Tagged: beach

Alona Beach, Panglao, Philippines

On the ferry to Bohol I sat next to a Filipino man from Cebu who lived on 72nd and West End Ave and worked at Sherry Lehman for eight years in the 1990s. Small world. We shared a tricycle ride to Alona beach on Panglao Island, then went our separate ways.

I scoured the beach for a budget room but was unable to find any on the beach front. I had read online that many of the resorts have budget rooms in the back but I found that not only are these budget rooms usually unavailable but they are also not really budget. I ended up getting a room at Alona Bamboo down a narrow rocky road for 500 pesos ($11.) The room is simple- a small room upstairs in the back with a mattress on the floor, and the bathroom is the public bathroom in the breakfast area. 

The older woman who works behind the desk seemed lovely and answered all my questions about the town. It wasn’t until I stayed a few nights that she showed her true colors and became rather unfriendly. After checking in and talking with her I wandered the beach checking out dive shops. I ended up choosing Valm Dive Shop because they’re the only dive shop that still had space the following day for Balicasag, the reason for diving here. I also lucked out because it’s the cheapest dive shop I could find, 2,300 pesos for two dives including the park fee ($52.)
I then wandered up and around town and down the road parallel to the beach. I was looking for local food because all the restaurants on the beach from are too expensive, approx. $4 for a plate. I ended up finding Dahon Dahon, a local street restaurant that was recommended by the woman at my hotel. It’s a food stand with three small plastic tables with chairs. I particularly liked the turquoise table clothes and colored umbrellas. 

  

I asked the man behind the counter for his speciality and was served the pork steak in black bean sauce, and a banana shake, for $2 total. While I was eating an Swedish woman came by who seemed to be associated with the stand but she also ate as a customer. I began talking to her and it turns out she’s Swedish but has lived in Alona for almost twenty years as a dive instructor. 
Eventually the three of us were talking and the woman and the local invited me to join them for dinner the next night to celebrate Fiesta. Fiesta is a local celebration throughout the town where everyone goes to each other’s houses to eat, non-stop, for a couple of days. Technically it’s a time to celebrate saints, this time was Saint Carlos, but in general more people seem to care about the eating than the religious side.
After my late lunch I walked the beach and had a foot massage. I didn’t realize how exhausted I was but I fell asleep right away when I got home. 

Later on I went back to Dahon Dahon for dinner. There were a few locals already eating there. I grabbed the only remaining table and ordered the chop suey and chicken fried rice ($1.50.) While I was eating a few French boys came and they joined me. They are still in university and are volunteering abroad as part of their major. They were in Bohol just for a few days and we’re eating only white rice and sleeping on the beach to save money. I’m traveling on a tight budget but they bring it to a new level.

The next morning I woke-up, had breakfast at my guesthouse, then walked down the beach to Valm. I got my equipment together and the boat headed out to Balicasag Island at 8:30am. I was the only diver with Valm that day so we joined another company’s boat since and I ended up lucking out twice. First off the other companies boat was huge, and second I had my own dive master for the day, Raffy. 

 The first site we did was Rico’s Wall and I honestly didn’t like it. It was a wall dive but the colors were dull and the sea life and coral were mediocre compared to what I’ve been seeing. In many way it reminded me of a Caribbean dive which is not what I want to see here.

The second dive was at Black Forest, which was better. It was a drift dive  and we split our time between the sand bottom and the wall. Here I saw a massive tornado of jackfish in the blue- Raffy had to pull me back because I was drifting too far off to get closer. I got up close to a turtle, and saw a lot of really cool FAUNA moving with the drift. I love watching fish try to swim against the drift as well. And I especially love this one plant I found which had floral pods that opened and closed non-stop. 

            After diving I stopped at Aquatic for lunch, the cheapest restaurant on the bean. All the local places were closed because of Fiesta. I ordered spaghetti with meat sauce which was risky but it was the cheapest thing on the menu. I got a plate of overcooked spaghetti covered in some type of a ketchup-y sauce with bit of pork meat and sprinkled with Filipino fake cheese. 

 

I took a nap after lunch then at 6pm went back to Dahon Dahon to meet up with my new friends to celebrate Fiesta. We walked down the road, and into a local neighborhood to a family members house.
For Fiesta the grandfather went to the nearby town and bought a dead pig the day before. The whole pig then came home and was chopped up. Every part of the pig is used for cooking including the blood. When I arrived at the house the pig leg was in a large round metal pot over fire in the kitchen out back.
I had a great evening and felt incredibly welcome the whole time. 
For food we were served pork belly, sautéed pork, sautéed pork in ginger, pork blood, and a soy/vinegar beef dish. The beef and sautéed pork were delicious. All night we ate, drank and chatted. Randomly different friends and family arrived to eat too.
The next morning I bought beer and went back to the house to celebrate day 2 of Fiesta, and to watch the Pacquiao Mayweather boxing match. Everyone in the Philippines was riled up about the match, so proud that Pacquiao (one of their own) made it all the way. When Pacquiao lost no one was upset and they’re all still just as proud of him. [Manny Pacquiao should have one that fight, he won 8 out of the 12 matches.]

