A Travellerspoint blog

Mud Baths and Cu Chi

Nha Trang and Ho Chi Minh City

30 °C

We are now in Ho Chi Minh City aka Saigon. It's a bustling busy city with glamorous hotels and shopsm lots of tourists, beautiful French colonial architecture, and Nutella. (Yes, the hazelnut chocolate spread, which we lost in Laos).

We had 1st gone to Nha Trang for a couple of days. It's a small beach town between Hoi An and HCM City. We had managed to escape the rain and clouds that had been following us from Hanoi. After settling in to our 7 USD/ nite hotel, I was completely excited to smell the South China Sea, take my flip flops off, and feel the warm foam on my feet. I was so escited. I was waiting for the beach since.... China. But with the recent typhoons and tropical storms, the waters weren't as blue as we preferred and the waves that crashed onto the shore were huge and very intimidating. Only a few brave souls ventured into the water to throw their bodies into the waves... boys, of course.

We decided to lay out on the rooftop deck of hotel for a little bit, enjoying the sun, trying to even out our horrible tan lines that we've accummulated . I was in heaven, swinging on a hammock, under the hot sun, reading a book, listening to music, with the smell of the sea in the air... all I needed was somebody fanning me with a banana leaf while feeding me grapes (Ellen denied me my request).

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That afternoon, we had hired a ride to take us to the Thap Ba Hot springs where we could soak in a bath of mud, take showers in hot spring water, soak in a hot mineral bath, and then swim in a pool of hot mineral water. That was amazing. It was a beautiful sunny day to lie around in a spa, shifting from tub to tub, and just relaxing until my fingers and toes turned into prunes.

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Then later that night we went to the Louisiane Brewhouse. It was a beautiful beach side restaurant, with a swimming pool, with tables and beach chairs all over. We decided to splurge and have a fancy dinner to remember Vietnam... and dined on delicious snapper and ginger beer. I loved being on the beach. It totally reminded me of Miami, at the Shore Club. All they needed was house music playing in the background and some beautiful people in designer clothes walking around... and I was in Miami. Haha.

We left Nha Trang the following day because the rain had followed us and ruined our day to sunbathe. But no worries, we will soon be in Thailand.

HO CHI MINH CITY: We arrived in Saigon early Saturday 10 Nov morning. And after settling into our Hotel, Phoenix 74 in District 1, had breakfast, we walked around the city. Saigon is a large city, but everything we wanted to see was nearby. So we walked to see all the French Colonial architecture of the municipal building, the post office, Notre Dame's cathedral, and city hall. We also stopped by Parkson's, a western grocery store, on a quest for Nutella. We left our last jar in Luang Prabang, Laos and have been miserable without it. We paid over 100,000 dong over 6USD for a jar and bought 2. We had spent our budget on that freaking Nutella, but it was worth it.

That night we hung out with some local friends... Tram's-2nd cousin's-friends Chi and Liem and some others took us to dinner and for some drinks afterward at Allez Boo, a backbacker hangout. It was really nice, trying some authentic Vietnamese food (other than the usual Pho) and hanging out. They were very friendly and hospitable.

The following day, we had organized a tour to the Cu Chi tunnels. They're a series of subterranean tunnels where people lived and soldiers planned strategies against the Americans during the Vietnam War. We took a boat to the tunnels, learned a little bit of history about Vietnam and the war and were actually able to walk through original tunnels, which were reconstructed to make them slightly larger to fit the bigger Westerners. Mostly everyone was duck-walking through the tunnels and sweating while trying to walk about 100 yards. But it was easy for me...crouching, not having any real problems. Finally, being short comes in handy. Haha. See the following picture of a tour guide in a Spider hole...

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The following day, we had arranged another tour to go to the Mekong Delta, one of the 1000 things to see before you die. It's where the great Mekong River that runs through China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam empties into the South China Sea. So there's lots of different types of fish and foliage that live in the area. It was pretty touristy and it almost felt like I was in a boat ride at the Epcot Center in Disney World for a little bit. It was nice to see how people live in the area.

