A Day on the Lake

We booked our boat trip through a little travel place in town. Our guide would pick us up at the hotel at 7:30 and we would spend as long as we wanted out on the lake, go and see floating markets, and of course pagodas and finish the day with a sunset from our boat.
Sounded like a long day!
So we woke up early, and quickly discovered that our hotel had no hot water. Good thing it was freezing out. Burma is the hottest place I have ever been. Except in Inle Lake while the sun is not out. It felt close to ten degrees. In reality it was probably like 19 or 20, but still it was like blanket weather, for sure. So the shower was entertaining, to say the least. If anyone was outside our room, they for sure thought we were doing something wild and innapropriate. But no, nothing too exciting, just us trying to wash under the icy cold tap in our tub. It was a pretty awful way to start the day, but the sun came out and warmed us up as our two guides arrived to take us to the boat. At this point we weren’t entirely sure why we had two guides. Neither of them spoke more than a couple words of English… And there were only matt and I in the boat, so not like they had to keep track of us or anything. W got in our boat, and they set up some sweet wooden chairs for us, with cushions and everything, it was quite luxurious!
Then we learned that driving the boat requires one person to work the motor, and one person to sit at the front and… Give steering instructions?

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When we got out onto the lake, there were fishermen everywhere. They are in these tiny little boats, balancing at one far end, standing up, pretty much doing everything you have been taught not to do in a boat. They use nets, baskets, traps and hooks, pretty much anything they can find to catch the fish. Apparently the lake is only like 12 feet deep, so you don’t need anything too elaborate to catch some dinner.

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Oh right, they also do this really impressive thing while balancing on the very tip of the boat while standing. They paddle with one leg- to keep their hands free for fishing. It’s, like, super impressive. And they know the tourists are impressed, so they all turn it on as you drive by.
There are many other boats on the lake, for tours, transportation, school, etc. some of the boats were super excited to wave to tourists. They love when you wave back, but this one time I turned my camera on them, and everyone started cheering like I had just hit a home run or something, it was pretty hilarious. I’m pretty sure it was a boat of Burmese tourists, or a group travelling from one part of he lake to another. Impossible to tell!

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It was a pretty cool place, I mean- in Canada, we’re kind of lake-spoiled. They’re everywhere. But around the lake there was some pretty cool stuff. There was a …. I dunno.. I don’t know what to call it. There was this place with about 1500 stupas. A stupa is kind of like a temple or pagoda- it’s a shrine to the buddha’s mind. This place was wild. Some of them were ancient, and some were brand new. It’s crazy how long they have been building them, and still going strong.

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Some had the whole nature vs man thing going on, with trees growing out of them.

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This one was cacti. Man vs cacti.

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It was pretty crazy, and it was nice, we had the whole place to ourselves to explore. Apparently the crowds start rolling in midday. To get to this place, we had to take this tiny little river off the lake. It was sooo super awesome, they have these little teeny tiny dams built to make sure that there is enough of a river for boats to go through. In the middle of each dam is a little teeny tiny opening for boats to go through. The thing is that there is a change in water level, so in order to salmon jump up to a new level, you have to have quite a bit of speed. This is where we really gained some understanding of why it required 2 people to drive the boat. The guy in the back revs up the engine and heads full speed toward the opening, while the guy in the front waves his hands on either side of the boat depending on which side he is too close to. You rub the gunnels of the boat on either side as you go through. So one foot of misjudgement and you would likely take out the whole dam.

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We stopped at a bunch of ‘workshops’ (tourist traps). Our drivers would get treats for bringing us there, like cigarettes or juice, so I get why they brought us there, but damn! We’re at the end of our travels, I can’t afford to be tempted by silver and hand rolled cigars!
One cool workshop we visited was fabric weaving- where they make scarves and longis. The weaving was cool, but the lotus fabric they made was epic. They take the lotus plant from the lake, and they cut the stalk to get the little strings out of it. (You know how celery has strings- kinda the same, but the strings are on the inside and they are much stronger).

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It’s pretty insane, and it takes them 200,000 stems to make a large scarf, so you can imagine how long it takes (and how expensive the scarf would be). It’s weeks upon weeks just to remove the fibres from the stems, and then it needs to be weaver into fabric.

Our last and most awesome stop was at the jumping cat monastery. It’s a holy place where monks come to study, and they have a truckload of cats there. Apparently they used to jump through hoops, (or hoops made of your arms) and it was super impressive, because really- how to you get a cat to do something it doesn’t feel like. After talking to some people we learned that they don’t jump anymore either because the cats got hurt, or it made their guts hurt. One or the other- lost in translation. This place seriously needs a spay and neuter clinic to swing by tho, almost all of the cats were hugely preggers! Lazing around with these huge round bellies, and fresh nipples from the previous litter. I’m not sure where all the male cats were, every cat we came across was either a kitten or pregnant.

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The Most Wonderful Bus Trip in The History of Time

We woke up after our brief morning nap after a mostly sleepless night ready to make the most of our one day in Yangon. We decided we would go an see the most famous attraction there, the Shwedagon pagoda. It is supposedly really really old, well at least the inner part of it, but everyone kept building bigger and more awesome pagodas around it, and today it’s a glorious gold structure- quite phallic at first glance… And second…. But no one seems to notice too much. Maybe only those with a sociological background. Anyways, really a very awesome place to come and (watch others) be religious.

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You have to take off your shoes and socks before going in, as with most asian temples, so your feet are generally black soled by the end of the day. This was probably the cleanest pagoda we visited, despite the number of people it attracts. They have dozens of ladies who will walk around in a sort of line, circling the premises, sweeping up whatever dirt we happen to drag in from the street between our toes. Very much appreciated ladies, my feet were only a dull grey by the time we returned to our hotel.

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When we returned to our hotel, we booked our bus. Inquiring about the price first, he told us it would be about 8,000 kyat (about $8) each for the long journey up. Excellent price for a 13 hour journey. He called the bus company, and came back to us with a couple options, $18, $23 and $25, when I tried to ask the difference between the busses, the language barrier got in the way. Okay, well clearly, the more expensive, the nicer the bus. Considering our experience the day before, we said F it, and splurged. I handed over 25,000 kyat for the both of us being happy to pay only an extra 5 bucks each for potentially a more peaceful journey. Here’s where we encountered our second experience with ‘the foreigner price’. It was actually $25 for one person, or for the cheap bus, $18. What happened to the 8$?? ‘Oh, it’s foreigner price for you’. Right. Couldn’t they just tell me the cheap bus was sold out,or look at the colour of my skin and quote me the foreigner price to begin with so I don’t have to go through the disappointment of knowing I’m paying double what everyone else on the bus is paying? Whatever, Burma.
We splurged on the expensive bus anyways. Best. Decision. Ever.
I have never been so excited to get on a bus in my life. Our taxi dropped us off in front of a brand new shiny, sparkling beaut.

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The biggest smile came across my face. I immediately got all hyper and excited like I had just been given a wad of cash or played a round of jäger bomb mini flip cup.
YAAAAAAAAYYYYY!
We checked in and confirmed that the glorious bus in front of us was actually what we would be travelling on. We were about a half hour early, but I couldn’t wait, I neeeeeeeded to be on that bus immediately. Just to make sure that it couldn’t be taken away from me. It was even more glorious on the inside. Having only three seats per row, the seats were more than western sized.

