24 February 2023

A whole week in Phnom Penh has passed. It’s Friday afternoon and I’m writing this at a café I discovered last Saturday. Whenever I visit a new café, the first things my eyes seek are electrical sockets. Last Saturday, I noticed that this café has plenty, which is why I’m back here today to continue writing down my observations of Phnom Penh:

  • Toyota Prius is a thing here. I thought I was lucky when the Grab car I booked from the airport turned out to be a Prius (it’s one of my favourite cars), but as soon as we came out onto the main road I realised luck played no part in it. The streets are drowning in Prius. Look left, it’s a silver Prius. Look right, it’s a blond Prius. Behind you is a Prius. Prius everywhere. I’m very pleased to see, but no less baffled as to why this is. Also of note is that it’s a model you don’t see in Thailand. I wonder which country it’s imported from.
  • The same way helmets here are real and not make-believe like in Vietnam, Phnom Penh also has legit petrol stations. Not the ramshackle operations you see in Vietnam where you half-expect to get fake petrol. Petrol stations here are sturdily built and come with a convenience store, like in Thailand.
  • In certain parts of the city, there are pedestrian crossing lights. This is a luxury even in Thailand, and I was surprised to see they had been installed here.
  • The toilets are clean. Everywhere. I have yet to enter an establishment with a dirty toilet. I don’t know if I have cleaners to thank, if it’s the type of places I’m frequenting, or if people are genuinely cleaner here than in Vietnam.
  • The riverside is the most extraordinary place. I’ve been warned it’s sleazy, and it is—rows of shops that wouldn’t look out of place on Khao San Road, sleaze-central in Thailand. But it’s also majestic and wonderful. I don’t have any photos—I’ve been warned not to take my phone out on the streets. But I felt like I was in Los Angeles. Wide boulevard along the river, tall palm trees swaying in the wind. And I might have just been lucky, but there was no beggar in sight.
  • Free water everywhere! In every restaurant and café, I’ve been offered free water, sometimes a whole bottle of it. I’m a water guzzler, and this free water phenomenon was a very pleasant surprise. I didn’t realise this could be a thing in a South East Asian country where tap water isn’t drinkable. I’m not sure if the water I’m being generously provided is purified tap water, but on at least one occasion I saw it being poured out of a bottle that looked like it had been bought from a store.
  • Credit cards aren’t as widely accepted here as in Bangkok, which is to be expected. Probably also not as much as in Ho Chi Minh City, though I don’t often attempt to use my card there so I can’t say for sure. Most of the places I’ve been to only accept cash or mobile QR payment. Transactions here seem to have skipped the credit card stage and gone straight from cash to mobile banking! Which, interestingly, I’ve been told some years back by a friend who used to work for a major bank in Malaysia.
  • You’d be surprised how difficult it is to navigate a new city without a mobile phone. I’ve been earnestly warned of phone snatchers, so when I’ve been out exploring, I’ve done so with the aid of a piece of note paper with street numbers scribbled on it. Each time I reach my destination sans phone feels like a genuine achievement. But even though I do my best to orient myself before setting off, I’ve gotten lost three times and had to discreetly take my phone out to consult Google Maps. Luckily, no snatching has befallen me.

Positive impressions of Phnom Penh continue. I have fallen in love with the city, as much as I could given I’m still wary of its bag/phone snatchers and pickpockets. I’ve got one full day left. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my vigilance continues to pay off and I board that plane to Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday with all the belongings I came with.

Wish me luck,


18 February 2023: Part 2

This morning I sat in my friend’s kitchen and wrote a post titled “18 February 2023”. I had no intention to make it into a two-parter, but here we are. It’s 5pm. I’m back in the same kitchen after half a day wandering around the Russian Market area of Phnom Penh. And I’ve got more observations for you:

  • I’m bowled over by how friendly and gracious every local I’ve come into contact with today is. A security guard said “Hello!” as I walked past and smiled when I, surprised, turned to return his greeting. (I don’t think a random guard has ever verbally greeted me in Ho Chi Minh City. The most you can get is a return smile if you smile at them first, but even this is rare—my smiles are usually met with an emotionless stare, if not outright ignored.) Every restaurant and café staff I’ve interacted with—and there were many—were unfailingly polite and—I can’t find a better word to describe—gracious. This includes staff at establishments I wandered in to see the interior and check the menu out. “Can I just see your menu? I’ve already eaten,” invariably engendered warm smiles and an instantly proffered booklet (always with English names of dishes). When I leave half a minute later, everyone thanks me profusely, wishes me a nice day, and “Hope to see you again.” I’ve never felt so repeatedly welcomed in an afternoon. I’ve never been made to feel so welcome ever in Ho Chi Minh City. Service is a big thing for me, so this is a major plus for Phnom Penh.
  • Greenery appears to be a thing. I found a number of restaurants densely wrapped in foliage. They were all very quaint and extremely inviting. I wish I were staying here for a month instead of ten days, so I could go back to while away afternoons in all of them.
  • Lots and lots of foreigners. A few clearly tourists, most unidentifiable.
  • Beer ($1) was cheaper than soda ($1.75). So I drank beer. The draught Cambodian beer was actually very nice—a dollar well spent.
  • Street crossing helpers are a thing. I saw this depicted on television somewhere (I don’t remember now where) yesterday in a commercial, and was the happy beneficiary of one today. My route to my lunch spot involved crossing a major thoroughfare. There were barriers in the middle, so I had to cross at a U-turn. As I stood there wondering how long I would have to wait for the traffic to ease off, an older man in a guard uniform with a light stick came up to me and gestured for me to follow him. He then proceeded to step confidently onto the street, waving his stick to stop incoming traffic, and lead the way for me to cross to the other side—Moses-style. Safely arrived, I hesitated, not knowing whether he was expecting to be paid for his much-valued service. But the man smiled and nodded, and I took that to mean that I was free to continue on my way.
  • I must have spent an hour crisscrossing the small streets to the east of the Russian Market. In that time I discovered a dedicated English language book store (still haven’t found one in Ho Chi Minh City) offering a wide variety of titles for ridiculous sums of money (Chasing the Scream was $17.50. I quickly gave up on the idea of buying a paperback to read during this trip), numerous restaurants and bars, some bakeries, and a small store selling made-in-Cambodia products which I’ve earmarked for a potential return visit (I try not to impulse-buy. I’ll see in a few days if I still want the items that caught my eye). Those few blocks remind me strongly of the Nimmanhemin area in Chiang Mai which I and my partner loved exploring last July, but a more expensive (everything’s priced in US dollars) and international version (in that short walk, I came across restaurants offering Iraqi, Balkan, Russian, Greek, and Italian cuisines).

Today was my first full day in Phnom Penh. And I must say it was a roaring success. I’ve discovered an area I love that’s 30 minutes away on foot from where I’m staying (albeit a sweaty and not-entirely-pleasant walk). I’ve acquired change in local currency so I have the option to hop on a tuktuk to get there. I’ve got more restaurants on my to-visit list than I have meals left. I’m set for the next 8 days.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your Saturday. Until next time,



18 February 2023: Part 1

It’s Saturday morning and I’m on a trip once again—to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. So here I am, blogging away, roughly half a year after my last post. I do have a blog centred around travel, but this daily blog seems to have become the place for my travel musings, so I’ll go with it.

This time, though, I do want to update that travel blog with a post comparing Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City (where I live), but I want to write with some perspective, the kind I’ll only have at the end of my 10-day trip. I also recently read an excellent advice book on writing that said the key to writing about places is to know what to leave out. I’m following the author’s advice, so rather than adding what seems like an important observation today to the post, I’ll wait until after I’ve had all my observations, so I can pick only the best ones for it.

The problem is, I only arrived yesterday afternoon and I’m already brimming with observations, which I’m afraid I’ll forget if I don’t write down. So my solution is to use this daily blog to record my unedited thoughts which I’ll cherry-pick for the travel post after my trip.