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Posted by csomera1 05:08 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

My Heaven... Hoi An

A shopper's paradise

semi-overcast 25 °C
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In a town called Hoi An in Vietnam. After 16 hours of bus rides through rainy Vietnam from Hanoi to Hoi An, I found paradise. It was still rainy and cloudy as we arrived in this small town, but the streets were filled with clothing vendors soliciting you into their stores to get a wardrobe custom designed and fitted for you within a day. So for me, traveling with my backpack and only 2 pairs of shoes, I was definitely in heaven.

Ellen and I had heard all the rumors about getting clothes custom made for you in Hoi An. And we thought we would buy a suit and a coat for interviewing in when we came back from our holiday and entered the real world (ahem, next year). We walked into a couple of stores, looked at fabric, some designs, and compared prices and ended up getting 2 cashmere/ wool suits with an extra skirt, a blouse, and an ivory wool winter coat for $150 USD and done for me in 24 hours. I was satisfied with the purchase, but kept looking into stores as we walked through the streets, sneaking peaks at other materials, designs, and other possible articles of clothing. And as we walked that night to dinner, we got sucked into another store and 2 more blouses, 1 pair of cashmere trousers, a trench coat, and a corduroy fall jacket, I really thought we were done. But alas, today I walked by a shop that made custom shoes and saw a pair of cute leather sandals done for you in 1 hour and thought they would look cute on a beach in Thailand. Ok. Ok. I'm really done. But only because our bus is picking us up to go to Nha Trang in 20 minutes. If I was here for another day, I think I might have added a pair of boots, a pair of sexy heels, and possibly another coat to my collection.

I was unhappy with a fitting yesterday, things not fitting perfectly, collars not looking like they did in the pictures, but with a few alterations, the clothes came out wonderfully. There's nothing like putting on an outfit that was specifically made for you. And I know sandals are sandals, but the cute little leather sandals I got fit the contours of my foot perfectly. The streets are full of backpackers, all of us in flip flops, tank tops, adidas pants, cargo shorts, unkept hair, and just having that "hobo" look. But when we go into a store and try on our custom cashmere suits we're transformed into these powerful, wealthy executives. And now that I think about it, it's probably all a scam... getting the backpackers to look good, at least for a day, in custom made clothes.

Anyway, but other than shopping for clothes, Hoi An is another UNESCO World Heritage city with several beautiful historical temples and sites. It's also full of lantern shops, art stores, and cute little riverfront restaurants.

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Check out the Japanese covered bridge...

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However, with all the rain hitting Vietnam the last few days, the riverfront had flooded.... In the pic you can see the flooded streets and park benches.

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We also visited the central market, a circus of crazy smells, strange foods, kitchen appliances, household goods, and Tiger Balm vendors. And we saw some ladies offering street food... a tasty selection of kidney, liver, and intestines in chili sauce. We opted for pizza.

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I half heartedly looked at all the temples and sites of Hoi An. It's so easy to get distracted by the stores with beautiful clothes displayed. Ahhhh.... So now we're headed to Nha Trang, a beach town half way between Hoi An and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)... and finally we get to taste some sun and beach...

Posted by csomera1 01:59 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Good Morning Vietnam!!!

Hello Hanoi

overcast -17 °C
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So we're finally in Hanoi, Vietnam, after flying from Luang Prabang, Laos. It's completely different here. We had come from sleepy Laos and we had gotten off the plane and were welcomed by the hustle and bustle of Hanoi. It was noisy, polluted, crowded and just full of motorbikes. There are about 3 million people living here but there are about 5 million motorbikes.... crazy. I had flashbacks of China with all the crowds, traffic and noise. But as always, I was excited to be in a new environment. See people eating pho right on the streets, perched everywhere....

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We arrived on Halloween and felt pretty disappointed that we weren't going to have a proper celebration. But at Hanoi Backpacker Hostel, there was a party... woooppeee!!! And even though we didn't stay there cuz it was booked, they invited us to join their festivities.

