Saturday, March 29, 2014

Hoi An

March 14 – Met CJ and Scott at Sunflower Hostel, walked around the market, checked in to our rooms, napped, and headed into town for the Full Moon Lantern Festival.  I thought I was going to be in awe of all the lanterns lighting up the town, but I was a little disappointed at how crowded yet unimpressive the town seemed.  Bought a candle and set it in the river, a tradition that’s supposed to grant good luck.

Hoian is one of those towns that I like to refer to as a “black hole”.   Almost a full week was dedicated to shopping, drinking, and eating the local favorite called cao lao.

March 19 – Moved to “home stay” for the night since Sunflower was booked, slept in, biked to beach with Sam and met Jake and Tim from Nha Trang.  

The bike ride and time at the beach made Sam and I really upset that we’d been spending our time for the last week in the worst ways.  To make it worse, I was reading Thoreau and his words are so incredibly powerful.  Fittingly, he discusses that you should not feel the need for new clothes until you can say you are a new person inside.  I feel really horrible about how materialistic this town has made me feel, but for the sake of record I’ll divulge my purchases: two tailored dresses, one kimono, two leather shoes, three lanterns, two sets of chopsticks, and one hand painted scroll.  I wasn't completely pleased with the clothing purchases, but the shoes are really amazing.  If I ever go back I'll have to stop back in to say hello to Hin at the shoe shop called "Be Be" (578 Cua Dai St).

The scroll I don't feel bad about at all - paid a man on the street 150,000 dong/$7 to hand paint bamboo and the phrase "nothing whatsoever should be grasped at or clung to" (one of my favorite lines from the meditation retreat on Koh Samui).

March 20 – Paid for and picked up all of our goods and headed out at 1pm for the overnight bus to Hanoi.  

Nha Trang

March 11 – Our first full day in Nha Trang I went for a run in the morning down along the beach, then headed to the beach with Sam, Flore, Jake, Corey and Gabe.  Later in the day all of us went to the mud bath (120,000 dong/$6) and then to Nha Hang Yen which is ranked as the best restaurant in NT.

March 12 – Woke up pretty early in time to get on the bus for our “booze cruise”, but when we all got on the boat we thought it was going to be a pretty boring day.  The boat was full of older Asian passengers who were judging pretty hard when we got on the boat with our rum and cases of beer.  Went to two different islands and swam around, but after they gave us lunch, two other boats all piled onto ours and they did a international karaoke party which was awesome.  

Flore also surprised everyone by playing the drums like a pro.  

Jumped off the top of the boat and swam to a "floating bar" to share a drink with everyone.

Got back to the hostel and got ready to go out to Why Not Bar for the night.

March 13 – The whole gang in Nha Trang, which ended up being quite a few people all decided to motorbike to the waterfall out of town.  I rode with CJ, my amazing Canadian friend that we met on the slow boat.  

Once we got there though I felt really ill and had to sit at the front while everyone else explored the area.  Grabbed a kebab for dinner and then headed for the overnight bus to Hoian.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Da Lat

March 7 – Arrived in Da Lat at 4am and thankfully Paradise Hostel let us get a few hours of rest in the dorms.   Nothing else exciting worth sharing during the day I don’t think (the problem with procrastinating for two weeks about writing down details of the trip).
March 8 – Spent day walking around Da Lat with Sam and had dinner with Mark and Ivan, two half Vietnamese half Mexican brothers that grew up in Italy and now live in Southern California.  Nice to have them with us as they were able to translate menus and teach us a few words.  Dinner at a local restaurant and then dessert at some small hole in the wall that served fried bananas covered in a sweet sauce.
March 9 – Went abseiling in Dalanta with an organized group and it ended up being one of the most challenging and rewarding days I’ve had in a very long time.  To be honest I really had no idea what I was getting myself into when I agreed to do it with Sam, but I absolutely loved it.  Got harnessed up, did a few trial runs and then got into abseiling down four different ledges.  The first two were relatively easy, but when we got to the third everyone started getting a little nervous.  This was seriously a monster of a waterfall and they were asking us to gracefully climb down it.  I went towards the end of the line, so I saw some real horrors (people slipping and not able to get up), but I was determined to do it.  Had a little chit chat with the guy that was holding the safety rope and really felt comfortable taking directions from him.  I think the secret was not looking down because I think I would have actually had a heart attack looking down 25 meters through a rapid waterfall.  Took my time, didn’t slip, let go and fell about 4 meters to the water, and was thankful that I was alive to tell the tale.  

I was so proud of myself for completing that and I really would have been happy for that to be the end of the day, but they told us there was one more waterfall to abseil down that they called “The Washing Machine”.  Note to self: do not abseil down waterfalls named after kitchen appliances.  Absolutely horrified being lowered into a rapid waterfall and having them tell you you’re going to be sucked under, just hold your breath for a few seconds.  I was happy to do that one once but never again.  