Here goes:

  • There are two kinds of airports: the ones that stress you out, and the ones that calm and delight. Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City are the former, and Phnom Penh is the latter. As soon as I entered the airport from the plane, I spotted a Relay store and a Starbucks, with proper seating, in the waiting area next to the gates. I was delighted. This is unheard of in Ho Chi Minh City. And though Bangkok has lots of shops, the seating area in its cafés is invariably cramped. The delight continued as I discovered the immigration hall had clear signs—visa on arrival here, passport control here, ASEAN lane here, toilets there. None of the confusion and chaos of Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok. The delight only heightened when I went inside the ladies’ and found that the toilet stalls had been designed to accommodate luggage. I didn’t have to push my carry-on into the corner of the stall and squeeze myself inside between the door swinging shut and the toilet. The ladies’ was also impeccably clean—a cleaner hovered nearby as I washed my hands and immediately went to wipe the sink dry afterwards. So that’s the delight. The calm was from my interactions with airport staff. I’m usually a nervous wreck when I face the immigration officer. But the man who sat in the booth in front of me, though taciturn, was not intimidating—unlike the many immigration officers who routinely terrify me in my travels in and out of Ho Chi Minh City. My hands, for perhaps the first time, were not shaking as I handed over my passport, boarding pass, and immigration card. I was not expecting to be turned away, as I do each time I fly into Ho Chi Minh City and face one of its smug officers—I was calm. The same calmness characterised my interaction with the customs officer. He was simply standing in the customs area with his hand outstretched to receive travelers’ customs forms. There was no random interrogation—”Show money” in Ho Chi Minh City being one example. I handed him the form and walked straight through. Once out into the arrival hall, I was beckoned over to one of the stalls selling “free” traveler mobile sim cards. The lady was well-prepared with a piece of laminated paper detailing all the packages and prices, and efficient in her transaction with me. I was also approached by a taxi driver hopeful for a fare. But when I said no, he promptly went away. None of the hackling you’d find in Ho Chi Minh City. There was also a large convenience store just outside the arrival hall in case you needed refreshments after a long flight—this, Ho Chi Minh City didn’t have. Needless to say, I was very impressed with the airport—a great first impression of Phnom Penh.
  • Motorbike riders wear sensible helmets in Phnom Penh. One of the things that always baffled me about Ho Chi Minh City—and Vietnam in general—was how 99% of locals wear what I’ll call “make-believe helmets.” Look around when you’re on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, and you’ll see a sea of half a plastic coconut shell strapped on top of lots of heads. I’ve had one of those on mine often while taking Grab bikes, and it doesn’t make me feel the slightest bit safer. I feel like it would either bounce right off if I had a crash, or crush my skull. For the longest time, I thought this preference for make-believe helmets was a phenomenon of lower-income countries—you don’t see them in Thailand. So I was surprised when I came out of the airport onto the streets of Phnom Penh, a city further behind on the development curve than Ho Chi Minh City, and didn’t see a single one. Every local rider had on proper full helmets, the kind I and my partner wear. And now I need to come up with a new theory to explain the make-believe helmet phenomenon in Vietnam.

Those were my two key observations from yesterday, among other minor ones like the beautiful architecture around the city, the various exotic kinds of Grab rides you can order, and how quiet the streets are—people don’t drive with their horn like in Vietnam.

So far, Phnom Penh is a delight. Today I’ll go out on foot to the Russian market to have lunch at one of the restaurants I’d earmarked for the trip. My friend, with whom I’m staying, has warned me of rampant phone and bag snatching. So, rather than consulting my phone for every turn, I’m going to have to memorise my route, which is going to be interesting. Or, I just had an idea, I’ll simply write down the street names on a piece of paper. Sorted: we’re going to travel the old-fashioned way. Then I’m hoping to come back and hit the gym in the afternoon, keep fit and shed the kilogram I’ve put on in the last week.

That’s it from me for now.



p.s. There is now a “Part 2” to this post. I came back at the end of the day and recorded more observations. Off you go.

14 July 2022

In keeping with my “holiday blog post” tradition, here I am again. Though not on holiday this time, just on the verge of one.