It was full of backpackers with homemade costumes. I had talked to "Frosty the Snowman" and he was wearing some styrofoam outfit with an orange carrot shaped nose and a black cardboard top hat. He said he had found it on the street. Funny. We celebrated on the rooftop of the hostel and had food and Beer Ha Noi (not as good as Beerlao) and mingled with people from all over. What I've noticed, being here for a few days, is that there aren't any American backpackers, except Ellen and I. Everyone's from England, Germany, France, Ireland, or Australia. It's kinda funny and strange... where are my fellow Americans??? But we were amidst the backpacker crowd and comforted to be in a friendly environment during Halloween. Playing Halloween party games, drinking, eating, socializing.... listening to everyone's stories and finding out we're all on our way to the Full Moon Party in Thailand around the 24th. So apparently, we'll be seeing these people again from city to city, hitting up the same towns by bus or train and seeing the same sights. It's kinda nice seeing a familiar face from one town to the other and hearing about their experiences in between.

Here's a pic of the Halloween party... of the Magic Mushroom and Frosty the Snowman. BTW, Frosty won for Best Costume.

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On our 2nd day in Hanoi, we did a pow wow of sight seeing. We made arrangements for a trip to Halong Bay, bought our on and off bus ticket that will take us on a journey of 5 stops on our way to Saigon, and then skipped around town seeing the Presidential Palace, the Temple of Literature (an old university dedicated to Confucius), Uncle Ho's Mausoleum (that we didn't see cuz we had already seen Mao's Mausoleum in China and one embalmed communist leader is enough), and the One Pillar Pagoda (a temple built on one pillar, as if you couldn't tell by the name). Later that night we saw the famous Water Puppet show... a puppet show with traditional Vietnamese music of puppets dancing around in murky water. The water hides the strings and mechanics of the puppets. It was interesting and fascinating for the 1st 5 minutes, then my ADHD kicks in and I'm done.

HALONG BAY: We had taken a 2 day/ 1 nite trip to Halong Bay. It's another UNESCO World Heritage sight and is actually being nominated to be one of the 7 natural wonders of the world next year. It's a bay of a radius of 1000 kilometers filled with over 2000 limestone cliffs jutting out of the water. Legend has it that it was dragons sent to protect the Vietnamese from foreign invaders. It is a remarkable site and was very beautiful. The sun peeked out for a couple of hours and gave us a few good pictures, but it hid again, and we haven't seen the sun since. We walked through some caves, had lunch on the boat, went kayaking through some rocks, and just hung out. We met some other travelers, which was nice and spent the night exchanging stories, playing cards, the whole spiel... We all slept on the boat that night and it was pretty eerie... docked in the middle of a bay, pitch black darkness enveloping you... but peaceful in a way.

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The next day, we spent the whole day getting back to shore and then bussed back into Hanoi, where we checked back into our hostel, The Queen's Salute (Hanoi Spirits) and negotiated a price for our room. We were going to pay 3 USD each but opted for 5 USD to get satellite tv... we needed some homey comforts and HBO was one of them. Haha! We then met Benson, Tram's cousin, who's from Oklahoma and is now living in Hanoi teaching English. He's been nice enough to give me some pointers about the Hanoi and took us out for dinner and drinks in the Old Quarter.

Today, Sunday, 11 Nov, we'll be on our way to Hue/ Hoi An by bus. We spent the morning mailing our souvenirs from Laos home. It'll be home by January/ February... I'll give my gifts out then. Then went to the museum of Ethonolgy and saw some of the rich culture and history of Vietnam. We saw great exhibits recreating ancient living quarters depicting the origins of Vietnamese lifestyle. It was pretty fascinating. One thing, in particular, was a recreation of several wooden carvings of men and women in provacative (no, perverse) positions to encourage fertility and procreation.... see the following pic.

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So we're off again... down to Hoi An. It's known as the place where you can get anything made... all types of clothes, even shoes. They measure you, and sew to your specifications, doing it for you within a day. I'm excited to shop. Yay, a new adventure begins...

Posted by csomera1 01:02 Archived in Vietnam Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Same Same...

