Kep (Apr 7-9): Crab Market, National Park, and Some Darn Good Fish!

My next destination after Phnom Penh was Kep. I had the option of taking the early bus at 7am (and be ready by 6:30am) or wait until 12pm (and be ready by 11:30am). Since I had already done quite a few early mornings, I naturally opted for the later time for $8USD/$10.95AUD. I was told that it would only take about 3.5 hours, so I wasn’t too concerned. I actually ended up waking up quite early (thanks to a couple in my room, if you catch my drift.. cough cough) so I decided to get up and ready for the day, check out, and go to Decathlon so that I could get a bigger bag to put my backpack and painting in. It took about 45 minutes each way, so by the time I got back, I had about an hour and a half to eat something before I’d get picked up. However, it was the slowest service ever! I ordered a burger and it took over an hour – I thought I might just have to leave without eating. Luckily, I got my burger with about five minutes to spare, so I ate it as fast as I could but felt bad because there was a couple who had ordered before me and one of them was STILL waiting for their food. Right when I finished eating, my tuktuk came and picked me up to take me to the bus station. Then I had to take my ticket to the ticket booth and she gave me a different ticket with a bottle of water, and told me to board the bus cause it would be leaving in about 15 minutes. The bus ride took way longer than expected (at least an hour late) due to horrible traffic getting out of Phnom Penh, as well as horrible traffic along the main road. I think we arrived in Kep at about 5:30pm, and I was able to get the bus to stop at the end of my hostel’s road (because I was staying outside of the main city of Kep). I was staying in a place called Khmer House Hostel and I got my own bedroom and bathroom for $7USD/$9.58AUD per night.

img_4152.jpg

I had only booked one night but I loved the idea of having my own room, so I extended for another night. However, the room was SO hot – I only had a fan above me so it was starfish-sleeping-position the entire night. I had dinner at the hostel that night (apparently they have their own restaurant at the Crab Market as well) and I decided to order fish with peppercorn sauce.

img_4144.jpg

Kep is known for two things – the seafood, and the pepper (which actually comes from its neighbouring city, Kampot) so I decided to try both in one go for $7USD/$9.58AUD. It was absolutely amazing! The hostel owner definitely knows what she’s doing when it comes to cooking. I decided to call it an early night since I didn’t get much sleep the night before.

On Monday morning, I got up and decided to check out the famous Crab Market and then go for a hike in the National Park. Even though I was quite far from the city, I decided to walk because it was only about 20 minutes away. Again though, it was in 39-degree weather (with the humidex), so I started melting pretty fast. I went to the Crab Market first, which seemed to be mostly locals. It was cool watching some of the people swimming in the water, collecting the traps filled with crabs, and I even got to watch the ladies sorting through the crabs and saw some of the famous blue crabs.

Even though Kep’s symbol is a crab and it has the Crab Market, ordering crab is actually starting to be frowned upon because the crabs have been overtrapped, so many people don’t want to support the industry anymore. I therefore made sure that I stuck to ordering fish at the restaurants (which was still just as good!). After awhile at the Fish Market, I walked towards the entrance to the national park, which took another 15-20 minutes. I was already completely sweating and out of breath before even making it to the entrance. When I got to the entrance, there was a man sleeping in the stand, so I made sure to walk through the gravel extra loudly so that he knew I was coming. I had to pay $1USD/$1.37AUD and sign myself into the book. Then I was on my way! It was supposed to be an 8km round trip and take about 2 hours. However, I realised that the path going around the outside was really just an old road, so I got bored after about an hour. When I made it halfway, I noticed that there was a Transverse Path that basically cut straight towards the entrance that I came through, but went through the forest and straight up a hill. I figured I might as well try it because it seemed more like a hike than what I was doing, but after less than five minutes later, I started to regret my decision. It was hot, there were leaves all over the path (I’m not sure if anyone else really walked there), and there were a lot more mosquitoes.

After about an hour of walking through the forest, I just wanted to get out so I walked south until I found another exit and then walked along the coastline. One thing I noticed about Kep was that there were signs everywhere that said “Cleanest City,” but it was so dirty everywhere! Litter was all over the streets and the beaches, and it really took away from the whole thing (much of Cambodia was like this though, with the exception of Koh Rong Samloem). After walking along the coast for about a half hour, I decided to get some lunch since it was nearly 2pm.

I went to a taco place called Beachside Tacos, and I may have had the most amazing fish tacos I’ve had in my life! They were cooked perfectly, had so much flavour, and were so delicious.

img_4162.jpg

Plus three tacos, a Pepsi, and a milkshake only cost me $4.65USD/$6.36AUD! After eating, I was thinking about going to the beach but it was so busy and I didn’t know where I’d keep my stuff, so I just walked back to the hostel. I showered and then went to watch the sunset, but the sun got hidden behind the clouds on the way down.

3010039636455262439_img_6732.jpg

Therefore, I went back to the hostel and had dinner with a guy from Portugal. By the time we finished dinner, it was too late for me to book a bus for the following morning, so the hostel owner told me to come at 8 the next morning to book a bus.

On Tuesday morning, I got up and went straight to the counter to book a bus to Kampot for 10:30am. That way, I had a couple hours to pack up my stuff and have breakfast before leaving. Love always

Phnom Penh (Apr 5-7): Killing Fields, S21 Prison, and a Rude Awakening

The trip to Phnom Penh was quite smooth because I decided to book my trip online with Giant Ibis for $18.39USD/$25.17AUD. I had breakfast at the hostel in Ho Chi Minh and then walked for about ten minutes to get to the bus office 15 minutes early. The bus came and we left just after 8am, and they gave us all scones and water. The ticket guy explained how everything would work, handed out the arrival/departure forms and visa applications, and then collected our passports with payment for the visa (which was $35USD/$47.91AUD). It was then that I realised I had left my photos in my big backpack, which was under the bus (I had completely forgotten that I would need them since it was only the second time that I was required to have a photo). However, the bus company somehow avoided me actually needing the picture, as I think they had some police officers on our bus who processed everything and put the visas straight in our passports before we even got to border control, so they only had to be stamped. We drove for just over two hours and got to the Vietnam border, so we all had to get off of the bus and wait in the building for about ten minutes. The bus worker had all of our passports and got them all stamped for us and then gave our passports back so that we could show the officer on the way out. It was such a smooth process! We got back on the bus and drove a couple of minutes to a restaurant, where we’d have a 30-minute break. I was one of the first ones to order and decided to have one last pho before leaving Vietnam, and luckily this pho did not disappoint! We all got on the bus and got to the Cambodian border, so we all had to get off again and wait in line to get our passports stamped. As I said, the visas were already in there, and the bus worker seemed to know the customs officers well because as soon as we came in, they opened three new lines for us to speed up the process. We got through quite quickly and then once I got on the other side, I went to get a SIM card. I should have known better because of course, he tried to overcharge me. I saw that unlimited data would be 6 dollars, which was a good price so I gave the guy my phone and he started to install the SIM card. However, he asked how long I’d be in Cambodia and when I said two weeks, he said that the unlimited card would only last for one week, so he was trying to get me to pay $15-$20 for one that would last two weeks. This just made me angry so I said that I changed my mind, and I’d find somewhere cheaper. I got back on the bus and we continued to Phnom Penh and arrived at about 3:30pm. I didn’t have any Cambodian money yet (and didn’t realise that I wouldn’t actually need any, since Cambodia mostly uses the US dollar for everything) so I didn’t think I could take a tuktuk. The walk to my hostel was about 30 minutes and Cambodia has been considerably hotter than Vietnam, with constant “feels-like” temperatures of 39 degrees. Especially in Phnom Penh, my skin constantly felt wet the entire time I was there – it was similar to how the weather felt in Kuala Lumpur, except a few degrees hotter. Naturally, the walk was extremely difficult (especially carrying all of my bags and my newly acquired painting) and I noticed right away that I was underdressed. I was wearing shorts and a tank top, but I noticed that everyone (all men and women) were wearing pants/jeans and long-sleeved shirts. How were they surviving in this weather?! I got to my hostel and checked in at The Big Easy for $4.50USD/$6.16AUD per night in an 18-bed dorm. I decided to go straight to Hard Rock Cafe to get my drumsticks, which was a 20-minute walk away. I just have to say that I love Hard Rock Cafe and the way that they train their staff because it doesn’t matter what location you go to, you’ll always be greeted with friendly smiles and the workers are always so helpful. I noticed that they didn’t have any city-specific drumsticks this time, and since I knew that there was another location in Cambodia, I asked if it would be possible for them to check if there’d be any city-specific drumsticks there. They told me that they’d message the other location, but since it was 5pm, they might not write back for awhile. He said that I could have a drink at the bar, so I decided I might as well. Believe it or not, this was a first for me! I can do many things alone – sit at restaurants, cafes, go to the movies, etc. But I’ve never had the guts to go sit at a bar alone. This was a good starting point for me because there were only two other people in the bar so I didn’t feel as awkward. I ordered a drink and sat there for about an hour, and one of the workers even came and sat with me and told me about how Khmer New Year would be the following week.

img_3974.jpg

I decided to go back to the hostel and come back the following day. On the way back, I stopped at Wat Phnom to take some pictures and I think I actually snuck in through an entrance because when I left, I realised that I should have paid. Oops!

3641278191098974599_img_6548.jpg

As soon as I got to my room, I was planning on having a shower but started talking to an American guy named Lef. He asked if I wanted to go downstairs for drinks (because we got one free welcome beer), so I agreed. I was also able to set up a SIM card at the hostel. The actual SIM card cost $4USD, and then it was $1 per week for unlimited data, so I only had to pay $6USD/$8.21AUD. The problem with Cambodia is the beer is usually the same price or cheaper than just getting a coke. We had a couple beer and then I was craving nachos, so I looked up “nachos near me” and surprisingly, there was a place less than ten minutes away called Cocina Cartel. I finally got my nachos, which were a bit more pricey at $8USD/$10.95AUD, but they definitely hit the spot! After our late-night dinner, we headed back to the hostel and I went to bed because I was told to be in the lobby by 9am to go on a tour.