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Sumo wrestlers would have been comfortable in these seats. They reclined almost fully, and had a foot rest that extended out in front. The best part were the incredible pink fuzzy blankets that accompanied our seats. Softer than cashmere and warmer than fleece, they would snuggle us all night long, and protect us from the harsh air conditioning most Asian busses have.

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There was so much room in between the rows, that my feet actually didn’t quite reach the standard foot rest on huge back of the chair in front of me.

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They gave us pop, and doughnuts to snack on, and stopped only at the cleanest rest stations. The best part, was no noisy announcements or yelling of stops. Te people who had tickets in Yangon got on, and we were the first ones to get off in the morning. I’ve never before been sad to reach a destination. They woke us up when we arrived, and I almost teared up when they forced us to collect our bags and get off. All future bus travel will be tainted by this glorious experience. A small price to pay for riding to Inle Lake pimp styles.

It was about 5:30 am when we arrived, and we ventured to the nearest hotel to see if we could afford a room. With intentions of dropping our bags off and heading out to explore, we were pleasantly surprised to find out they would actually let us check in at this ungodly hour. Awesome. Quick nap while we wait for the rest of Nuang Shwe to rise and shine. Or first day there, we discovered an awesome little restaurant with local food, as well as local takes on western food. We tried some incredible new Burmese foods, but the warm potato salad, and avocado salad literally blew any variation we had previously tried out of the water. Okay, well maybe it’s just that potatoes and avocados are two of my favourite foods and we haven’t had them in so long…. Either way, delish.

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We really wanted to branch out and try more foods, but not a day in Inle lake went by without us mowing down on these dishes. And the bean soup. Typically I don’t like beans, unless they’re green (and cooked in butter). But this soup was from another world, never has anyone made weird beans so tasty. We’ll get some variation when we leave.

Taking the Long Way to Yangon

We left Koh Tao for the final time on Friday morning having carefully planned our journey around the road that leads from mwyaddy into the country. On even days, I read, the traffic travels westbound into the country, and on odd days- it travels eastbound toward the border. The logical side of my brain tried to tell me that’s not right… This would mean that on the 31st and the 1st, traffic would come westbound for two days in a row. I searched for more information online with no luck, and allowed the ‘let everything be easy’ side of my brain take over.
We would travel all day to Bangkok, and arrive at 8:30, hop in a taxi to the northeastern bus station, and catch a night bus to Mae Sot, the border town in Thailand. We would be there to cross into Myanmar early on the 22nd, and hop on another bus for the 12 hour trip to Yangon.
The boat trip went well, no waves, and both of us slept most of the way there. Our bus to Bangkok was on time as the lomprayah busses normally are, and we got a good rate from our taxi driver to the bus station. Our first hiccup was when we arrived at the bus terminal. The helpful Thais directed us to window 22, where we could get tickets for Mae sot. Sold out. Window 22 sent us to window 34. Sold out. Window 34 sent us to window 39. Sold out. Ok.. start to panic a little bit, we had no backup plan. The helpful Thais saw the look on my face as we tried to figure out if we should get a hotel,or try to go somewhere to see about a minibus. One of hyphen came over and told us to get on a bus to Tak- well…I’m fairly certain she said Kuta, but she helped us buy the tickets (printed all in Thai), and no one on the bus spoke any English. We wound up in Tak- which is only a couple hours from Mae sot, and someone collected us from the bus station there and sold us tickets for a minibus to Mae Sot.
This is one of those things I loooooove about Thailand. You are never going to stand around looking lost or panicked for long. Someone will always come over and send you in the right direction. Like when we got off the bus in Mae Sot- it might have Been a bus station… But it was more of a side road with a few busses parked there. Being 5:30 in the morning or so there were only a few moto taxis around. Matt and I unloaded our things, and started to wander off, knowing none of the moto’s would try to drive us with all the luggage we have. We hadn’t made it more than half a block before a friendly tuk tuk driver pulls up. No doubt called by one of the moto’s to come and get us.
He dropped us at the friendship bridge connecting the two countries and we stood in line with all the Burmese (or Thais, or both) to exit Thailand. After a couple of seconds, several people motioned forward past the line. We moved forward a bit, and a guard waved us past the entire line to window 4- foreigners. Apparently we were the only ones. We got our exit stamps and headed over the bridge to Burma.

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We got to the other end of the bridge and stood in line to enter the country. Again, they waved us forward and into the foreigners entry office. The man at the desk greeted us with ‘hello! How can I help you?’.
We laughed on the inside at this- we were in the immigration office at the border.
We responded with ‘ummm… We’d like to enter the country, please’.
The process went smoothly and we were finished with the forms we had to fill in in a couple of minutes. The we hit our second hiccup. We asked if he knew where we should see about getting a bus to Kyaitikyo, and he said, ‘oh, you will have to get a bus to to Yangon and then go from there’. This seemed silly seeing as it is on the way to Yangon. But whatever, maybe we could sort that out with the bus company.
‘So, where could we organize a bus to Yangon?’ ‘Oh, that is impossible today. Traffic comes to the border today,you won’t be able to go until tomorrow’.
D’oh.
Oh well, we could both use a rest after almost a full 24 hours of travel. We found a nice hotel, the Mywaddy Hotel and slept the rest of the morning away. We headed out around noon to get our bus sorted for the next day. Having heard that Baht was accepted most places in town, we didn’t bother trying to exchange it first. We never found the bus station, and were too shy to ask anyone for directions, but eventually we came across a bus,so we went into the shop it was in front of and found out we needed to exchange our money before buying a ticket. On our way back to our hotel, a nice young Burmese guy greeted us and asked if we we were looking for a way into Yangon. We told him we were, and he told us he could drive us there for 12$ each. Seemed fair, if not too good to be true, but having seen how few seats were left available on the bus, and knowing how long it was going to take us to walk back to exchange our money and then back to the bus shop, we agreed. He walked us back to our hotel, chatting and practising his English. His teeth were bright red, and he was drinking a Singha. He didn’t speak much English, but kept reassuring us he was a driver, we were the passengers, we would meet at our hotel at 7, and go to Yangon. When we were walking, he reached down and took hold of Matt’s hand.
It was awesome. It’s not unusual to see men holding hands here- just two friends. I think it would have been pretty rude for matt to refuse, so they walked the rest of the way hand in hand. Don’t worry. I got a picture.

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We spent the remainder of the afternoon exchanging money and scoping out places for dinner. We stopped at one place, but it turned out they only sold beers, so wee had a few and kept going. The next place we walked into promptly sent us to the place next door. They probably didn’t have an English menu, not that the place next door did, but at least they had a picture menu. So we pointed at a couple dishes and were pleasantly surprised at what came out. Matt got a chicken and vegetable lemon soup (kind of like tom yam, but different) and I got a super delicious version of cashew nut chicken, with a thicker sauce, minced chicken and fewer vegetables.
It was an awesome first Burmese meal (we kind of slept through lunch).

The following morning, we met up with buddy, and he got us a bike wagon to take us down the street to ‘his car’. Turns out he doesn’t have a car, he was just going to set us up with someone who was going that way who had some room for us. We got put in and pulled out of 3 or 4 different cars. The one we wound up in was actually going to Mawlamyine. We were to pay $30, and that would cover our travel to Yangon as well. I tried to argue kith him, explaining that this is not what he had told us, and we wanted to go to Yangon, and pay what we had previously agreed upon. He wouldn’t budge, and now we were keeping the other three people in our car waiting. I paid him and we were off. We quickly learned why traffic only goes one way, we were waaaaaayyyy up in the mountians, like multiple ear pops up on a one lane road, with steep drop off cliffs and no guardrails.

