenir you took home from here?
Memories – I’m not really into buying mementos.

Name something they have here that you wished you had at home:
An old part of the city that is intact and hasn’t been destroyed by greed. I don’t believe in preserving everything just because it’s old, but when you have history attached to a building or a quarter, it’s wise to preserve it.