On Saturday morning, I got up at 8am and then went down for breakfast at 8:30am. Unfortunately, no one else had expressed interest in going to the Killing Fields or the S21 Museum, but the lady told me to wait and see if anyone else came downstairs. At about 9:30, a British girl came downstairs and asked about getting a tuktuk, so she came and sat with me to have breakfast. Lucy and I clicked right off the bat – she came from the other side of Cambodia, so she gave me tips on what to do and see during my time there. She had been travelling with her boyfriend, but they just started travelling separately because she was meeting up with her mom in Thailand, so this was her first place being alone after a long time. We talked for at least 30-45 minutes and then an American guy named Nate came and sat with us. He said that he’d go shower and then come down so we could leave. While we were waiting, a German girl named Suzy came down and asked if she could come, but she said that she was meeting up with friends for breakfast first and still had to shower, so she asked if we could leave closer to 11 or 11:30. By that point, I had already been waiting 2 hours and by 11:30, it would be 3 hours so I felt like I was wasting half of my day sitting in the hostel lobby. Since it was my only full day in Phnom Penh, I really wanted to get going. Lucy felt the same way, but neither of us wanted to say anything. The three of us (Lucy, Nate, and I) sat and waited for another 45 minutes, but Suzy still hadn’t even gone upstairs to shower yet so we told her we wanted to leave by 11:30 (cause she was trying to push for 12). Luckily, she agreed so finally at 11:30, we were about to leave and another girl from Germany (Antonia) came up to us and asked if we were going to the Killing Fields. She needed to go upstairs and change, and I felt like we were never going to leave. However, we finally did! We had a tuktuk for the entire day, and we had to pay $5USD/$6.84AUD each. We decided to go to the Killing Fields first, which took nearly an hour to get there. By that point, I decided that I should probably get some food since it was just before 1 and we’d probably be in there for at least a couple of hours. I decided to get a morning glory, but it still didn’t sit well with my stomach (it seems like some type of spice in Asian foods was setting my stomach off every time).

3785664217440145742_img_6553.jpg

Anyway, we got to the Killing Fields and had to pay $6USD/$8.21AUD for admission, which also included an audio guide. I’m so glad that we got audio guides as well, because I wasn’t very familiar with the Cambodian history, and hearing it made it so much more real. I was literally sitting there, taking notes about everything I heard so that I could share the information. It’s such a dark history, and it only happened less than 50 years ago! In the late 1970s, Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge movement. He wanted everyone to be treated as equals, who all worked at labour-intensive farm jobs. Within three days, everything in the cities closed. All of the people were moved out of the cities and ordered to go to collective farms, and religion and education became forbidden. Many people were worked to death or died of starvation, because they’d have to work 12 hours per day with unsuitable living conditions. If someone was thought to undermine Pol Pot’s plan, they would be killed. This included doctors, lawyers, teachers, professionals, nuns, anyone with soft hands, anyone with glasses.. and they would be arrested. Pol Pot created an army using many young people (teenagers) who were from the peasant class and had very little education. From 1976-1978, people were brought to the Killing Fields and they were killed the night that they arrived, one by one. The army didn’t use guns because bullets were too expensive, so they’d use every type of tool imaginable to beat the people to death – I won’t go into details but it was morbid. By 1978, trucks were coming in everyday with up to 300 people each time. During this period, 3 million people out of the 8 million population were killed throughout the country (more than 1 in 4 people!), and in the Killing Field area alone, 20000 people were killed. The bodies would then be poured into mass graves. Some of the people weren’t completely dead when they were buried, so they would pour DDT on top of the bodies to finish off the job. One of the saddest parts of the tour was when we came to the Killing Tree. This tree was used to kill babies. The soldiers would hold the babies by the feet and hit them against the tree, because they didn’t want any kids to grow up and seek revenge. It was such a heavy and emotional day and even though it was hard to hear, I also thought that it was necessary to learn about. The tour ended with a building of multiple levels – the first ten levels were made up of 9000 skulls, and each skull was marked with how the person was killed or tortured. The upper levels included other bones. In the Killing Fields area, there were 129 mass graves, and bones and teeth still get uprooted every few months. There is only one senior officer (out of four) who has started undergoing trial, and he’s the only one who admits that anything ever happened – the other three still deny everything, even though the proof is there.

After spending two or three hours there, we all got back into the tuktuk. It was a very quiet ride at first, as I think all of us were still processing everything that we had just learned and seen. Nate was pretty good at lifting everyone’s spirits while we were on our way to the S21 Prison Museum. We got there at about 4pm so it was only open for another hour. We saw that admission would be $5USD/$6.84AUD but then an audio guide would be an additional $3USD. We decided not to get the audio guide since we didn’t have much time, and we assumed that there’d be information written down. However, we were very wrong and I kind of regretted not getting an audio guide because I think it would have helped a lot more. We walked through all of the buildings, and saw all of the prison cells with single beds, along with pictures on the wall of the prisoners on those same beds. The cells seemed to get smaller and smaller, and there were bloodstains still on the floors. At the very end of the tour, they had hundreds of pictures of the prisoners and then they also had pictures of the dead bodies holding numbers, which was extremely difficult to see.

Once again, I just felt heavy again. I have heard multiple stories about people thinking of doing the Killing Fields one day and then the prison the next day, but then decided not to do the other one because they didn’t want to have two full days of sadness. I’m relieved that we did everything in one day, even though it was a lot to take in. It’s crazy that I had no idea that any of this happened, but made me realise how important it is to make myself aware of this kind of stuff. We got back to the tuktuk and made our way back to the hostel.

1961008381958948127_img_6648.jpg

By that point, we were all soaking wet because it was so hot that day, so everyone decided to shower. I decided to take a Grab Bike back to Hard Rock Cafe in order to get my drumsticks (since I had heard back from the other location and they said they didn’t have any), and then when I got back, I showered and met up with everyone for drinks. I found out that the restaurant had poutine, and I was beyond excited to have one!

img_3990.jpg

It was pretty good too! After a couple of drinks, we decided to get some food for everyone else, but everyone had difficulty agreeing on a restaurant so we ended up walking for quite awhile. FINALLY, everyone agreed on a restaurant, so everyone else got dinner and we all chatted some more. This restaurant had pints of beer for 50 cents each! After dinner, we ended up separating from the group, and Lucy, Antonia, and I headed back to the hostel.

img_4001.jpg

Lucy and I continued having drinks at the hostel bar, and sat with some of the expats who were living in the city. It’s been weird because everywhere in Cambodia, there seems to be expats who have lived there for years, and all of the hostels I’ve stayed in (with the exception of one so far) are run by those expats and not by locals. This was one of the first times in all of my travels where I went out for more than just a couple of drinks, and it was because Lucy and I got along so well. It was nice to feel like I had a normal friend to vent with about everything, and both of us were so sad that we only had one day together because I think we could have been really good travel partners. However, we’re still writing each other now so I wouldn’t be surprised if we met up again in the future. Lucy went to bed at about midnight because she had to catch a flight the next morning at 8am, so I stayed up and talked to some of the workers there. I went to bed shortly after because I’d be leaving the next day for Kep, which I’ll save for the next post. Love always

Ho Chi Minh City (Apr 2-5): Another Night Bus, the War Remnants Museum, and Some Alone Time

The 13-hour bus ride to Ho Chi Minh went by pretty fast, and I think I actually ended up falling asleep for a bit. I was given 30 minutes to feel sad before we already stopped for a 30-minute bathroom/food break. I figured I should probably eat since I had only eaten a sandwich at 4pm, so I went to the restaurant and ordered a pho for 48000 dong ($2.83AUD). I’ve been picky about my pho, and this one wasn’t that great because there was a really low noodle-to-broth ratio (and they weren’t even the good type of noodles). I finished eating and got back into my top bunk, put on my seatbelt (if I didn’t, I probably would have rolled out of the bed at least 100 times – the driving is crazy!), and wrote some friends before trying to sleep. The entire trip actually ended up taking just under 12 hours, and I arrived just after 6 in the morning. As usual, before I even got off the bus, there were a whole bunch of people standing in the entrance, asking if I needed a taxi. I said no and went to find somewhere to sit down and try to wake up. I looked up how much it would cost to take a Grab to my hostel and found out that it would cost about 80000 dong for a car, which was quite pricey! I then looked at how much it would cost to take a Grab BIKE, and it said 39000 dong ($2.30AUD), more than half the price. I tried to decide whether I could take a Grab with my huge backpack, and my day bag in one hand and a bag of food in the other. At this point, money was more important for me (with the 2 million dong that I paid the day before!), so I decided I’d take a bike. Conveniently, two guys came up to me and asked if I needed a bike and I said yes. I showed them where I needed to go and they replied, “100000 dong.” Seriously?! That was more than taking a Grab car! I was so angry, showed them my phone and said, “39000 dong. I will take this one instead.” And they just replied with an, “Oh.” I requested my Grab bike and went on an extremely long ride – I didn’t realise that it would take over 20 minutes. It was difficult because every time we stopped at a red light and started back up again, the weight of my backpack would pull me backwards, so I only hoped that I wouldn’t fall off along with it! I got to my hostel right after 6:30 and the door was open so I walked in. This time, I was staying at Long Hostel and paid 131000 dong ($7.72) per night to stay in a 4-bed mixed dorm (which ended up being only girls during my entire stay). There was a man who woke up on the couch, saw me, then turned around and went back to bed. I decided to let myself in and sit in the outdoor area until everyone woke up. It was then that I saw my first rat scurry from one side of the door to the other on the patio, and it was massive! I had forgotten about being warned about the rats in Ho Chi Minh, and I don’t think I ever got used to seeing them running around on the streets during my three nights there. At about 7, everyone started waking up because it was time for breakfast, so I moved into the common area inside. All I wanted was to shower and maybe get something to eat. I went to the counter and explained that I still needed to check in, but asked if I could get breakfast (which I was fully willing to pay for), but they gave me one free of charge! Again, I ordered banana pancakes (which I did for the three days I was there), and they were the best ones that I’ve had! While I was eating, another girl came and sat beside me, and I found out that she was Canadian, but living in Melbourne and teaching with the same agency as me! So weird! She was leaving within the next half hour, but we exchanged information because we’d both be getting back to Melbourne at the same time (at the start of term 2) and hopefully we’d be able to meet up. After eating, I asked if it would be possible for me to use the shower (since check in wouldn’t be until 2pm). They let me use the bathroom, and it was so nice to have a shower after spending so long on the bus! I was still so exhausted, so I researched different things that I could do that day and then at about 11:30, I decided to head out. I went to Bun Cha 145, which is one of the more popular bun cha (noodle bowl) places, but to be honest, I didn’t love it. The reason for this is that depending on the region of Vietnam, some bun cha places serve everything mixed together in a bowl (as they would at any Vietnamese restaurant in Saskatoon) and other bun cha places serve everything separately.

