Tagged: vietnam

Sapa, Vietnam

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We arrived in Sapa Friday afternoon. We stayed at Go Sapa Hostel on the top of the hill right above the Main Street in town. The hostel was recently renovated and now resembles a Scandinavian lodge- wooden, sleek and modern. While the hostel is designed well it is not made for winter months. The common area is completely outdoors (a small fireplace does not provide enough warmth) and the rooms are freezing at night.

The town looks exactly like a European ski village. A small Main Street packed with western restaurants and cafes- Italian food is the most common. Local women dressed in traditional costume line the sidewalks selling traditional clothes and accessories to tourists.

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The weather was better than we expected although still not ideal. The daytime was warm and sunny but around 4pm the weather dropped and nighttime felt like winter, minus snow. I wore multiple layers everyday since none of my clothes were actually winter clothes.

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Our first night we walked all around town and had dinner at one of the few Vietnamese restaurants. A bunch of the restaurants in town have set menu options for dinner, which we decided to have. For $5 we each got pumpkin soup, spring rolls, tofu and eggplant baked in a clay pot, rice, and fruit for dessert. All the portions were actually size so the set menu is a fantastic deal.

After dinner we went home to relax. There are a couple bars in town but none seemed too appealing. There’s one western spot that’s overpriced and one local club that’s too loud for a mountain village town. Our room that night was icy. We asked for a heater from reception which didn’t make much of a difference in room temperature, and we were told the next morning that it’s $2.50 a night to use it. We didn’t use it again.

I woke up the next morning with what I think is the flu. I felt awful but determined to see the rice terraces, which was the whole point of coming to Sapa.

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We walked to Cat Cat Village the next day. The walk took about 25 minutes down a winding road. Although the village is original it is now designed for tourists. A pathway leads you through the houses and shops. Local women sell local costumes and accessories on the side of the pathway, and local children wander the pathway selling jewelry. There were pigs, chickens, buffalo and dogs roaming the grounds. The famous rice terraces were everywhere and could be seen from any angle. The terraces were beautiful although not as green and lush as they appear in the summer months.

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At 2pm there was a traditional dance show in the town theater near the waterfall. I admit I didn’t watch much of the show because I was busy taking pictures of three local boys who came in and sat in front of me. They were about 4 years old, all covered in dirt and excited to watch the show. After the show Scotland caught their attention with his iPhone6 and we all took photos with them.

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We then walked through the remaining part of town, over a creaky bridge, and caught motorbikes back to town. Scotland and I rode the same motorbike, it was the first time I rode one with three people. That night a bunch of us went into town and Scotland and I shared a mixed meat hot pot. From there we went to Mountain Bar and Pub (the western expensive bar.) I drank tea and we all played foosball on the oldest table we’ve ever seen- if was covered in about an inch of dust. The game got incredibly intense which was fun.

I woke up the next morning just as sick as the day before so decided not to go out with the group for the day. I missed seeing all the good stuff- Silver and Love waterfalls, going to Ta Phin village (with the most famous rice terraces,) and Tram Ton Pass, but I couldn’t force myself out for a second day in a row. Instead I slept in, then went to Le Petit Gecko and had an outdoor lunch of tuna Niçoise salad and ginger tea. After lunch I had an hour foot massage, bought an Asian pear, then headed back home to relax.

When the group came back they said the day was ok but not spectacular and that they mostly just biked around the whole time. The waterfalls weren’t running, and the village was similar enough to Cat Cat village from the day before. I’m happy I decided to stay back and relax.

That night I went to dinner alone at the local restaurant. There’s a section over local restaurants above the Main Street and I thought that would be the best place to get plain noodle soup. I walked into the first place mostly because I didn’t have energy to search and they all looked identical. My dinner ended up being a nightmare and I wish I had looked around.

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Hanoi, Vietnam

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We arrived in Hanoi late afternoon. We stayed at Vietnam Backpackers Hostel a.k.a. Hanoi Backpackers Hostel Downtown a.k.a. the westerners haven, which was recommended by everyone I’d met who had been to Hanoi already. We walked into the hostel and were greeted by a large open space with brighter colorful walls, long wooden picnic tables, a bar, and a bunch of white people. A bit of a shock after being in deserted towns the past few weeks. The dorms are $8.50 a night including breakfast, which is the most we’ve spent in Vietnam on a dorm.

