Good Morning Vietnam!
Alright, time to catch everyone up on one of our favorite countries thus far. Let’s start with the basics…
$1 US dollar gets you roughly 22,000 Vietnamese dong. They are known for their coffee and pho (Vietnamese chicken noodle soup…John’s fave) and have such a diverse range of activities and landscape it will blow your mind. Well, it blew ours at least.
Millionaire… We’re rich!
Saigon, or more commonly known by Westerners as Ho Chi Minh City was our first stop. We flew in from Singapore, where we had a 13-hour layover. It gave us a quick glimpse at the city (which we will most certainly be returning to!) It offers a stunning airport, which was our home for the night. Their transportation was some of the most user friendly and cleanest I have ever seen. We tried to make our time count and managed to go to Din Tai Fung for an awesome meal complete with their renown dumplings. From there we were able to see their famous Night Safari before heading back to the airport. We will meet again Singapore!
When we got to hectic Saigon, we found the perfect place for lodging- Phan Anh Hostel. We crashed after a pretty bad sleep in the airport, and relaxed for the rest of the day. We were more than ready to explore all the the city had to offer in the morning…9 hours worth of exploring! John and I stopped at the Ben Thanh Market, which is a shopping market mecca, full of sellers ready to pounce on you as soon as you walk through their doors. We also visited the well known tourist spots: Notre Dame Cathedral, the giant Post Office, Reunification Palace, and War Remnants Museum. This was an interesting experience, as we heard it was pretty intense. The museum was, but it is the Vietnamese people telling their side of the story throughout the years. It educated us on some war facts and still is a very fascinating part of their culture. The afternoon brought on some more sampling of Vietnamese food, and new friends. We met Jade and Alex, a couple from England, who needed a place to stay and walked with us to Phan Anh. The four of us ventured to grab some wings for dinner (major craving!) and enjoyed some drinks on the street. Literally. Vietnam likes to pack their sidewalks with tourists who either sit on small plastic stools, or cardboard. 4 beers for a dollar at most places. Sounds like home, doesn’t it? We wish!
Ben Thanh Market
Some of the goods…
Notre Dame Cathedral
One of the many US Aircrafts left behind
Drinks on the corner
Vietnam Tour Day #1! After a 2-hour bus ride, we made our way to a spot on the Mekong Delta for an all day adventure. Our group hopped on a boat to Unicorn Island, among others, to taste and witness some of the local flavors and sights. We sampled Vietnamese green tea with fresh honey, held a python for kicks (not John’s scene), and road bikes along the coast while enjoying lunch. Lastly, we sampled delicious coconut candy from a small candy factory located in the middle of the island. The day ended with locals serenading us with their fascinating instruments and voices, while munching on fresh fruits. Yum! After we returned to the city, I felt it was time for a little change. Hair highlighting time in Ho Chi Minh! It certainly was an experience…but so much fun, especially after seeing the $18 bill! New hair called for a night out, and I’m talking Ladies Night at Lush, a local club. Awesome! Jade and Alex joined in on the excitement and we had so much fun enjoying each other’s company, while getting low to Lil’ Jon. Street kebabs were the perfect way to end the great day!
Floating down the Mekong
The best dance partner in Vietnam
We were hooked after our Mekong Tour and decided on doing the Cu Chi Tunnels. The bus took us 2 hours to the town of Cu Chi, where our guide (naturally he called himself John Wayne) showed us around. We were able to see the size of the real tunnels that were used in the war. There were so many traps used to catch and many times kill the enemy (in most cases Americans), and it was so interesting to witness it all. One of the best parts of the day was when we were allowed to crawl in the tunnels ourselves- scary!! We only crawled about 20 meters worth, but that was more than enough. The further you crawled, the smaller the tunnel got…
Just at the entrance into the tunnels
Another activity they had was a shooting range. John couldn’t wait to check out their stock, and I agreed to shoot my first gun to give it a try. Gun selection: AK-47! Why not skip to the good stuff? We had so much fun! Scared the living crap out of me, but I loved the rush. As we were walking to our video demonstration, we passed a crater left by a B-52 bomber which was pretty eye opening to see.
Kelc overcoming one of her many fears on this trip
Upon our return to Saigon, John and I were starving and craving some serious pizza, the usual. We found this gem of a place where we demolished the most delicious cheese pizza in all of Vietnam. The cheese on top was finding out the owner was from Philly. Double score! We walked off our pizza and wandered the streets for a final time before our flight in the morning. The rest of the night was saved for a nice dinner. Our choice was Ciao Bella, a downtown restaurant owned and operated by a very Italian man. We sipped on our welcome champagne, and loaded ourselves with carbs. It was nice to feel a bit at home….don’t worry Limoncello, you’ll always be #1 in our hearts. Jade and Alex met us for farewell smoothies before we separated ways. So lovely meeting you! The new day brought our next flight and destination in north Vietnam, the capital of Hanoi.