img_3896.jpg

This was one of those restaurants that served everything separately, but I didn’t see why it was so popular – I definitely enjoyed the bun cha that I had in Hanoi a lot more. After having lunch, I decided to walk to Hard Rock Cafe to get my travel drumsticks (which I get from every Hard Rock I go to) so it was about a 50-minute walk in the worst heat. On my way there, I passed the cathedral and a McDonald’s, so I decided that I’d go back in order to get some ice cream. I got my drumsticks and walked over to McDonald’s. I had my keyboard with me and was determined to start catching up on my blogs, since I had fallen so far behind. To be honest, I really wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone because a) I was extremely tired from my night bus, b) I had been with people constantly since Hanoi (with the exception of one day in Phong Nha), so I was really looking forward to being alone, and c) I was still sad about leaving Nick so I wasn’t really interested in meeting any new people. I sat in McDonald’s and got most of my blog written, but then as I was editing, this man (probably in his 70s) came in. McDonald’s wasn’t really that full, but he asked if he could sit beside me so I said sure. He was from Hungary and was in Ho Chi Minh for business, and when he found out that I was a biology teacher, he got so excited. “How do you feel about biology?” (Never been asked that before – you would assume that if I taught it, I would enjoy it…). He then told me that he was excited that I was a biology teacher because he likes to talk about radiation, and no one ever understands what he’s talking about. However, I DID know about radiation. I knew about the harmful effects when using different devices, such as holding a laptop on your lap, and even how much radiation that you’re exposed to when flying. Many people don’t realise it because it’s not something that you can see, but it’s very much there and it’s not good for you. He asked me what I thought about 3G networks being moved to 4G networks, and he said how 5G networks might be introduced soon but thousands of scientists have tried to convince whoever is in charge that this wouldn’t be in their best interest. However, money is obviously more important than safety, so no one listens. I told him that I’ve just kept my phone on 3G (up until about a month ago, when my friend asked why I wasn’t using 4G). Anyway, this man ended up talking to me about radiation for at least an hour and half! Don’t get me wrong, it was interesting, but then he didn’t stop! He sells some products that are meant to attract the surrounding radiation from any devices in the room (and therefore keep it from you), so you can place them on your cell phone, laptop, in the car, in the plane, in classrooms, etc. He kept saying that he didn’t want to waste my time, but then went on and on, and even said that if it was something that I was really interested in, they were looking for an Australian representative to start selling the products there. After a long talk, I said that I needed to get back to my hostel (to be fair, I was actually about to leave right before he sat down because I wanted to get checked in) but then he told me to wait so that he could show me a document that he worked on. It was 27 pages long! I read the first page, told him it was interesting, and handed the phone back. He said that there was more and if I’d like, he could email me the document and asked for my business card. When I said that I didn’t have a business card, he asked why. I thought it was normal for me not to have a business card, but maybe I need to get some made now! Anyway, I walked back to the hostel, checked in, and met the other three girls from my hostel – one from Australia, one from Germany, and one from the Netherlands. We all decided to go for dinner together and walked to a type of food court, which offered many different types of cuisines. I decided to get shrimp Banh cuon from a place called Nanna’s, and it was really tasty!

img_3904.jpg

After dinner, I relaxed back at the hostel because I was losing energy fast, especially with my extreme lack of sleep the night before.

On Wednesday morning, I got up and decided I’d try (again!) to have a quiet day alone. I had an early breakfast at the hostel and then FaceTimed my parents for a couple of hours. By the time we finished talking, it was nearly 1pm so I went to a restaurant called The Hungry Pig, which has an assortment of sandwiches and paninis made with bacon. I ordered the Bacon Bagel, which was a cinnamon bagel with cream cheese, bacon, arugula (or rocket), and cranberry sauce.

img_3909.jpg

It was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time! Maybe it was because I hadn’t eaten proper bacon in awhile, or that my stomach just wanted some Western food, but it was so delicious. It was a bit more expensive at 115000 dong ($6.79), but totally worth it. After lunch, I decided to go to the War Remnants Museum, which goes through the effects of the Vietnam War. However, all of the information was put in a weird order, so I actually felt lost during the first part of the museum. This ended up sparking a conversation (within ten minutes of me being there) with a guy from Israel (Itamar), who asked if I knew what was going on. We went through the next few sections of the museum together, which included all of the war pictures taken by many photographers who were killed in action. The next area was the effect of Agent Orange. Agent Orange is a herbicide chemical that was used by the US military, and has had major consequences on the health of many individuals. About four million people were exposed to Agent Orange, and three million have suffered illnesses because of it. Agent Orange seems to affect the genetics of individuals, which in turn affects second, third, and fourth generations of these people. Some effects include mental disabilities, extra fingers and toes, loss of limbs, short stature, etc. This area of the museum included pictures of people who were affected by Agent Orange, or even pictures of foetuses in jars. It was a very difficult area to walk through, and I found myself looking away and speeding through faster. We stopped at a gift shop, which included artwork made by kids affected by Agent Orange, and the gift shop workers were all individuals who were affected as well. Itamar said that he wasn’t too keen on going through the rest of the museum (we were about two thirds through and it had been two hours), and I agreed. The museum was just very heavy, so it was difficult to get through the entire thing.

302521261369812113_img_6520.jpg

He suggested that we go for coffee, but I didn’t realise that he was a coffee snob and needed a GOOD coffee, meaning I ended up paying about three times more than I normally would for a regular coffee. I went for a affogato, which is an espresso with ice cream, and it was actually quite good!

img_3917.jpg

After sitting in the coffee shop, he asked if I wanted to go for a walk so we went to a park and sat on a bench, and he sat way too close for comfort and put his arm around me. Crap, why do I always get myself in these situations? He asked me a question and then in the middle of me answering, he leaned in for a kiss. I pushed him away and said I wasn’t in the right mindset, and he asked if he could give me his number in case I changed my mind later. Weird guy… Anyway, I walked back towards the hostel because it was starting to get dark and got back about an hour later. I decided to go for dinner at a nearby Greek restaurant, and I got a pork Gyro wrap, which again was amazing!

img_3921.jpg

It’s weird that most of the Vietnamese food that I’ve had has been subpar, but all of the Western food that I’ve had has been so good! Maybe the food poisoning had an effect on me…

On Thursday, I was on a mission to find a Christmas tree ornament since it was my last day in Vietnam and I seemed to have forgotten to find one. I requested a Grab to take me to An Dong Market, but it seemed to only be a bunch of clothes and souvenirs that you see at every stall. I requested another Grab Bike to take me to Ben Thanh Market. There was a food market as well, so I got a noodle dish and then explored the market. However, it was full of people who would constantly approach me to come look into their stalls. This is a surefire way to get me to leave a store immediately, as I hate being followed while I’m trying to shop. I didn’t stay in the market for long because it was too overwhelming, so I Google-searched places to find Christmas ornaments. Surprisingly, there was a shop that was a ten-minute walk away so I started walking towards it and on my way, I passed an art shop. Art shops are the one thing that I’ll slow down for on the sidewalk – I know what style I like so I always walk as slow as I possibly can in front of the entrance to see if there’s anything that catches my eye. Usually, I just keep walking but this time, I found myself entering the store. There was a piece of art that I really liked and I was even able to watch the artist paint a similar piece in the back.

 

I decided that I’d come back later if I was still thinking about the painting (and I was, so I went back and bought it – I figured I could carry around a painting for three weeks). Afterwards, I went to buy my Christmas ornament. I was going to walk around for a bit, but it suddenly started to rain so I ran into the nearest shopping mall and was pleased to see that they had my favourite cafe, Paul.

img_3939.jpg

I decided to treat myself to a chocolat viennois, and spent the entire time FaceTiming Sonia in New Zealand. It was so nice to have a normal conversation with someone who knew me – I had almost forgotten what it felt like, it had been so long! When we finished talking, the rain had stopped so I walked around for a bit.

I then went back to the hostel to get my Vietnamese dong exchanged into US dollars, went back to the art store to get my art, and then went back to the hostel to drop it off. That night, I ate at The Hungry Pig again, and this time I ordered the Little Miss Piggy panini AND a Bloody Mary. While it WASN’T a Caesar, it still hit the spot after not having one in so long!

img_3950.jpg

AND I FaceTimed with my friend Crystal and her kids during my dinner, which was nice to see some smiling faces! I think I was really just needing some familiarity at this point, and was noticing the effects of being alone. I went back to the hostel and called it an early night cause I had to get up at 6:30 the next morning to go to Cambodia. To be honest, Ho Chi Minh was my least favourite place in Vietnam, and many people I’ve met have felt the same. The other cities had a lot more culture and life to them, so this ended up being just a place to stop over on the way to Cambodia. Love always

Quy Nhon (Mar 29-Apr 1): A Private Beach, The Friendliest Locals, and A Waterfall Treasure Hunt

The bus was supposed to pick us up at our Hoi An homestay at 11am, and it would take about 7 hours to get to Quy Nhon (or so the sign said). Originally, I had been planning to go straight to Ho Chi Minh City from Hoi An, which would have taken about 16-19 hours, so this way I was able to cut down that number. We drove for less than ten minutes when the driver dropped us off at what must have been the bus depot. He said that our bus would arrive at 11:30. We waited and just after 11:30, someone called out for Quy Nhon. We got into our “luxury van,” which fit about 15 passengers, and luckily had air conditioning. It was one of the bumpiest rides so far – the roads never seem to have any smooth points in Vietnam! We stopped at about 1pm for a lunch and toilet stop. I decided to use the toilet and went to the back, but was extremely surprised to see that not only was there not a regular toilet, but there also wasn’t a squat toilet. It was just the floor with a spray gun. I decided to pass on this opportunity, mostly because I didn’t know how it would work. Nick got something to eat, but I still hadn’t gotten my appetite back (for most of my meals that week, I wasn’t able to finish my entire plate). We arrived in Quy Nhon at about 4pm and by that point, I was starving! Our hostel was about a 20-minute drive away, but when we tried to order a Grab, we found out that they weren’t available. Luckily, someone came up to us and asked if we needed a taxi, so we agreed on 170000 dong ($10.03AUD). Our hostel had two locations and we weren’t positive which one to go to, but luckily we chose the right one. We were staying at Life’s A Beach Backpackers for $9 US ($12.67AUD) per night. The hostel had a really nice bar area with hammocks, and it also had its own private beach. The other cool thing about this hostel was that it had a good combination of local workers and backpacker workers. They had about 5 or 6 backpackers who were working for accommodation and food, and some had only been there 1 or 2 weeks. It was technically a party hostel, but it was also a place where you could go and relax if you wanted to escape all of that. The only really bad thing about this hostel was that it was so far from the city so we were forced to get all food and drink from them. This was fine, but they just kept a running tab so we never knew how much money we owed until the very end. This is where I lost track of my spending completely, and Nick and I both ended up being extremely surprised when they gave us our grand totals at the end of our stay. It’s also weird because now that I’ve hit my budget limit, I feel comfortable with spending more money on everything (even though I’m now cutting into my Australian rent money!). Somehow because I’ve already passed that point, I figure I might as well keep going, so at least I’m nearing the end of my trip! As soon as we got there, I got something to eat because I hadn’t had food since breakfast and it was already 5pm. I ordered another Asian dish, but once again, I couldn’t finish it because my stomach seemed to develop a sensitivity to something. At this point, I was just starting to get annoyed that I couldn’t eat anything. We also decided to extend our stay for another night, from 2 nights to 3 nights because we already knew that we’d enjoy it there. That evening was just spent visiting with other backpackers and playing UNO.

img_3784.jpg

On Saturday, we were planning to be completely active and go hiking up into the hills but it was SO hot (we definitely weren’t used to the southern Vietnam heat!). We decided to take advantage of the private beach, and spent some time swimming, tanning, and relaxing in the common area.