Bye Laos

semi-overcast 26 °C
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Leaving Laos today... kinda sad and kinda excited. The people are so laid back and relaxed, that Ellen and I have just adapted that mentality. We slowly walk around the town with no real plan. We sit in cafes and relax and last night, to reward ourselves, we got a massage. We initially were going to go on a 4 hour trek and then hang out at this waterfall, Khouang Sy, all afternoon and then get the massage. But we didn't do the trek, just waded around in the waterfall and got the massage anyway.... Haha. Then we went shopping at the night market to get some last minute souvenirs. People have a saying, "Same same." And they use it all the time and for everything. For example, if you want to buy something and you negotiate a price of 20,000 kip for it and they wand 25,000 kip... they just say "same same." Meaning, what's the difference of that 5,000 kip? Haha. The other night, I was at a restaurant with Ellen, Karine (Holland), and Alex (Germany) and the waiter asked, "are you Laos?" "Nope," I replied. "Thai?" "Nope, Filipina," I answered. And the waiter was just like, "Same same. We just speak different languages." Haha. Ahhh... that's how it's been and we're sad to leave.

Bye Laos....

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But now we're headed to Vietnam without any expectations. It's the best way to travel. The more you plan, the more you anticipate, the more disappointed you will be when things don't work out. And so here we are... just a plane ticket and a vague idea of what we want to see in Vietnam. We've met other travelers who've told us places to visit and things we can miss... but overall, we take it day by day... It sucks sometimes, when unforseen events occur.. but it works out eventually. It's exciting. We don't know how the people are going to be, how they will accept us (or not), the quality of the food and accommodations, whether the city will be clean or dirty, if we feel safe or threatened.... and it's exciting.

Filled with so much adrenaline thinking about all the possibilities.

Posted by csomera1 22:32 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Asia's Sleepy Country

Laos

sunny 30 °C
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In Laos right now. The Macau and Hong Kong officials at the ferry and airport terminals wouldn't let us through because we didn't have an exit ticket out of Laos. But we knew, as we've heard, from other backpackers that Laos doesn't care. After hours of dealing with Macau and Hong Kong officials, they finally let us through after signing an exemption stating that the airline was not liable is we would be extradicted out of the Laos upon arrival. So funny. We finally got to Vientiane and everyone at the airport was so laid back that they let us through without any question. We didn't need an exit ticket, after all. You could immediately feel the laziness in the air. There wasn't a rush to do anything. Peopl weren't running around yelling orders at others. It was quiet and calm. It was an international airport but it wasn't hustling and bustling like O'Hare... it was funny.

We walked around the city looking for accommodations and we went into a random guesthouse (Lovan) and the owner was just so nice he let me take a look at the cute little room, which I fell in love with. Then as Ellen and I were checking in, he immediately walked us up, with a pink towel with teddy bears for me in one hand and my bag in the other, opened the door, set our things down and said, "come down and check in whenever." So cute. It wasn't like in China where they demanded a 600 yuan deposit and your passport and you had to pay in full up front. When we were ready to check in, we found him sitting outside with some other guests and he gave us 1 form to fill out and let us put all the data in. I seriously could've been Miss Piggy and he would have never questioned me. We're also paying our 10 USD/ each for 2 nites when we leave. He's so nice.

We met a couple of German travellers who said that many times, people stay longer in Laos than they originally planned... just because everyone is calm and laid back and relaxed that you start developing that attitude. We would go to markets and restaurants and there weren't people heckling you to come into their store or restaurant like in China. We didn't here, "lady, missy, come to my store." In Laos, we actually heard, "madam, would you like to ride a tuk tuk?" (A motorized tricycle.) So cute and polite. I don't want to say that China is inferior to Laos, but Laotions seem much more civilized to Western standards than the Chinese. They're polite, modest, and humble. In China, I developed an anxiety... I just wanted to get out of that overpopulated country ASAP upon entering Laos, I immediately felt at ease.