Watching the match on a local Filipino station was amusing. There was a commercial break every few minutes and then the same commercials played every time and in the same order. Of these commercials about a quarter of them had Paquol as a sponsor. But my favorite commercial was for canned chicken called Sexy Chix.

This day lunch was served buffet style indoors. There was pork belly, sautéed pork, sautéed pork with root vegetables, roasted pork, pork blood, pork spring rolls, pork cordon bleu, coleslaw, rice and sweet rolls. I ate twice here just in the early afternoon. The house was crowded with family and friends to watch the match, and to eat and drink.  

Around 3pm we left and went to another house for Fiesta. This home was a friend of the Swedish woman. Again I felt incredibly welcome. Food here was different and more variety. There was fish and eggplant in spicy coconut milk, chicken curry, pork, vegetable spring rolls, and pork balls. I sat outside with a few locals boys and was given a never ending glass of coconut wine, which was surprisingly not sweet.
Around 5pm I headed home with the desperate need to jump in the ocean. It had been incredibly hot all day and I was constantly drenched in sweat, in normal clothes. So I changed and headed to the beach. I laid in the shallow water and admired all the starfish. Then I had an hour body massage on the beach, watched the sunset, and headed home for the night. I had already had five meals and it wasn’t even 7pm yet, so I didn’t need dinner. 

 

The next morning I took a motorbike to the pier in Bohol and bought a ticket for the 10:30am boat to Dumaguette with OceanJet. The ticket cost 700 pesos plus the 15 for terminal fee ($16 total), which seemed very expensive for a 3.5 hour ferry. I got on the ferry and it turns out the woman put me in the last seat upstairs, which was soaking wet from the rain and was the only seat now in the blaring sun. So I waited downstairs for the ferry to board and then I grabbed a open seat in the AC.

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

  I arrived at the bus station in El Nido and was greeting by a bunch of tricycles, the Filipino version of the tuk-tuk. The tricycles look like they came out of back to the future. Each one is decorated differently, and they all look and feel like they’re about to fall apart.  

My first two nights I stayed at Our Melting Pot, the popular backpacker spot. I was shocked when I first arrived and saw that the only hanging out spot is a tiny narrow room next to the reception downstairs. Advertised it says that there’s a rooftop deck but apparently that’s just being built now.
I stayed in the 6-bed dorm upstairs which was clean and quite. However, on my third day I came back to the hostel and the guy at the desk tells me I have to move to the 10-bed dorm because no one wrote down that I was staying longer, even though I told two of them. The 10-bed dorm was cramped and crowded. They were triple bunks and I was shoved into the top bunk (third up) in the corner. I got attacked by bed bugs within two hours of trying to fall asleep and after killing a few I got out of bed to complain. It was 5am and the guy manning the front desk just stared at me. He said he would change the sheets in the morning and that the hostel is full. An hour later I checked into Egay’s Budget Room, 600 pesos for a single room. The room was clean and that’s all I needed. I stayed there for two nights.
———-
My first night I went out to dinner with people from the hostel. We went to Lonesome Carabao Lounge, the Mexican spot in town. I’d read great reviews but the food was mediocre. I had the shrimp tacos which lacked spice, although they were at least cooked properly. The restaurant was out of avocados (guacamole,) coconut and beef. A joke for a Mexican restaurant.
The next day I did Tour C with a few people from the hostel. There are four tours that are advertised all around El Nido- tours A-D. They’re all island hoping just to different islands. 
With Tour C we went to islands that are farther away. First we went to Hidden Beach, a small beach hiding behind the rocks. There were other tour boats around and the beach was jam packed. I attempted to snorkel but the snorkel I rented was broken. The only thing to see underwater were massive jellyfish, and the goggles were enough. 

 

Next we went to Secret Beach, which wasn’t much of a secret. There were boats everywhere. To get to this beach you have to swim through holes in the rocks. 
Next we had lunch on a tiny beach, which was relaxing. We were served eggplant kinilaw, grilled pork and chicken, a grilled fish, and yellow watermelon for lunch. 

   

We then stopped at a small church hidden in the rocks. We walked up a few steps and had a great view of the islands and the water. 

 Lastly we went to helicopter beach. We pulled up and there was an ice cream boat which we indulged on. I then walked the beach collecting sea glass and shells. This beach has the most incredible shells I’ve ever seen in a wide range of colors. I had collected a few tiny different ones to bring home but when I got back to the boat I was told it’s illegal to take shells from the Philippines. Sad at the time but a great law.

For dinner we went to La Playa, one of the many beach grill restaurants. I had a grilled calamari. Late night we went to Reggae Bar, the only real night bar. There’s live reggae music before midnight, then a DJ after. The bar is covered in neon paint and the locals look like stoners. I danced a bit but it was too hot to stay too long. 

 

The next afternoon a bunch of us took the 45 minute tricycle ride to Nacpan beach. The ride was mostly off-road, and an incredibly bumpy ride. The motorbike gauges didn’t work and parts of the tricycle housing were about to fall apart. However, the journey was worth it. Nacpan beach was a long white sandy beach like you see in postcards. There are a few beach restaurants where we got food, shakes and coconuts throughout the day. There were only a handful of people on the beach which was the best part. 