That evening, we joined everyone else for a few drinks in the bar. It was weird because even though it was a party hostel, there seemed to be a lot more people who were my type of people – they just wanted to have deep conversations, which was really nice for me!

On Sunday, we decided to do some exploring. I had done some research and made a list of all the things we could see. Little did I know, the first thing on the list would end up taking most of the day. The day that we had arrived to Quy Nhon, we saw that there had been a waterfall tour that afternoon so we asked how to go there. The hostel has a (very crappy) map with how to get to the waterfall.

img_3790.jpg

We were warned multiple times by multiple people (even people who worked there) that it was VERY difficult to find, that it would test out our motorbike skills, and that we should download Google Translate to ask the locals where to go. How hard could it be? After breakfast, we rented out a motorbike and set off to find the waterfalls.

img_3796.jpg

We were told that it would be a 20-minute drive, but we kept driving and never found any of the landmarks that were on the map (no school, no well, etc.). We stopped at a village and one of the locals pointed us further down the road but we still couldn’t find out where to turn. We continued asking different locals, but many didn’t know what we were talking about and many continued pointing us further down the road. I was watching the landmark on my maps.me get further and further away (yes, the landmark is on maps.me but the road to get there doesn’t exist on maps.me OR Google Maps). We finally decided to turn around and go back to the hostel to ask for better directions. On the way back, we passed a cute, little fishing village so we decided to take a quick stop to check out the beach.

The sad thing about the beaches in Vietnam (and in Cambodia) is that many of them are SO messy and so littered with garbage. It’s not very nice to see! By the time we got back to the hostel, it had been an hour and a half and was already noon, so we decided to get some lunch before heading out again. One of the workers gave us a very detailed list of notes so I took a picture of her list and we set off again.

img_3799-1.jpg

The first step was to turn right at the red and yellow sign. Well, there were about four signs that were red and yellow (which doesn’t help when it’s Vietnam’s flag colours. The person couldn’t have written what the sign said….). The notes were alright, but they weren’t detailed enough. Literally on every single step, we questioned whether or not we were making the right turn. We stopped a couple more times to ask some locals for help, and then it got to the point where we didn’t even have to stop to ask – we’d be riding down the road and people would just start pointing in the direction that we were supposed to go – it was pretty funny actually, and we both loved how friendly the locals were. At one point, we got to some rice fields so we knew that we were on the right track, but the detailed notes stopped being useful.

All I had left to rely on was a Google satellite image of the dirt path and where the waterfall was – it was literally like we were following a treasure map. The road was so dangerous, with stones and gravel and sand, so I got off the motorbike and ended up walking the rest of the way. Keep in mind that it was about 36 degrees, we were in the direct sunlight, and we stupidly only had half a bottle of water with us. We both ended up burning that day! The road kept getting worse and worse, and we really started questioning whether we were going in the right direction. I knew that we WERE going towards the waterfall – I just didn’t know if we were taking the worst way to get there. The plus side was that the views were nice, but I think both of us were too hot and getting too annoyed to really care. Nick kept saying that he was done, but we also didn’t want to turn back when we had already come all this way. After about an hour (so much for 20 minutes), we finally got to the point on my Google map where we were just south of the waterfall. But there wasn’t a path going north. I was trying to stay optimistic for the both of us, but it was getting more and more difficult, and I was so thirsty! We finally decided to give up and turn back, much to both of our dismay. All I could think was that if we were a team on The Amazing Race, we would fail miserably… The last step on the detailed list was that there would be a black pipe and if we followed it, it would lead us to the falls. On the walk back, I suddenly noticed a black pipe in the forest. This HAD to be it! I said that we had to follow the black pipe, but Nick seemed dubious that I knew what I was talking about. I was still determined to find these falls because I felt bad that we had wasted most of the day looking for them. He said that he’d go park the motorbike, so I ran through the forest to see if I could find the falls. And lo and behold, they were there! Maybe we’d do alright on The Amazing Race afterall… I breathed out a huge sigh of relief and went back to the front of the path, where Nick was just starting to walk. We headed back to the falls and when we got there, there were only three local kids and three foreigners, all who left about 15 minutes later because the sun FINALLY decided to hide behind the clouds (it couldn’t have done that an hour ago?!). We happily jumped into the pool at the bottom of the falls and welcomed the cold water.

1219901949235734454_img_6476.jpg

The water was full of little minnows that constantly nibbled us – we didn’t even have to pay to get one of those fish foot massages, we ended up getting a full body massage for free! I actually got cold quite fast after the sun went down, so we checked out the other two pools (there were three in total) and then decided to head into town.

Again, I walked back most of the way until the road seemed safe enough for two people to ride on the motorbike. Nick needed to get a new SIM card, so we drove 20 minutes into town and as soon as we got there, we saw a plaza. It had been so long since either of us had been in a proper shopping mall, so we decided to go in and see if we could get a SIM card. It was neat because they had underground parking strictly for motorbikes, and the amount of motorbikes that were down there was insane, all parked within inches of each other. We got looks and stares from the moment we got into the parking lot, and we were the only foreigners in the mall. It literally felt like we were celebrities – everyone was looking, waving, saying hi, and everyone was so friendly! We found out that the plaza didn’t have any SIM cards but decided to walk around anyway, and checked out the grocery store. After our adventure in the mall, I found a mobile shop about 15 minutes away so we went there and they gave Nick a SIM card (which actually took extremely long compared to my usual experiences). We were both craving pizza so I found a pizza shop less than five minutes away and we ate there. The tables were the typical Vietnamese short tables with tiny stools, which made Nick look like he was eating in a doll house. I decided to try something different and go with a pork floss pizza because I had loved pork floss so much when I was in Taiwan. The pizza was really good too!

img_3872.jpg

I’m going to have to find myself some pork floss when I get home! We decided to drive along the beach before heading back to the hostel. There was some kind of festival going on, and there was an open van with people in the back, playing music. Again, while we were driving down the street, everyone got so excited when they’d see us – it was so funny!

We got back to the hostel at about 9pm and then were finally able to shower (after wearing our wet clothes all evening) before hanging out with everyone else for awhile. That night, we actually stayed up quite late because it was our last night with everyone so we all stayed up and chatted.

Monday was our last day in Quy Nhon. Nick would be going to Da Lat next and I would be going to Ho Chi Minh City, but both of our buses would leave at 6:30 that night. That gave us plenty of time to relax on the beach and hang out in the common area before leaving. When we decided to check out, we were nervous about what the damage would be. Both of us were estimating 1.5 million dong each (and I thought even THAT was more than what we’d have to pay). However, we were in for a surprise when it came up to 2 million dong each ($121.36), so about 40 bucks per day!!!! The annoying thing was that they just gave us the number, but didn’t give us a detailed list of everything we had bought, like all of the other hostels had done. Finally, the hostel got a phonecall that Nick’s bus was on its way so they told us both to grab our bags and we walked to the highway, where the bus would stop on the side of the road. I had been trying to stay strong all day, but this goodbye had been the most difficult of my entire trip, especially after travelling together for the past ten days. About five minutes later, the bus arrived, Nick’s bag was put on the bus, we said goodbye, and the bus left, all in a matter of seconds. I just wanted to cry, but I was still with the hostel worker, who didn’t seem to understand that I didn’t want to talk about it. “How did you two meet? Where are you both from? Will you see each other again?” The questions weren’t helping at all… Finally, my bus arrived so I gave them my bag and got in my bed, which was a top bunk this time (no loving couple to sleep with either!). As soon as I got settled, the tears started pouring out and even though I was trying to go unnoticed, the bus worker heard me sniffle and kept looking over to see if I was okay. I gave him a small smile to let him know that I was okay with having a top bunk, and prepared myself for the 13-hour journey. However, I’ll save that for the next post. Love always

Hoi An (Mar 25-29): Ha Na Tailor, Custom-Made Dresses, and a Resort-Like Hostel

Nick and I arrived in Hoi An after the sun had set, and we had to drop off the motorbike at a random tailor shop (naturally…). First of all, let me just say that Hoi An is FULL of tailors. All over the place! Everybody in the city must know (or be related to) someone who’s a tailor, and the amount of times that we were approached and asked if we were interested in doing some shopping was too much. This was only the first of many times when someone would attempt to persuade us to use their services, (plus with a 10% discount!). I had already done my research ahead of time (no surprise), and thanks to a few blogs that I had read, I already had a tailor in mind. We picked up our backpacks and ordered a Grab to take us to our hostel, which was about a 10-minute drive outside of the Old Town, but has been one of the best places I’ve ever stayed in! We were staying at Home Farm Villa and were paying 190000 dong ($11.21AUD) per night to stay in a 5-bed dorm. The place was like a resort! It had a pool and had such a nice, relaxing vibe to it, plus the family who ran it was so friendly! The villa also provided free bicycles but we just ended up renting a motorbike every day that we were there. We got ourselves settled and then decided to go for dinner because it was getting late. I was exhausted, thanks to the multiple pills I had taken throughout the day, and I still didn’t have much of an appetite but knew I needed to eat something. After finding out how expensive it would be to take a Grab into the Old Town, Nick decided that we should be dropped off somewhere halfway between the Old Town and where we were staying so that we only had to pay half the price. However, when the Grab dropped us off, we were stuck on a dark street with nothing open. We searched for places that were nearby and saw that there was a taco place about 15 minutes away, which would close at 10pm. At that point, it was 9:30. We made an agreement that if nothing was open, we’d just get a Grab into the Old Town. Luckily, the taco place WAS open, so we each got a taco and a drink for 65000 dong ($3.84).

img_3701.jpg

When we got back to our hostel, we met the other girls staying with us: Eileen from Taiwan, Sara from Spain, Joy from the Netherlands, Taylor from America, and Nicoletta from Germany. We were both so exhausted from our travel day, so we called it an early night and went to bed.