Tomorrow, we’re leaving on a jet plane to Bangkok for our summer vacation. And I’m terribly excited, for two reasons:

  1. My partner is coming with me this time, so there is no tearful goodbye in the morning as I rush off to the airport.
  2. It’s the first time in a really long time that I’m actually taking a break from work. I will be traveling sans laptop, and that is indeed terribly exciting.

Don’t get me wrong—the luxury to work from anywhere is definitely a plus, not a minus. But it does encourage me to take semi-holidays where I am in a different place and working minimal hours, but still working and spending a couple of hours on my laptop every day. I might be done by 12pm and have the rest of the day to relax, but I’m still starting off the day with work.

In fact, I don’t remember the last time I went on holiday without my laptop. It might have been a couple of days’ seaside holiday with my parents, which I suspect was in late 2020, but my Google Calendar has mysteriously decided to vanish all my calendar appointments from 2021 backwards, so I can’t confirm my hunch.

No, I’m lying. I think my holiday to Vung Tau with my partner in April 2021 was sans laptop, but I can’t be sure.

Anyways, that was only a couple of days. This time, it’s going to be a full two weeks without my trusted Dell. I don’t think I’ve spent this much time apart from it since my last trip abroad to Japan in… 2019? I don’t know anymore which year is which. Let’s just say pre-Covid.

This time, we’re going to be spending some time in a luxurious mountain resort, which will be our first time. Needless to say, I am greatly looking forward to it. We’ve done a luxurious seaside resort before and loved it—let’s see what difference the setting makes. We’re also doing touristy things in Chiang Mai and Sukhothai, all places my partner has never been to. So he’s excited (and I’m excited to be showing him around).

We’re also going to be spending a large part of our trip with my parents, so they also get to travel, which is something they don’t do often—so that’s a bonus. This will be my first trip with my dad since his cancer diagnosis last year. Fingers crossed his health holds up and he gets to fully enjoy this family trip.

As I’m usually blogging on holiday, the thought crossed my mind today to blog while I’ve still got my laptop around. I might well be in the mood and decide to write another post from the mountaintop with my phone, but I do hate writing on my phone so. It’s a less fluid experience and I don’t like straining my eyes on the small screen.

The thing I love about these holiday blog posts is they’re stream-of-consciousness writing. I’m writing whatever thought bubbles to the front of my mind, never knowing which word is coming next. It’s intensely freeing. Though I write regularly these days, it’s always for my newsletter where I’ve got to be focused and deliver value to my readers (my value proposition: make you “stop and think”)—I can’t just write, or you might say ramble, as I’m doing now.

The focused, structured writing is rewarding and enjoyable. But it’s not quite as cathartic as opening up my laptop and letting my fingers roam free on the keyboard, each word a springboard to the next. It’s lovely. Maybe this is why I keep coming back to write these holiday posts, because I enjoy the outlet so much.

Ah, I will actually be turning 33 during this two-week holiday to Thailand. Not a significant milestone age, but I do like the double 3s. I’m also highly anticipating my birthday treat. My partner asked me what present I wanted for my birthday (I’m notoriously difficult to buy for because I don’t usually want anything). I thought long and hard about it. And only one thing came to my mind.

Yes, for my 33rd birthday, the one and only present I want is a birthday cake. Specifically, a dark chocolate birthday cake with chocolate ganache and berries.

Nothing more, nothing less.

I am deadly serious about this birthday cake business. I even wrote the seller to check if the cake is dense and moist (the way I like it). They said yes.

Apparently, the smallest size is a 6-slice cake. As my partner is dairy allergic and cannot partake, upon my return from the trip I will have scrumptious cake to last me six days, if I behave.

Merely the thought of biting into that cake is giving me joy. I cannot wait.

I hope you’re all well. And if you like my writing and want to hear from me regularly, check out Val Thinks, my newsletter. It packs a far heavier punch. The writing is tighter. And it promises to make you “stop and think” every Friday (or Thursday depending on where you are in the world—I may have to re-think my newsletter send time at some point if I continue to amass more readers in the West).