     Nacpan beach is famous having the twin beaches, two beaches almost touching each other. 
   

After the sunset we headed home. For dinner we went to Art Cafe and I had the traditional kinilaw, Filipino style ceviche. This one was mackerel with ginger.
I went to bed early and had the whole bed bug fiasco. The next day I woke-up late in my new guesthouse and wandered around town for the first time. I stopped at Silog Republic for lunch and had the sizzling tofu. 

 

At 5ish I met up with a Swiss guy (one of the people I’d been hanging out with) and we took a tricycle to Las Cabanas beach for sunset. The beach was a different vibe from Nacpan. It was crowded and the sand wasn’t as white, but there were beach bars playing music and the view looking out towards the islands was spectacular. The sunset was better here. 

   

Later on we went to Seaslugs, another beach grill restaurant, and I had calamari again. The restaurant had a live band which was nice. I also had a calamasi juice with honey. A calamasi is a Filipino lime; however, it looks more like a small tangerine with green skin.
We then went back to Reggae Bar for a few beers. Apparently there’s a law that kids under 14 have to be at home past 11pm, but that night there was a group of local boys who were around 12 years old dancing at the bar. They were grinding on each other  and doing a dance circle (just them.) As a westerner it was definitely a sight to see.
The next morning Switzerland and I caught the ferry to Coron at 8am. The ferry was a small boat with the typical bamboo pontoons. We were packed like sardines, using our life jackets as pillows. The trip is only 80 miles north but it takes the boat 7-8 hours. We were served lunch around 11am, white rice with a handful of boiled vegetables. 

   

Gili Trawagan, Gili Islands, Indonesia

IMG_7636.JPG

I took a wooden “ferry” from Bangsal port. The boat is also used to transport food to the island so it smelled like a grocery store. The ride was about forty minutes to Gili Trawagan, the bigger of the three Gili islands, which is where I stayed. There are no cars or motorbikes on the island; just bikes and horse and buggies.

IMG_7641.JPG

I got off the ferry and ventured through the muddy streets in the pouring rain to Gili La Boheme. I walked into the hostel and felt like I was in a Anthropologie store. It’s bohemian chic and definitely one of the coolest places I’ve stayed so far. There are multiple hang out areas, an outdoor TV nook, and a 24/7 make-it-yourself crepe station (I was only able to make 2 crepes successfully the whole week and the rest came out like bread pudding.) Across the street is The Yoga Place, which I had actually found on TripAdvisor before arriving. It turns out the owner of La Boheme also owns The Yoga Place, as well as Le Petit Gili restaurant, and a few other places in town. All his properties have the same look and vibe.

IMG_7659.JPG

That first day I took a yoga class at 4pm then a bunch of us from the hostel went to Le Petit Gili for happy hour and free tapas. I wandered through the nightly food market, which is in a lot right next to the restaurant. After the tapas I wasn’t that hungry so I just grabbed a grilled corn to go.

Every night, except Thursday, is a party night on the island. Bars are open and then at midnight everything shuts down except for one bar which rotates every night. That first night was Jiggy Jig’s, a dirty beer pong bar. I only stayed for one game, which I won for the team. The bar felt like university but not in the good way. I walked back and just as I stepped inside the hostel is started down pouring.

IMG_7639.JPG

The next day it rained all day. I went across the street to the Yoga Place to read and eat lunch in their elevated lounge area. I had an avocado salad with cous cous, which ended up being my addiction for the next few days.

IMG_7773.JPG

After lunch I went back to the hostel and we all just chilled out upstairs on bean bag chairs and played cards all day. Later that night we went to the night market for dinner. The market is full of grilled seafood stalls with whole fish, lobsters, squid, shrimp, crabs, etc. There are also stalls where you can get grilled meat/seafood skewers, and Warung stalls (pre-cooked local dishes). I “splurged” and split a grilled barracuda and a large squid with a German guy from my hostel. We haggled and ended up paying 100,000 rp ($8) for the whole meal which included rice and vegetables for both of us. Unfortunately I was disappointed by the meal because the seafood tasted incredibly fishy.

IMG_7674.JPG

The next morning I went back to the Yoga Place and had the avocado salad for breakfast. Six of us girls then walked around the island. The main road continues in a full circle around the island and should take an hour to do, but somehow it took us five hours. We stopped at Laguna Restaurant on the beach for a cocktail first. When we got off the main drag we took a quick swim, and later we stopped on the Ombak Sunset Swings (swings in the ocean.) The swings are awesome but the water was too high at the time so it was impossible to swing.

IMG_7764.JPG

IMG_7701.JPG

IMG_7732.JPG

IMG_7756.JPG

Later on the six of us went to Gili Divers for happy hour and dinner. I had seafood pasta which had minuscule seafood but was still good.

