Monthly Archives: March 2013

Whoaaa…that was strong!

We made it to Sapa on a sleeper bus that was much better than the others, minus a really cold AC. Today has been amazing and quite a blast. We got here early so we nearly had a full day to explore. We wandered around the city center briefly before we made it to a park that allowed us to overlook the entire city. Quite amazing.

Later in the evening we headed to some street stalls to try some local cuisine. After wandering through briefly we settled on a grill place where we had some really good sticky rice, sprouts wrapped in some kind of meat, green beans, some round hush puppie like thing, and smaller pig intestine. We were quite skeptical, but went for it. We sat next to a couple of local gentlemen, Minh and Hoan. Hoan said hello and then they both immediately offered us shots of homemade rice wine. I openly accepted as not to insult them and Megan joined. They loved it.

Hoan knew english and Minh knew french, albeit Minh did most off the talking and quite well he did. Ooops time for another shot! Interestingly, Minh fought for the North during the war but he held no grudge to us. At this time all I could taste was really hard alcohol. Guess it will disinfect that pig intestine! We finished up our meal and I looked over at them and Hoan was already holding another shot up to me. Bottle is empty and my ears are still on fire. Best part is that these two guys drive tourists around during the day!

It was like a giant mentos/coke experiment.

All I want is a large cup of coffee, or two, maybe three. The Vietnamese coffee is real good butit’ss practically served in a shot glass. Anyways, Megan and I made it to Hanoi and spent or first night in the Old Quarters. Hanoi is much like Saigon, but people don’t seem to get up as early. Its a bit difficult to get a cup of coffee before 7 a.m. After staying just the first night we headed to Halong Bay for a three day, two night boat and island excursion. Heading out on the water you are immediately introduced to hundreds of massive, limestone karsts randomly jutting out of the sea, covered in foliage, and teaming with birds. It was quite a breath taking site.

Not too far into the cruise we stopped to get off on a very small island with a beautiful cave. Inside it looked like someone had set off the world’s largest mentos and coke experiment. Good times! It had absolutely massive rooms.

Soon after we saw the cave we reached a small floating fishing village between several karsts where we got to kayak all around. There was this magnificent rock with not much of a base pertruding from the middle of a cove like area. We found out that the rock was featured on the Vietnamese 200,000 Dong.

That evening we enjoyed the company of a few Germans. We have had a blast with the multitude of different people we have met. We enjoyed a comfy night in a little cabin on the boat. The next morning we arrived at Monkey Island where we enjoyed more kayaking, small hikes, and some monkeys. We had a nice beach bungalow, mosquito net included. Through this entire excursion we ate like royalty, and I must say the fried calamary was yummy! Couldn’t get enough! Megan and I both got to try oysters for the first time and they were also quite good. The following day we sailed back into harbor to head back to Hanoi. A most curious thing keeps happing when we do this. We have gotten room 302 nearly every time we book a hotel. It has been 4 times in a row if you don’t count the tour. Crazy! Yesterday, in Hanoi, we made a trip to the Museum of Ethonology. It was a very interesting and well-done museum of the varying cultures and tribes within Vietnam and throughout Southest Asia. We got to see a massive boat reminiscent of old Indian war canoes but it was actually a racing boat that was retired because it won many races and was considered very powerful. The museum also had full size models of different types of home structures from different cultures, with huge differences between them.

This afternoon we are heading to Sapa, so we are stoked as it is going to be amazing!  Also I uploaded some more photos to the gallery.

Old Structures Galore

We have been all over the place since our last post, so much so that we have either been on the go or knocked out! We spent a couple days in Hoi An, then moved on to Hue where we have been the last couple of days. Hoi An is a beautiful city with well-preserved architecture and some rich history. It was originally a major port city, but the river sanded up long ago and if not for tourism, there would not be much left of the city. When we arrived Sunday morning after a very bouncy, back-of-the-bus night, I think we were a little too quick to let the negatives of our first moments in the city put a cast on our views. We immediately decided we did not like it much. We arrived around 7am and it was a scorching, soggy underwear long walk until we found a hotel we were ok with. We got settled and made our first round around the city. Every. Single. Street. From one end to another. With peddlers in our faces non-stop, the worst yet. I’m telling you, we just don’t know how to sit still when we should! Well, we finally could go no further so we had fresh juice at a cafe and read a little. Even after sitting there about 1.5 hours, I was still feeling overheated, so we went back to the room and I took a long nap. Oh man, after cooling down and getting some rest, the city seemed much more pleasing! The more time that went on, the more we enjoyed it, could appreciate the beauty, and the less we felt smothered by peddlers. Overall, it still was not our favorite place. Mainly because it does exist solely for tourism. The locals seemed less friendly and more directly reliant on the money we spent, therefore, it wasn’t very peaceful during the day. The evenings were much more peaceful, and very beautiful as silk lanterns hung all over the city.

We were happy that the city center was closed off to cars and we could walk a bit more freely. One thing that we did love about Hoi An – the food! We tried a few new things that were all good, but the very best was a place called Bale Well where they bring out several plates of ingredients including bbq pork, sausage, something crunchy, rice pancakes, veggies, and rice paper. You then build your own spring rolls, which was altogether fun and messy! The taste was fantastic!

We did a lot of looking and a little buying since that was the main thing to do in Hoi An. We are pretty excited about one purchase, we got ourselves a large canvas oil painting! The bus ride to Hue (pronounced Whey) was during the day and only 4 hours. We arrived in Hue at 1pm Tuesday and hit the road first thing to see the Imperial City, an old walled fortress and palace from the Nguyen empire, which only just ended in the 1940s. It is massive, and the Forbidden Purple City where the imperial family personally lived is another walled fortress within the larger. I think we got some pretty neat photographs.