That night Scotland, Wales and I went for street food. Later that night we went to Corner Pub to meet up with some friends we bumped into earlier. We stayed at that pub the whole night playing pool and smoking a kiwi shisha. There’s a city-wide curfew at midnight but instead of being kicked out of the bar the employees shut down the entrance with a garage door making it impossible for anyone to see or get in. At 1:45am they officially shut down and we all exited through a side door.

The next morning I woke-up and got a wax. In the afternoon Scotland and I took a bicycle stroller ride through the Old Quarter. Our driver was very nice and guide-like, pointing out churches, temples, speciality stores, and the Vietnamese favorite- street beer bars. The Old Quarter is really lovely with small streets jammed with cafes, bars, shops and street food stalls. The architecture is French making this yet another European looking Asian city. At the bottom of the Old Quarter is a lake surrounded by high-end hotels and restaurants.

In the Old Quarter there seems to be a street to buy everything. There’s a market street, a bamboo street (sells bamboo ladders, etc,) a carpet street, an appliances street, a shoes street, a greeting cards street, an accessories street, a lantern/lights street, etc.

Scotland and I went to Fresh Sushi for dinner, then bought fake North Face jackets for Sapa for $35 each. I’ll also be using mine for Northern Myanmar. Then we went to the Thang Long Water Puppet show. The show is traditional water puppets. The stage is a water ground and the puppeteers control the puppets from behind the curtain; if you look hard enough you can see the long poles (the strings.) There was an orchestra on the side playing traditional wooden instruments- a harp, flute, guitars, etc. The show was entirely in Vietnamese so in some way it felt like the opera. The performance featured farmers, animals, fisherman, babies being born, love quarrels, military, dancers, etc. It was only 50 minutes long but 20 minutes would have been long enough.

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After the show we walked around the old quarter intending to get lost and we succeeded. We ended up at the night market which mostly sold electronic accessories. The most bizarre thing about the street markets throughout town at night, and the night market, is that all vendors sell the same thing and there’s no one out to shop. We eventually made our way back towards our hostel and went for burgers and fries nearby to get internet.

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The next day we woke up and walked down along the lake to the Vietnamese Women’s Museum. The museum described the woman’s role in society since the 1900s. Most importantly she’s a mother who teaches her children to work like her. The most powerful exhibit was that which covered the modern day women who sells goods off her bicycle/stand. These are the women I encounter on a daily basis when I buy fruit and snacks. These women apparently live in group homes somewhere near town- think 8 people to one room and 1 bathroom per building for 25 cents a night. The women are at the market from 2-4:30am every morning buying their goods, then they sell on the streets until 5pm-ish if it’s a good day and 7pm if it’s a bad day. They then go home to eat, shower and sleep. The women go home to the country to see their families one to two times a month if they’re lucky, each time bringing home about $20 a month for their family/kids. I was shaken when I watched a documentary of different women describing their lives.

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After the museum we walked to the CGV Cinemas to see The Hobbit in 3D. The walk there was very nice. No tourists anywhere- I was the only western looking one. We walked past many coffee shops, bike shops, clothing stores, and locals, all middle class. Eventually we found the mall which was in a high rise building. It turns out the theater did not update their movies and Hobit was no longer playing. We ended up seeing Into The Woods, which neither of us had heard of. It was awful. A musical mix of Disney stories. I’m pretty sure the writer, director and producer were all on different drugs when they made the movie, and that they did not collaborate. Most of the people walked out of the theater during the film.

That night we finally went for a street BBQ dinner. One of our bunk mates joined us. Scotland and I had seen the same restaurant packed with locals and tourists every night since we arrived and we could not wait to try it. We ordered the beef/vegetable platter for three people. It was street food so we sat on the tiny plastic stools with our tiny plastic table, with a mini-griddle on top. The waiter placed tin foil on top on the griddle and we were instructed to cook our food constantly keeping tons of oil on the foil. We were each given a small bowl with salt, chilis and lime, which made the most incredible sauce. With our meat we ate bread and rice. It was hands down one of the best meals I’ve had here.

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After dinner we drank beer at one of the local street beer places, again on the little plastic stools. Then again we went back to Corner Pub.

The next morning we met up with a few friends and walked to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. When we got there we were told it was closed until 2pm. So we bought tickets for the HCM Museum, which was far from exciting. The first floor was photos of HCM throughout his life, but with captions were only in Vietnamese and Chinese. The second floor was an abstract artistic mumble jumble of HCM and the industrial revolution around the world. At 2pm we walked out and tried to see HCM but it turns out the mausoleum closed at 11am for the day.