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Turns out we got the craziest, or the best driver around. He would wait for no slow car, honking and whizzing by on the inside or outside of corners, wherever there was room for half a car.

It was an awesome experience, but I was kicking myself for not taking any motion sickness pills. Then again if I had, I probably would have crushed the little girl sitting next to me, as there were four of us in the back seat.

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We stopped several times to check in with our passports. Only the foreigners tho. I’m not sure why, maybe to make sure whoever went into the mountians made it out? Each time, it was with really friendly immigration officers, most of them with red teeth.
In Burma, they drive on the proper side of the road (the right side), but they drive on the wrong side of the car (also the right side). This of course, makes passing a fun little game, the car having to veer into the oncoming traffic lane to see if it is okay to pass. They have developed a system with their blinkers, no, not to indicate turning, but to indicate when it is okay to pass, and when not to pass. The car or truck or bus holding up traffic will keep their right blinker on (as will all the cars behind it) until it is safe to pass, then they switch to their left blinker to say ‘okay, no cars for a few seconds- you can pass’. It involves a lot of trust in your fellow drivers.
After about 4 hours we arrived in Mawlamyine, where we were to change onto a bus to Yangon. Our driver went to purchase our tickets (which were included in the price we already paid), and came back to get us to let us know it cost more than he thought. Very annoying. We had agreed to pay a price all the way to Yangon, but no one took into account that we would have to pay foreigners price (double). Not wanting our delightful driver to have to incur the loss, we paid the difference, and learned that our bus wouldn’t be leaving for another 6 hours. Given that we were still about 9 hours from Yangon, this meant the money we had spent on a hotel reservation would go to waste. Yaaaaaaay. I should also mention that during our discussion involving much broken English, a crowd of about ten had gathered either to help translate between all the parties, or just to watch the sweaty tourists fret over paying another ten dollars.
After 6 hours of reading in the bus station, and entertaining the locals with our white skin and funny clothes, we boarded our bus. The seats barely fit matt and I beside each other. Like if I’m going to pay the foreigners price- at least give me a foreigner-sized seat. The drive was long and sleepless, despite it being a night bus.
The rest stop was entertaining, although the whole ‘everybody staring at us thing’ started to get old as the day got longer. But the bathroom signs are hilarious. I am pretty sure that they are just Burmese writing, but the women’s bathroom had two signs, side by side. For a conservative country, their signage is pretty overt!
The sign for women:

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The sign for men slightly more subtle, but still, suspicious:

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We had the very front two seats, which made for awesome hearing when the bus guy would announce the stops. But it wasn’t just like the name of the the destination eg. ‘Toronto’.
It was more like (in the kind of voice that carries all the way to the back of the bus):
‘Okay everybody, listen up, we are arriving soon in Toronto, home to the CN Tower and the Blue Jays. If you would like to get off at Toronto, or have bought a ticket to Toronto, please make your way around the 20 people sitting in the aisles to the front of the bus to get off at Toronto, if you don’t do this, you will miss your stop, Toronto! So please if you are getting off at Toronto collect your belongings and de-bus at Toronto’.
Of course replace Toronto with some small town in Myanmar, and the middle bits I of course filled in on my own, because I don’t speak Burmese. The point being, big loud yelling monologue right as you are drifting off to sleep. If the yelly guy had somehow managed not to wake me, it was the people departing, trying to step over the people in the aisles, they would grab my seat – normally with a large chunk of hair. Being at the front oft he bus, they would wait there, either using my hair as a handle to steady themselves, or sitting on the arm of my chair (and half of my lap).
I’ve never been so happy to get off a bus in my life. We arrived in Yangon around 4:30 in the morning, showered and took a quick nap before getting up to enjoy the one day of sightseeing that we had before moving onto Inle Lake.

To Phu Quoc and back

We booked our travel to Phu Quoc long in advance. The hotel we stayed at in Ho Chi Minh City organized everything for us. Our taxi left at 12:45 am, a 40 minute ride to the bus station, get on our bus at 1:45 and travel 6 hours to Phu Quoc, and wait around for a half a day until our 1 o’clock boat to the island. Our taxi took only 20 minutes, which was awesome, we got checked in, and wandered around trying to find the waiting area. In our wanders- we noticed a couple of Russians looking quite confused. I don’t know how to tell you how to spot a Russian, there is no stereotypical big furry hat, but sometimes you can just tell. You look at them, and you’re like ‘yep, they’re definitely Russian’. They asked us where we were going, and turns out we were both headed to Phu Quoc. But with the broken Russian English, and the broken Vietnamese English- they hadn’t been able to sort out tickets. They were wearing matching just married t-shirts, and turns out they tied the knot at city hall earlier that day. They were heartbroken because they had understood that the busses were sold out. We did our good deed of the day by sorting out tickets for them, got rewarded with cold beers, and boarded out sweet sleeping bus to Rach Gia.

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The bus ride turned out to be only 4 hours- which was awesome. Except for the part where we stopped at a rest stop, and I got off to pee… And when I came back, I kept trying to get back on my bus, and getting on the wrong bus. Eventually I realized my bus had left- with Matt, our passports, my phone, and all of our money.
Oh good.
Then I found the Russians, and we panicked together. Eventually I got I out of someone that they took the bus to get washed, and hadn’t in fact, abandoned us in the middle of the Mekong Delta. It returned about ten minutes later. 1 of those times I wish everyone in Vietnam spoke better English.
We arrived at the pier around 6 am, and tried to check in for the 1 pm boat (the superdong, yes, super- dong). After much confusion, we learned that we had to go to the proper Superdong office, somewhere towards the town. A moto taxi overheard this, and gleefully offered to take matt there for 20,000 ($1). Relieved, we accepted, and thought we were getting a great deal. Matt jumped on, and the moto took him about 100 metres down the road to the office. (Bahaha, well played, moto taxi man, well played). At the office, the friendly ladies offered to exchange our 1pm reservation for the 8am boat, which was super, and meant to having to hang around the pier for a half a day.
We arrived at our hotel around noon, and spent the day napping and eating and enjoying the views for our beachfront hotel.

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We rented a moto the following day to go exploring. After our first fall on a dirt road, I was incredibly skeptical to go down another. Hs proved to be a problem on the island. It’s a fairly big island, you could drive around on it for hours (and we did). After abandoning our plan to head to the northwest part of the island because of dirt roads, we used the map to head all the way over to the northeast part of the island to explore the beaches up there. Only problem is- the paved highway is labelled the same way as sand roads, gravel roads, and dirt paths. After about an hour and a half of cruising along the luxurious highway, we came to the roundabout intersection that we were to turn left at. We turned left, and drove the remaining 100 metres of paved road. The road then turned into what liked like a mountain bike path. Down through a little culvert, and then off kind of into the forest.

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No way were we heading in that direction. So we decided we would opt to take the well worn, car-wide dirt roads the original route we had planned. Not such a smart idea after three hours of numb bum. We saw some nice sights, and enjoyed some food and drinks around the island while maneuvering ourselves through soft sand and gravel roads (matt driving of course). After a solid 6 hours, we called it a day and headed back to our beach to get some dinner.
Post-eat, we headed down the beach towards where the Russians were honey-mooning to see if they wanted to do something the following day. We found them on their balcony and, being the awesome hosts that they are, we were invited to sit down and drink rum with them. We wound up wasting the night away sipping strong rum and cokes, and being eaten alive by skitters.