Walked up a huge hill to get back to the road and saw a girl who was really badly scrapped up.  Earlier in the day we’d had the opportunity to cliff jump off from either 7 or 11 meters high.  I, as a ration human being (with no health insurance I should mention), opted out of this challenge.  Apparently, this poor girl had gone for the 11m jump but hadn’t cleared it, so she tore up the whole side of her leg and went head first into the water. 
Got dropped off back at our hostel and agreed to have dinner together with a few of the abseiling crew.  Went to the same local restaurant and dessert place and then headed back to the hostel to get ready for a night out with Ben, the owner of the hostel who’d invited us out to see “Vietnam’s best DJ”.  Went to Rain Nightclub, which was actually surprisingly swanky for such a small town, and had a great night dancing with the group from the hostel as well as a few locals.

March 10 – Went to Crazy House (which is really a horrible tourist trap) with Sam and Flore, a Dutch girl we’d met abseiling, and then headed back to catch the bus to Nha Trang.  

Got to Mojzo Inn and got put in a dorm with Flore, Sam, Gabe, Jake from England and Corey from SF.  We all went out to dinner together and then the boys and I bought some beers and sat on the beach for most of the night.  Went for a little midnight swim which was awesome as well.

Ho Chi Minh

March 3 – Arrived in Ho Chi Minh where we were greeted by Pia.  We dropped our things off at Khoi Hostel, the three of us went to lunch at Mumtaz Indian Restaurant and then a visit to the War Museum.  On our way back we saw Simon and Joshe, two German guys we had taken the slow boat with, and then Pia and I went out for the night and saw Frank, who Sam and I met on the bus up to Pai, and we spent the night drinking with him and his two friends.

March 4/5 – Walked around town and went to the post office which is actually a really nice and efficient building.  Walked home along the river and ate at a kebab restaurant around the corner.  Traffic in HCM is absolutely insane - got a shot crossing right before the rush hour crowd came by.

March 6 – Spent pretty much the whole day applying for jobs (none of which I’ve heard back from).  Hoping to find work for a few months so I can travel to South America in December before I start working full time.   Took the night bus from HCM to Da Lat.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Koh Rong/Sihanoukville

February 23 – Going out for a late night of drinking and dancing is probably never a good idea when you need to get on a minibus at 7am.  Rushingly I threw all my things into my bags and ran outside to catch our bus to Sihanoukville.  Got there around 12pm and rushed to get on the 1pm ferry to Koh Rong.  That’s about the time I realized I’d either lost the GoPro or it had been taken when I was in Phnom Penh.  Got on the very shaky ferry over to Koh Rong feeling hungover and depressed about my recent loss, looked around for a place for the night and found two double beds for $6.50 each/night.  Walked down the beach and had dinner at Coco’s (bacon wrapped chicken and cabbage), where we would eat most nights on Koh Rong.
February 24 – $1 soup for breakfast, $1 smoothie for lunch, spent a few hours lying on the beach, dinner again at Coco’s (pumpkin soup) and quiz night there.
February 25 – Moved things over to Paradise Bungalows ($35/night).  Spent a few hours on the beach, napped, ate at Coco’s again.

February 26/27 – Pretty much dead to the world.  Spent a full 48 hours without leaving my little beach bungalow.  Worst part was that I didn’t even sleep during the day, I just laid there awake, wallowing in my misery.  It’s scary how mentally out of it I was though.  When you’re staring at the wall for 10 hours but you never get bored you know something’s wrong.  Started another round of Cipro and started feeling a bit better.  Most exciting thing that happened for me those two days was walking into the bungalow and seeing a huge monkey eating the Pringles Sam had left in the room.
February 28 – Seeing as I’d lost my GoPro on the way to Koh Rong and got deathly ill while there, I was in a bit of a rush to get off the island.  Pia and I took the speed boat back to Sihanoukville ($15) and stayed at Stone Boutique Hotel with Pia for the night.  She went with me to the Vietnam Embassy to get visas for Sam and I and then we biked around town.  It was hot and exhausting and I hadn’t really eaten anything in the last 72 hours but it was so nice to get out and do something active.  Spent the night relaxing in our hotel room watching BBC news (cmon Ukraine get It together).

March 1 – Walked Pia to the bus station in the morning and then picked up our Vietnam visas ($60).  Spent most of the day watching movies and then went downtown with Sam once she got over to the hotel.

March 2 – Biked to Sokha Beach with Sam and spent a few hours there, grabbed some pizza downtown, checked out and got to bus station.  Sleeping bus to Ho Chi Minh and transfer to VIP bus.  I have no idea how to explain the concept of this sleeping bus.  It’s rows of tiny cubbies that if happen to be traveling alone, you’d be sharing comfortably with a stranger.  Probably would have preferred taking that all the way to HCM, because the VIP bus only reclines 70% and the airconditioning was spotty.

