Da Nang&Nha Trang!

The nightlife of Da Nang!

From Hue, we took our first train ride (2.5 hours) to get to Da Nang!  It was a beautiful ride that allowed us to see the lesser-known countryside.  It’s getting HOTTER! I am quite tempted to mail my winter clothing home at this point!  We mainly stopped to visit here to see the Dragon bridge that on Sundays at 9pm will shoot flames from its mouth then become a giant water cannon.  The thing that I admire most about Vietnam is their love of their culture. This dragon show, for example, it happens every single Sunday at the same time.  I figured the crowd would be made of travelers, but surprisingly it seemed as though half of the city joined. Even though they have probably seen this loads of times they still participate.  The food here is quite similar to Hue, which isn’t a surprise due to us traveling one major city south with the exception of Banh Xeo! It is a crispy pancake with seafood, vegetables and sauce wrapped up inside!  This city is referred to as the Silicon Valley of Vietnam. I myself haven’t been to the Silicon Valley of America, but this city seems to be quite further along in development than the previous cities we have visited.  Although to me, it seems similar to Vegas with a touch of New Orleans. Once the lights go down all of the city buildings light up with multicolored light shows along with Mardi Gras colored boats driving up and down the canal.  During our stay here in Vietnam, I have felt quite safe aside from a single pocket on my bag that always seems to be open after mingling in a crowd. However, I am not an idiot and would never put something in such an accessible location.  When we were in Da Nang Walter noticed a female local following us for roughly over half a mile. We even mimicked the crime shows of making random turns and street crosses, but she never strayed more than 20 feet behind us. We eventually made it to the water canal to linger in a safer location.  She stayed close to us and took a picture. We decided after that we should lose her, go back to the hotel and change clothes. This didn’t advance into a more serious scenario, but it did make me a bit more alert to what is going on behind me. We later attended the dragon show, which has a fire cannon, then sprays the crowd with a seriously powerful water cannon.  We also visited Marble Mountains which are multiple temples and caves carved into a single mountain structure. It was remarkable not only the work that went into this, but even the smallest details carved into these rocks! We got up close with a monkey and some bats! The monkey was just focused on destroying the trashcans and robbing people. We decided to head to Nha Trang next for a few beach bum days.  It is a twelve-hour bus ride so we did the overnighter again. We paid for the usual bus but got upgraded to a stellar sleeper. We were so excited to get a comfortable night’s sleep. Yeah right. The level of comfortability doesn’t rely so much on the bus as it does the driver. While this was the roomiest bus we have had yet, the driver made sure to hit every pothole possible along with beating the horn every few minutes.  Our previous drivers stopped honking after 10pm, but not this guy! He honked as though his life depended on it. We then arrived a bit early to our stop in his haste to get there (4am).  

First sunrise in Nha Trang!

Stepping off the bus at 4 am, at the wrong stop, nonetheless, I was not happy about being rushed by five old men trying to physically take my bag from me to put in their taxi.  I had to use my “work voice” to get them away. We then walked straight to the beach to watch the sunrise. Our Airbnb was actually an apartment to ourselves located in a quiet part of town.  The bus only ran until 6pm for 9,000 Dom so we made sure to be back every night by then so we weren’t forced to pay outrageous taxi fees. We found out the next day early in the morning that there was construction going on next door, of course.  When I said we wanted to be beach bums, I was being quite literal. We paid 100,000 Vietnamese Dom ($4) each to have a squishy chair and umbrella for the whole day, every day. It was nice to have these relaxing days as opposed to walking like ten miles a day exploring all the nooks and crannies.  There were constantly sellers sifting through everyone at the beach, but if you just act like you are sleeping they leave quickly. There was one lady walking the beach in full clothing including gloves and socks selling corn while she was cooking it! Along with the beautiful beaches and sunny weather, my ailments have finally decided to give me a break!  Our last night here we decided to try a hole in the wall bar down the street owned by a few Russians. We once again met and befriended the owner. People (locals and expats) love billiards in Vietnam. So naturally, everyone loves Walter. Once the owner and he hit it off, they invited us to have some shots of their vodka that they brought from Russia. I shit you not, I have never tasted a smoother vodka, I can see how they drink whole bottles so easily.  I tried to refuse but this Russian girl looked into my soul and said, “No, you drink this, and then you eat this sandwich.” I figured it would be impolite to refuse?! While traveling we are trying not to offend anyone since we do not know all of the minute details of their cultures. So when it came time to pay the bill, it was quite a bit more expensive than we expected. We tried to tell the bartender that the shots were supposed to be on the bar, but we decided not to upset any Russians tonight and just take this as a lesson learned.  Next time, I’ll get Walter to refuse for the both of us! It has been quite informative to talk to travelers from many different countries on their views of America/Americans. The only new addition to food choices was the addition of seafood. They like to eat jellyfish in their soups, and anytime shellfish is involved, they literally eat it with the shell on. I can’t live that way so I stuck to the usuals. Next stop, back to the mountains!