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We slept in a bit the next day, and then headed down south with the Russians to another beach. We took the main highway south, expecting it to be awesome like he highway that runs north. Turns out they haven’t quite built the south highway yet. We spent hours going from old potholey pavement, to loose gravel, to sand and potholes to fresh new pavement and back again. It was worth the drive though, the beach was stunning. We were starving when we got there, and somehow wound up spending an hour and a half waiting for our food, the cool water beckoning us. Not wanting to miss the food, we waited it out, and the water was so much more rewarding when we got in. It was one of those beaches you have to walk forever to actually get in the water, but it had an awesome sand bar almost breaking the surface about 30 metres out. We spent most of the afternoon playing in the water and relaxing on the beach.

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On the way home, we stopped in at the Phu Quoc Prison. Used during the Vietnam war by the ‘puppet government’ to keep Vietnamese POW’s. It was free which was awesome. Most of it was just long tin buildings with mannequins in them demonstrating the torture that was experienced there. It was super creepy- I only went in about 2 of maybe 15 buildings. At the end, it was pretty cool. One of the tunnels that they had dug to escape the walls of the prison was still intact, and this was what you used to get out. I mean… Not the actual tunnel. It was super awesome, beside the tunnel, they had hollowed out a huge, western sized (standing) tunnel so that you walked beside the escape tunnel with it at about elbow height. You got a feeling of what it was like without actually having to feel what it was like (panicky!). Much more accommodating than the Cu Chi tunnels!
I didn’t take many pictures there cuz it was creepy… And well, I just don’t stop when I am in undreground tunnels to take photos. That’s just a rule I have, ever since we were in a cave during a huge earth quake.

That night, we went for cheap, delicious food with the Russians. We decided to Russia it up a little bit with some vodka. Vietnamese vodka, but still. It was a long walk home that night.

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After one more day of beach bumming, and some awful beach massages, we started to make our way home. A driver came to pick us up at about 7am, and drove us to the pier, he then looked at our tickets and realized he had picked up the wrong people. We were supposed to be on a different boat. We called the travel agent we booked through and she told us to just get on the boat at the pier we were at. It was scheduled to leave a half hour earlier than the boat we were booked on, so making our sleeping bus shouldn’t be a problem. We made our way onto the boat, and got two of the last seats available. But that didn’t stop them from continuing to fill the boat with people. The staff on huge boat kept trying to squeeze people into rows of seats that were full, and eventually filled the aisles with people as well. The captain came down to investigate and concluded that there were far too many people on the boat. He told them to sort it out and went back upstairs. The staff kicked a few people off, until they got angry about it. We witnessed (what we think was) an old lady refuse to leave, and rip the young boat boy apart for even thinking of kicking her off. It must have been pretty entertaining stuff in Vietnamese, everyone was trying to hide their giggles. The staff then decided that the next logical step was to hide people in the bathrooms. The teeny, tiny bathrooms. There must have been at least 14 people stuffed into two single toilets who filed out once he eh boat finally started moving. It was pretty hilarious as long as we didn’t think too hard about the number of life jackets should anything happen along the way. We’re both good swimmers anyways.

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So the boat was probably about an hour late leaving, and when we arrived on the mainland, the bus we were supposed to be on had left. So they piled about 9 of us into a minivan, and took us to a gas station where we met up with the other people who were from our boat supposed to be on the sleeping bus. Then they piled about 35 of us onto a 25 person open air small big bus. Very uncomfortable, most of us had our knees jammed right up against the seats in front of us, and open windows to try and keep ourselves somewhat cool. This, of course, meant getting filthy because of the dry, dusty roads we were taking. There were probably about 5 or 6 people sitting or standing near the door and steps onto the bus. We were on have little bus for about 3 hours until we arrived at another bus on the side of the road that we were to get on. This one also- with no air, but at least we all had seats on this one, even though they were very much Vietnamese sized. 9 hours later we were back in Saigon. Dirty, sweaty, tired and annoyed.

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We spent our last few days in Vietnam exploring mostly. We headed to a water park, where we were celebrities with all the children on their school holidays. It was awesome fun, but the slides- kinda sketchy. I kept thinking that we would break them, or that our weight would carry us up over the edge on a turn. Definitely made for Vietnamese sized people. Very …um.. Exhilarating?
One of my favourite parts about Vietnam is that most of the women walk around in. Matching tops and bottoms- often looking hilariously like pajamas.
‘Oh, just minding the shop in my Jam jam’s!’
Or
‘Just heading out to the market in my P’j’s, no big deal’
I wish I could do that and have it be normal.

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We had an awesome time in Vietnam. My favourite parts being Hue and Hoi an. We will definitely be back to explore the northern part of the country, and maybe back to Saigon to visit Sara who’s moving there to teach next year!
I definitely can’t go the rest of my life without super delicious Pho.

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Têt- The Lunar New Year

So the Vietnamese take their new year very seriously. Most of the country will return home to ring in the new year with family. For Ho Chi Minh, this means most of the city emptying out. On a normal day, there are people everywhere. More moto’s than you could even begin to tally. And there’s garbage. Not like an obscene amount of it.. But I did witness several people toss out bags of garbage from their second storey window onto the sidewalk. Someone must collect it on a pretty regular basis, because there aren’t piles of garbage everywhere. But it’s not the kind of place you would take a seat on the sidewalk and not worry about the infections that small scrape on your shin might pick up.
Unless you’re here over Têt. About three days before new year, the city empties out. The families left behind toss colourful rice and candies on the ground in front of their houses. (I never figured out why). They also burn anything and everything that they hope to have in the next year- including very real looking American money. From what we saw, this is generally done in a metal bucket out front of their place. Everyone will clean their house from top to bottom, scrubbing the floors so they can bring in the new year with a clean home and hopefully it will stay that way. The cleaning doesn’t stop inside though. Two days before the new year he street cleaners come out. Not like the street sweepers we have in Canada- (we have these big , zamboni like trucks that scrub the streets after the smaller one with a sucky hose sucks up any garbage) no, these are people actually scrubbing the streets. First. The street sweeper comes by with his broom and bin, and sweeps up any rubbish- then the water trucks come by and douse all the Sidewalks with soapy water, and then the scrubbing crew comes along, and scrubs the sidewalks clean. It’s like a serious amount of effort.
On New Year’s Eve we discovered the party street. They shut down an enormous street to view the fireworks from, and they fill it with incredible flower displays. Like seriously all out. From this point on- it will be mostly photos because it is hard to explain in words. But make sure you check out the photos near to the bottom- because after we walked the flower street, we found the park that had all of the winning garden things. Not just flowers, but full trees, and fairy tale mini tree displays… See what I mean about the not being able to explain things.

First the flower street –

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The year of the horse

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The flower street stretched for about a kilometre. It was absolutely insane how much effort was put into it.
Then we found the ‘winners park’. Apparently there is some sort of gardening competition, involving bonsai trees, orchids, wood carving, cacti, and then there’s these magical fairytale tree settings. I don’t know how else to describe them. Basically they are huge marble trays, with a pool of water in them, and sometimes some rocks,and then they grow pretty trees and stuff on top. It’s the most incredible thing ever.i don’t think I have ever taken more pictures in a day. I have no idea what I will do I with them all. But I had this overwhelming feeling that if I didn’t take pictures of all of them no one would believe me that they actually existed.