The next day was sunny so we went to Egoiste restaurant on the beach to be on the beach. For lunch three of us ordered the avocado sandwich and we had the most ridiculous bread fiasco. The bread on the menu isn’t specified for that sandwich, but it is for every other sandwich. I asked for toast, like the Club sandwich had, and the other girls asked for panini bread, which was also on the menu. Five minutes later the waitress comes back and tells us she can’t make the sandwich because they’re missing ingredients; however, they can make the club sandwich and the only difference between the two is that the club has chicken. Once we establish that they do have the ingredients then she says they can’t make it because they don’t have baguettes, but none of us ordered it on a baguette. When the sandwiches finally do arrive mine is with toast and the other two are on baguettes.

We laid down on beds on the beach and relaxed. A little later I ordered an ice coffee which tasted like liquid tar. That restaurant was not doing it for us.

I went to yoga at 4pm then four of us went to dinner- my Swedish girl bunkmate and two girls from New Zealand who I had been hanging out with. We went to Regina Pizzeria which we had heard amazing things about, and the reviews were right. It’s real Italian wood-fire pizza with ingredients like home. I ordered the prosciutto fungi pizza with arugula and doused it with chili oil, just like home.

IMG_7742.JPG

After dinner we went back and watched Birdman.

On my last day the four of us had planned to take a early morning yoga class then go to Gili Air to hang out on a nicer beach for the day. However, when me and NZ woke-up at 7am and saw that it was down pouring we decided to skip Air and do the afternoon class instead. But even that plan got confused when the sun decided to come out at 10am. So we ended up beach restaurant hoping on the main drag instead. First I had my avocado salad, then the four of us went to Pesona so NZ could get her Indian fix. We sipped orange juice on cushions looking out at the water. Then we walked the drag past all the fancy restaurants that we can’t afford, and I started salivating for octopus salad and ceviche. We turned back and stopped at New Rudy’s for a snack and pineapple juice- this time lounging on mats in a little bungalow.

We went back to the hostel and ordered dinner from Le Petit Gili, which does free delivery. I ordered the pasta bolognese and this time has a pasta fiasco. The restaurant called back to say they can’t make it not because they don’t have the sauce but because they don’t have spaghetti. I asked if they had other pasta and they do have penne but it didn’t even occur to them to substitute it. The type of pasta is not even listed on the menu, and it does not say spaghetti bolognese, just pasta bolognese.

The locals in the hostel were eating Duran fruit and I finally tried it. Duran is banned in my public places across Asia because of the smell. I don’t think the smell is that terrible; however, it did taste a bit like seafood so that freaked me out.

After dinner NZ, Sweden and I went out. We stopped at the first bar that gave us a free drink coupon and watched a cat hunt crabs on the beach while we drank it. We then went back to Pesona and had a shisha. Halfway through the waiter brought us a cup with bubble liquid and a big straw which kept us entertained for a while. I loved watching the bubbles pop and seeing a smoke cloud randomly in mid air.

IMG_7787.JPG

After the shisha we wandered down the main strip and ended up at a small reggae hut bar where we sat for the rest of the night.

The next morning I left for Tulamben, Bali, on a speed ferry.

Senggigi, Lombok, Indonesia

IMG_7621-0.JPG

I took the Dmitri public bus from the airport to Senggigi for 35,000 rp. I had the driver drop me off before the town center, and I then had to walk off the main road down a long dark skinny alleyway that twists and turns to find the guesthouse (I only got lost once because the arrows point opposite directions.) I stayed at Indah Homestay, a lovely little guesthouse run by Suzanne from Holland and her Indonesian husband. All the rooms face inwards towards a garden and each has a little terrace as well; it felt nice, like I was in Florida or the Bahamas. The room was basic with a squat toilet and a fan.

[I arrived in Lombok too late to catch a ferry to Gili, so I stayed in Senggigi as a layover.]

I woke-up in the morning and had my included breakfast on my terrace- a fried egg, toast, fruit, spreads and tea. I then went back to bed to relax more before exploring.

IMG_7610.JPG

I walked across the street to get to the beach. The sand wasn’t pristine white and it smelled like garbage. I walked along the shore, around a bend of waves where local fisherman chilled as did the surfers. All along the beach there are fancy bungalow hotels although I do not know who would pay to swim at this beach. I then entered back through the port.

IMG_7613.JPG

IMG_7598.JPG

I walked down the road which had a few cute restaurants to Orchid Day Spa, which I read about on TripAdvisor. I got a manicure (first one since NYE,) a pedicure (first one in almost two months,) and a massage. All the nail colors were bizarre, like pukey-looking reds, purples and pinks. While my nails were drying I saw someone getting a hair wash and decided I really wanted one too. Total cost for my 3 hours of relaxation was 145 rp ($11.)

IMG_7601.JPG

I walked back towards the guesthouse and stopped at Sunshine Restaurant (Chinese) on the beach for dinner and to watch the sunset. Both ended up being disappointing although it was still very nice to sit outdoors and eat. I ordered morning glory with squid and I couldn’t make out the difference between the minuscule pieces of squid and the garlic. As for the sunset, it was too cloudy but still colorful.

IMG_7608.JPG

After dinner I picked up some local gummies and went back to my room to catch up on the West Wing. Almost done with season 2 after five months.