Love as always,


16 April 2022

Hello! It’s been 2 and a half months since my last post, which I guess is a considerable improvement from the 6-month hiatus pre-January.

Just like last time, I’m once again on a holiday away from Ho Chi Minh City. For whatever reason, I seem to have the urge to update this blog while on holiday. Maybe it’s the break from the normal work and newsletter routine, maybe it’s just the head space that comes with being on holiday, but in any case I’m glad to be here.

We’re in Hanoi for 10 days for a much-needed break for my partner. We were due to fly up to attend a friend’s wedding, which would have been a weekend affair. But I suggested to extend our stay in Hanoi and we’ve ended up with this long-ish holiday.

Well, kinda. I’m not taking time off work for this holiday. Just going to squish all my work into mornings and stop all non-day-job engagements. No teaching. No subtitles. Just my main gig. And I’ve done all that I could last week to make this week as light as possible. So I’m looking at having my afternoons and evenings free to explore Hanoi and lounge around our apartment.

For the first time while traveling, I’m staying in a serviced apartment. Me, the hotel addict. I’d never considered staying at apartments before, but this time it was the most suitable option. We needed a one-bedroom (as opposed to just one room) so I could get up early and work while my partner’s still sleeping. And one-bedrooms at the fancy hotels in the area we want to be in are simply too pricey for my (already rather generous) budget.

While searching on Agoda, a few luxury apartments popped up. I showed these to my partner and together we picked a rather new luxury apartment that claims to double up as a five-star hotel. It has an impressive indoor swimming pool, a sauna (which is a huge plus for my partner), and rooms that look rather nice, with balconies overlooking the lake. I called them up to ask a few more questions about the room and was connected to their reservations team, who emailed me all the details and proposed a rather affordable package that includes a buffet breakfast and a lunch/dinner every day.

So, here I am, typing away from the sofa in our front room. We’re here for 9 nights at a price that’s far more affordable than it would have been if we’re in Thailand (I suspect). And the service so far has been stellar. We had requested a special menu for my partner who’s dairy allergic. And the front desk, as well as the kitchen, were aware of this upon our arrival. All we have to do is give our room number and they know we’ve got a special menu to order from.

All the staff have been efficient, polite, and welcoming. They actually smile at you and acknowledge your presence when you walk past them, which I really like. One of the things I hate the most is when staff try to pretend to be invisible and look away when you approach—I’ve always found that rather weird and unwelcoming.

We did have a small glitch yesterday when my laptop wouldn’t connect to the apartment wi-fi. An engineer was sent to our room who seemed to have no idea what he was doing. Neither did he speak English. I got somewhat (read: very) agitated because he was fumbling about in my laptop’s settings and taking pictures of my screen to send to someone whose help he was seeking. But he did manage to fix it in the end following instructions from the mysterious colleague who now has pictures of my laptops’ desktop (which I’m still not pleased with).

But apart from that episode of getting pissed off at the engineer, everything has been excellent. Unless something goes seriously wrong in the next 8 days, I’ll wholeheartedly recommend this apartment to anyone who’s looking for a place to stay in West Lake.

My partner has gone off to meet a friend in the area, so I’m just lounging around the apartment for the morning, working up the motivation to go use our fancy gym and burn off some burger babies I’ve accumulated over the past week. Maybe I’ll let the food settle for another half an hour, maybe write up a newsletter, before hitting the gym.

Then we’ve got our lunch arriving at 12:30pm to the room, ordered from our special menu.

Ah, this is the life. Feeling extremely grateful (to myself) for having worked hard to be at a place in life where I can afford such luxuries. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it sure buys comfort.

Until next time, hope you’re all doing well where you are.



31 January 2022

Well, what d’ya know… Turns out having a weekly newsletter means you spend all your writing time producing the newsletter, and leave your blog in utter neglect and despair. I am ashamed.

I guess it’s not totally surprising. We’ve got limited hours in a day. Something’s got to give.

I can’t believe it’s been almost half a year since my last post on this blog. I hope you’ve all been well and haven’t missed me too much.

Maybe you haven’t noticed I’ve been missing at all. (Boo!)

