Dalat Foods!

Since Dalat is a mountain town it was on the pricier side of what our usual budget was.  We try to stay around $2-$4 per person when it comes to food, which is easily doable. Trip Adviser of course only has crap recommendations.  They really need to hire some budget travelers to get out there. We tried Oz burgers due to its high ratings. It really wasn’t anything to get excited over.  Also, what kind of monster puts beets on burgers? After eating here, I decided that maybe I’ll wait till I’m back in America to have a burger. We ate at Brew and Breakfast.  Now I am not a vegetarian by any means, but I figured I would finally try my first vegetarian restaurant. It was amazing! Since this time I have probably recommended this place at least a hundred times.  I am really missing my buffalo sauce from back home, so when I saw fried buffalo mushrooms I was sold! My bowl consisted of sauteed tomatoes, caramelized onions, pickled pink onions, spinach, hummus, and vegan eggs with a side of what looked like McDonald’s hash browns (oh yeah baby), and like I said the buffalo mushrooms.  I am salivating just thinking about this bowl. Walter ordered a bowl with cashew butter, bananas, coconut, oats, cashews, chia seeds, and some other little things. Again, amazing! This place left such a mark on me I told him for dinner we were going back. Don’t be fooled, even though it has the word “breakfast” in the name, it does have a different menu for dinner.  We both ordered loaded salads. The costs for each meal was roughly 100,000 per person ($4), although I would have paid a little more. Numerous locals had mentioned that we eat at the night market. This ended up being a bit disappointing. There were only about 3 different cheap eats options to choose from. The pricey restaurants moved their tables outside, so it looked like it would be cheaper, but they were charging about $15 a meal per person.  Out of the cheap eats options, there was Pho, Corn balls, and Vietnamese pizza. I had the corn balls and Vietnamese pizza (banh trang nuong), but shortly found out they contained the same ingredients. The pizza was a rice paper with an egg yolk spread out over it with shrimp paste, pork, and sriracha paste. The cornballs contained these ingredients on the inside. We didn’t eat out too much here since our hostel offered free breakfast.

Da Lat!

So this story starts out quite similar to the others.  I ended paying $2 more than our usual costs for a ride to the next place with Cat Thien Hai..  It was for a “limousine” with recliner chairs and lots of legroom! (See pics for guidance) However, when Walter and I arrived at the loading station for the limousine, every seat was taken so we had to cram in with the driver.  We ended up holding our smaller bags and could not stretch our legs out. I was pretty bummed, but also beginning to learn that hardly anything is going to work out to my expectations so I definitely need to learn to go with the flow.  I did email the company and provide a picture. They refunded me $4; I can’t complain. Halfway through our three-hour drive, we hear a weird noise. Walter immediately proclaims, “well that’s a flat tire”. He was correct. We luckily had a beautiful view along with the comical show.  The driver and his partner tried to lift the van with a jack, but shortly afterward the jack broke. Thankfully, a random kind stranger stopped and happened to own a jack! I think this is a common occurrence because the other three tires on the van were quite bald. Soon we were back on the road!

We stayed at the Redhouse Hostel.  The selling point was free breakfast and water.  At this point, I am tired of paying for water. A first-world privilege I now appreciate thoroughly.  There were five puppies! Which would end up making some uncomfortable situations later. All of the hostels and Airbnb’s we come across, they request to keep our passports for the duration of our stay which is out of the question to me!  We always finagle them back. This hostel wanted a one million dom deposit, which was more than double the cost of our stay, and the first time we have encountered this. Being that this is a mountain town the food was double the price of what we usually paid.  We ate at Thiet 168, Oz burgers, night market food, and Brew and Breakfast. These restaurants will be discussed more thoroughly under “Eatables” on the blog! But damn, I never thought I’d love vegan food so much. We rented a motorbike for one day to see the sights not locally near us.  We drove out to Pongour Falls and then learned that they had highways that motorbikes were not allowed on. We found this out only after we were on the road (the only motorbike on the road) and people were honking even more aggressively at us than usual. The falls were beautiful, and the entrance fee only 40,000 dom per person ($2).  It wasn’t so crowded due to tourists not wanting to travel this far away from the city. Afterward, we headed to the next falls, Datanla. They were beautiful, but the park was overrun with tourists and locals. The entrance fee here was only 30,000 dom (that is just for the falls). We then headed back to the hostel to play with the puppies before heading to the night market for dinner.  When in Dalat you will find that the locals and websites rave of the night market. It definitely isn’t worth the fuss, but I always feel as though travelers should experience all of this once. There were hundreds of people there! We parked our bike in a lot, and the parking guy asked us to keep the steering wheel unlocked, which I thought was sketchy. The market was 85% clothing with only a handful of cheap food options, and overpriced restaurants setting up shop, but not with cheaper prices.  Every now and then I will come across a food I have not yet seen on our travels. The corn balls were awesome! (Check out Eatables!) There were way too many people and with it just being clothing shops we decided to head back to the hostel. When we arrived back at the motorbike parking lot our bike had seemingly disappeared. I was freaking out! Even if it is a bike worth $200, they would charge us $1500 if something happened. After failing to find it for about ten minutes and the guy who parked it was adamant it was there, I decided to chase him down and make him come show me.  A minute later Walter thankfully located it. They had moved it to the other side of the aisle. I still do not know the reasoning for this, I was just so happy to see it.