IMG_7615.JPG

Hoi An, Vietnam

IMG_5262.JPG

I arrived in Hoi An on a sleeper bus at 8am, a 12 hour trip from Nha Trang. I stayed at Hoa Binh Hotel downtown with my Celtic crew. It’s a social hostel with an indoor pool and buffet breakfast. The dorms are cramped but it’s only 6 people with a private bath so it was fine.

Hoi An is a tiny historic city along the river. Once heavily populated by the Japanese and Chinese, the Old Town is now tailor shops, wine bars, and restaurants converted from merchant houses, temples and tea warehouses. For tourists Hoi An is most known for it’s tailor shops, which are literally everywhere. Suits, dresses and coats are on display as options but you can have absolutely anything made that your heart desires, just show a photo.

The city reminds me of Old Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang a bit. Cute buildings and cafes, one after another. There are a few traditional dishes to the city. The two I really wanted to try were White Rose (steamed shrimp dumplings,) and Coa Lau (noodles with pork slices and croutons in a bit of savory liquid.) At our first restaurant stop (the morning we got in) I tried Coa Lau, which was delicious and definitely savory. The pork is tender and the noodles are denser and chewier than the typical pho noodles.

IMG_5289.JPG

I was recommended Yen Dung Tailor Shop by a friend and after seeing hundreds of positive reviews on TripAdvisor I had no doubt of going there. Before hand I found photos online of all the clothes I wanted made. The shop is a tiny open-faced store a little less than a mile from downtown. The store owner Lien was incredibly sweet and sassy. She knows style and exactly what she’s doing, and for the most part I trusted her taste. My first day at the store we spent almost two hours looking at my photos, choosing fabrics and taking my measurements.

IMG_5270.JPG

Our first night we went out to the little island right in the canal next to town. It’s connected to the Ancient Town by a few bridges. Walking through the city at night is spectacular. It’s a law that all shops must hang lanterns at night, which makes for a colorful happy nightlife. Along the river women and children sell floating lanterns for the canal, and the bridges are also all lite up.

IMG_5170.JPG

IMG_5171.JPG

IMG_5174.JPG

IMG_5182.JPG

We ate dinner, had a few drinks at Infinity, then went to Cheap & Easy. This is a town of flyers and promoters- free shots, free shisha, unlimited cocktails, etc. The walls are white covered in writing, and there’s a black light to make the whole place (a tiny rectangle) look electric. For $4 you get unlimited drinks until 2am. However, at midnight, after all the customers had paid the owner told us the cops were coming and to get out. It was a trick, as usual. Now that he had our money he didn’t need us there anymore. When we were all outside there were a bunch of motorbikes waiting to take us to another bar. Also a scam. Luckily I knew it was a scam ahead of time. The bikes take you to some bar far out of town and leave you there. Instead we went to Why Not Bar, the only bar still open in town. The place was incredibly sketchy and I ended up not even going in.

The next day I woke up and rented a bicycle solo. First I rode to the Tra Que Vegetable Village. While riding through the rows of herbs my bike chain fell off the wheel. I stopped at what I thought was someone’s house/cooking school to ask for help and possibly coffee. The woman who greeted me was really sweet and told me some handsome man would fix my bike, then she led me around the house to a restaurant. I sat on the bamboo terrace, which overlooked the herb fields, and enjoyed a coffee and sautéed water spinach.

IMG_5272.JPG

IMG_5273.JPG

IMG_5274.JPG

After I biked over to Cua Dai beach. The beach is on a peninsula. I had heard that it was already built up with resorts and beach bars but I didn’t find that. The entire strip was one construction project after another of huge resorts. I biked to the light house at the end and walked out along the beach in the ocean. The beach itself was very dirty with rubbish. It had already started to rain and it’s a bit cooler here so it felt like an early fall day on Fire Island; not very tropical but I still loved it. Across the ocean are mountains which made for a nice view.

IMG_5275.JPG

IMG_5279.JPG

IMG_5278.JPG

I stopped to get a massage near the beach. After I biked back to town a different and faster route. I went down to the Ancient Town, through the Central food market, along the river, over the Japanese bridge and down the “walking and biking street.” The ancient town is beautiful and what makes Hoi An a UNESCO site. Again I felt like I was in a small town in Europe.

IMG_5285-0.JPG

IMG_5284.JPG

IMG_5282.JPG

IMG_5286.JPG

I stopped at Mermaid Restaurant (recommended by Lonely Planet) to try the traditional White Rose dumplings. Like everything else they were too oily. I thought I’d really like them since they’re steamed shrimp dumplings but they were bland.

IMG_5281.JPG

At 5pm I went back to the tailor for fitting and alterations. I couldn’t believe in a little over 24 hours she was able to make so much clothing, and I am only one of many customers. I was the last customer of the day and soon realized that a few different people are making the clothes. Randomly people started showing up on motorbikes bringing my clothes and listening to what alterations need to be made.