Guidebooks have called Laos the "Sleeping Country" and we can see why. Everyone's sleepy. You have to wake the owner up of a store so that she can help you. Vendors are sleeping at their stalls. Workers are sleeping on plinthes at their worksite. Tuk tuk drivers are sleeping on the back of their tuk tuks. People are sleeping at the temples.

See the Sleeping buddha... if the buddha is sleeping, why shouldn't everyone else? Haha

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See the monks on the back of the bus in Vientiane on a road by the Mekong River...

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VANG VIENG: Vang Vieng is a small little town, about 3 blocks in diameter, full of backpackers all looking to do the same thing... trek, go caving, innertubing, or kayak. Apart from that there really isn't much to do. Today, when Ellen and I got in, we checked into a hostel... only 6USD/ nite ($3 each) and went to eat. All the restaurants are similar... beds and tables and pillows all facing several televisions playing DVDs of Friends episodes. I was in heaven and for more that 6 hours straight, Ellen and I lay there eating pizza, drinking Beerlao, and watching Friends. It was so funny. It was so relaxing. And it's a backpackers haven. After the hectic travels you take to get here... overnight trains and buses, no A/C, mosquitos, dusty roads, paranoia that your stuff will get stolen, being ripped off, restlessness...it offers all the comforts of home. Ahhhh....

Chillin' in Vang Vieng:

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So many times, I just blurt out to Ellen, "I love it here." Cuz it's just a great place with great energy. Everyone greets you with a smile and "sa bai dee" (hello). No one runs you over with their cars or spits in front of you. There are western toilets. You can walk around in flip flops all day. I can't describe it, but it's so comforting and I love it....

We also went on a 2 day adventure of trekking, caving, and kayaking. We trekked up a mountain for a few hours before stopping by a little creek for lunch. Then more trekking and visiting little caves along the way. We had seen the "Unitdy Cave," "Elephant Cave," and the "Sleeping Cave." The trekking was pretty difficult with the heat and humidity. But the scenery was spectacular. It was a beautiful sunny day and the views of the villages and fields from the mountainside were worth the sweat. Then we had a delicious dinner riverside where we stayed overnight. The next day, we went kayaking for about 20 kilometers. So peaceful. The river was pretty calm without so many rapids. But Ellen and Alex, who were in the other kayak, managed to find a rock and flip their kayak upside down. It was on this day we saw the "Sleeping Cave." We had to swim in a dark and cold pool with sharp rocks inside a cave and flop around through slippery mud to see the depths of the cave. It was quite dangerous. All I kept thinking was, "don't think what is in this dark cold water. You'll be ok." But with a few bumps and bruises and Ellen's sprained midfoot we made it out ok. We had a Beerlao to reward ourselves:

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LUANG PRABANG: We had taken a 6 hour bus ride up and down hills and mountains, playing chicken with oncoming traffic, in a bus full of backpackers, on a hot humid day with poor air conditioning. I was almost sick. But it was worth the whole trip. Luang Prabang is another town, actually a UNESCO Heritage City, protected and conserved for historical purposes. You see the quaint streets and the beautiful colonial buildings, but this is one city where the locals have clompletely exploited its label as a "Heritage city." The prices for accommodations and food are far more expensive than other places we've been. This morning we had gone to the main road to see the traditional procession of monks coming down the street to receive donations from the local people. Bus loads of Japanese tourists come out and sit on little stools, buying flowers and bowls of sticky rice from the locals to donate to the monks. The local people have completely capitalized on a tradition that doesn't seem as sacred and humbling as it originally probably was meant to be. Kinda sad.

Here is the monk processsion at 6am:

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Other than that, we've shopped, seen some Wats or temples, and walked the small streets of the city. We've eaten some great food and drinking many a Beerlao. We also watched the sunset over the Mekong....ahhh, beautiful.

Laos has been completely relaxing. I initially loved the laid back attitude. But now, I'm ready for a new adventure. It's ok to be lazy once in awhile and so a week in Laos was about enough. But all this lounging will just make getting back into the stressful backpacker world that much more stressful.

Posted by csomera1 23:03 Archived in Laos Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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