Our first impression of Hanoi was John looking over at me during our Tiger Air flight, yelling “It seems like we’re coming in hot?!” I’ve concluded budget airlines don’t always have the smoothest take-offs or landings…but anyway, back to Hanoi, such a refreshing place to be after stifling hot Saigon. Hanoi was much cooler, and smaller than the south’s bustling metropolis. It also had a completely different feel, with much more history and character. With that, there was definitely less to do, but we weren’t going to let that stop us. The few days we spent there were filled with cheap and delicious street food, walks around the lake, night street markets, North Face bartering, and attending their notorious water puppet show. Hanoi also proved to be a city with some surprises…let me set the scene for you. John and I were sampling a delicious chocolate pastry, when we heard “JOHN, JOHN!” We looked over to see Woody, a friend of John’s from when he visited Nick in Australia, hanging out of a taxi in the city center. Such a small world that we live in. John was so excited that we ended up being there at the same time. The three of us spent the evening together and did some final exploring before we headed out for our next Vietnam adventure! LOVED meeting you Woody, and we wish you all the best as you continue your travels!!
Vietnam’s famous water puppet show
This world is way too small!! Great seeing you Woody
Cue Halong Bay…we made the bus ride to one of nature’s seven wonders of the world. From there, we boarded our A Class Opera junk boat (highly recommended folks!), which had a scheduled itinerary for us and the next 3 days on the bay. We were in heaven! From the full course meals to the tai chi to the hiking, it all blew us away. Some of the highlights were kayaking and hiking through caves, singing karaoke, the food again, and most importantly the people. We had some fantastic times with you all, and loved our little group! Our final morning at sea became quite rocky as a storm went through the area…it was the perfect time to return to the harbor. We all hopped back in the bus, and made our way (home) to Hanoi. Just for a few hours though. John, our new friend Meg, and I booked the sleeper train for that night. The journey was unadventurous, except for the fact that John thought the train was going to go off the tracks a few times, but all was good!
Kayaking though the beautiful caves
Our Tai Chi Master
AClass Opera – Home for 2 nights on Halong Bay
Floating fishing villages
Our beer/wine supply…haha what a trip!
For you, Noah and Ryland 🙂
The Amazing Cave
9pm departure, 8am arrival in northern Vietnam. The train took us to a city, just 3km away from the China border. After a very windy taxi ride, we made it to our destination: Sapa, Vietnam. It is a small town that has become more popular among tourists, perched on top of mountains and beautifully green rice terraces. The three of us dropped our bags in town and got ready for the real fun: trekking time! We met our guide, La, a teenage girl who was from the local Black Hmong tribe. She was adorned in gorgeous indigo cloth and colorful accents. She carried herself like a young lady, even though she was very much a teenager still. La took her job as a guide very seriously, and enjoyed learning from each of us. She was one mean rummy player too. It is very difficult to describe Sapa…as it is home to some of the most gorgeous scenery imaginable, and the pictures don’t even do it justice. The people are lovely, apart from the local sales team who are the women from the local tribes. They carried my jacket for me, and made the whole trek with us, conversing the entire time. But once we got to our lunch spot, they aggressively asked us to buy their goods. It ranged from bracelets and headbands to bags and more bracelets. All were beautiful things, but they made you feel so guilty when you didn’t buy from them. “Buy from me. No, buy from me!” It was almost like that song that gets stuck in your head and needs to just get out. Apart from the stunning scenery, the best part of the tour was our home stay family. We opted to stay with a local family and experience Vietnam from their point of view for the evening. Meg, John, and I helped prepare dinner, played with their adorable children, mixed rice wine and rummy, and experienced their simple, yet satisfying lifestyle. It could not be more different than life for all of us, but what a beautiful experience it was- humbling, to say the least.
La hustling us in rummy
I miss these little guys. They LOVED the GoPro
Meg you rocked!! Awesome getting to know you
The beautiful family that put a roof over our heads in Sapa
After the train ride back to Hanoi, we dined with Meg one final time and enjoyed each other’s company. We very much loved our time with you, it was especially nice to hang with an American, but even cooler to have your San Diego self along for some of our Vietnam fun 🙂
And last but not least, our favorite part…. Cathy’s Crusaders Worldwide!