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Okay I could post literally a hundred of these. Aren’t they magical though??
I want one… But don’t know what I would ever do with it.
There was also competitions for flower trees,

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And then there are the platform trees

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And then the large fairytale displays

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And hanging plants that grow downwards

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There was even a bird competition-prettiest song, or longest tail feathers… I’m not sure.

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And don’t forget the cacti

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And then there were the rare flowers. Soooooo pretty. They should definitely move Mother’s Day to immediately after Têt so that all the moms can have the most beautiful, prize winning flowers for their special day!

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It was an awesome day. We capped it off watching the fireworks down by the river, and drinking too many 333’s.

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Welcome to Little Russia

We left Hoi An immediately following the sweet karaoke dinner party that Jolie brought us to. She dropped us at the bus stop where we boarded our first ever sleeping bus. These things are awesome, instead of two rows of two seats, here are three rows of fully reclining seat-beds. Your feet wind up in a little compartment underneath the head of the person in front of you. It makes regular greyhound busses look almost shabby, and brings a whole new level of rest while bus travelling.

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We woke up in Mui Ne, a little teeny town, with a long stretch of beach resorts and restaurants down the coast leading to the next town. We collected our backpacks and started walking down to our hotel. After passing a few places with unrecognizable writing on the signs, we wondered if we had been dropped in the right place. Vietnamese writing looks kind of like French writing- the same letters we use in English with a few fancy accents thrown in here and there. These letters were backwards, and warped, and weird (if you’ve never seen Russian writing before). Then we noticed all of the people around us. Almost no Vietnamese. Aside from a few massage places, or restaurants, most of the people were white. Even a bunch of the restaurants/ tour companies were run by non-locals. By the end of our first day there we realized we were in Russia town. I can’t tell you what a Russian looks like- the stereotype with the big furry hat is nowhere to be found on the beach- but we realized that a lot of the time we can pick out the Russians somehow. We felt kind of like outcasts in a Russian clubhouse beach town! Oh and also- everyone else had apparently been taught to kitesurf! We were terribly jealous, but with our main goal (budget wise) being to outlast the Canadian winter- blowing a thousand dollars on lessons didn’t seem like the wisest decision. It’s something that we can always do back home, so we just enjoyed watching.
The view from our hotel rooftop:

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We also got awesome sunsets from the rooftop- we splurged slightly upping our $15/ night budget to $25- the hotel was nice, but the upkeep was terrible. Our bathroom was constantly flooded with water from our leaky tub, and the once gorgeous rooftop pool area was littered with garbage and hadn’t been mopped in ages. Too bad. Teaches us for wasting our money.
Luckily we got a picture of huge pool and sunset without any garbage in view.

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Our main reason for heading to the town of Mui Ne was the legendary sand dunes. It’s pretty dry and desert-y down there. A huge contrast to the landscape we had experienced in Hue and Hoi An. There are two sets of sand dunes near where we were- the red ones, and the white ones. Having driven past the red ones in our bus, and seen the groups of aggressive children renting sleds, we decided to take the longn drive out to the white dunes for a slightly more relaxed atmosphere. It was awesome. We arrived around lunchtime, after the morning tours had left and before the afternoon tours arrive. Apparently everyone avoids the dunes at high sun on account of how deadly hot it is. And it was. But it was also awesome because we had the entire place to ourselves.

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We we slightly disappointed that there were no kids here renting sleds- and as we hiked through the mountains of sand we kept seeing signs of sand-bogganing. Little bits of plastic sled from a rough ride, or toboggan tracks down a steep slope.

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But no sign of sleds anywhere, so we made our fun by just running down the hills, landing knee deep in sand on each step on the way down, and then climbing to the top of the next biggest dune to do it all over again.

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After about two and a half hours our enormous water bottle ran out, and exhausted, we made our way down to the small cafe at the foot of the dunes for a cold drink. It was here that we noticed the sleds. D’oh.

We relaxed in the hammocks for a little while and tried to regain some energy and enthusiasm to go back out. Baht the sun had done us in, both nicely pink, with raging headaches from the sun we decided to pack it in for the day and venture out again tomorrow.
We hopped on the moto, and I decided to drive on account of my passengers numb bum. Matt “are you sure you can handle the dirt road out to the highway” me “don’t patronize me, I’m an awesome driver”.
We made it about a hundred metres from the dunes before I hit a patch of deep soft sand. Luckily I was taking it slow, so minimum damage to the bike, but I ripped all the skin off the bottom of my big toe, and got some major road rash on my right knee. It was a long, painful ride home- knowing with my injuries we wouldn’t be back the following day for sand sledding.
The most painful part (aside from my pride) is the fact that all of the pharmacies in Mui Ne have apparently never heard of non stick dressings. So every 4 hours or so, I would rip a fresh layer off my knee while trying to change the bandage.

We headed out to the much closer, much smaller red sand dunes the following day so that at least matt could try the sledding. It didn’t work out so well. It was like trying to toboggan down a gentle slope of a few feet of freshly fallen packing snow. You go a few feet before getting dug in too deep in the sand to go anywhere. Itzel would have been much better on the. White dunes, as the hills were much bigger, and much steeper- but still I think nowhere near comparison to actual tobogganing.

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Hoi An: My Favourite

We were greeted by Jolie with a big warm smile as we pulled up in front of her beautiful home. This was our first experience staying in someone’s house, rather than a hotel of guesthouse and it was awesome. Her entire family was welcoming and friendly, and her kids- adorable!

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We settled in to our room, had a quick nap and headed downstairs for some advice on where to eat dinner. Jolie had a couple of bicycles that we could rent for a dollar a day, and since town was a hefty walk away, the bikes made it a breeze. On Jolie’s suggestion we headed into town to a restaurant called Ba Buoi. (Pronounced Like the minions in despicable me-when Gru is asking them to go and get a new unicorn toy for Agnes. “Ohhhh Ba Buoi!”) Its the only movie we have on our IPad, so we watch it probably once a month or so- and when we saw the sign, we both realized this was the place we were looking for and exclaimed ‘ohh! Ba Buoi’! It was pretty amusing. But not as amusing as the food we found there. It specialized in ‘chicken rice’. It’s a delicious mixture of herbs, rice and roasted chicken, mixed into one serving of deliciousness. We opted to go for a chicken salad as well, seeing it in front of one of our table neighbours- it was basically chicken rice… Minus the rice, and with more leafy herbs. Mmmmm. Chicken rice. I was too embarrassed to take any photos of our food cuz we were the only white kids in there.
After. Dinner, we biked down to the riverside to have a beer or two before heading home. It was super beautiful. Or of those times when I wish I knew how to take photos. The entire riverside and all of the restaurants were surrounded by gorgeous lanterns lighting up the sky. It was like a movie.

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We rented a moto the following day to make the journey out to the My Son sanctuary. It’s a collection of ruins from the 4-12th centuries. They’re unique because they were built using only bricks. No mortar, or cement or glue holding them together. The sanded the bricks down to be like super duper smooth and flat and then just stacked them! It’s pretty crazy, doesn’t seem like the smartest idea, but hey, it worked- so who am I to judge?

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It has only recently been declared a UNESCO world heritage site, so only a couple of the buildings have been restored. A lot of them look like this:

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Or this:

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It was pretty cool to be there, cuz sometimes, you’d look over in the bushes, and see a pile of bricks disguised by all the overgrown plants hiding it and you’d be like: hey! They missed this one, look! I discovered it.
Of course likely not the case, but kinda fun to see what it might have been like to be the first to stumble on the ruins in the forest.
We drove back into Hoi An, stopping for the most incredible pho on the way back. We let my iPhone lead the way, which was fun cuz it definitely didn’t take us the way we were supposed to go (the way the paper maps likely lead you). We kept running into sections of awesomely skinny road, that no car would ever fit on. Sometimes there were cows in the way, sometimes children who were really really excited to see tourists. It made it more of an adventure to take the back roads, and if we hadn’t, we never would have discovered the teeny cafe with the incredible noodle soup.