On Tuesday morning, we had big plans to go to the tailor (that was my top and only priority for the entire time in Hoi An). We had breakfast at the hostel, which was included. The best thing about hostels in Vietnam was that every single hostel had breakfast included, and they all had a menu that you could order from (apart from the hostel in Hanoi, which was a buffet). It just added a nice touch, and it was great knowing that the food was made fresh just for you!

img_3702.jpg

I had a banana pancake (which is what I ordered from every hostel that offered them), and then we rented out a motorbike to take into Hoi An. Unfortunately, we didn’t get very far and after about two minutes, the bike just stopped working. We had to call Phu, who came and fixed it for us so that we could get on our way again. The tailor that I researched was called Ha Na Tailor, so we drove there with the idea that we’d walk down the street and see what options we had. We hadn’t even parked the bike when a lady approached us, said that she had a shop, and asked if we’d like to look. She was really friendly and we figured we might as well go so that we could start comparing places. We only had to walk about 5-10 minutes away, but it was such a hot day and I was already sweating! Not a good thing for having to try on clothes… I bought a water, not knowing that every single tailor will give you a water for free every time you visit. The amount of water bottles we collected was insane! Anyway, we got to the shop (Ba Ri Tailor), and I was already so overwhelmed before even setting foot into the store. The clothes and dresses were quite beautiful, but there must have been at least 10 workers there, and it just seemed so chaotic. One girl grabbed me and another one grabbed Nick and took him to the back of the store. I was on my own and would have to deal with this by myself. The lady asked what I wanted, and I explained that I’d be getting a bridesmaid dress for my sister’s wedding. We had a colour scheme picked out, but not a style. I told her what I was thinking, and she agreed on what type of style would work best for my body-type. Then she brought out a huge binder of different fabrics and asked what colour I would want. It was so much to think about at once, and since I didn’t have any set-in-stone answers from my sister, it made it even more difficult. It was already night-time at home, so I couldn’t even contact her to ask. The lady said that a dress would be anywhere between 90 and 120 dollars US, which was alright for a custom-made dress, but still seemed a bit high. I explained that I needed to wait to hear back from my sister, so I’d have to think about it until later that day. Luckily, that got me off the hook so she stopped pushing everything on me. Nick came back to the front and I could tell that he was just as overwhelmed as I was. When we said we still wanted to look at other shops, that just made them try harder. They showed us how they were the 3rd best shop on Trip Advisor, but it made me wonder why they were still trying to pick people up off of the street. They DID seem to know what they were talking about though! I suggested that we go for lunch to get some food before going through all of the measurements and everything. They said okay, and let us go. I think both of us took the biggest breath of fresh air when we stepped outside – it was definitely a situation where I felt like I was being suffocated. We walked back over to Ha Na Tailor, which was the exact opposite of what we had experienced – no other customers, just the lady and her two helpers, and she never once tried to push anything on us. She was extremely patient, and gave us different ideas for what we wanted. Nick was getting a suit made, so they measured him first. I kid you not, they took a full page of measurements – it was insane! Then it was my turn… Because I was just getting a dress, I didn’t need as many measurements so I finished a lot quicker. Not only that, but they keep our measurements so if I ever decide I want another dress made, I can just write her, she’ll make it, and then ship it over! I’ll need to make sure I don’t drastically gain weight by eating all of the travel food though (however it might already be too late for that!). We chose colours and fabrics for the outfits, and I told her the style I wanted. This was the picture that I gave her.

img_4146.png

Because she quoted me 60 dollars US for one dress (so cheap!), I decided to get another one as well. There was a beautiful full-length dress on a mannequin out front, so I asked if she’d be able to do a shorter-length dress and she said yes.

We finished at about 1:30pm and she said that we could come back the next day at 3pm for our first fitting. Just over 24 hours to make three outfits? So crazy! She also suggested a restaurant that we could have lunch at, so we walked over there, only to find it closed. We settled on another restaurant nearby with air conditioning (thank goodness!), and then decided to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Old Town. We walked to the river and decided to take a 20-minute boat ride for 100000 dong ($5.90).

Then we entered the crazy busy streets of the Old Town, which were packed with tourists. All we wanted to do was sit at a cafe and people-watch, but all of the cafes were so expensive in the Old Town.

4806210056282829297_img_6453.jpg

We walked a bit further out of the Old Town and found a coffee shop to enjoy some refreshing iced coffee and iced tea. Then, we went to one of the beaches to do some more people-watching until the sun started to go down.

img_3711.jpg

On the way back to the hostel, when we were about the exact same distance as when the motorbike broke down the last time, the motorbike broke down again! We waited for about ten minutes, and then as soon as I wrote Phu to say that we were stuck again, I asked if he had turned on the lights and as soon as he did, the bike started working again!

img_3714.jpg

We decided that we’d ask for a different bike for the rest of our stay. We went back to the hostel to relax and visit for a few hours and then decided to check out the night market. However, once we got there (just after 9pm), a lot of the stalls were already starting to shut down. We decided to eat at a nearby restaurant, but found it difficult to find anything that would serve us because again, nearly everything would close at 10pm. Finally, we found a place that would serve us (although the waitress didn’t look too happy about it, especially when more and more people kept coming in). I decided to go for some pasta, as my stomach was craving Western food and I’m not sure it would have been able to handle anything else. The pasta was definitely my typical university meal – penne noodles with tomato sauce from a jar, but I still welcomed it. Right at 10:30, the waitress started putting bills on everyone’s tables, so we paid and kept talking to the table next to us. However, then the waitress came and said that she needed to stack all of the chairs, so we were forced to leave. We decided to head back to the hostel and visit with everyone before going to bed. Eileen has a Dutch friend who owns a vegetarian restaurant in Hoi An called Nourish, and he agreed to let her come in and work as a waitress the next day because she’s never worked in a restaurant before and wanted to see what it would be like. We all agreed that we’d go there for lunch the next day.

On Wednesday morning, we got up and asked to extend our stay. We were meant to check-out that day but liked it so much, we decided to stay for another two nights. We decided to have a relaxing morning at the hostel: have breakfast, hang out by the pool, and visit with everyone else. We all agreed to head over to Nourish at 1:30, so Nick and I got there first since everyone else was cycling. We went ahead and ordered, just because we had to leave for the tailor in about an hour. The rest of the crew joined shortly after we ordered, and we all enjoyed some really great vegetarian food! I ordered a mixed bowl of assorted foods, and it was so tasty!

Photo props to my girl, Sara ❤️

5675ac0a-56e1-465a-b156-c8dda70dee2e.jpg

After we finished eating, Nick and I headed back to Ha Na Tailor. Nick got to try on his suit first, and it fit like a glove. No changes were necessary, so as soon as he took the suit off, the two helpers sewed all of the buttons on. Then it was my turn… Again, both dresses fit perfectly! It’s the fastest dress shopping I’ve ever had to do!!

Nick decided to order one more suit, so she told us to come back at 10am the next day. That evening, we all decided to stay at the hostel and have some food and drinks there because some of the girls would be leaving the next day. Nick and I were in charge of the drinks, so we got a bottle of vodka for 100000 dong ($5.90)! Taylor made some amazing guacamole, and then we also had a bunch of fruits, vegetables, cheese, and crackers. It was a really nice night, and was so good to have such an awesome group of people!

That night, I didn’t sleep at all. Literally. I hadn’t been sleeping very well the last couple of nights (and kept waking up at 5am because of the rooster next door), plus for some reason, my mattress was covered in plastic, which made it very difficult to be quiet when rolling over, but also made it extremely hot at night – I felt like I was sticking to the bed! And that night was the worst of it… It was 1am, and then 2am, and then I left the room to sit outside and talk with my family, and then it was 3, and 4, and then I think I FINALLY just started dozing off, when an alarm went off just after 5 because everyone wanted to go watch the sunrise. So my short slumber was over 🙁 Everyone else left and I stayed in bed, but still couldn’t manage to fall asleep. On Thursday, we headed to the tailor again so that Nick could try on his second suit. I spent the next 30-45 minutes chatting with my sister and her fiance to see if they’d want any ties made, and kept having to send pictures of different colours. They shipped Nick’s suits back to the Netherlands, but I told them to wait to ship mine just in case my sister decided to order something the next day. We went back to the hostel to have breakfast and then hang out by the pool again. Eileen had already left, and Sara and Taylor were packing up to go. We decided to all go for one last lunch to Annen Yoga & Vegetarian at 1:30. I decided to get the eggplant in a clay pot with rice because it was Sara’s recommendation.

e91f7abf-72f2-4baf-bde4-a86e4205d900.jpg

After lunch, we all said our goodbyes and then headed back to the hostel. Nick and I had to decide where we’d be going the next day, so I asked Phu where a nice place would be that’s not too busy, and she suggested Quy Nhon. We looked up pictures on Google and were instantly sold – it looked gorgeous! We spent the afternoon picking out our accommodation and booking bus tickets, and did some more relaxing by the pool. That evening, we had plans to meet up with Simon and Tamara because they had arrived in Hoi An. They’re both vegetarian, so they had plans to go to a certain vegetarian restaurant (which would have been our third vegetarian restaurant in two days). First, we stopped at their hostel for a drink and then a couple of other people joined us. Then, we went searching for the restaurant but after about 15 minutes of walking, we realised it was closed. They searched another vegetarian restaurant, which also ended up being closed. Then Nick led us to a restaurant, which asked if we had a reservation. A reservation? In Vietnam? The man said that it was an all-you-can-eat menu for 400000 dong ($24.27) per person! Absolutely not! I saw that there was a burger place across the street (Chef Burger) and suggested we go there, since they’d HAVE to have a vegetarian option. They did (thank goodness!) so we finally got to eat at about 8:30pm. It was so weird being able to have burgers while listening to country music playing in the background, as I’m sure it’s the first time I’ve heard country music since I started my trip. It definitely gave me that familiar feeling of home though! By the time we finished eating, I had absolutely no energy left. I felt so bad because Simon and Tamara were really keen on going out, but I just didn’t have it in me. I was fully prepared to take a Grab home, but Nick said that he’d take me home, so we said our goodbyes and went back to the hostel.