That night I went out to dinner with the crew then took it easy. The next day I woke up sick again. I went to the market to pick up a papaya and dragon fruit then got back into bed. At 4pm I went back to the tailor. All the dresses were perfect, but a few items still needed to be fixed. That night I took it easy again with the crew. We had a early dinner and played pool at the restaurant next to our hostel, then later on we went for baguettes at a local place across the street from our hostel. After eating we discovered that there was mouse droppings in the cart holding the bread. Lovely.

The next morning I woke up and Lien, the tailor, picked me up on her motorbike. With her husband and 17 year old son on the motorbike behind us we sped off into town. We ate breakfast on a side street that I’ve passed on a daily basis and never noticed. The skinny lane has a few local restaurants and a few clothing factories. We each got our own bowl of Vietnamese beef curry with a baguette. The curry was very oily (like everything) but delicious. It’s different than Thai curry; it’s more like a stew. It’s also darker in color and more flavorful because the spices simmer longer. For four of us the total was 10,000 Dong. 2,000 Dong a person for a meal, about 10 cents. As a tourist a curry would cost anywhere between $2-5.

The entire meal Lien and I talked while her husband and son sat quietly. They don’t speak English but I have a feeling they are always quite. Lien is definitely the head of the household. She runs the tailor shop with her sister, and her husband and son work for her making clothes and doing fabric deliveries.

After curry we went to a local coffee shop. When we sat down we were served tea and toasted watermelon seeds which are eaten the same way as pumpkin seeds- you eat just the inside. Unlike pumpkin seeds the watermelon seeds are tiny and I found it almost impossible to crack them open. We got our coffee and Lien and I continued to chat. I learned that her 11 year old daughter still sleeps in the same bed as her and her husband, in the middle, with one hand on her moms bare breast and one hand on her dads arm. Apparently this is normal. Her 17 year old son also just started sleeping in his own room, even though both kids have had their own room since they were very young. There are a lot of cultural differences but as far as I’m concerned it’s not okay that an 11 year old is still sleeping with her parents holding her moms breast.

While we were sipping coffee a local woman placed lottery tickets on our table. Although Lien doesn’t usually play her whole family played for a while to show me. Lien ended up winning 10,000 Dong on one ticket but she didn’t collect the money.

After coffee we went back to the clothing shop for my final fitting before my bus. Everything looked great and we made piles of what I’m taking vs shipping. Lien’s sister then took me to the tiny factory in town to change the button on my jeans before she brought me back to my hostel- I was in a rush to get back to check out.

IMG_5295.JPG

IMG_5291.JPG

For $550 (after negotiating the first day) I got:
1 long wool coat w/ a hood
2 t-shirts
2 tank tops
1 denim shirt
2 silk trousers
1 cotton pants
1 skinny jeans
1 Jean shorts
1 blazer
1 lace chiffon gown
1 little black cotton dress
2 long dresses
1 short dress
1 beach cover-up

I also got a custom real leather jacket for $180. The weight for the clothing being shipped is 7 kilos, and the cost for 3-4 month delivery is $50. So total cost $780.

IMG_5260.JPG

IMG_5276-0.JPG

IMG_5267.JPG

Nha Trang, Vietnam

IMG_5102.JPG

I decided I wanted to bike (bicycle) to Nha Trang a few weeks ago after someone told me the motorbike trip was beautiful. I definitely needed the exercise as I never exercise here, but I didn’t factor in how hard it would be considering I’m out of shape. The total trip is 140km and we biked about 80km. The trip was listed as easy moderate, which it probably was, but to us backpackers it felt incredibly difficult. Scotland and I walked our bikes up almost every hill, and there were a lot even though the brochure said there were only a few in the first 3km. Wales rode the whole way without any issues. Although the trip was rough it was worth it. We biked through mountains and past a ton of waterfalls. The best part was a long downhill winding road that lasted about 30 minutes- high speed chasing. The trip took about 7 hours and we got to Nha Trang around 3:30pm.

IMG_5101.JPG

IMG_5108.JPG

Nha Trang is a beach town on the coast of Vietnam. It’s primarily a Russian tourist spot. All the signs and menus are written in Russian first, then Vietnamese, and then maybe English. There were a few Asian tourists and a few backpackers, but about 90% of the people walking around were Russian. There’s even Russian dishes on most restaurants menus.

The town reminded me a lot of Miami. There’s the beach strip (with a road in between), and a few streets in of restaurants, bars, hotels, and shops. The beach is lined with palm trees and trees cut to look like bonsai’s. It’s a tourist beach town so it’s overpriced, but still better than the states.

Our first night we ate at a western spot near the beach. I had chicken fajitas which wasn’t amazing but hit the spot. After that we met up with one of Scotland’s friends (also from Scotland who I also knew before,) and his girlfriend who just joined the trip. We went to Why Not Bar and played pool for a few hours. Around 11pm I went home because I wasn’t feeling well.

I’m now going to be traveling with the Scottish and Mr. Wales, the Celtic crew.

IMG_5103.JPG

The next day the five of us went to Vinpearl Land. Vinpearl is a small island off the coast that was bought and developed by a Vietnamese billionaire. It now holds a resort, waterpark, amusement park, arcade, aquarium, dolphin show, and there’s a beach. For 550 Dong, $27.50, everything is included. To get there you take the longest cable car in the world that’s over water. The ride is about 20 minutes and has amazing skyline views.