Sapa!

After a 30-minute bus ride from our Cat Ba Airbnb, a 15 minutes ferry ride (where the driver smashed a panel of our bus getting on the ferry), and an eleven-hour overnight bus ride, we made it to Sapa!  If Greyhound hasn’t upped their standards for traveling through the night, they should rethink their designs because these overnight buses in Vietnam are awesome! You get a fully reclined seat, air conditioner, pillow, blanket, some have toilets, and the prices are insanely low.  Our eleven-hour ride was $10 a person, and they don’t charge extra for baggage. On top of all of this, you either have a smooth ride or one that is a bit crazier. This first time was a bit crazy. You can board this bus after you buy an online ticket, or you can stand anywhere along a road or bridge and hail the bus down to just jump on and pay cash.  Obviously, if there are empty seats the driver will want to make extra cash to fill them. Every bus has a driver and an extra man that stands by the door to make sure people take their shoes off, and when passing potential passengers on the street, this man will open the door slightly and yell quite loudly asking if they need a ride. Our driver, however, wanted to fill every crevice.  Even after every seat on the bus was filled the driver continued to pick up passengers and make them lay in the aisle of the bus. I guess if the riders don’t mind then why should we? Except that when they would stop for pee breaks, you would either have to step around these people somehow, or wake them up every time. We arrived in Sapa around 3 am, but the driver let us sleep on the bus until 6 am.  Probably because hostels do not accept check-ins that early! When we exited the bus it was a chilly 40 degrees with humidity and a torrential downpour of rain. We stayed at Sapa Signature Inn hostel. It had two kitties that lived there so I was happy. The rain would let up in enough incremental measures for us to explore a little at a time when it wasn’t foggy of course. If the fog moved in, you couldn’t see more than 10 yards at a time.  Every town you visit, there will be a type of solicitor coming after you constantly. In Hanoi, it was the donut lady, in Sapa, it was bike renters, and here it is tribal women trying to sell trinkets or offer to be our guide. They were quite persistent. Even if we didn’t make eye contact, they were coming for us. Not taking no for an answer, they would follow us for quite a distance before letting up, and I’m talking like 5 minutes at a time.  We couldn’t hide from them either, they were on every corner, and sadly they had their young children doing the same thing. Some of the kids would even be carrying an infant on their back to gain sympathy. I learned with the kids, I could give them cookies and they would not bother me. The mothers, however, I would just hide behind Walter and throw him to the wolves! Things in Sapa were easily double and triple the price of the bigger cities, I guess that mountain town price increase happens everywhere.  One place tried to charge us $5 for a black coffee, which here, the coffee is so strong they give you maybe a quarter cup of a large size Starbucks. The food was awesome. There was a line of street food where they had raw meat on skewers (most likely not safe), and you would choose what you wanted, then it would be grilled for you. They had a knack for creating new food styles. The bakeries were the best. We had a fresh croissant style bread with pizza makings on top! Yum! A few things Vietnamese people love that I will have to accept are selfies and karaoke.  Every single person you cross is taking a selfie and the public just accepts it! A girl literally stopped traffic on a road just to stand in the middle of the street to take a selfie! At first, I waited to let them take their pictures, but so many of them are doing it all the time, I know just photobomb everyone now. We gots places to see people. Someone is ALWAYS singing karaoke! Luckily a renowned rule is quiet time at 10 pm, but until then, I suffer.  