The fortress did attain some damage from the US bombs, but reconstruction and restoration are now underway. The imperial city was close to being destroyed because the Nyugen empire was a fuedal society and Vietnam wanted to forget it. Maybe they were terrible, but what remains is pretty astonishing! Today we decided to rent bicycles and ride about 5 miles each way to the tomb of Emporer Tu Duc. We could have gone to more tombs but the others were farther out. It was so nice for once to be off our feet and an experience to flow with this crazy mess of traffic. Bryan had done the research on the tomb area and I didn’t ask many questions, so I was surprised when we arrived to find out it was much more than a tomb, but was also a retreat where he lived much of his time and used it as hunting grounds, to write poetry, and to enjoy the peace. It was a very large area, again surrounded by walls, and the lake was man-made with a pretty little island.

After lunch we decided to ride another 4 miles out to Thien Mu Pagoda. This was another impressive Buddhist construction and most of it is still in great condition.  The pagoda is well known for where the monk that set him self a blaze in 1963 was from [link].

After leaving the pagoda we decided to take it slow back to the hotel. That was an understatement. Just after we got back on the bikes my back tire blew – the stem of the nozel just cracked open! I’m proud to say that despite being in full sun in the heat of the day and pushing bikes for 4 miles, we made the best of it and stayed in good spirits!

This evening we are off to Hanoi!


I think quite a bit has happened since our last post.  Our first sleeper bus ride went quite well.  We both slept ok but could have used some more sleep for sure.  It didn’t seem the driver was too crazy when hauling down the highway, as we did make it in one piece.

As we arrived around 7am in Nha Trang we were instantly greeted by the peddlers and people trying to show us to a hotel.  Megan and I decided to cut down an alley to lose a straggler that was annoying us, and in doing so we found a pretty nice hotel for $5 a night.  A little family run place that was quaint and nice.  They even did our laundry for $0.75 a kilo since there are not any self service laundry places.  After checking in we headed straight for the beach to take a dip and maybe a small nap.  It was quite beautiful with small islands off in the background and mountains behind us.  I think Megan was having a bit too much fun in the sea.  She would put her arms out like a plane thinking she could fly when any large waves would come in. 🙂

Once we soaked up enough beach time we headed out to venture around town and see what there was.  We stopped in at a few scuba places and by the end of the day we had signed up to take the advanced scuba class.   Woot!!!  Instead of doing PADI ($$$) we went with NDL which certified us for a 40M depth instead of 30M.  The course was supposed to be 2 days and 5 dives.  It didn’t happen like that.  We both needed a bit of a refresher since it has been a while since our last dive so we spent a couple of dives getting re-familiarized.  All in all we did it in 3 days and they let us do an extra dive for free.  I wish we had an underwater camera to show some of the awesome things we saw.  There was a real nice grouper, barracuda, lion fish, etc.. down there.  Our deepest dive included navigating through some small rock tunnels along one of the small islands.  The deepest we went was 26.6 meters (87 feet).  The pressure at that depth was pretty crazy.  It was a pretty awesome experience.  Some of the colors from different coral were amazing blues and purples, which is interesting because we had an ace of hearts with us and at that depth the red looked black.  If you have not scuba dived before you should really look into just a single dive to see what it is like!

After our second day of scuba diving Megan and I thought it would be a great idea to run roughly a 5km run to see Po Nagar (wiki link).  Talk about making you tired after scuba diving, but it was totally worth it.  The temple was built in the mid 10th to 13th century.  This is some of the kind of architecture/design I have been wanting to see in person.  There had been a lot of restoration done, but hey it’s a super old site. Its crazy to see these hand made bricks centuries later still there and intact.

For you foodies you will love this.  Meg and I decided to scope out all the street vendor food and settled on a fried bread that had a small hard boiled bird egg in it.  That was pretty awesome.  There was a nice spicy dip to accommodate it.  Next was the cherry on top… a noodle dish with a gelatin like substance on top that looked and very well might have had gold fish inside of it.  We didn’t question it too much and just ate it real fast.  There wasn’t much taste so if you see it just pass on it.  I still sort of cringe thinking about it.  I hate gold fish.  Pigeons of the water world.  Finally we had to have a dessert which was a fried bread with sesame seeds on the outside and that had some kind of honey like substance inside.  That was scrumptious.  We went back the next night for many more of those.

Through our scuba experience we met Brady and Shelly who were finishing up a 1.5 year long trip and are dive masters.  We enjoyed some good times on the boat and before heading out on our second bus we enjoyed an awesome Indian cuisine dinner with them.  They gave us some good advice on traveling through N. Vietnam, Laos, etc..  If you get a chance you can check out their blog [here].

After a great dinner we headed to our second sleeper bus experience…oh this one was great.  As we arrived at the pickup point there were a couple of Irish guys just ripping the lady behind the counter a new one because the bus supposedly left 30-45 minutes before scheduled.  Meg and I started to freak out a bit, but it seemed there was just a communication issue and the bus was just around the block.  Whew….  We got to sit in the very back of the bus that slept 5 people.  Holy hell that gave us a super bouncy ride back there.  The other 3 people were more than entertaining.  All of them hailing from England and complaining about being sore.  One of them pulled out an ointment that he purchased earlier called “Tiger Balm” or something like that.  It apparently heals sores, cramps, small cuts, many other little things and the best of all flatulence.   We were a bit stumped on how you applied it for that issue.  They said the cream smelled like Christmas.  Maybe I should send one your way, Allison!  Once we really hit the road I don’t think the driver knew he had breaks because he was hauling.  I couldn’t sleep if you even drugged me.  We made it in safely to Hoi An at 7 am and we are doing well.

I uploaded quite a few photos to the gallery page so be sure to check them out!