We headed straight for the waterpark when we got there. Spent a few hours riding all types of slides, playing in the wave pool and floating down the lazy river. Later on we went to the dolphin show, which had the city skyline as a backdrop. Then we headed to the amusement park. We rode the alpine sled which was fast and awesome. Next we did the roller coaster (which I did! Although it was mini), then bumper cars, then we headed to the arcade. I played a ton of racing games, tanks and shooting games but after a while the bright lights and noise started to bug me. Me and the Scottish girl headed outside, where it was now dark. We grabbed a beer and rode the swings while we waited for the boys for over an hour.

IMG_5104.JPG

IMG_5105.JPG

IMG_5106.JPG

After the park and the cable car back we headed for street food. I ordered bun, which I’ve been craving, but they brought me pho instead. As usual they didn’t speak a word of English so I’m still craving bun. We all stayed in that night and watched Gone Girl on our hostel TV.

The next day I woke up with a slight cold. Probably going from hot to cold weather, then back to hot in a few days. But we had to check out so I had no time to feel sick. We headed to the beach but it ended up being too windy and cloudy to stay. We decided to walk down the beach to the Nha Trang Shopping/ Entertainment Center to hang out for a few hours, then we went back to Why Not Bar to relax. On our way back to our hostel we stopped at A-Mart, an amazing convenient store we found earlier that day to stock up on snacks. They had Fruit Snacks Tangy Flavor which I got because I’ve never seen it before. At 6:30pm we got picked up for our sleeper bus to Hoi An.

IMG_5100.JPG

Koh Rong, Cambodia – Xmas

IMG_4948.JPG

Koh Rong is a 40 minute speed boat or 3 hour slow boat south west of Sihanoukville. The main beach is very small, less than a mile long I’d guess. But the dense area of guesthouses/restaurants is less than a 5 minute walk from one end to the other. The beach front is lined with guesthouses. Each has a bar/restaurant downstairs and rooms upstairs. Each property sets up tables and chairs; however, there are no lounge chairs during the day. Every morning the tide is up to the guesthouses making it impossible to lay out early morning (the majority of mornings.)

The island turns off electricity sometime between 12:30am and 2:30am depending on the night. After that it’s up to generators to keep the party going, but there’s always somewhere going. There’s also very little wifi aka even those that have don’t work.

I stayed at Island Boys my first night which was a mistake. I ran off the ferry thinking there was going to be a lack of rooms so I grabbed the first one I found. Turns out Mangos right next door is the late night bar that plays music until 5am every night with their generator. It was a rough night of sleep but I lucked out by meeting another girl traveling alone in my dorm. The next morning we moved into a private room together at Bongs.

IMG_4939.JPG

For breakfast every morning I ate $1 chicken noodle soup with chilies. It tasted just like the soup I used to get in Laos which I loved. Plus I think the hot soup and spice killed everything that was inside of me each day.

IMG_4940.JPG

Everyone staying on the island had something wrong with them. I had an infected mosquito bite on my wrist. I was forced to take antibiotics because it was getting worse each day. It became an open wound that swelled, which I had to clean and wrap-up 3 times a day. I was also scolded not to go into the water anymore, which is apparently how it got infected in the first place. That put a real damper on my beach vacation.

IMG_4959.JPG

Other people also had infections and were on antibiotics. Almost everyone had food poisoning or a stomach bug too. However, this did not stop anyone from drinking and partying through the holiday.

I ran into almost everyone I’d met in the past two months in Koh Rong, including my German guy friend from Bangkok/Koh Tao, and my Canadian girl friend from Chiang Mai/Pai. We had no idea we’d both be there so that was a great surprise. Also, another girl we were with in Chiang Mai is now working at Coco’s in Koh Rong. I saw people from all over Laos, and a British guy whom I recently met in Phnom Penh. I ended up hanging out mostly with him and his two guy friends who now live in Singapore. All in their thirties and just on vacation- it was a nice break from hanging out with backpackers in their early twenties.

Our first night was at SkyBar which was my favorite night. It’s the only bar that’s not directly on the beach but just up a slight mountain. The walk was great exercise (that I actually did once daily anyway.) The bar is completely open walled which allowed for a nice breeze. All the other bars on the beach are mostly enclosed and incredibly hot inside. On any given night the hot spots were Coco’s or Bunna’s. Mango’s and Island Boy’s were good for late night, and Bong’s was more chill.

Christmas on the island didn’t feel like Christmas. Although I’ve spent Christmas on the beach before this year was different. Normally I’m leaving the cold weather for a lovely holiday, but after spending so much time in the heat, Christmas here just seemed like a themed weekend. Nonetheless it was a fun week. Unique trees and “snowmen” scattered in front of different bars.