Alas!  I made it 15 days with no bowel issues!  So at this point, I have a sinus infection, rhinorrhea (love this word), and the intrusive D.  Of course, Walter and I ate all of the same foods, but he is fine. We were able to see some rice terraces, but the high peak season for those is in a few months, and we hiked to the top of a small mountain to see the city view and “cloud garden”.  The French invaded this area many moons ago which in turn left quite a bit of beautiful french architecture. Another common article we would encounter is watching out for rabies from all of the strays. While there are a large number of cats and dogs running around (and goats), they are all super sweet and quite chonky.  So I assume even though they are galavanting around the city, I do believe they are still fed and loved by somebody. After this, we are finally headed to warmer climates! So until next time, off to Hue!

Jamie

Hue, Vietnam

The city of Hue, Vietnam is a quiet little city.  After going through Sapa and Hanoi, the city itself is a slower pace.  Instead of the food vendors walking around selling their delicious pastries, numerous people with motorbikes stationed in front of stores or riding around trying to convince you to rent a bike from them.  Sitting inside a coffee shop, one stationed himself in front of the shop. He began talking to the people at each of the tables, while they were enjoying their conversation or eating. Firmly, the gentleman is introducing renting a motorbike for the day or tour to Hoi An. To admit his defeat, he never encountered a sale during our stay. 

Entrance to the Imperial City

Aside from the continuous pressure of motorbike rental salesman’s, we head to the Imperial City.  Now inundated with locals pitching themselves as ‘official tour guides,’ we march toward the ticket booth.  We purchased a bundled ticket for the Imperial City and 2 Royal Tombs. Acclaimed one of UNESCO’s heritage sites, the city’s beauty is still under restoration and unfortunately some renovations during our stay. The Imperial City flooding with symmetry for the entire compound and each building.

Luckily, the bundled tickets we purchased allow 2 days of exploration. If we purchased the Imperial City with 3 Royal tombs, it entitles you 3 days.

Drenched from head to toe, we enter each tomb with my sandals and her shoes squeaking and water sloshing around.  Renting a motorbike is a terrible idea during monsoon season. Tu Duc’s tomb was the first.  Unfortunately, this tomb was not in our bundle.  Our bundle included the Khai Dinh King and Minh Mang Royal Tombs. 

Of all the tombs, the Khai Dinh King tomb was the most magnificent with the symmetry and delicate placement of mosaic dragons along with paintings of dragons with Chinese scriptures.

The most serene I thought was the Tu Duc tomb. Pleased with its serenity and beauty, I produced two photos. Personally, I enjoyed the Tu Doc tomb’s because it incorporated a nature aspect of many coy ponds and a Buddhist ‘island’ comprising miniature pagodas, mini statues, bonsai trees, and dwarven pine trees.

Khai Dinh King Entrance
Tu Duc’s Entrance

The Stele is Tu Duc’s autobiography of himself. The largest Stele in Vietnam.

Tu Duc’s Stele

The Minh Mang was wonderful as the Khai Dinh King without the detail and less serenity as with the Tu Doc’s tomb.

After a few hours in the rain, we retired and headed back to our hostel. We remained warm and continued on with our journey. Now preparing for a 2.5 hour train ride to Da Nang, Vietnam.

Cat Ba!

Sorry I haven’t kept up lately. I have learned when my bowels are trying to destroy me, I guess I’m not in my chipper mood to write.