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I had been wanting to find the dog food street (thit cho) since coming to SE Asia. A friend told me it was in Hanoi so when I arrived in the city I asked around. The bartenders at Corner Pub gave me the street and our friends said they were interested in seeing it as well, so after the museum we jumped in a cab and headed north. The street supposedly was in Nhat Tan area, just north of the west lake. Our taxi ended up driving in circles around the area unable to find it. We asked some locals and they all thought we were crazy tourists, although many locals do eat dog. A few restaurants nearby sold dog but we were not looking to order a meal, just see the street food. I have a feeling that we were in the right place but that it’s only a night food market.

Scotland and I had dinner at New Delhi Indian Food in the Sports Hotel on Ma May street. We ordered fish tandoori, which was good, and chicken tikka masala, which was bad. It was chunks of chicken in tomato sauce. But at least the naan was tasty.

After dinner we went back to Corner Pub, and when that shut down we went to another closed bar around the corner. The staff opened up the garage door for us and we entered into a small dimly lit room with an older crowd playing dance music. I danced Arabic with one crazy guy who dressed like a French mime, and I met at older man from NYC who now lives in Hanoi.

I didn’t get home until about 5am and had to be downstairs at 6am for a 6 hour bus to Sapa. Brutal.

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~

We came back to Hanoi from Sapa for one last big night together before we all flew out in different directions. We went back to Corner Pub, then late night at Hanoi Rocks Hostel club on the 5th floor, then the Scottish crew and I headed back towards our hostel. We stopped at our local street food spot for one last great chicken meal, and stomped in wet cement (hopefully left my converse mark.) Then the four of us chilled in the room. At 4am-ish there was a confetti explosion and for the next 2 days the sparkles were everywhere.

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The next day was sunny, warm and beautiful. We strolled along the lake. I stopped at the post office and shipped 3 kilos home for $35 (I will probably be home before the package.) We walked around the entire lake and around the old town for a few hours. Window shopped and had ice cream. At 6pm we went to Pepperoni’s Pizza for an all you can eat buffet for $6. We had waited two days for this moment. To our surprise there was a lot of seafood and I ended up eating mostly Asian seafood and vegetable dishes including shrimp, octopus and steamed clams. The pizza tasted awful.

After dinner we grabbed a last drink at Rockstore then Scotland left for his flight. I went to ViSpa and had an hour Thai oil massage and a pedicure for $25. It’s very expensive here but I needed a relaxing night, and the spa felt high end which made it more worth it.

The next morning I woke up, had a Vietnamese chicken curry for breakfast, then got in a cab for the airport.

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Cat Ba Island, Vietnam – Halong Bay

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To see Halong Bay we decided to stay on Cat Ba Island, which is directly next to the bay and not too touristy. We stayed at Cat Ba Hostel. Originally we booked a dorm but the hostel was almost empty so we convinced them to give us double rooms for the same price as the dorm, $3 each. I roomed with Scotland.

The town is very small. One strip of restaurants and guesthouses/hotels along the bay with vertical streets going inward towards land. Our hostel was at the top of one of the vertical streets. In the summer the town is supposedly packed with tourists and backpackers. There’s an island feel mixed into this fishing village. But now it’s deserted. We did get very lucky with weather but it’s still winter here.

We picked up two Brits on the ferry to Cat Ba. Now we just need an Irish and I’ll officially be with the whole UK crew.

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Our first day after checking in we walked to the beach, which is about a 10 minute walk from town. It was our first official view of the bay. We stayed long enough to drink one large beer but left because it really wasn’t warm enough to be there- the wind was too cold. On our walk back to town we stopped at an outdoor cafe/bar that was in the sun and out of the wind. We had a free cocktail then a few rounds of beer while sunbathing and playing pool.

That night we went to Good Bar, then Rose Bar, the two backpacker bars in town. Good Bar is on the third floor of a waterfront restaurant. The interior is stone and felt like the perfect atmosphere for a winter bar. The cocktails are legit made with fresh fruit juice, and they’re two for one. Rose Bar is the late night dingy spot.

Our second day we rented scooters- I rode on Scotland’s since I can’t bike. We drove through a small local town behind the touristy waterfront section. Up through the mountains on newly paved roads. We stopped at Hospital Cave, a small cave developed with during the war for Vietnamese to hide from bombers. The cave was 3 floors. The bottom floor is cement rooms- the meeting room, the cinema room, the washing room, the dining room, the hospital, etc. The second floor is a huge open cave, and the third floor (which we couldn’t go to) is a small room that generals used for their meetings. The floors are set-up like a labyrinth, so when you’re on the first floor you can actually be right below the third floor. Incredibly smart and spacious.