PUPPIES!  Being surrounded by so many puppies was delightful!  However, the mom had become insanely aggressive, so anytime the puppies went near her teets, she attacked them to the point the puppies would be screaming, and occasionally a member of the owning family would kick her.  To plays devil’s advocate, the puppies’ teeth were quite sharp at this point! Poor teets. It is really hard to watch things like this and not get involved. This is not my culture and Walter and I agreed I cannot inject my beliefs on to them.  I also named one Walter because he loved being around my Walter!

Moving on.  While Walter is fascinated by the many temples of Asia, I on the other hand, want to experience nature and culture.  If you’re ever here definitely do the Countryside Tour. Dalat makes most of its income on flowers. You will see them everywhere, everyday of the year.  There are also a few hundred greenhouses smashed into this little mountain town to grow them all year long. Our first stop was one of these greenhouses to see the many different types of flowers they will grow.  Next was a village where a tribe still resided. I was pretty uncomfortable here. It was one of the poorest villages I had seen in Vietnam yet. The residents slept on a very thin mat on the dirt ground; some had no doors to their home.  The guide told us to take pictures. I did not want to treat these people like they were unknowing strangers on some TV show to entertain us so I found a local cat to play with instead. Next was a surprise. We stopped at a small village that feasted on crickets.  I never thought in my life I would find myself in this situation, but when you get the chance to experience the culture first hand, you simply cannot pick and choose when to participate! So, we ate fried crickets, sans breading, drank rice wine, rice wine brewed in a heaping helping of crickets, and Walter ate a cricket that had been soaked in rice wine.  Yup, that happened. I did not barf though; just spent the next hour getting cricket legs out of my teeth. We then visited a silkworm facility. This is how Vietnam makes their clothing and some for other countries. They literally go through millions of silkworms a year to make clothing! It is insane. One silkworm cocoon makes about one kilometer of silk, and they need anywhere from six to ten kilometers to make a shirt.  This country does not waste anything, so after they open the cocoon and kill the silkworm, they of course eat them. We visited a pagoda that held the tallest statue in Vietnam, standing 70 meters high (I don’t know the conversion either), and the biggest Buddha! We headed next door to Elephant falls which is a MUST see! You can take a super sketchy climb to the bottom of the falls, and go in a cave that is directly under the falls to feel its power.  Across the street we stopped for lunch. GAH! It was a smorgasbord for 100,000 ($4) a piece! For this one I will attach a picture! For our last stop we visited a coffee plantation. Weasels love eating the coffee cherry that holds two coffee beans on the inside. They don’t actually eat the beans, but poop them out. After this defecation the coffee beans are collected, cleaned, and brewed. The plantation has a few coffee brews that can only be found and bought in Vietnam.  They unfortunately keep the weasels locked up in cages and feed them the coffee cherries. One Polish tourist mentioned that this was inhumane and our guide quite sternly told her to accept it because this was their culture. This solidified my decision to not get involved. This marks the end of our tour, but it was the kind of experience I have been looking for!

During our time away for the day we had the hostel do our laundry.  We usually don’t have issues, but they lost two of Walter’s shirts, then the owner said it had to have been our fault.  Okay. We wouldn’t usually mind losing something, but we packed very little, so two shirts were a big part of his shirt cache.  Eventually a house cleaning employee found his shirts! As for me, during my stay I cut off part of my toe, but my bowels have finally calmed down!….to the point where they haven’t worked for five days.  I’ll take my wins where I can get them. We miss everyone back home, and I reallllllly miss Frank’s buffalo sauce, but it has still been an amazing adventure! Til next time!

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!

Learned Lessons

There have definitely been numerous lessons learned along this journey and it hasn’t even been a complete month yet!  I started researching Southeast Asia well over a year before our arrival date, and yet I still see and learn things I had not read about in my previous searches.  Or I will come across things that I had read of, but it was not entirely correct information. Let’s begin!