That night, I slept so incredibly well! It was the first night that the air conditioning was on (I don’t know why we never turned it on any other night!) and it was the first time that I slept throughout the entire night in a long time. I got up and took a Grab to the tailor to be there for 9:30. My sister hadn’t gotten back to me so I decided to go ahead and ship my dresses. They each asked me why I couldn’t just carry them with me cause they were so small. They were right – it wouldn’t take much space in my backpack but I was already struggling to close it as it was, and with the combination of rain and strange leakages on the bus, my backpack always seemed to get wet and I didn’t want to take any chances. They called a courier, who was there within five minutes. She came with a scale and a box, weighed my items (1.5kg) and then asked how long I’d want the shipment to take. I could choose anywhere from a few days to six months. I decided on the 3-4 weeks option, which cost me 940000 dong ($55.46), filled out my sister’s address in Canada, and just like that, my clothes were already on their way. Such a great service! Not only that, but later that day, I received a personal email explaining everything, and was given a tracking number. I took a Grab back to the hostel, had breakfast, and I hadn’t even finished when Phu said that our bus was coming and we’d have to hurry to the main road. We gave her a big hug and then got into the vehicle to take us to the bus station. Love always

Hue (Mar 24-25): A DMZ Tour, Imperial City, Food Poisoning, and a Motorbike Convoy Along the Hai Van Pass

Nick had said that he would join me on the trip to Hue, and little did I know that we’d be travel partners for the next week and a half. We got up at 6am on Sunday morning, packed up our stuff, had breakfast at the hostel, and our transportation didn’t show up until after 7am. Let me just start by saying that when I woke up that morning, my stomach felt off and continued to feel off for the majority of the day, especially when I ate something (this is a HUGE foreshadowing sentence for what’s to come…). We had booked a tour through DMZ Tours, and it cost us 500000 dong ($29.50AUD) each. If I’m being honest, this was one of the few tours that I booked that wasn’t really worth it (in my opinion). There are so many things about Vietnam that are interesting, but I found it very difficult to find information about WHY these things were significant, and what the entire history was actually about. Therefore, when we went to two DMZ sites, I didn’t really know what their meanings were. We drove for over an hour and stopped at the Vinh Moc tunnels. It had been raining all day, so the tunnels were extra slippery and there were parts that we weren’t able to see because it was too wet. The tunnels were made in the late 1960s for protection against American air raids, where 600 people used to live with only one kitchen and one bathroom. 17 children were also born in the tunnels, and they had spaces for a nursery and for watching movies. The height of the tunnels were so short, so we had to stay bent over at all times. I never feel claustrophobic, but I still ended up feeling uncomfortable at times.

After our short tunnel tour, we drove a bit further to our next destination, which was the Ben Hai River bridge. It had a museum and was important for the reunification of the northern and southern parts of Vietnam. I think most of us were still confused because most of the museum was only written in Vietnamese and no one really explained anything to us.

We got on the bus and drove for another two hours to Hue. I was kind of surprised that they didn’t stop for a lunch break (as most tours do), but then it made sense when they stopped at their own DMZ Restaurant in Hue, knowing that most people would be starving and wanting food. Nick and I decided to go to our hostel first, and walked about ten minutes to Hue Happy Homestay and paid $3.60USD ($4.93AUD) to stay in a 6-bed dorm. The owner (Viet) was so friendly, and served us tea and fruit upon arrival. He gave us some tips about where to go, and told us how to get to our next destination. I was told that there wasn’t much to do in Hue (other than go to Imperial City) so I was just using it as a stopping point on the way to Hoi An. I also heard that the best way to get to Hoi An was to rent a motorbike and go over the Hai Van Pass. It would be possible to hire a driver and ride on the back of his bike, but it would cost 900000 dong ($54.45), which was a bit out of my price range. My other option would be to go with Nick, which would cost 225000 dong ($13.28) each, if he was comfortable with it (because he had just gotten in a motorbike accident the week before). Otherwise, I’d just have to take the bus. Therefore, I had the afternoon and evening to decide what I’d want to do. Nick and I decided to go for lunch first, since it was after 2pm and we were both starving. We went to a nearby restaurant called Madam Thu, where I ordered a bun cha, and Nick (being the nice guy that he is) paid for everything.

img_3542.jpg

We then decided to walk to Imperial City, which was about 40 minutes away. We paid 150000 dong ($8.85) to enter, and then spent a couple hours exploring the grounds. It was just a bunch of ruins and buildings, and had the potential to be really nice if they added flowers to the landscape. But honestly, it was pretty drab and didn’t interest me much.

After we finished at Imperial City, we found a grocery store, where we got to see the chicken sat next to the vegetables, as well as what looked like eels in the fish tanks. They also had a huge selection of whitening creams.

We found a type of night market to walk down, and then stopped for some bubble tea (and I got to have my favourite taro milk!). Then we went back to the hostel to shower before going out for dinner, and then walked around trying to find a place. We settled on a restaurant, and I decided to go with the fried rice and chicken. I had a translation asking if the dish had MSG and the waitress replied, “No MSG, just chicken powder” (which I assume would be MSG anyway).

We were served our food, but I was quickly losing my appetite and I couldn’t even finish mine. We went back to the hostel to ask if it would be an option to go on the back of Nick’s motorbike. Otherwise, I’d just take a bus. However, the owner had already went to bed, so we’d have to wait until the next morning.

We got up on Monday morning and went downstairs to have breakfast at the hostel. My stomach was still feeling off, so I slowly ate through my pancake as we talked to two other people who were planning on going towards Hoi An that day: Simon from the UK and Tamara from Canada. We found out that I’d be able to go on the back of Nick’s motorbike, so we gave them our bags (which would be waiting for us in Hoi An), and when we finished breakfast, we all went on our way. I would be the navigator since I didn’t have to do any driving. We first stopped for gas and then we drove about 45 minutes to the first destination, which was Cau Hai Lagoon. On the drive, my stomach was still feeling a bit sore, but I didn’t really think anything of it. Then when we arrived at the lagoon and got off of the motorbike, I said that I needed water as soon as possible, so Nick opened the seat and I grabbed my water. The other two stopped next to us and they started walking down the road but all of sudden, I felt really hot and lightheaded so I sat down. And then five seconds later, I was throwing up! I ran to the bushes and threw up about three or four more times – I didn’t know what was happening! I was strongly considering staying in this tiny village to wait it out, and I felt bad for slowing down the group, but they were actually oblivious to the fact that I was throwing up. Simon thought I was just looking at nature! I chugged about half of my 1.5-litre bottle of water, and Tamara said that I looked flushed. However, I felt better so I thought I’d be okay to walk around for a bit.

img_3559.jpg

I was wrong though because after about five minutes, I started throwing up again. Everyone decided that we’d have to find a pharmacy as soon as possible, but that’s the difficult thing in Vietnam – pharmacies aren’t so easy to find when you’re relying on the internet. We drove along the lagoon, which was nice but I was too sick to worry about trying to take pictures. Then we stopped about 15 minutes later and I threw up again. This time it was the entire bottle of water that I had drank, so I hoped that was the last of it. Tamara suddenly remembered that she had Gravol, so she gave me some and I was determined to keep it down because I wasn’t sure if we’d see a pharmacy anytime soon. When we looked for a pharmacy on Google, it led us to a place that looked like a natural remedy store. I used Google Translate to ask for “something for a sore stomach and vomiting” and the man took a bottle of liquid and showed me that I had to dab some of it on my tongue and some of it on my chest. It was like VapoRub and I seriously doubted that it would do anything, plus it would cost 120000 dong. I said no, and we continued on our way. However, about five minutes later, we noticed a little green cross, and Nick circled back so I could check it out. I showed the owner the same translation, and she took out four very bright pills and told me to take all of them.

img_3561.jpg

I have no idea what they were, but I did as she said. She gave me an extra one of each, and charged 20000 dong ($1.21) for all of them. We continued driving for about a half an hour to Elephant Springs. We had to pay to enter the park, and we first stopped at a temple with a whole bunch of Buddha statues.

The group wanted to walk up to the top of the hill, but I didn’t want to push it so I stayed at the bottom. The drowsy effect of the Gravol was definitely starting to kick in, and I was struggling to keep my eyes open. We then went to Elephant Springs, which is a beautiful swimming hole area. Simon and Tamara went swimming, but Nick didn’t bring anything to swim in and even though I did, I wasn’t feeling up for swimming. I really felt bad for being so sick on the trip!

After staying there for about an hour, we decided to go for lunch. We stopped at a local place nearby, and I forced myself to at least eat some rice with vegetables, and got through about half of it. We kept going to Lang Co beach, which we only stopped and looked at because it wasn’t that great of a beach. Then we finally started the Hai Van Pass! We started going higher and higher, and it started getting colder and colder, and then extremely foggy and misty.

Simon was on the other side of the road at one point and we could hardly see him, so we had to be extremely careful of oncoming traffic. We got to the top, where there was apparently a nice lookout, which we obviously couldn’t see. However, we got off of our bikes and walked around for a bit anyway.

We decided to head back down and literally there was one point when BAM! – the sun was out, it was hot, and the fog was gone. It was like stepping out of a vortex or something, it was so weird! We stopped our motorbikes and looked at the supernice view of Da Nang and the beach. However, we had to time our pictures just right because the clouds and fog kept rolling in and out.

After spending a considerable amount of time up there, Nick and I said goodbye to Simon and Tamara (because they were planning on staying in Da Nang), and we continued to Hoi An. I suggested that we might as well go towards the Da Nang beach and drive around the coast, rather than go through the city and Nick agreed. However, maybe it wasn’t a great idea because as soon as we got into Da Nang, the traffic was absolutely insane! Bikes and cars were coming from every direction, and the traffic lights didn’t stop them from going. It was a stressful situation, but we finally made it to the beach okay (after about a half hour). I was feeling much better at this point, still a bit tired, but I didn’t have an appetite for about four or five more days, which was really annoying! We had a nice one-hour drive along the coast to Hoi An, where we had to drop off our bike at a tailor shop and pick up our stuff. However, I’ll save Hoi An for the next post! Love always

Phong Nha (Mar 22-24): A Beautiful Cave, Ducks, and a Botanical Garden

The journey to Phong Nha was a bit rough because it was the first overnight bus of my entire trip. I booked the ticket through my hostel for 300,000 dong ($17.70AUD) and was told that it would take about 7 or 8 hours, so I should arrive at around 5 or 6am. I was the only person to get on the bus in Tam Coc, and the bus workers only pointed me to the back of the bus. But I walked and walked and there weren’t any free seats! Then at the very back, there were three beds right beside each other, with a couple on two of them and all of their stuff on the other. I ducked down and said that I would be joining them, so they moved all of their stuff in order to make some room for me. So there I lied in a three-person bed, wedged between the bathroom (with a constant swinging door), and a couple, and feeling like the ultimate third-wheel – I mean…I’ve been in third-wheel situations before, but sharing a bed was a new one for me!