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The following night for dinner Jolie sent us to a place specializing in wontons! There were two dishes there: white rose, and ‘Hoi An pizza’. White rose is kind of like little dumplings, not entirely sealed, and not fried at all, the noodley wonton just wrapped around it in like a flower pattern. Inside is either pork or veggies. Sprinkled on top is crispy little fried onions, and then you dip them in the most delicious fish sauce before popping them into your belly.

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Dee-lish.
The other dish we had was pretty tasty too. Maybe slightly too saucy for my taste, but still pretty good too. It was a big huge deep fried wonton- so it got all crispy and stiff. On top were a bunch of veggies and shrimps, all in this delicious sweet sauce. I found it much tastier once I scraped a little bit of the sauce off.

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While we were in Hoi an we had our first delicious cup of Vietnamese coffee. You can have it many ways, it’s super dark and strong and tasty. The best way we found was called Vietnamese white coffee with ice. It’s the strong drip coffee, miked with a bit of sweetened condensed milk, and served in a bug huge glass of ice, that slowly melts a bit while you drink it. It changed my entire view of coffee. I hope I never get the urge to look up how terrible sweetened, condensed milk is cuz man, is it tasty.

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On our second last day there we headed out to attend something I had stumbled across on the Internet. Hoi An Free Tour is a tour that is lead by university students who want to work on their English. We took our bikes from Jolie’s band headed out with a fun group of other thrifty deal- lovers to explore one of the islands on the river.
The ferry ride over:

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On the island, we basically visited a bunch of places to see how a bunch of the locals make a living around Hoi an.
First stop was the Shipyards. We learned that none of the young generation will work there because it’s hard work. We learned that they spend days bending the boards used in the ships they build into the proper shape which was pretty awesome to see in progress.

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My favourite fact we learned- all of the boats in Vietnam have eyes painted on either side of the bow to scare away the sea monsters.
So far- it’s worked. I think we need to adopt this policy in Muskoka… For just in case the sea monsters find their way into the lakes.

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We also visited a wood carving shop, a rice noodle making house, and a weaver. All really cool to be able to see how stuff happens behind the scenes.
The girls who led our tour sent us to the most famous Banh Mi place in all of Vietnam. It was featured on Anthony bourdain’s show. I’m not sure what the literal translation of Banh Mi is.. But it means sandwich to me. It’s delicious, unusual (for a Canadian) sandwich ingredients on a freshly baked baguette. And O-M-G. Is it delicious. It’s meat, and some sort of pate (I think liver pâté, but don’t let the thought gross you out) pickled vegetables, tomatoes, cucumbers, a bunch of different sauces, chillies,and a salad of herbs that seem to make each bit have a new, exciting taste (except when you get the black licorice basil (yuck)).

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By far the best sandwich I have ever tasted. And it didn’t even have any cheese. For those of you who know how I feel about cheese… This is a big statement.

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The best part? 1$. And that is the tourist rate. My only regret is not trying them until our second last day. So many foods, so little time.
On the day we left, our Host, Jolie told us not to make any dinner plans, she had something special in mind. She wound up taking us to. The New Years dinner at her brand new (unfinished) hotel. A beautiful building, opening in March of 2014 is mostly completed, and in theology there were. About 20 round tables set up for hotel workers, family and friends. It was awesome to be a part of. On each table were plenty of beers, and more food than an army could eat. Turns out that was just the first course, turns out there were about 4 courses that were served before we left. No one at our table spoke English aside from Jolie’s other guests (a European couple) but we learned pretty quickly that you don’t take a drink of your beer without cheering the whole table and having them drink with you. The atmosphere was awesome, the people lovely. They had to teach us how to eat some of the food, but it was all delicious. And all of it was cooked by Jolie’s sister. She must have been cooking for weeks!

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At one point after a few beers, we thought it would be awesome for matt and Sam (the male half of the other couple Jolie was hosting) to get up and sing some karaoke. No knowing the words to any other songs between the two of them- out came ‘we wish you a merry Christmas’. I have the video for anyone who would like to see it at a later date 😉

Easy riding to Hoi An

We were feeling sort of pessimistic about our Easyriders tour from Hue to Hoi An when we woke up in the morning. It was cold and rainy and generally miserable weather like it is most of the time in Hue. We ordered breakfast from our hotel and our tour guides pulled up to pick us up. We finished eating and headed out to our rides. For those of you who don’t know and Easyriders tour is basically a tour from one city to the next via motorbike. Two motorbikes with two drivers to carry us, and all of our belongings down through the mountains into Hoi an (stopping at all the sights and photo ops along the way. So the weather plays a big part in how enjoyable your trip is- or so we thought. They bagged up our backpacks and strapped them securely onto the back of the bikes, using them to also create a nice backrest for us to lean on. Then they busted out our sweet, sweet riding gear. They brought us rubber boots first, and told us to change our shoes, which improved our moods slightly- hey, at least our feet would be dry and warm. Then they brought out our suits. Full body matching blue rain suits. Pants big enough to fit over the pants you are already wearing, and a coat that comes down to your knees and fits overtop of your shirt, sweater and jacket that you are already wearing. This. Really perked us up. Not only would we be warm and dry, but we looked hilarious, and our drivers wore the suits too- so we were like an uniformed team for the day.

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We hopped on and started the first leg of our tour, after about 45 minutes of riding we stopped at a little fishing village. Full of little teeny tiny houseboats, we learned that entire families live on the boats all the time. They head out around sunset to fish for the night and come back just before sunset with their haul. Nor tour guides told us that the fishermen make really good money. Most days they can come home with $50 of fish to sell- which is pretty good income compared to what a lot of other people in the area earn.

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It was gloomy and rainy, but we were dry, and a bunch of kids from one of the boats came out to giggle at us, so that brightened up things up a bit! I wanted to take a picture, but I don’t like taking pictures of people, and it felt like a bit of a creep because they were children… So here’s a picture of me instead!

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We continued on into the mountians, our butts already getting numb. It was a pretty nice ride tho, the seats were cushier than on most moto’s we’ve rented, and the drivers way better than we are, so smooth sailing as we approached the mountian range between Hue and Hoi An.

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Most of the places we stopped in the mountains were just pull offs on the side of huge road to admire the view. It was super awesome to see, but because of the rain the pictures don’t do it justice. The first place we stopped overlooked the edge of the fishing lagoon where a whole bunch of rice paddies were made, it looked magical with all the mist and fog and the gorgeous ponds off green rice plants. Too bad all you get to see is the photos-

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About halfway through the mountians, at the highest point, we drove into the clouds. It was so cool (but I’m glad someone else was responsible for the driving. It would have been an awesome spot to stop and take pictures, if it weren’t for the awful tourist trap there. There are some army bunkers there,one American and one French. It would have been super cool to explore them, but the second we got off the bikes all we wanted to do was get back on. I guess because we were easy riding we seemed rich. It cost $45 per person to go on our trip and everyone selling stuff there seemed to have an idea of this. We were followed by a pack of ladies with baskets of bracelets and tiger balm. They seemed nice at first, asking our names, where we were from, telling us we looked very tanned. Halfway up the short hike to the bunkers they slipped in that we would have to buy something from them to help them support their families. The one that had zeroed in on me got these big sad eyes and started telling me about her daughters. So I agreed I would buy some tiger balm from her because I don’t like bracelets. Once I got my wallet out, they all turned really pushy. The one lady I was buying from turned into three, and I left with two things of tiger balm and three bracelets. I didn’t stop purchasing things until my wallet was literally empty. I’m pretty sure I wound up just giving my money to one of them for nothing in return. I much prefer to buy from people who aren’t as pushy- because they are likely the ones who don’t make as much, and plus it’s a more pleasant buying experience. But these ladies had a really special way of overwhelming you, and pointing out that a couple of dollars is nothing to me, and for them it’s supporting their families. Finally once my wallet was empty, and I showed them all this, they dissapeared. Probably onto the next tourist to do the same thing. We snapped a couple of pictures with the bunkers before heading on our way.