IMG_4949.JPG

IMG_4950.JPG

My last day on the island I took a solo walk around the bend of the beach. About 45 minutes away from the main beach, through a mini-forest and across a mini-island lays a pristine beach. I did the full walk although I ended up coming a bit back to find a secluded spot in the shade. I spent the day napping and reading. I did take a dip in the ocean without wetting my wrist (because I just needed to,) and it was well worth it.

IMG_4944-3.JPG

IMG_4945-3.JPG

IMG_4946-3.JPG

I had expected all days to be this relaxing on Koh Rong.

IMG_4943.JPG

My last day most of my friends had gone. It was just a few chill people left so it ended up being a relaxing early night which is exactly what I needed.

IMG_4942.JPG

The next day I left. My Canadian and I chilled, ate fried rice from our cheap place, and took the fast boat back together. It was a good end to a good week. Especially since we were both crippled- her toe and my wrist. We’re always same same. Adios beach.. For now.

IMG_4941.JPG

Sihanoukville, Cambodia

IMG_4936.JPG

I came to Sihanoukville with the intention to work at JJ’s Playground for 2-3 weeks for the holidays. Sihanoukville consists of mainly 2 streets- the beach front which is lined with restaurant and bars with plenty of outdoor beach seating and lounges. During the day local women walk the beach selling massages, threading, mani/pedis, fruits, shrimp, and grilled baby squid. At night the beach restaurants all set-up BBQs, which are quite popular. And all day long there are children roaming selling bracelets and hair wraps.

Then there’s the street vertical to the beach which is full of guesthouses and restaurants. All the popular guesthouses are on this street, along with a few nice western restaurants.

JJ’s is the late night backpacker bar on the far end of the beach street. I heard about the job from a girl I met in Vang Vieng, and then later heard horror stories about the job from a girl in Phnom Penh. Regardless I decided to give it a go. The bar/hostel jobs are all unpaid but you get free room, board and alcohol.

I arrived in Sihanoukville around 7pm at night and went straight to the bar. Within 5 minutes I knew I wasn’t going to last. The dorm is behind the bar through a dark alley of trash. You then need to then walk on wooden planks through wet trash before reaching the door. The dorm itself consists of one large room with 7 bunkbeds, no windows or ceilings fans. There were 2 small fans on the ground and of course I got put in a top bunk in a corner. Walking into the room felt like hell. The trash smell lingered from people’s feet and the place was never cleaned. The bathroom was outside the room and we shared it with a local family. That first night I got ready while everyone else was out flyer-ing. I walked into the shower and there was a little girl standing inside (at the time I didn’t know about the local family.) The girl refused to get out but eventually I tricked her and locked her out. Within seconds she was hysterically crying and it took minutes before a family member came to get her.

The bar job had a daily schedule. At 1:30pm, 5:30pm and 9:30pm we would meet at the bar to flyer. In the morning/afternoon you can order a meal (ex. Fried rice) at the bar. At 7pm after flyer-ing we’d have dinner together at the bar, and after nighttime flyer-ing you go straight out at the bar. You have to stay out partying and dancing until 3am every night.

IMG_4937.JPG

The western staff (those who were in the dorm) were really nice people, but the locals who owned the bar were not. They were disrespectful and crude. I didn’t mind the working schedule and payment; I actually liked flyer-ing the streets and talking to new people. However, I should have worked at a different bar but at the time I didn’t know that. I needed to get out of that place.

It took me two nights to get out of the dorm. It seems easy but it’s very easy to get sucked into there. You’re constantly sleep deprived and over-heated, too much so to do anything. But I made it out and moved my stuff to Led Zephyr. I quit my third night but I did worked the next day as well for better lack of something to do.

On Saturday we did a daytime booze cruise. The cruise was fun although nothing spectacular. But the scenery was beautiful and swimming in the open ocean made the trip well worth it. That night JJ’s had a UV paint party.

IMG_4900.JPG

I ate breakfast every morning at Utopia Mum’s Kitchen which had shakhauka, and I got a massage at Bliss Spa which felt fancy although the prices were the same.

I left for Koh Rong for Christmas. When I returned I stayed at Utopia for one night, a dorm room that resembles army barracks. But for $3 I couldn’t complain (I forgot to book somewhere legit ahead of time.) That night I ate at a Mexican restaurant called Maybe Later. The first Mexican I’ve had since being away and it was actually really good. I spent 2 days relaxing and watching Christmas movies before I left for Vietnam.

IMG_4934.JPG

IMG_4935.JPG

The bus to Vietnam was supposed to be 12 hours. I was picked up in Sihanoukville at 7pm and we got to Phnom Penh at 12am. The bus to Ho Chi Minh was supposed to come at 12:30am but it didn’t arrive. We waited in this horrific smelling bus station watching Asian porn on the big TV screen. I didn’t even know that existed over here- blue lighting and slow creepy sounding music. At around 3am a bread man came buy and I bought an onion baguette that ended up being filled with pork; surprising at first but delicious.

At 4am the bus arrived and we got to Ho Chi Minh around 11:30am. Total trip time 16.5 hours.

Both buses were sleeper. The first was normal but the second was the most uncomfortable bus I’ve been on. A sleeper lined with metal bars and the length went as far as my knees. I definitely need a massage ASAP.