Since starting the newsletter in May 2021, I’ve been averaging a writing session every couple of weeks, which I guess isn’t too bad. But it’s not just been writing. I chose to have a presence on social media (I’m @valthinkswriter everywhere). And maintaining a regular presence on social media means producing content for social media, which ironically takes up just about as much time as writing.

I remember reading from somewhere that to try and make it as a writer, you spend 30% of your time writing, and the other 70% self-promoting. I have no idea if that’s true or if I totally made the figures up in my dreams, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what it takes to build an audience.

So far, I’ve got a handful of engaged readers of my newsletter, which I’m very thankful for. But the newsletter hasn’t been growing as I’d like it to. (In fact, it hasn’t been growing at all.) Which is why I signed up to this programme called Substack Go which is aimed at helping writers make it (go?) on Substack, my platform of choice.

[Here, have another shameless self-promotion link: CHECK OUT VAL THINKS ON SUBSTACK.]

It’s a month-long programme which connects Substack writers so we can “build our publications, together.” I joined it almost on a whim, with a vague idea that I’ll get to “meet” other writers and learn from their growth strategies. I was probably more curious than anything.

Anyways, I got accepted (yippee!)1 and tomorrow evening I’ll be struggling to stay awake in the kick-off session. 8pm is way too late for anything that needs proper focus for an ultimate early bird like myself, but it’s the only time slot that works because I’m not living on the right side of the planet.

The late hour isn’t the only inconvenience the programme brings. I’m actually also on holiday, which means I’d ideally like to not have to be kinda working at 8pm on two evenings. But I think (I hope) it’ll be worth it.

So far, I’ve already used the Writer Directory compiled as part of the programme to reach out to this Thai lady who’s doing something really interesting on a topic close to my heart—mental health. She seems legit cool, and I can’t wait to meet her in person for a coffee the next time I’m in Bangkok.2

So, even if these 8pm Zoom calls come to nothing, I will have gained a new legit cool person for my network. (The Empire expands.)

In typical “A Day in the Life of Val” style, I’ve rambled my way through this post, grasping at each strand of thought that appears, more struggle than fluidity. It’s not been a good 20 minutes for writing. My brain is all muddled up and I feel a dull throbbing on my forehead.

Maybe I’m tired from waking up early for the morning flight. Maybe 5pm is too late for me to be writing (oh God, how on earth will I survive the 8pm workshops). Maybe the Vietnamese coffee I got from the homestay owner at 12pm is wreaking havoc on my system. Vietnamese coffee tends to do that to me, which you might imagine would be inconvenient given that I live in Vietnam, but really isn’t because “Italian” coffee is available everywhere (all hail Arabica).

I’m thinking I should end this post now before it makes even less sense than it already does. But strangely, writing about struggling to write seems to be easier than writing about writing. Words are coming more easily now.

I want to make some sharp, witty, intelligent-sounding comment about the above paragraph. But I’m afraid my brain is in no state to accomplish such a task.

So I’ll just leave you with the view from the balcony where I’m currently sat fumbling my way through this post. A view I can’t actually see unless I stand up, which I’ll go do in a minute once I’ve published this.

I’ve missed this stream-of-consciousness writing. I shall endeavour to come do this more often. And I do apologise for my absence.




  1. They probably accepted everyone who applied.
  2. We’ve actually connected on LinkedIn. I didn’t just dream up this coffee meet.

26 July 2021

Yesterday was a Sunday and, incidentally, also my birthday.

As lockdown birthdays go, it was as indulgent as could be.

Since we couldn’t go anywhere (HCMC is in a strict lockdown, thanks Delta), we made this a gastronomic birthday, with my partner slaving away in the kitchen most of the day cooking up delicious treats and doing the dishes (thanks honey).

We started the day off with pancakes. We couldn’t manage to procure a birthday cake, so my partner made me some of his buckwheat pancakes as a substitute birthday cake.

Mercury Rising was on the telly so I just munched my pancake while tuning in and out of Bruce Willis being all action star-ey. A relaxing start to the day.

We whiled away the morning. (Well, I whiled away the morning, my partner was doing the dishes.) And then we had lunch.