I sat there and vowed to never book transportation through my accommodation again (which of course still keeps happening). There were a bunch of locals already sitting in the aisles, where they were given a mat to lie down on for the night – it blew my mind! A few minutes later, they picked up some more foreigners (who had to sit in the aisle) but then the bus stopped somewhere else and let all of the foreigners off. The locals still remained in the aisles and slept there for the duration of the trip. After about half an hour, we stopped for a break but I decided to stay on the bus since I had already eaten beforehand. I looked for a hostel to book for the next day and emailed them to say that I’d be arriving early in the morning. Then, I put in my ear plugs and put on my eye mask, and tried to sleep. And I think I actually did because I wasn’t horribly tired the next day. I had read that the bus would sometimes arrive early, around 4 or 4:30, so I set multiple alarms every half hour because I was paranoid that I’d miss my stop. At about three, I woke up and checked my map to see where we were. I saw that we were getting close to Phong Nha so I got my stuff ready. Only about two or three other people got off with me, and we were left on a street that was eerily quiet at 3:30 in the morning.

No one was there to pick me up, so I sat and tried to wake myself up so that I could decide how to get to my hostel. No Grabs were available, and it was a 50-minute walk so that wasn’t going to happen. I was wondering if I should book a private room at a nearby hotel just so I’d be able to get some sleep. Just before 4am, a bunch of locals started showing up to pick up some people from another bus. I asked if anyone was from Village House and they said no, so I decided I’d try to send a Whatsapp call. A very tired person answered and said that he’d be there in about ten minutes. I was staying in a 10-bed mixed dorm for 86500 dong ($5.10) per night. Luckily, the guy let me check in early (EXTREMELY early!) and showed me to my bed, which I was so thankful for. By the time I got to bed, it was 5am so I slept until 9:30 so that I wouldn’t miss breakfast.

On Friday morning, I had lemon pancakes with coffee for breakfast and then had a lazy morning researching what I could do. The homestay that I was staying in was right on the river, so it had a very relaxing atmosphere.

Phong Nha is famous for all of its caves but in order to get to them with a tour, I’d have to pay a MINIMUM of 1000000 dong ($60.76). I needed to decide if I would do a tour by that night so that it could be booked for the following day. That day, I decided that I’d just explore the surrounding area since the hostel was outside of the city and there was a lot of countryside to see. The hostel had free bikes to use so I biked about 15 minutes away to Bomb Crater Bar, which is exactly what it describes – a bar made in a bomb crater. I ordered some instant pho, which was interesting with little balls of instant meat that I decided to skip. However, as soon as I ordered, I realised that I had left my phone charger plugged in outside of the hostel and started freaking out that someone would take it, so I ate my food as fast as I could, biked back, and luckily it was still there. I then asked the hostel owner if it would be better for me to bike to the Botanical Garden or through the Bong Lai Valley, and he said the valley would be a lot easier because the botanical garden was really hilly to get to. The trip to the end of the valley was about 10km so it would take just over an hour to get to. It was also a ‘feels-like’ 42 degree day, so I was seriously questioning why I was crazy enough to go biking for over two hours in the sweltering heat. However, the slight breeze of the bike made the weather a lot more bearable, so it wasn’t that bad! I biked along the main road, past Bomb Crater Bar, hit a highway, crossed the highway, and then started on the gravel road through the valley.

At one point, there was a man who waved at me so I waved back, but then he started yelling so I stopped. I had just gotten on a really bumpy section, so I thought that maybe he was going to give me some advice. However, he pointed to my bike and then pointed to the road, and it looked like he was suggesting to push me up the hill. Nice! Okay, yeah sure… I got ready to start peddling again but my bike wasn’t moving. The man had jumped on the back of my bike and was trying to get me to bike him down the road! No, absolutely not. Especially when I was hardly even confident riding the bike down the road on my own. He kept insisting and saying motorbike, and I kept resisting until he finally got off. I wasn’t sure if he was trying to say that he’d give me a ride on his motorbike, but that’s when the language barrier gets the best of you. I continued on my way and eventually got to a place called The Duck Stop. It was a duck farm that was run by a local family, and as soon as I got there (completely sweaty and gross), there were two younger kids (a teenager and an 8-year-old) there to greet me. They sat me down and offered me some peanuts with salt and pepper, and then asked if I’d be interested in doing a duck tour.

I had the choice of spending time with the ducks and having a pancake and drink for 100000 dong ($5.90), or do everything AND ride a buffalo for 150000 dong. I decided to do the first option, and joined a group of about 8 people to visit the ducks. We were first shown how to be duck leaders, by quacking around the area with the food dish so that the ducks would follow you (and basically feeling like you were making a fool of yourself!). Then, we were told to sit down and hold our feet in a cup position so that the leader could pour some food in the “cup” and then the ducks would eat all of the food and give you a “foot massage” at the same time. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience, and it tickled so much!

We were given a duck to hold and were told to make a wish and throw it into the air so it flew into the pond. That one I felt bad about doing, but I guess they fly and like water, and they didn’t seem to mind.

We only spent about 10-15 minutes with the ducks and then went back to the main area, where we were served traditional pancakes (which might have actually been duck…).

After I finished eating, I decided to continue my way to the end of the valley and once I got there, I sat at a cute cafe on the riverside and enjoyed an iced Vietnamese coffee. The river was quite low at that time of the year, so even though the views were already nice, I’m sure they’d be even nicer during wet season!

When I noticed the sun starting to set, I decided to cross the suspension bridge and bike back on the other side of the valley. It was like day and night – as soon as I crossed that bridge, every single person would yell out hello. The people were so friendly, and all of the kids were so excited to see a foreigner – they’d always point and yell out hello, even the kids under the age of 2.

I got back to the hostel and was happy to see that I had the whole room to myself, so I went to have a shower. However, after my shower, everyone started to arrive. I went outside and met a girl named Shantaliah who was from New Zealand. She was thinking of renting a motorbike to go to the caves the following day, but she didn’t feel comfortable going by herself. I suggested that I could go with her if she wanted, and it would halve the price of the motorbike. She had never ridden a motorbike with someone else on it, but she said that she would give it a try, and we decided to go to the caves the next morning. We chatted for quite awhile – I ordered dinner from the hostel and we continued talking until after dark.

On Saturday morning, I got up and went to have breakfast at the hostel. I needed to plan my transportation for the following day, and I decided that instead of just taking a bus directly to Hue, I would go with a tour company in order to stop at some DMZ (Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone) sites on the way. While I was emailing, a guy came and sat beside me and introduced himself as Nick from the Netherlands. Shantaliah came and joined us, and we realised that it might rain that day so we figured we should get started as soon as we could. Nick said that he would join, and then when we got to our room, we ran into a guy named Tom from Germany who said that he would also join us. There were a bunch of caves to choose from, but we decided to start with the Phong Nha Cave because the Paradise and Dark Caves were the most popular and also the most expensive. We got our stuff ready and rented our motorbikes (Shantaliah and I paid 100000 dong/$5.90 each), and made our way to the cave. It wasn’t too far away and we had to pay 190000 dong ($11.21) for the three-hour tour. Once I realised it would be three hours, I decided to buy some snacks because I didn’t think I would last until 2pm. We needed 10 people for one boat, so we had to join other people who were waiting for a group of ten. The nice thing about this tour was that most of it was on a boat. We started by going about 20 minutes down the river past a bunch of villages, then the ladies turned off the motor and paddled through the cave.

The cave was absolutely spectacular, and had so many designs coming from the ceiling and the walls – it was so cool! It’s definitely one of the better caves that I’ve been in. Once we got to the end of the cave, the ladies turned the boat around, paddled a bit, and then dropped us off so that we could walk through the rest of the cave.

It was difficult getting good photos (as it always is when it’s dark), so they definitely don’t look as good as it did in real life. Once we got back to the end of the cave, we all got some ice cream and then got on the boat to go back to the entrance.

We decided to go for lunch, where we all got Banh Mi sandwiches, and then the four of us decided to go to the botanical garden (which was really a forest hike with an alright waterfall). However, as soon as we got there, it started misting down with rain. We paid 40000 dong ($2.36) and only had about an hour and a half until the park closed. As we walked, the rain started getting heavier and heavier, and the rocks started getting slipperier and slipperier. We finally made it to the waterfall, where some people were swimming, but we decided to keep going.

The worst part was that it was too hot and sticky to wear a rain jacket or poncho, so we either had the choice of being extremely hot or extremely wet. On the walk back, we had to step over some rocks across a stream, and that’s when I finally slipped. Luckily I didn’t actually land in the water, but on a rock so I was able to stay relatively dry. We made it out of the park right at the closing time (4:30) and then decided to make our way back to the hostel. However, the rain was a lot worse when going at a faster speed on the motorbike so it was impossible to stay dry. Tom’s motorbike suddenly stopped working, so we all had to stop and figure out what to do. He needed to catch a bus in about an hour, so he was really pressed for time. He could only drive at the slowest speed, so we all followed him for about 10-15 minutes. Then all of a sudden, his bike started working again (thank goodness!) so we drove the rest of the 30 minutes at a faster speed. We decided to join in on the family dinner that night, which has a bunch of food cooked by the homestay, so we each paid 70000 dong ($4.13) for that. It didn’t start until 6:30, which gave us all time to shower and then chat until dinner started. There were about 12 people at the family dinner, and it was so nice! They had so many different types of food, and it was a good way for everyone at the homestay to get to know each other.