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After the cave we drove to the National Park. We did the short hike up to Nam Lam Peak- one hour total. The hike wasn’t too bad and the view was incredible. Lush green mountains surrounded us.

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We hopped back onto our bikes and tried to get to the Cannon before sunset. We made it but after learning it was $3 we decided against it. Not worth it after just being at a better view. So we decided to grab dinner at a local place in town. I had been excited to try the seafood which is supposed to be great on the bay but I was disappointed. I had Pho Tom, Pho with shrimp, but the shrimp were tiny and flavorless. Afterward we cleaned up and went back to Good Bar. I called it an early-ish night since we had to get up early the next day.

Up at 7:30am for breakfast and picked up at 8am for our day on Halong Bay. We drove to the port, which took less than 5 minutes. We boarded a boat and headed out to sea. The boat had an enclosed downstairs, and an open upstairs, half of which was a tarp we could lay on. We became friends with an Aussie and New Zealand girl on the tour, and the group of us spent most of the boat ride hanging out on the tarp. We drove for about 30 minutes past fishing villages (farms on the water) and landed on Monkey Island. We got off the boat directly on the beach and climbed up rocks to reach the top of the mountain on the beach. I wore flip flops which were awful to climb in (no warning there would be rock climbing or a hike.) At the top of the mountain there were two monkeys that joined us. One of them opened up a guys bag and grabbed an apple and piece of bread to snack on- the guy wasn’t quick enough to get them away.

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We hung out on the beach for about 30 minutes after the climb. I found 6 pieces of beach glass including an aqua piece. Most of the pieces are green; I’m assuming they’re from Saigon bottles.

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About an hour later we reached Halong Bay from Cat Ba Bay, although we couldn’t tell the difference. We canoed through Halong Bay for a while going through caves. After canoeing we had a seafood spread lunch on the boat. Steamed shrimp, fish, tofu, sautéed cabbage, spring rolls and rice. We then laid out on the tarp sunbathing for half an hour before the boat took off again. However, the boat only drive for about 20 minutes and then it stopped again for another 30 minutes. We parked next to another boat like ours and the workers all played cards and drank together. We just relaxed and played cards in the sun. The UK boy jumped in the water but it was too cold for swimming.

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On the way home (about a 2 hour journey) we stopped at one of the fish farms and were able to walk around. Imagine a very narrow (less than two feet wide) boardwalk grid above the water, and in each of the squares is a massive net keeping the fish in. The fish are raised here. We saw all types of fish, some tiny and some that looked like mini-sharks. The boardwalk pathway was staying afloat by sitting on top of plastic canisters. Needless to say it was a wobbly walk, and my fears were heightened when I tripped over my own flip flops.

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We went out hard that night since we didn’t have to wake up for anything the next day. First Oasis for half price daiquiris, then Good Bar where I drank 2-for-1 fresh passion fruit mojitos and the bartender split a cantaloupe shisha with me. I met a few Americans who are in Vietnam for a week on business- they’re in the shit business, engineers making toilets. We all went to Marigold Club, which was empty except with a few local men who insisted on taking photos and videos with me/us non-stop. Danced on stage for a bit then headed back to Good Bar until we finally got kicked out because it closed. A great night.

I woke up the next afternoon and headed down to the waterfront for lunch. I walked around the lake on the far side of town then settled into an outdoor table in the sun at My Way Cafe for some fresh seafood. I ordered grilled squid and a tomato salad. The squid was amazing- grilled with chopped garlic, ginger and chili peppers.

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After lunch I walked through the local market looking for my typical fruit snack and a big a sweatshirt for Sapa. The market was typical for a town, a small section for fruit and vegetables, and another small section for clothes and accessories. Most of the fruit didn’t appeal to me; there are no papayas in the cold and the dragon fruit wasn’t ripe. However, I couldn’t stand to casually walk through the market like I usually do. I was the only person shopping at that time of day and every single stand owner was screaming at my to buy bananas while throwing green unripened bananas in my face. It became too much to stand so I quickly left.

Across the street I ran into Scotland and we decided to go for massages. We went to Foot Therapy above Kiwi Bar and both got an hour back, neck and head massage. They took us to the top floor of the bar and we each laid down on an actual bed and got massaged.