We had bought t-bone steaks the sizes of which can probably crack open a skull or two, and my partner proceeded to fry it to medium rare perfection. It was a most delicious lunch and extremely good for the soul.

Then we watched Your Name which I saw in the cinema years back and remember being very good. The second watch was less satisfying than the first, but my partner who was seeing it for the first time seemed to enjoy it.

Then an instant noodle dinner (very satisfying, I’ve perfected the art of boiling it just right to leave the noodles bouncy) and The Beguiled, my partner’s choice of movie for the evening.

And that’s pretty much it. Three meals, three movies. Plus a bit of Minions in the late morning as my partner was prepping potatoes for lunch.

An indulgent birthday during a stringent lockdown.

I couldn’t have asked for better.



Before you go…

Did you know I have a weekly newsletter where I share a thought from me every Friday? I write on topics ranging from coffee to writing as therapy. It’s a perfect read to end your working week. Check it out.

9 June 2021

So this landed in my inbox this morning:

Val Thinks, my newsletter baby of just under 4 weeks, now has over 100 subscribers!

Given that I’m shooting for thousands, 100 seems a measly amount. But girl’s gotta start somewhere.

Half of the first 100 came from tapping friends, family, and my professional network. (Thank you!)

The second half came from promoting my newsletter in a Facebook group of 1.1 million members for Thais looking to immigrate. I positioned it as English practice… you know, read great writing and improve your English kinda thing.

I don’t think I got any subscribers from this blog yet, but girl’s gonna keep hustling.

If you’ve read this far, you might as well check it out. In the past few weeks, I’ve written about coffee addiction, energy management, and perverse incentives. And I’ve got dozens more topics, ranging from moisterising to identity, in store.

My newsletter will keep your Fridays fun and unpredictable, and will probably make you smile.

Now go show some love.

Yours truly,


19 May 2021

I’m back with some news:

I started a weekly newsletter on Substack!

Yep, indeedio I did.

It’s not something I’ve ever considered. But last Tuesday I read an Economist article about the modern creator industry and the article mentioned Substack as a platform independent writers can get on to get paid for their writing directly. (Obviously Substack takes a cut, but you can’t have your lunch and eat it too!)

Since the platform was mentioned in a reputable newspaper, I figured it was worth checking out. And the article planted the idea of starting a newsletter in my mind.

I’ve been blogging for almost 8 years in a variety of places, and all this time I never really considered making money from my blogs. I didn’t think it would be viable. Plus, I was doing it more for personal enjoyment and to practice writing.

But I think the time has come (no time like the present!) to try and strike out on my own as an independent writer, and a paid newsletter seems like a pretty solid way to do that. My writing, straight to your inbox, and if you want you can feed me for it. (If not, that’s cool. There will always be a free option.)

So, the day after reading the article, I checked Substack out and spent 3 hours setting up my newsletter: Val Thinks.

The idea behind the newsletter is to share a thought with you every Friday. A thought for your metaphorical penny.

This newsletter will be the culmination of a lifetime of reflection, observations, and discoveries. It will cover anything under the sun, from the supposedly mundane to the controversial. I will share with you the best thoughts I’ve ever had that I think have the potential to make your life a better place, change the way you see the world, or even just put a smile on your face.

The first edition of the newsletter went out last Friday mostly to friends and family. The next email will land this Friday, and I think it’s time to share it with my lovely readers.

Check it out, subscribe, and let me know what you think.



17 April 2021

Predictably, as soon as I got out of quarantine, life took hold and I left blogging behind.

It’s been a whirlwind three weeks. And as I find myself with time on my hands today, I figured it’d be a good idea to take stock of where I am since my move to Ho Chi Minh City.

Settling In

The priority once I got out of quarantine was to settle in and make myself at home. This was relatively uncomplicated and consisted of:

  • Unpacking: Done in a couple of hours the day after I moved in
  • Buying groceries: Flossy pork and freshly grounded coffee in the fridge, instant noodles in the cupboard, and lots and lots of beer
  • Getting to know Thao Dien: We live in “Expat Central” and it was a joy to discover while zooming around on the back of my partner’s bike the dizzying array of restaurants and cafes within a ten-minute radius from home. There’s even a New York bagel place, and yesterday we ate at a Balkan restaurant. The variety of food available here is impressive, to say the least.

