June 6, 2017 – Exploring Hoi An with Grace and Alexus

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Walking the Streets of Hoi An’s Ancient Town

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Hoi An’s Ancient Town is filled with picturesque roads lined with lanterns and bicycles.

Hoi An is famous for its custom clothing and custom leather merchandise. As a result, we shopped till we dropped! I ordered a suit, a purse, a blazer and a pair of boots! I noticed that the market is cheaper for custom merchandise. However, the shop keepers are pushier and try to entice you into their store from the street. All the booths are essentially family run and each one is a very small operation.

We also stopped at Passion Fruit Coffee to get some Vietnamese Ice Coffee with yogurt! It was quite tasty. I also ordered White Rose, a famous Hoi An dish for dinner.

June 5, 2017 – A Yoga and Beach Day

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An Bang Beach

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I had been aching to do some yoga and found Nomad Yoga in Hoi An which specializes in Ashtanga and a few other styles of yoga. I had never actually been to an Ashtanga class before, so it was great to see how it was taught. Afterwards, I stayed and did some more stretching. I loved the outdoor studio and inclusive atmosphere.

In the afternoon, I headed to An Bang Beach to relax and swim. It is beautiful, but the sand is scalding hot.

I continued to do some more shopping on my way to meet Grace and Alexus and a Vietnamese woman in one shop asked if I was a local! It was such a nice compliment and made my day.

I played beer pong with a Charlie, Oscar, and Ollie in the evening. The sunflower hostel has a great reputation for being a party hostel and definitely lives up to my expectations in that regard.

June 3, 2017 – Paradise Cave and Dark Cave in Phong Nha

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To the Caves… and Beyond!

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I arrived in Phong Nha at 4:00am and ended up sleeping on the couch of my hostel because they didn’t have any spare beds. Over breakfast, I met two German girls, Naomi and Vanessa. They were also headed to the caves so I ended up joining them. The motorbike ride there was beautiful!

Paradise cave was the busiest cave I have ever experienced. There were so many Vietnamese tourists that we had to wait several minutes at the entrance. Once inside, you walk around the cave via a raised boardwalk to view everything illuminated by artificial lighting. It costed 250,000 VND ($15 CAD) to enter. The cave was large and in some parts it had a beautiful blue ceiling that looked like unpolished marble. The lights did unexpectedly turn off at one point for a minute or two which was cool! I was glad I had my headlamp with me.

Similarly, Dark Cave was also extremely touristic. The entrance fee was a whopping 450,000 Dong but includes caving, zip-lining, and kayaking. To get to the cave, we first took a short zip-line trip over the river which was fun and then swam to the entrance of the cave. We didn’t venture very far into Dark Cave, but we did swim in the famous mud there. It makes your body extremely buoyant! As a result, it is fun to swim around in it. Outside the cave, we swam across the river and tried out an obstacle course and water sports.

I had a Penis Banana for dinner… yes, that’s what it said on the menu. A banana sandwiched in-between chocolate mousse and ice cream. Delicious! To finish off the evening, I swam in the river next to my hostel it was lovely!

June 1, 2017 – Sapa Trekking Day 3 (Lao Chai)

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Our Last Day With Mama Chi and her Family

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Alexus and I completed a third and final day of trekking. This time, we actually walked through the rice terraces atop the mud boundaries. It was a little scary because you could feel the mud sinking beneath your fee.

Mama Chi is extremely welcoming and hospitable. I was sad to leave such a lovely family and warm community.

May 30, 2017 – Sapa Trekking Day 2 (Ta Van)

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Trekking in Ta Van

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For breakfast, Mamma Chi whipped up some crepes with local honey and eggs with onion. On the side we had bananas, watermelon, and coffee… the coffee was actually quite good! We ate until we could hardly move and then set off into the mountains and remote villages. Luckily the day was clearer and you could see much more of the rice terraces.

After a long day of hiking, Alexus and I decided to take a herbal bath at a spa for 80,000 dong each or about $4.80 CAD. We hopped into the wooden barrels filled with hot water smelling of herbs and bark. It was a great way to relax and I wasn’t sore the next day all.

For dinner we had tofu, mushrooms, and cabbage. Mamma Chi is an amazing cook and will never leave you hungry!

May 30, 2017 – Sapa Trekking Day 1 (Sapa > Sa Sang > Bangkok Po)

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Grace, Alexus, and I Trekking Through Rice Terraces

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As we exited the bus at 6:00am we were bombarded by a crowd of guides and guesthouse promoters. After a few minutes, I was able to strike a deal with a local guide with 10 years of experience named Mama Chi, a member of the Mong tribe. We got a 3 day 2 night package for $40 USD each which was better than what the hostels in Hanoi were offering.

After breakfast, we set off with another Dutch couple, Andreas and Mariam. Andreas had actually trekked with the same guide nine years previously and had sought her out again!

Before heading off, we stopped at the market. It was the first time I had seen a whole dog roasted and ready to be butchered. I could barely look at it.

Then off we went! Although, we did not see any wild animals (which is extremely unlikely to begin with) we did see every farmyard animal imaginable including chickens, ducks, pigs, dogs, and water buffalo. I was in water buffalo heaven! Additionally, while hiking along the trail you would often come across a cluster of butterflies that would unexpectedly fly up around you.