That night all of us went for a big seafood dinner at Phong Phong Restaurant, which I found on trip advisor. I ordered boiled green vegetables and grilled scallops. The waiter first brought me out a plate of white cabbage dripping with oil. I sent it back saying that this vegetable is not green and can I please have the boiled spinach instead. Next the waiter brought me out a plate of steamed clams with sweet and sour sauce, yet another translation mistake. I sent back the clams for grilled squid, which was difficult since the waiter was convinced he brought me scallops. More than halfway through my squid the waiter brought me a plate of broccoli in oyster sauce. Not what I ordered either but I didn’t complain; the broccoli was delicious. The squid on the other hand was not. It was supposed to be grilled with a lemon garlic sauce and instead was grilled then doused with a sweet jam like sauce. The restaurant forgot to charge me for the broccoli but I didn’t tell them. The entire meal was slow and stressed me out, so I felt better knowing something was free.

After dinner we went back to Oasis Bar where I got a peppermint tea and a coconut- I took the day off from drinking. There was a “Marnie the dog” look-a-like there who was in a serious need of a haircut. I called it an early night and went home a little after midnight to read. Yes, that’s an early night.

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Dong Hoi, Vietnam – Phong Nha Caves

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We took the 9 hour bus from Hoi An to Dong Hoi. We had to change buses in Hue, where we chose not to stop after a few people said it can be missed. We arrived in quite winter-like Dong Hoi at 10pm. Scotland, Wales and I stayed at Nam Long Plus Hotel in a 6-bed dorm. Our room was incredible. New and modern with tempur-pedic mattresses, an ensuite bathroom with 2 sinks and 2 showers, complimentary toiletries and water, a tea kettle and a TV. Plus we were the only ones in the room. Breakfast was included and the cost was $7 a night. However, there was no heater in the room the first night and we were absolutely frozen.

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Our first day we did a full-day cave tour for $50. The tour included the Phong Nha Caves, Paradise Cave and National Park. The drive was about an hour outside of Dong Hoi. First we went to the Paradise Cave. We trekked up to the entrance and entered a tiny hole into a massive cave. The entrance size surpassed a planetarium. We were able to walk only 1km into the cave but it continues for another 64km. The colors were all shades of grays and browns with occasional patches of gray blue. Stalagmites jetted out from the floor, and stalactites from the ceiling. It felt like another planet- a scify movie. One stalagmite was shaped like a mushroom treehouse guarded by a muppet dog. Another looked like a gremlin, and another like a demon about to eat someone. Like any cave the temperature was cool and crisp.

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After Paradise we went to lunch near Phong Nga Cave. Entrees were delivered to our table to share. We had kale soup, spring rolls, french fries, white rice, river fish, chicken, pork ribs, beef with peppers, beef with green beans, sautéed cabbage, and bananas. I tried to get coffee, which I thought was free, but after she poured me a quarter of a cup of the cold pot coffee that had been sitting out and asked for $1.50 I declined.

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After lunch we boarded a boat to take us through the Phong Nha Caves. The boat trip took us along the local village and past the town church. There were other boats in the water with locals collecting seaweed. By doing this they were cleaning the water and getting food to feed the animals. On the town side of the river there were water buffalo feeding on the grass. Apparently at night (every night) they swim across the river to graze during the day.

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With our boat we entered into a large cliff side, Phong Nha Cave. [Locals believe that the God of Spirits lives here because it's an endless water source.] What appeared to be a wide entrance ended up being very short and our boat paddler in the front had to duck. He paddled us through the whole cave, about 15 minutes deep. The cave (a water cave) was also incredible. Personally I liked Paradise better except the coloring in Phong Nha was prettier. The water, which was clear, caused the rocks to turns green. Many of the stalactites looked like jellyfish. The boat then parked on a sand beach in the middle of the cave. From here we walked through Fairy Cave and Imperial Cave, by far the most amazing. I truly felt like I was in a fantasy. We took “tanning” selfies on the waving beach hills. White/tan/silver-ish ceilings allowed the lumpy sparkly purple/blue/green stalagmites and stalactites to shine. One looked like garlic cloves, others waves, coral, etc.

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When we got back we went to Buffalo Pub, the only bar in town. The bar has a garage door that was open the whole night so it was just as cold inside as outside, 14 C. We played pool, ate dinner, did a sing along with Wales playing a guitar, and drank until closing at 11:30pm. One local girl working there, named Ky, talked to us the whole night. Her English was perfect so before leaving I took a shot in the dark and ordered steamed veggies and tofu, and it worked! For the first time I had a meal that wasn’t covered in grease.