Phnom Penh

February 20 – Took a tuktuk in the morning to the bus station and waited for our minibus headed to Phnom Penh.  After a few hours, we arrived in Phnom Penh where Gabe was waiting for us at the bus station with a tuktuk to take us to our hostel called Top Banana.  Got settled in there, and then went out to dinner with Gabe’s new friends, Sammy and Coco, at a restaurant called La Croissette.  Got a chicken burger with pesto, mozzarella and sundried tomatoes which was amazing.  Went back to Top Banana and had a beer at the hostel bar and went to bed. 
February 21 – In the morning Sam, Pia and I organized a tuktuk to take us to the killing fields which are a little outside the city.  Spent a few hours walking around listening to the audio guide explaining a little about the history of the Khmer Rouge and the massacre that happened in Cambodia in the 70’s and 80’s.  It was crazy to hear that one out of every four people in the country were killed during that time.  To make it worse, bullets where rarely used since they were so expensive, so those in charge of carrying out the murders usually did so by beating the people to death with whatever tools were handy.  So after listening to that and even seeing some decaying bones peaking out of the soil, the three of us were not in the most chipper of moods.  Our tuktuk driver asked if we wanted to go to the shooting range, another popular tourist attraction in Phnom Penh, and I could not imagine how anyone would want to do that following what we had just experienced.  I would like to note though that many of the people we met there did go to shoot AK47s and one friend paid $200 to shoot a rocket launcher.
Once we got back to the hostel, I decided I wanted to walk around town a bit by myself.  I really love interacting with locals when I’m by myself.  I feel like I’m much less assuming when I’m by myself and it’s easier for people to open up to me.  Had a few laughs with some of the tuktuk drivers who at times can be extremely persistent about driving you somewhere.
Took a nap when I got back to Top Banana, then got ready for what I thought was going to be a night out with the whole gang.  Pia wasn’t feeling well, and Sam and Gabe said they were too tired, but I was so excited to go out to an African club called “Do It All” with Coco and Sammy, the Nigerian guys we’d met the night before, that I decided to go alone.  I realize this doesn't sound like the wisest decision, but in my defense, I think I’m an excellent judge of character and Coco and Sammy turned out to be so wonderful by taking me to this club and watching out for me.  I absolutely loved the music and had such a good time dancing with them.  I didn’t really want to leave but we left around 3am and they drove me back to my hostel.

February 22 – After waking up, I decided to take another walk around town and did that for a few hours.   Took a nap, showered, and the whole group headed over to Coco’s where he said he’d cook us an African dinner.  Had a nice time chatting with the four Nigerians, one being an actual prince, and then we all headed over to a club called Pontoon for the night.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Siem Reap

February 17 – In the morning Sam, Pia and Gabe went to floating village, I slept and started another round of Cipro since I’d been feeling poorly for a few days.  We moved to Siem Reap Rooms ($10/night) so we could have our own air-conditioned room in a quieter area of town and after settling in we took a tuktuk to Angkor Wat for sunset.  Gabe had recommended the sunset at Baphun which was really remarkable and not crowded at all.  After a few hours there, we got dropped off in town and walked around pub street, the main bar area in Siem Reap.  For dinner I got a fruit shake for $1 and we tuktuked home for another $1.

February 18 – Woke up at 4am, Mr. Som picked us up at 5am and drove us to Angkor Wat for sunrise.  Way too crowded, as everyone wants to be on the left side of the pond to see the reflection and the waterlilies.  I just stood on the right side most of the morning just so I could have a little space.  Sunrise was nice but nothing absolutely incredible.  Also saw Ta Prohm, Ta Keo and Bayon.  Ta Phrohm is known as the "Tomb Raider" temple and Bayon is incredible with faces carved into massive posts.  Paid Mr. Som $18 total for his 7 hours of work.  Came back and took a four hour nap.  Went into town, got dinner and went to bed early.

February 19 – Woke up again to meet Mr. Som at 5am and headed to Pre Rup for sunrise, which was much better not so much for the view but for the fact that there were only two other groups there which ended up leaving so for an hour we had the place to ourselves.  Headed 30km out of Angkor complex to visit Bantsrai (Lady Temple), which was smaller but had beautiful carvings all over it.  Had a laugh with some local children when Pia took a few photos of them with her Polaroid – such a cool idea to bring that and be able to give the children here pictures of themselves.  Got there at just the right time because as we were leaving all the tour buses started to pull up.

Went back to the hotel and took a nap until Mr. Som picked us up again at 4pm to take us to the sunset at Pre Rup.  Again, we wanted to go somewhere where you didn’t have to fight for a spot and it was lovely watching the sun go down behind these beautiful temples.  Got dropped off in town again and got a Mexican dinner at Viva Viva.  After a bucket of margaritas there, we headed over to Angkor What? Bar for a bucket of long islands.  Had such a fun night drinking and dancing it really made me wish we had a few more nights there.