The Domestic Life

Apart from settling into the new flat and new city, I’m also moving in with my partner of over 2 years for the first time. Somewhat surprisingly, there’s been very little friction to living together and in three weeks we’ve synced up in various ways:

  • Wake-up and bed times: I used to wake up super early (4-5am) and go to bed super early (6-7pm), but I’ve now shifted my hours backwards so I wake up with my partner’s alarm (6:30am) and we have a couple of hours together chilling in the evening. The trick to this, I discovered, was to take my bipolar medication later in the day. This was the culprit behind me feeling impossibly sleepy in the early hours of the evening. Since shifting my medication time, I’ve been able to stay up until 9-10pm with no difficulty. Issue solved!
  • Finances: We’ve been using Splitwise to track our household spending, taxis, eating out, etc. It’s been pretty easy and useful.
  • Space: My partner has a job which requires confidentiality, so he works most of the time from his office which is just across the road, while I normally set up shop for my remote job in the living room/kitchen area. When he watches TV in the living room over breakfast, I just put in my earphones and play ambient cafe soundscapes. If my partner needs to take a confidential call, he goes into the bedroom and shuts the door, and I put on my earphones so I don’t hear.
  • Food: We share the groceries bill and have been alternating cooking. I started cooking again after not having cooked anything for years, and am immensely enjoying presenting my partner with a variety of oyster-sauce-based dishes, to the point where he’s starting to good-naturedly protest for more variety.
  • Communication: We’ve always been pretty good at communication, and communicating face-to-face is far easier than doing it over a chat app or a phone call, so this has been very smooth since moving in together. We’re both very direct people and (I’d like to think) quite emotionally intelligent. None of the passive aggression and making unjustified assumptions about each other.


Both my partner and I have been working non-stop for the past few months, he more so than I as I’ve been on a few short trips here and there. But both of us wanted to unwind so we went to Vung Tau, a quiet beach town, for a 3-night getaway. It was good and probably much needed. We found the perfect spot: a fancy hotel’s private beach that you have to pay $10 per head per day to use, but it was worth it. We lounged for two days straight by their pool, swam, read, and just let ourselves drift off to the sound of the sea.

The Work Life

I got back to work this week and launched straight into an exciting new project. Nothing much to say here except that it was great to be back at work and it was comfortable enough to work from my new work set-up in the living room. The chair (which used to be the bane of my existence at my condo) is comfortable and I can sit up straight and not hurt my bum. Which is all I ask for really. And I get plenty of light coming in through the bay window. Nothing to complain!

The Company

One thing which went on pause while I was in quarantine was all affairs related to my company. But this week since getting back from the short beach holiday I’ve had meetings with my company accountant and bank manager, and (fingers crossed) I believe all the issues have been resolved. It’s not easy to figure out the financial management for my company, but I think my accountant and I have found a good solution. I’ve also learned how to withdraw and deposit money at the bank, including where the ladies’ are (which is very important).


Finally, the last piece of the puzzle, creating a new community in Ho Chi Minh City. From the first week, I’d met up a couple of times with my partner’s closest friends whom I’d met before while visiting him in Hanoi. And things seem to be going well on that front. We’re continuing conversations over chat and it’s nice to spend time with them.

But also yesterday we went out to dinner with a bunch of people I’d not met before, and for the first time in over a year I got to introduce myself to someone new and get to know them. This was very pleasant and I surprised myself realising that I’d missed it.

This coming week I’ll be catching up with a former colleague who lives and works here, and also catching up virtually with a good friend. Now that work and company stuff is kind of sorted, I’m happy to get back to meeting people. I’ve missed my coffees!

And that’s pretty much it, a recap of my three weeks more for my benefit than for yours.

In short, life in Ho Chi Minh City has been great, and I’m very happy I made the move here.

Until next time.