The day was a little misty, but that made Sapa all the bit more magical. It has the farthest spanning rice terraces I have seen in Asia. We also passed a few small fields of marijuana which are used to create clothing. In total we walked for 7 hours or about 14.8 km.

Dinner included a feast of bamboo, the best fried spring rolls I’ve ever eaten, beans, pork with veggies, and morning glory. For dessert, we tried some rice wine… which tasted more like vodka… I am not a fan of it.

We stayed at Mamma Chi’s farmhouse which had a dirt floor and was held up mostly by bamboo. The three of us shared a raised bed made from bamboo with a thin mattress and a mosquito net. I didn’t get the best sleep because the babies and roosters seemed to be up at all hours.

 

May 29, 2017 – Hỏa Lò Prison

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A Piece of the Sewer that Prisoners used to Escape

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Luckily, Grace, Alexus, and I are all big foodies! Therefore, we had no problem trying matcha soft-serve ice cream at Yamamoto Matcha Café for breakfast. It was delicious! Later on, we also got some wonderful bingsu!

In the afternoon, we explored Hỏa Lò Prison, which was constructed from 1886 to 1901. It held Vietnamese political prisoners and later U.S. Prisoners of war (POW) during the Vietnam War. In the 1990s, the prison was largely demolished except for the gatehouse which remains as a museum.

I was surprised that the French still used two guillotines to execute approximately 7 prisoners. Additionally, I was surprised that anyone was able to escape, however several people actually did.

It seemed almost laughable that when the Vietnamese captured American pilots and held them captive that the prison was sarcastically known as the Hanoi Hilton”. Accordingly, the Americans were treated like “kings”. Pictures show them making Christmas dinner and playing badminton. However, when researching more into the POWs treatment, this was propaganda.

In the evening, the three of us boarded a night bus with just our day packs and slept on the way to Sapa.

May 28, 2017 – Train Tracks, Temple of Literature, and the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

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Alexus, Grace, and I ventured outside of the Old Quarter today to explore some farther sights. This included the train tracks running through the middle of the city. The train passes by twice a day, and although we didn’t see it, it was fun to see the route it takes through the metropolitan area.

The wait to see the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum seemed to take forever and they do not allow cameras inside. After seeing the body of the late Ho Chi Minh, we concluded that this one was probably a fake because it was too perfect and had no signs of decay.

We also walked around the Presidential Palace, and saw the home in which Ho Chi Minh resided. It was very grand. Additionally, we checked out the botanical gardens but it wasn’t too interesting.

Before taking in the Temple of Literature, we stopped again at a cute café. I got lemonade with rosemary which was quite tasty. The Temple of Literature was quite nice, however I believe that we didn’t see all of it because one section was slightly hidden. Afterwards, the three of us again stopped at another café and played some janga! Our travels were definitely turning into a foodie tour!

May 27, 2017 – Meeting my Grace and Alexus in Hanoi

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Its Time to Cool Off!

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My friend Grace from Vancouver and her friend Alexus flew into Vietnam this morning! They travelled far and wide to visit the lovely country of Vietnam and the timing worked out that we were able to meet up and travel together!

We both met while checking into the Rendezvous Hostel and then headed out to do some sightseeing. It was HOT outside (most likely close to 35 degrees Celsius) so we often ducked into cute cafes and ice cream parlours to escape the heat. I took both Grace and Alexus to Giang Café to try the delicious egg coffee. I was delighted to have it again! The place is always bustling and I love the old tiny wooden stools and tiny tables with marble inlay.

Afterwards we found ourselves in another café grabbing ice cream. I decided to have a hibiscus tea with passion fruit ice cream! It was amazing!!!

Later, we stumbled upon a lovely Buddhist temple where several people were praying. We saw a man carrying a dove with its head twisted 180 degrees facing its tail feathers. It took me a few seconds to realize that this was being presented as an offering and the neck of the bird had be severely twisted.

In the evening we went to a water puppet show. Although all the speech was in Vietnamese, there was still a lot of humour that did not need any translation. I loved the live music and I could not figure out how the puppeteers were able to move the puppets in unison so well and have them walk past each other. I was impressed by a set of dragon puppets that could be totally submerged in water and then spray fire out of their mouths. It was fun to watch! Grace, Alexus, and I also got 3rd row seats! I have no idea how that happened.

May 26, 2017 – Walking Tour of Hanoi

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Hoan Kiem Lake

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I joined the free walking tour at Central Hostel – Old Quarter after enjoying their complimentary breakfast on the 8th floor overlooking the city. The view is spectacular! Luckily, our walking tour group was small and we had a great guide who was originally staying at the hostel, and then decided to work there. We viewed many sights in the old quarter including a 1000 year old temple, St Joseph’s Cathedral, Hoan Kiem Lake, Dong Xuan Market, and much more. We also got to try the famous Vietnamese egg coffee from the famous Giang Café. Now, I am not a coffee person, but I found it absolutely delicious! It tasted like tiramisu!

In the evening, I checked out the large weekend night market and saw the lake illuminated by many lights.