When we purchased our tickets, we had just bought “one-way” flights through a third-party website.  They appeared to be the cheapest. Looking back now, I wish I would have bought them directly through an actual airline, and paid a wee bit more for round trip airfare, but with flexible date booking so we could change the date back home for little to no extra cost.  When it comes to our luggage, we each brought a medium-sized bag that would fit America plane standards for carry on so we would never have to pay for checked baggage and a carry on bag. WRONG! Most airlines in Asia allow you to have a single carry on (carry on/personal are the same thing here) that weighed no more than 7 kilograms, and the second bag absolutely has to be checked.  If you only have a single bag all together and it is more than 7 kilograms, you have to check it. Knowing this now, we both wish we would have just brought our backpacking bags we use for camping as our checked luggage bag. Checked luggage here is only a few bucks as opposed to America’s OVERPRICED baggage fees so it isn’t a big deal. Next! Something I had to get used to right away is that personal space is ignored.  No matter where you are, someone will be touching you. I personally do not like to be touched so I try to fart on command, but this doesn’t always seem successful. Just get used to it. One thing I am going to strive to understand is why people cut in line. I will be standing directly behind a person in line, and a stranger will walk right up and stand in front of me. It isn’t a racial issue since I’ve seen people do it to anyone.  I was brave enough to try it one day! I was waiting in line to step on to a bus and a female came and got right in front of me. I calmly stepped out of line and got in front of her, which she then promptly left the line and stood about 10 feet away staring at me. Take that for whatever it means. When I am in line now, I stand so close to the person in front of me I may as well be hugging them, but that keeps the cutters away! One of the most important lessons I have learned is that the Vietnamese do not seem to change the sheets in between people staying in the rooms.  If the sheets look AT ALL disheveled ask for new ones, or better yet, just ask for new ones! When getting on a city bus, you have .03 seconds to get on or they will immediately leave you. You better be waiting on the curb, not the bench when you see that bus a-comin. Also, the drivers here are a bit crazy, but it’s good to know that every time you get on a city bus, you have medical insurance provided to you by the bus company as long as you’re on it. While there are public restrooms everyone, or WC’s as they call them, still carry your own toilet paper. Most toilets just have a bidet, but in scarier situations, I have encountered bathrooms with no bidet and NO TOILET PAPER!  Some of these were in restaurants! What are you people doing to wipe?? I think my favorite thing is free WIFI everywhere! Yeah sometimes it is slow, but it is literally everywhere! Even if it’s locked you just ask for the password, or the will have it taped to the wall. This is going to keep my phone bill so cheap! Come on America, get with it! When it comes to Airbnb’s, the owners either sugarcoat the room and amenities or forget to mention a few things. Like there is construction going on literally next door that starts when the roosters begin singing. We have learned to ask a few extra questions: Is there a curfew? Is there construction? Do you charge for electricity during our stay?  It doesn’t hurt to ask loads of questions! When looking for restaurants or food stalls on Google Maps or just plain Google, don’t trust the location it gives. It seems as though a lot of these places move kind of frequently. This has led to numerous events of us walking around looking for an exact place that just isn’t there anymore. We now use the “Foody” app that is up to date and will save you a lot of heartaches. Well, I think this is enough for now, hopefully, this helps any future travelers steer clear of issues, or at least give you a giggle at our expense! Til next time!   

Hue!

We are beginning to figure out that in Vietnam there is a difference between Vietnamese food and authentic Vietnamese food. In Hue, we got our first taste of this! We found an amazing restaurant, Hanh Restaurant, that has authentic food. The banh beo was amazing! It is these little plates with a rice pancake that you pour sauce on then slurp down like an oyster! We ordered about seven different items and our bill was only $110,000 Vietnamese dom! ($5 American dollars). Another dish to try here is Bun Bo Hue, it is different from your everyday pho dish, but a bit tastier. There were other cheap eats that we found but they were the typical fried noodle, pho or bun cha. We also tried Korean food here since we had not seen it elsewhere. It was nice to have something a bit different from Vietnamese food. This could be found at Kicochi House. Definitely spicer than the previous food we’ve had!

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.

Sapa, Vietnam

Sapa, Vietnam

Boarded two buses from Sapa heading toward Hue with a pit stop in Hanoi, the journey is almost 25 hours total.  Sapa is a beautiful town filled with enormous culture. Four tribes, four different languages, one thing in common, all of them meet in Sapa to introduce their culture, food, traditions, and way of life to the tourists.  Consequently, the tribes suffer from tourism to find a balance between old traditions and modern life. Speaking to a native born in Sapa, she mentioned that tourism is taking away their cultural identities.  Their own dialects are becoming extinct, trying to learn English, Spanish, and French to sell their products or tour their villages for a living.  On the other hand, their handcrafted dresses for both women and children, pillow cases, purses and other goods are gorgeous. One caveat of the tribal people are the tribal women when walking through town.  The moment you stand still, this becomes their moment to swoop in and speak to you.  They strategize their sales tactics with shopping and hiking. Responding no courteously knowing they want to sell something, now they begin a casual conversation. Evading several times, they stay persistent and follow for several minutes and up to several yards.  Working passed the tribal women, walking is the best way to get from opposite sides of the town because of the road structure.