We were sitting outside on the patio, but we were sheltered from the rain while it was absolutely pouring outside, so it was nice to have the sound of the rain in the background! Nick said that he would join me on the bus trip to Hue the next day, so we decided to wake up at 6am because we’d be picked up between 6:30 and 7:10. Unfortunately, we had to say goodbye to Shantaliah that night because she would be heading north (one of the difficult things about travelling in Vietnam is many people are going in opposite directions). After our goodbyes, we just had a relaxing evening before going to bed. Love always

Ninh Binh/Tam Coc (Mar 19-21): A Boat Ride, A Few Bicycles, and Some Beautiful Scenery

Tam Coc was one of my favourite places that I’ve ever been, and likely my favourite place in Vietnam thus far. It had everything that one would look for in Vietnam – the bright green rice fields of Sapa, and the tall surrounding cliffs and mountains of Ha Long Bay – it was a combination of the two, and I absolutely loved it! To be honest, I didn’t actually step foot in the actual city of Ninh Binh because I heard to stay in Tam Coc instead. I ordered a ticket to Tam Coc through my hotel in Cat Ba since I was too tired to walk to one of the travel companies to order a nice bus. However, every time I book transport through a hostel or hotel, it doesn’t seem to be the best option (yet I continue to keep doing it!). I paid 260000 dong ($15.34AUD) for the bus to pick me up at 9:30 on Tuesday morning. I got into an extended golfcart-like vehicle and we drove around Cat Ba to pick up about 10 people to go to the bus. We then got on the bus and it completely filled up. Even though it was cold and rainy in Cat Ba, the trip to Ninh Binh got more and more hot because there was hardly any air conditioning and any time I opened my vent, the guy beside me would close it. The seats also weren’t built for a normal-sized person, so everyone ended up leaning their seats backwards, and you would either have your knees digging into the seat in front of you, or have to try to find some space in the aisle. We stopped at around 12:30 for a bathroom and food break, and then I ended up arriving in Tam Coc just after 3pm. I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be as hot as it was in Tam Coc, because some of the people who I had met in Cat Ba had come from there and said that the weather was the exact same as in Cat Ba. It was a pleasant surprise, especially since it had been so cold for the past week. I decided to stay at Tam Coc Rice Fields Homestay for 115000 dong ($6.79) in an 8-bed dorm. This place was so nice because it was only a five-minute walk from the main part of town (through a dark alley), but then it felt like it was in the middle of nowhere, with a beautiful view of the rice fields off of the patio.

At dawn and dusk, you could hear a chorus of frogs all around you – it was so cool! Julia (the girl who I had met on the Cat Ba tour the day before) had also booked a bed in the same room and she had arrived about a half hour before me, so we went for lunch at the closest restaurant that we could find. We both ordered some chicken pho and a smoothie for 60000 dong ($3.54), but it took so long (which we discovered is normal for most restaurants in Tam Coc). After eating, we decided to walk over an hour to the nearest pagoda, called Bich Dong. The walk was so beautiful, and we both couldn’t believe the views!

The pagoda wasn’t anything special, but we still spent some time exploring it and then made our way back into town. We went back to the hostel to do some research and make some plans about what we’d do the next day, and then decided to go for dinner. We were both exhausted and were only planning to go for dinner and go to bed, but that didn’t end up happening. We stopped at a restaurant right by our hostel because it looked popular (and we continued going there everyday at least once per day – I don’t even know what it was called!). When we got there, there weren’t any free tables available but they directed us to a table with a French lady, who ended up leaving shortly after. Julia and I both ordered burgers (which we were so excited about!) and a coke for 80000 dong ($4.72). After we had ordered, two guys sat at the table next to ours and we got talking. Their names were Mike and Charlie, were from the United States, and were just doing a few weeks away from home. We told the guys what our plans were for the next day because we were starting with a boat ride in Trang An, which needed a minimum of four people. We all agreed to meet back at the restaurant the next morning at 8:15am so that we could order a Grab and get to the boat rides before 9am (which is when it tended to start getting busy).

On Wednesday morning, Julia and I got up and had breakfast at our hostel (I just got a crepe with a coffee), and then we headed to the restaurant, where Mike and Charlie were already waiting for us. We ordered a Grab, which was only supposed to be 160000 dong total. However, we honestly thought it might have been one of the first times that the driver drove a manual vehicle because the amount of times that he stalled or we jerked back and forth was insane. Not only that, but when he found out that the guys were American, he asked if we knew a song, which was ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time.’ He ended up having multiple Britney Spears songs available, so we were all trapped listening to the driver singing along while slowly making his way to Trang An. I was confused when he took a wrong turn down a backroad and we drove the whole way down, only to find out that there was a whole bunch of construction and a tractor was blocking the way. We waited for about ten minutes, while the driver honked his horn and the tractor didn’t change position. We suggested that maybe we should go back and take the highway, so he finally turned around and went the way that we were supposed to go. Then when we got there, he charged us more (200000 dong) because he had to drive all the way around (which wasn’t our faults), so we just paid it and left. We got our tickets to the Ecotourism Trang An Boat Ride for 200000 dong ($11.80) each, and decided to take Route 1. We heard mixed reviews about whether to take the Trang An or Tam Coc boat ride, but I heard that the Tam Coc boat ride is a lot more touristy and they constantly ask everyone to tip the driver. On our boat ride, they didn’t ask for tips because there’s a survey that we have to fill out at the end (which questions whether we were asked for a tip). However, as soon as we filled out the survey, the driver said, “Tip, tip!” He definitely deserved one though, so we were happy to give him one. Anyway, our tour ended up being about three hours long and included boating through 9 caves and stopping at two temples. We were given about 20 minutes at each temple, and the rest of the time was spent on the boat.

The boat ride was so relaxing, and the caves were so cool to boat through, with only the soothing sound of the oars rhythmically going through the water. It was also so impressive how the rower was able to navigate his way through the caves without bumping into the sides! Some areas would have been so difficult to get through, and we had to duck down quite a few times to avoid hitting our heads on the top. They call Ninh Binh the “Ha Long Bay of the land,” and even though I didn’t technically get to see Ha Long Bay, I could definitely see why it got that name.

We finished our boat ride at about noon and decided to head back into Tam Coc to get lunch. After lunch, the plan was to rent some bicycles in order to bike to one of the lookout points about five kilometres away. However, considering the last time I was on a bike was in 2012 in China, I was trying so hard to get out of it. I suggested going for iced coffee and everyone agreed, but only after we rented the bikes for 50000 dong ($2.95). Julia was more nervous than I was because not only had she not been on a bike in 7 years, but she was also in a motorcycle accident before, so she was really hesitant about getting on a bike. However, despite both of us hesitating, we ended up going through with it cause we didn’t want to let down the rest of the group. And I’m so glad we did! We got to see so much more on a bike, and the scenery was beautiful to bike through.

Despite taking a really bumpy path that I was actually nervous to bike on, we ended up making it to Mua Cave. There was a parking lot quite far from the entrance, where locals were saying we had to put our bikes. I was 90% positive that there would be another parking lot closer to the entrance, so we were going to try to look, but the locals started shouting at us and blowing whistles when we tried to leave. Charlie tried to bike ahead and one of the kids (who must have been about 8 or 9) grabbed onto the back of his bike and wouldn’t let him go. I couldn’t believe it! I actually talked to someone else about this later on in my travels, and the same thing happened to her. We biked to the entrance, where there was another parking lot, so we paid 5000 dong (30 cents) each and then bought tickets to the entrance, which cost 100000 dong ($5.90). We then started the 500 steps up the Lying Dragon Mountain. It was an extremely hot day, which didn’t help keep our sweat levels down. However, we finally made it to the top and enjoyed the incredible views for the next 1-2 hours.

The weirdest thing happened at the top. I was sitting and talking with Charlie, when Mike came up to us with Dana (the girl who Julia and I had met on the Cat Ba tour). Turns out Charlie and Mike had hung out with her in Hanoi! Such a small world when it comes to travelling!! Dana ended up joining us for the rest of the night, so it was nice to reunite without even having to plan it. We stayed for sunset but it ended up being a cloudy day, so we didn’t actually get to see it. We headed back down and biked back in the dark to make it for the last half hour of happy hour at our “regular” restaurant (they give free beer for an hour every night!). We then did a bit more biking to look at where the guys were staying (they have a way bigger budget than Julia and I, so it was NICE!) and then stopped at another bar for drinks. Then we headed back to the regular restaurant for dinner and more drinks, and ended up staying there until about 1. It was a fun night!

On Thursday morning, I woke up after not having the greatest sleep (thanks to the roosters and the plastic wrap on the mattress, which seems to be a common occurrence in Asia). Julia and I had breakfast at the hostel and then decided to rent bikes for the day again (since we were pretty much experts at that point!). I had to pack up all of my stuff since I’d be catching a night bus that evening. We biked around for a bit before deciding to stop for lunch and then Charlie and Mike met up with us to have some beer while we ate our lunch. For the rest of the day, we didn’t do a whole lot – just biked around, enjoyed the views, and chatted with random people who we ran into. We followed as many trails as we could find on maps.me, which was so useful! Julia and I biked to an area that we had seen from the viewpoint, where we could watch everyone on their boat tour.

It was crazy watching the rowers use their feet to paddle – I don’t understand how they’d be able to survive the three hour tours! We then went for an iced coffee before getting on our bikes again and finding the Beverly Hills of Tam Coc. The houses were so nice, and they even had cars parked out front (Tam Coc mostly only had bicycles or motorbikes). Everyone was so friendly too – if anyone was outside while we biked by, they’d always yell out hello.

We headed back to our regular restaurant to catch happy hour, and then Charlie and Mike wrote and asked where we were. They met up to join us for a drink and then we went to an Indian restaurant for dinner. However, I think we waited too long to go because I had to be back at the hostel by 8pm to catch my 9pm bus. I wasn’t too sure why I had to be there so early, but I didn’t want to risk anything so I ended up asking to get my meal packed up so that I could bike back to the hostel in time. These goodbyes were so difficult – this was one of the first places in all of my travels where I forgot that I was actually travelling. I just felt so comfortable, and absolutely loved my time there and the people who I was able to spend it with. I got back to the hostel and the lady gave me a towel and asked if I wanted to shower. Guess I didn’t have to be in a rush.. I said I was fine, and tried to eat my food as fast as I could but after I was about halfway done, the hostel owner got off of the phone and said that we’d have to leave in five minutes. I put on my big backpack while holding my day pack in one hand and a plastic bag in the other, and jumped on the back of the pregnant lady’s scooter. I was definitely a pro at this point! She drove me five minutes down the road to the bus terminal (basically a random parking lot) and then after about ten minutes, my bus to Phong Nha arrived, which will be for another post. Love always