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One of our tour guides has a couple of daughters, so I was able to find good homes for the bracelets I had somehow managed to acquire. Luckily the rest of our stops were much more relaxing. We stopped at a point overlooking a sweet little beach, there are no roads that lead there, only a trail down the steep hill from the mountain pass. Out our guide confessed that he has always wanted to open a bed and breakfast there, but anyone who wanted to come and stay would have to be up for a motorbike adventure, as well as a hiking adventure with all of their belongings.

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We also stopped at a point where the fishing lake met up with the ocean, tide was coming in, so it was pretty cool to see. There is a little town across the way from where we were that apparently used to be very poor, but now all of he fishermen are able to sell their fish overseas, and bring the money home to build some nice ass houses! Looked pretty ritzy from where we were.

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We stopped in Da Nang for a vegetarian lunch- the vegetable parts of which were delicious, but the tofu disguised as meats parts were not so much. Leaving Da Nang, we saw an awful motorbike accident. Parts of the bike were all over the road, and a crowd of people around the unconscious driver. A little bit sobering on your rainy day motorbike tour in a foreign country! I hope he was okay.

We drove the last short leg to Hoi An, and our guides dropped us right at the door of the home stay we had booked. We thanked them for the journey, and headed in to meet our wonderful hosts at Jolie HomeyStay.

Beautiful Vietnam

From the moment we woke up on our train approaching Hue, we were kept in ease of how beautiful everything was. The train seemed to be out in its own little world, with no roads or villages for miles. We were right on the edge of the sea, high up in the lush rainforest in the mountains between Hoi An and Hue. We took a few blurry photos of the secret, deserted beaches that we came across, but knew that through the grimey train window they wouldn’t do any justice. We pulled into the train station in Hue and it was positively sleepy compared to HCMC. The cold air of Hue hit us like a brick wall. It was freeeeeezing! I was so happy I had opted not to toss out my sweatpants to make room for cool thai clothing back in November. Had I been in Thai pants in Hue- I never would have survived.
We Walked out the front gate into what we assumed would be a large swarm of taxi drivers fighting for our attention. Instead, one lone friendly guy comes up to us, and offers to take us where we need to go. He quoted us 100,000 (about $5), and we told him that 50,000 was better for us- he says okay, sounds good. And we walk over to his car, not his taxi, just his car. There are an obscene amount of taxis in vietnam, all brightly coloured and clearly labelled. We both got a little bit nervous when this happened, but there were no child locks on the doors, so we got in and he took us right to our hotel. Or hotel was awesome, I decided to splurge the extra dollar to get a deluxe room rather than the standard for $12. Good choice.
Our room was enormous, we had a bathtub! The only time I’ve ever had a bathtub was when my parents bought us a room in their hotel for our last two nights. Bathtub means luxury- not that we ever use it…
In our room was where we really felt the temperature difference. Back home, when it’s cold outside, all you have to do is go inside, and-Bam! Warm up time! Not so much in Hue- it appears that it hasn’t occurred to anyone to put heaters in the buildings. I guess it’s only cold for a few months… But all of the time we spent in our room was in bed, buried beneath two duvets, trying to shield ourselves from the cold.
Other than the cold, it was so nice and relaxing in Hue. The small street we were on had everything we needed, and the traffic was minimal- so no horns to bother us too much. Out balcony looked out over the street, and it was nice to just watch the sleepy town operate. The banh mi lady walks by with her delicious sandwich cart, the Vietnamese rushing into work at. The last minutes,giggling as their coworkers make fun of them, and my personal favourite- the garbage man- I wish I had gotten a picture. Basically, he just pushes around a large shopping cart made out of dumpster material, and sweeps whatever garbage might have landed on the road while ringing his bell for the shops and restaurants to bring out whatever trash they have for a small fee. I happened every night around sundown- likely only in the tourist area to keep it spic and span.
Or first full day, we decided we could use some exercise and we would walk to the citadel (old city). I hate tours. There is nothing more boring than someone just talking at you. No matter how interesting the information- I can’t stand being part of a tour group. I makes me tired, and grumpy and I feel like a cow being herded around in a big group of people. I would rather just wander and find shit on my own- however long it might take, or however much useful information I might miss out on- the ultimate way to sightsee is only with the help of your helpless travel partner- in my case, Matt!
The only downfall to this is that you can only take pictures of one another, any picture of the two of us is one of those ones where you hold your arm out as far as you can, and no matter how high you hold the camera up, you wind up with double chins.
Hue citadel was pretty impressive. Most of the ruins from the early 1800’s had been destroyed by termites, weather and war. But a lot of the buildings have been restored in their original fashion, making them cool to explore.

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A lot of the decoration and pictures on the buildings are made out of what looks like broken plates. Will I think they’re plates cuz they kind of look like a bowl I have at home.

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The whole imperial city is surrounded by a huge moat dug out from a river that runs along one side, the huge wall encasing the city is build up almost right along the riverside, so I am surprised it has lasted this long!

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One of the the buildings- I think the one built for the queens mother was also surrounded by a little itty bity moat. Don’t quote me on that queens mother thing…. I could be way off.

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Just outside the main gate, there is this enormous flag tower. Like huuuuge. It’s a pretty big flag… But I mean they could have gone a little overboard!

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After our day exploring the citadel, we spent most of our time just wandering, turning down offers of bike carriage tours and boat rides. We both decided that if we weren’t doing a bit of physical activity- we would probably be all cold and miserable- and that’s no way to spend a vacation!
Everyone in Hue was in a north face jacket. Most of the stores sold them, but we knew we had found the real north face store when there were chilly Vietnamese lined up out onto the road.

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The other big activity we participated in while we were in hue was party times! We had heard about a fun bar not far from our hotel where tourist and locals party together. It was super fun. We spent the first half of the night sucking at pool with other tourists, and the second half of the night dancing like crazy with some super fun Vietnamese. At one point, I was leading a dance circle of 5 or 6 girls, and we were both loving it. They were having a blast because I guess I probably dance a little more intensely than most girls from Vietnam do.
I have two dancing speeds- 1) not dancing at all, and 2) dancing like a fricken maniac. Obviously I was at speed 2 by this point, and it was epic. I would shake, they would shake, I would punch dance, they would punch dance, when I got low, they got low, and when I jumped, they jumped. I remember very clearly, several times yelling ‘THIS IS THE BEST THING EVERRRRRRRR!!!’. At one point, I decided that we had to leave and go home for the camera to video this incredible experience- cuz no one would ever believe it. Bt by the time we got back, my backup dancers had gone home for the night. So sad. But we made some new friends and started a new circle- having almost as much fun as the first one.
Some drunken party photos:

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Or last day in Hue, we unfortunately spent nursing our hangovers. We didn’t stray further from our hotel than we had to- only for the essential food and water to replenish ourselves. It was a good idea, because the following morning at 8am, we were being picked up by our Easyriders tour guides, who would take us up through the mountains and into beautiful Hoi An.