Peak of Ham Rong Mountain

Plenty of attractions are found in and around town such as the Mường Hoa Valley, Fanispan Mountain, rice terraces, and Ham Rong Mountain.  Upon our arrival in late December midst monsoon season, Sapa was cloudy, rainy, and jacket weather cold. But the cloudy and rainy environment brought a mysticism to Sapa.  Floating mountainous islands in the sky are unforgettable moments. 

Trails of Ham Rong Mountain

While waiting for days for the clouds to clear, we drew our attention towards the rice terraces than Fanispan Mountain.  Though the mountains were lushly green, the paddy fields beautifully stacked and brown. Onward, we paid 70,000 dong a person and trekked up Ham Rong Mountain. While hiking up the mountain, we noticed the cable car operating to the top of Fanispan Mountain.  To watch the gondola lift, haul itself up the mountain and disappear into the clouds would be a bust to peak Fanispan. 

Trúc Lâm Đại Giác Zen Monastery

Travelling during monsoon season presents its challenges. Sapa presents its beauty even during monsoon season only through preparation.  As prepared as you are, the main attractions may not be ready for you because of renovations or under construction.  Wear the right shoes in December and possibly January is a must, otherwise water will soak through your shoes and sometimes sink into the soil. Overall, we had a pleasant experience with the short hike up Ham Rong Mountain and the cloudiness of Sapa.

– Walter

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!

Hanoi!

This post may contain profanity!

Getting to Hanoi was kind of a bitch.  Once we landed in Ho Chi Minh City we entered the lane that was clearly marked “passports”, because there was no proper signage saying we needed to go to a completely different line in the back of the room.  So after waiting in the passports line for roughly 30 minutes, we were told to go to a different line to get our Visa. First, you hand them your eVISA, then wait till they call your name; which can be anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.  Then you gather your passport and visa to go back to the passport line, and you better have a ticket of when you leave Vietnam or else they will not be letting you through. After doing all of this we then had to leave the arrivals and go to another building for our departure to Hanoi.  Something I am having trouble adjusting to is the fact that people here do not care about personal space. They get so close, we may as well be wearing the same shirt. Also, something I can’t figure out is people not giving two shits about cutting in line. No matter which line you’re in for whatever reason, or how long you’ve been waiting, someone is bound to walk up and get right in front of you with a look of “whatcha gonna do bout it?”  I have not been brave enough to try this myself. At our first Airbnb in Hanoi, the adventure was just beginning. I still do not know how we got out of there with our lives. It is mind-blowing the first time you see the driving situation. I have never seen a better example of organized chaos. I am pretty sure the street signs and lights are just there for the show. If traffic was stopped and someone did not feel like waiting they would literally just drive up on to the sidewalk and pass all of the traffic by.  Or if people actually did stop for a light, without fail, there would be someone who didn’t want to wait and would just drive through the traffic and the light even with oncoming traffic in the way. We literally saw it all. If the traffic was going to slow someone would just jump the medium and drive the wrong way through oncoming traffic. After seeing all of this without any wrecks, it made crossing the street a little easier. Along with all of the hecticness of this, people had their own language they would speak through the use of their bike/car horns.  I imagine no matter the pattern of honks, they all meant get the f**k out of the way. The people here have been patient and extremely helpful. I’m pretty sure they know how to spot confused travelers’ faces from across the street. The street sellers could be pretty aggressive. There are women walking around selling banana filled donuts which they literally try to stick in your hand as you’re walking by then make you purchase it because you touched it. I’ve learned to run from these women. The street animals are so sweet! I read so much of not touching the street animals due to the possibility of rabies, however, the dogs, cats, cows, and goats have all been friendly, it’s the damn chickens you have to watch out for.  We’ve already been chased down the road by one. The food has obviously been amazing. It seems that there are five main dishes throughout the northern part of the country. The meals cost us about $1 to $4 a person. The coffee is insane. I imagine the coffee here is comparable to chowing down on a handful of espresso beans. You can judge how strong it is going to be by the amount they give you. The beer sucks. Still no diarrhea. If you want a fast-paced city, I imagine Hanoi is the craziest we will find, but I am ready to spend a few days on the slow island of Cat Ba now.