We got a late checkout the next day. At 3pm we left our room and headed to pick up Ky so she could take us to the market. We had lunch at Buffalo before leaving, another plate of steamed goodness for me. We quickly learned how nuts Ky is. She’s 20 years old and a feisty little flirt. She doesn’t like Chinese people or Christians, and doesn’t date Asians. She really only likes British men.

The market was pretty small. It consisted of fish and meat stands next to the water, then vegetable stands, then fruit and flower stands on the street. At the fish stands they sold frogs that were tied together in pairs to keep them from jumping out of the bowl. We also saw a few new fruits but no one could tell us what they were. One looked like a reddish orange oblong grapefruit, and another looked like a deformed yellow squash. Next to the outdoor market was a building that had the clothing and accessories market. The winter clothes were too small (Asian sized) and too expensive- $50+ for a down jacket, $8 for a hat, and more for a scarf. I didn’t buy anything since I only need winter clothes for a few days and it’s not worth it to pay that much. I’ll just freeze or buy a massive sweatshirt somewhere.

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We were picked up at 7pm for our 9 hour bus to Hanoi. We ran for the back of the bus and all got the last rows (top and bottom of a sleeper.) Scotland and I took the bottom- 2 out of 5 beds. Shortly after 3 toddlers got on the bus and they all sat next to us. One boy, directly next to me, was wearing the most amazing flannel Cheetah onesie. During the drive he had the most offensive smelling farts, and coincidently each time the driver stared smoking a cigarette. Scotland and I thought we were going to suffocate from the smells.

We got to Hanoi at 6am and took a 30min taxi to Luong Yen bus station where we booked the Hedeco bus package to get us from Hanoi to Cat Ba Island. First we took a 2.5 hour bus, then transferred to a 1 hour bus to Hai Phong ferry. The boat was docked in the middle of a shipping yard, no official ferry dock. The ride was about 20 minutes followed by another bus to the town.

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Hoi An, Vietnam

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Nha Trang, Vietnam

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Dalat, Vietnam

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In Dalat I stayed at Gold Night Hostel. It was originally a hotel but recently they converted the top floor into dorms. The dorms are really nice and modern. Each bed has it’s own ledge and curtain, and each room has it’s own bathroom with a bathtub (not that I would use it.) The entire floor is carpeted and there are only a few bedrooms so the entire place feels quaint.

Dalat reminds me of a small European village. The first hostel was built two years ago and although there were hotels before, the city is not very touristy. The buildings are all small and there’s a church and synagogue downtown. The locally grown produce is strawberries and artichokes which are sold all along the streets. If the locals weren’t Asian I would honestly assume I was in Europe.

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The weather here is also cooler than the south. It’s in the 70s daytime and 50s at night. Certainly not freezing for us; however, for the locals it’s a true winter. They all walk around in winter coats with gloves, scarves and hats, both during the day and at night. Because of the setting I feel like I’m in a European ski village.

I arrived in Dalat around 9pm. I met a Scottish friend at the hostel that i’m now going to travel around with for a while. We met on the bus to Vang Vieng and I have run into him almost every place I’ve been since. That night we went for street food and got a large mixed meat hot pot- beef, pork, fish, squid, etc. I’ve had a hot pot before but turns out I was doing it wrong. First you add all the meat to the broth and let it cook for about 7 minutes, then add the vegetables and let it cook for another 3 minutes. Add the noodles to your little bowl then add the soup concoction. I thought I was supposed to cook it until the meat was done (a few minutes) then add the noodles to the pot too.

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Afterwards he showed me around the night market. It’s not touristy at all which is great. The foods here are somewhat different than elsewhere. There are wrapped pizza flatbreads, hot soya milk, grilled corn/potatoes, street meat, and strawberries everywhere. I woke up the next morning to see flower markets lining the streets. I felt like I was in Paris.

Scotland met a guy from Wales his first night who started hanging out with us too. He’s also going to travel Vietnam with us for a bit.

My first day in Dalat we went canyoning which is the thing to do there. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect- rock climbing and cliff jumping? It turns out canyoning is scaling down rocks into waterfalls with ropes aka serious rock climbing. I was absolutely terrified- tall heights and the fear of falling. I was too scared to lean back to be 90 degrees with the wall, and I was even more scared to release the rope and jump down on the rock. I did the first two cliffs but that was enough. I did the 7 meter cliff jump (also tall enough for me) but skipped the waterfall scaling and the 11 meter jump. Unfortunately, since it’s winter here, the water and air outside was cold. It felt awful going in and out of the water all day especially because we were wearing clothes and sneakers the whole time. But although I didn’t love canyoning it it was worth trying.