Arriving in Vietnam – 2 nights in Saigon

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City around 9 pm at night. The taxi dropped us off on a busy local street. Not a restaurant or hotel in sight, we wondered if we were in the right place or if he had just dropped us in front of his buddies place. Fresh tourist- ripe for the pickin. We were in front of what looked half like somebody’s house and half an alleyway- more like an alleyway- but with a second (and third) floor above it. The Vietnamese groups in the alley nodded at us to answer the puzzled looks on our faces. Yes, you are in the right place. They pointed back through the alley/house and it opened up into a true, roofless alleyway with a whole new set of house fronts. It was crazy, like a little teeny street in the middle of a block that no cars can get to. Only motorbikes- and they have to drive through the alley house to get there. Our hotel was located on the tiny inner block street and the staff greeted us warmly. He sent us up to drop off our bags, and then we came down for a quick orientation. Good thing- cuz we weren’t really in an area where you could just wander and find a place to eat, unless you went in the proper direction.
We headed in the direction we were told, in search of pho- probably the most heard of Vietnamese food (noodle soup). After wandering up and down a few streets with sidewalk restaurants (restaurants that appear on the sidewalks once the shops close) we couldn’t find pho anywhere. We didn’t really want to be those tourists who walk up to random specialty restaurants and ask for the only Vietnamese food we’ve ever heard of, so we sat down at a place and hoped they would speak some English. A table beside us was eating something resembling what could have been pho, so we asked for that. Turned out it was goat hotpot. Two things we have zero experience with- goat, and hotpot.

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We were brought several plates of different noodles, several plates of different kinds of lettuce, sauces, chillies, limes, a burner with a huge pot of soup on top if it, and 2 teeny tiny bowls.
We had no idea what to do. We started to put the stuff into the soup, little by little, and then spoon a bit out into our mini bowls to eat. Finally one of the staff came over to correct us, she pulled out everything that we had put in out onto a plate, and then dumped an entire plate of lettuce in, followed by some noodles. She let them boil for a minute and then removed them onto the same plate. Then she picked it up off the plate and out it in our mini bowls. So that’s how we ate it. Still not sure if we did it right, but hotpot isn’t my favourite dish, I prefer for someone else to cook for me, then there’s no chance of me screwing up something that is supposed to be delicious. We spent a day exploring the city on foot, it’s pretty awesome. There are an insane number of motorbikes there. Traffic lights are more of a suggestion, and the sidewalk is fair game for anything two wheeled.
This photo shows a disproportionate amount of cars- but fairly demon straights the guys who go ‘f this traffic, there’s perfectly good driving space right here on the other side of this curb’.

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We stopped in at a museum briefly- neither of us knowing much about Vietnam’s history. We had to argue with a guy trying to sell us a ride on his bike carriage to get through the gate. He kept insisting that the museum was closed, and he would take us to another, and then that the museum only let’s Vietnamese in. Like, yeah right, sir. You’re going to open up a building full of Vietnam history, place it in the middle of hue he tourist area of the largest city in your country and then not allow any foreigners in to learn and experience the attraction. He’s like, okay, after then- I’ll take you to another museum. Yeah right- if you ever had a chance of getting one of us on your little bike carriage thing- you totally just blew it by lying through your teeth. The museum was full of old stuff- like most museums are- I won’t bore you with pictures of it- but I did take a picture from the top floor balcony- it sort of gives you an idea of what the city looks like. It’s all these tall really skinny buildings right side by side all attached to one another. And most of huge city is like that- like our hotel- only one room wide, on each floor, three rooms deep. It’s pretty cool.

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Oh right, and we found some pho!

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Very delicious.
We went for a walk in the afternoon/ evening and took in the sights. Tet, the lunar new year is approaching, so many of the streets have been decorated with flowers and lanterns and stuff. We return the day of new year- so I’m sure I’ll have many more photos of it, but almost three weeks ahead of time it looks this awesome already:

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Ooo right, and we found some sweet moustache graffiti. I wish I had a sweet moustache stencil.

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We headed down to the river in the evening- it looked awesome with all the lights on the calm water. And there were little groups of people just hanging out along the river and all along the bridge we were on. Seemed like the place to be. We got to witness this guy serenade this girl- sorry for poor quality, I didn’t want to ruin the moment by walking up and asking if I could take their photo- so I just zoomed in from afar like a creepster.

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I really need to learn how to take better pictures…

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The second day we decided we should do something more educational and structured- I’m not sure where this impulse came from..
But we signed up for an organized bus tour to the Cu Chi tunnels. It was really cool and super educational. This entire settlement actually moved undreground, and lived there for years! Super crazy, and really cool to see and even go in (a widened version) of one of the tunnels. But we were totally in a crowd of people the entire time. Our tour group was our bus. So like 20-30 of us. And we were there amidst like 20-30 other busses. Moooooooo. Kind of a lame way to experience something so cool.
We didn’t take many picturesque don’t like taking a bunch of photos when there are that many people around because I don’t want to remember that part of it- but I got a few of the crafty American catchers the Vietnamese used to use. Ouchie.

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Pretty horrifying.
I didn’t take any inside the tunnels because I was too busy trying to get out as quickly as possible- but I took one of a secret, hidden entrance/ exit, no one would have had any idea it was there. I think someone in our group was even standing on it by accident until our guide pointed it out. Man the Vietnamese are tiny, no way matt or I would fit in that hole.

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That night we boarded our night train to Hue. We left at 7pm, and weren’t scheduled to arrive until 1pm the next day. Long time. I was reading some reviews of the train before we left to get an idea of what it would be like, and I read one story where a couple had bought the top 2 bunks, and the bottom 2 bunks had been sold to a group of 8 Vietnamese students heading back to school. Hilarious. Matt and I said it would be awesome to share with a bunch of students, but agreed that 17 hours might be a little much to have 10 people in an 2mx2m room. We were sitting in our room waiting for the train to leave when the other members of our room arrived. First a little girl- about 3 years old, followed by her sister- both brought in by their dad. Followed by 5 large boxes and a couple bags, the wife, wife’s brother, and grandma.
Oh good- wish granted. We were sharing our room with an entire family, plus the Chinese man on the other top bunk. None of them spoke any English, so it was an exciting few minutes- eventually we learned only the grandma was travelling, and the rest of huge family filed off right before the train pulled out. Phew.
We did have a 5th person in our room tho- on the floor on a mattress in between the bunks. I guess they had oversold the train- that or… It’s just a cheaper way to travel the sleeper car. Made my midnight pee impossible tho- it was a long shaky night with a full bladder. Luckily I was shaken a awake at 6:am when some ladies came on the train to sell coffee.
They literally grabbed my foot, shook until I sat up in scared confusion, and said ‘Miss!! Coffee??’. No I don’t want a damn coffee, I’m sleeping- well not anymore I suppose… And then I had to pee, and then I was up for the next few hours- but by the time I got out of bed the coffee ladies were gone and it was too late for me to have a nice warm drink. Serves me right for rejecting them I guess…

Next stop: Hue (pronounced kind of like ‘whey’ emphasis on the ‘h’)