It is still the rainy season in Northern Vietnam, so while Cat Ba had its beautiful moments, it more often had drizzles and cooler weather.  Definitely not warm enough for beach play, which I had hoped for on Christmas Day. It is just a three-hour bus ride from Hanoi to reach the “speed boat” that would take us the five-minute ride to the island, then another thirty minutes by bus to get to our hostel.  These three modes of transportation, which only cost $10 bucks each, were worth it. It was nice to escape the constant honking and air polluted haze that hung over the city of Hanoi. We ended up staying at Mountain View, and by this time I was starting to realize that when it comes to Airbnb, they tend to sugar coat their dwelling.  We definitely had a beautiful view but were quite a bit further away from the beach then what I read. Also, it spoke of a nice stroll to reach our room. It was nearly 200 stone stairs straight up. After we settled in we rented a motorbike ($5 a day!) to head into town for dinner. The food was obviously delicious! I still have not eaten anywhere that left me unsatisfied.  Leaving the restaurant we realized we had a flat tire. It was pitch black when you left town, and we were still terrible at the language. We called the hostel to tell them the bike broke down, but the only response we kept receiving was, “who you?” While I am struggling on the phone a woman comes and grabs Walter and starts pulling him away and saying, “STRONG MAN, STRONG MAN!”.  Now I’m confused on both sides. It turns out she just wanted him to move a tree, which in turn she spoke with our hostel receptionist and promptly told him what happened and how to find us! We were saved within ten minutes. We have read a few articles on how bike owners would sabotage the bikes and trick the travelers into paying for it. Luckily, this wasn’t true. We did not have to pay to replace the tire, however, our full tank of gas we paid for suspiciously disappeared.  So maybe they siphon gas out overnight? Gas is a volatile substance so it does vaporize eventually; that could be another reason. It was pretty smooth sailing from there. We visited Cat Ba national park, Canon Fort, and spent a day exploring the island. Cannon Fort is an area of the island where their military defenses were set during the Vietnam War. We were able to see the canons, trenches, and an underground tunnel. We saw how sardines were prepared. They literally just lay hundreds of them out to dry on a tarp.  We had one day of sunny weather, but it still wasn’t warm enough for the beach. This was also the time my body began to betray me. I had a sinus infection that lasted almost a week. I have learned so many lessons already, and probably the most important one is to carry toilet paper with us. I would sometimes find myself in a bathroom with no toilet paper and no bidet. I do not want to explore further how some people might handle this predicament. Also, the mattresses they use are roughly 2-4 inches thick. I did not know until this trip that I do not have the ability to lay flat.  Apparently, you can request a “soft bed”, and I’m sure it will be worth every extra dollar. We will be heading to Sapa, Vietnam next to see the mountains and hopefully some rice terraces! I hope everyone is doing well back home!

Ho Chi Minh City

Visa Process

Ho Chi Minh City was our original visit to Vietnam. Our arrival was not smooth sailing like entering Mexico. With our three-month Visas in hand, we entered the “All Passports” line. Waiting about 30 minutes in line, we approached the guard. He reached for my papers and glanced them over then looked at me, said “over there,” pointing at his 5 o’clock position with his hand behind him and returned my papers. Our failure was we did not receive the official Visa inside our passport. We head in the direction where the guard pointed and waited in smaller single line with our documents.

Sitting and Standing for almost 2 hours…

After 10 minutes, we approached the security counter, surrendering our papers and passport over to the guard, accepting them without us knowing our next move. We ask the surrounding people the entire process and they said; you submit your papers and passport and wait for them announce your name.  Sitting and standing for almost 2 hours someone announces my name with an almost unrecognizable accented pronunciation. I stand up, head to the counter, pay the stamping fee (25 dollars for a single-entry), and finally receive my passport. NOW I CAN HAVE A BEER! NOPE! Now, we have to wait in the line we were before, except the lines were longer. We reach the counter, a different guard accepts our passports and looks at us and asks us when we are leaving.

Flight, Bus, or Boat… to prove our disappearance…

I told him, “in about 40 days.” The guard began requesting a flight, bus, or boat, something proving our disappearance of Vietnam. Researching for months, we did not encounter this in any other people’s experiences. Luckily, our friends meeting us toward the end of our Vietnam trip had purchased everyone’s flights from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap, Cambodia. We presented Jamie’s phone with the flight and FINALLY he let us proceed. Now, we have to fly to Hanoi…

-Walter