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After canyoning Scotland took me through the daytime Central Market. I bought a pair of Converse since I really needed closed toe shoes for the cold. The clothes market is all locals which was great, but it was the food market that I really liked. Fruit from all over the world (including apples from the U.S.), dried fruits and vegetables by the pounds, and fresh meats (including live chickens.) I love the dried mixed vegetable bag (like chips.)

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We went to check out the famous bakery, Lien Hoa. The cakes in the shop were elaborately decorated with neon jelly frosting and only cost $1.25 each. They had every type of pastry each costing less than $1. I walked out with nothing but Scotland walked out with 9 pastries, most of which were delicious. We went back to that bakery twice more in the next day.

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That night we went to a bar in town to play pool. It was me and about ten guys.. Sausagefest. The bar was really cute. It was small and dark with a real European feel but their were weird ornaments around which made it feel like an old timer stoner bar. The owner was an old man who was very social without speaking much. He challenged all of us in connect four, and then became heavily involved with who plays pool and teaching me how to play, assuming I had no clue.

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My second day in Dalat we went to Prenn Falls. We went to ride ostrich’s but it turned out to be an activities park. Elephant rides, camel rides, ostrich rides, a cable car, a bow an arrow contest, a pool contest, row boats, a zoo, and a waterfall. First we headed straight for the ostrich’s. Riding an ostrich was hilarious. I got on and about 5 seconds later he started running. It was scary but fun at the same time. The ostrich was huge, about twice my size.

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Next we went to the zoo, which was awful. Someone call PETA. There are monkeys chained by their necks throughout the area. Bears and porcupines in tiny cages. Other small animals in even tinier cages. A loose snake on the ground in the middle of everything. A crocodile pond and right next to it a gift shop selling crocodile handbags. And then there were 4 deer chained down with their antlers cut off. I played with one of the monkeys a bit and he tried to open my backpack but we couldn’t stay long as it was too much to handle.

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One of my friends tried the pool contest and lost, and another tried the bow and arrow contest and lost. We then walked under Prenn Falls before leaving.

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Next we took our cab to Linh Phuoc Pagoda aka Dragon Pagoda. The pagoda was stunning. Modern, decorated with colorful tiles of animals (mostly dragons) and Buddhist symbols. There are two temples within the complex. There was also a shop selling massive wooden furniture including a 15 foot carved tree.

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That night I didn’t do much. I wandered alone through a part of town I hadn’t see before. It ended up being a touristy area with all the restaurants I had read about on Lonely Planet. I ate at Chocolate Restaurant. I had Chicken corn soup with shrimp wontons. After that I walked home through the night market and picked up a grilled corn and a hot green tea soya milk.

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Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam – NYE

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I arrived in Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) on December 29th, a few days before NYE. I stayed at Vietnam Inn Saigon on recommendation. It’s a new hostel near the backpacker street, Pham Ngu Lao. The hostel is more like a hotel in a 9 story building. It’s modern and clean with a rooftop bar. Guests get free breakfast and 2 free beers a night which was pretty sweet for only $8 a night.

My first night I met a girl in my dorm from Toronto. We went out to dinner on Pham Ngu Lao with a few of her guys friends, and then we all headed back to the hostel for our free beers. A few of my friends from Laos/Cambodia joined and at midnight we all headed back to the backpacker street and drank at Miss Saigon.

My first official day me and Toronto went to the War Museum aka the America Sucks Museum. The exterior of the museum has US war planes, tanks, etc. The museum itself depicts the Vietnam War from the Vietnamese perspective. It was interesting and sad but very one-sided. A few classes I took in college covered this and therefore it wasn’t too shocking for me; however, a lot of foreigners were horrified by the U.S.

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After the museum we walked downtown on “5th avenue” past the beautiful Spanish looking post-office, Notre Dame Cathedral, and the opera house. We walked along the river during rush hour and almost became road kill, and then headed towards our hotel passing the Saigon Square mall (a clean indoor clothes/accessories market) and Central Market (the not so clean outdoor market.)

Saigon has beautifully manicured parks throughout the city. The entire city is incredibly clean and green compared to anywhere else I’ve been so far. The streets rumble with traffic and high end shops/restaurants are just as common as street food. Many parts of Saigon remind me of NYC- it’s the first place I feel like I’m home, which I loved.

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Some friends and I attempted to see the Water Puppet Show one night but the woman laughed at us. Apparently all shows during New Years week were sold out a while ago.

I found the most amazing tasting bun bo on the street one night. Bun, although similar to pho, has a more spiced broth and different noodles. I 100% prefer bun to pho.

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On New Years Eve day Toronto and I went shopping. Our first goal was to find legit flat sandals. We went to the Aldo in the fancy neighborhood but little did we know what we’d be walking into. Everything in the store was 50% off and the store was a nightmare. The whole place was packed with Asians, the shelves were almost empty, and bags and shoes were scattered everywhere. People were pushing and yelling; it felt like a stamped. Nonetheless we attempted to find shoes. Unfortunately they don’t carry my size.

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The shoes here have American and European sizes but they’re different than elsewhere in the world. Normally I’m a 9/39. Here a 40 is too small and narrow. We went to a department store across the street and only one company carried above a 39. I lucked out but just barely.

We ate lunch at a BBQ outdoor garden where we cooked our own meat skewers. Then we got manicures (me white, Toronto black) with silver sparkles on one nail. And then I got a foot massage while she got her hair done.

Getting ready that night felt like being in a sorority again. For the first time since traveling all the girls properly dressed up (minus heels.) We lined up along the bathroom sink putting on make-up. I blow dried my hair, wore real jewelry and a nice dress that I bought for $11 that day.

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Toronto and I went for a nice dinner.
We got a massive sashimi boat and hot saki. The boat had all the usual fish plus a fancy oyster and a bunch of grape seaweed. The seaweed looked and felt like fish roe, popping with liquid in your mouth.

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Every backpacker made their way to our hostel for the countdown. We had an amazing view of the fireworks from the rooftop. We thought the fireworks were going to come from the harbor but they actually came from the tallest building downtown, the Bitexco tower. They were shot from the observation deck, the roof, and all around the sides. The building outline turned off so it appeared as if fireworks were coming from mid-air at times. They were incredible to watch, and my first NYE fireworks in a city.

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At midnight everyone ran out. We went to wander the backpacker street which was a mad house. There was a massive motorbike traffic jam and pedestrians were maneuvering through bikes to walk the street. People were spraying foam and there was gold confetti everywhere. We managed to make it into a small bar for some drinks and solo dancing. We actually didn’t stay out late, the crowd was too much to handle. I felt like I was in Times Square for NYE, which I would never do.

On New Year’s Day we went back to one of the fancy malls to buy flip-flops. We ended up finding a Chinese restaurant and had a dim sum lunch which is exactly what we had been craving. I had steamed shrimp dumplings and shrimp wonton soup.

Walking home I bought some papaya and an avocado. We went to our hostel lounge and watched Captain Phillips and snacked. After our free beer we treated ourselves (again) to an Italian meal. We split meat lasagna, penne with vegetables and bacon baked with mozzarella, and bruschetta. I dared to try the Bordeaux on the menu and it was good enough for a second glass. After dinner we stocked up on Haribo and chips and headed home for a second movie, Hurt Locker. We were not the only ones who had this idea. By the end of the movie the lounge was full of exhausted backpackers.

My last day in Saigon I went to the Cu Chi Tunnels. The tunnels were built in the 1940s before the Vietnam war. The tunnels were used by the Vietnamese Army. We saw a bunch of trap doors, and were able to climb through a tunnel. I only made it 20 meters because you have to climb on your hands and knees which hurt in shorts.

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After the tunnels our tour guide said he was going to take us to a real Vietnamese restaurant in District 4 (the tourist district is 1.) He explained a signature dish and said we must pre-order it, so we did. It’s a Shrimp Rice Pancake. The pancake is made from coconut flower, coconut milk and water. The shrimp is placed inside after 7 minutes of cooking, and then it’s cooked for another 3 minutes. When the pancake is done it’s cut and the bites are wrapped in lettuce to eat. When we got to the restaurant it ended up being a small tourist spot right next to our hostel. As usual it was a scam. The pancake was awful too- it was filled with sliced dried out pork, one shrimp and a million beansprouts.

After pancakes a few of us went for drinks on the backpacker street, then we went for some salmon sashimi (need my fix.) Later that night Toronto and I went to Chill Sky Bar. We wanted one proper night out at one of the rooftop clubs. The view was incredible and the crowd was Asian.

The next day I took a 7 hour sleeper bus to Dalat. My first sleeper in the daytime. This was the nicest bus I’ve been on. Individual seats for once.

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