On Travel: Vung Tau and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

 

lời chào hỏi!

I’m into my third week traveling through Vietnam.  It has been such an experience – one that I am so glad I decided to undertake – I’ve learned so much about myself during this trip.

I’ve learned to push myself outside of my comfort zone by:

1) traveling solo for the first time in my life:  I knew I would be alright, I wasn’t at all apprehensive about the solo travel.  In fact, once there I kind of relished it.  I could do what I wanted, when I wanted, at my own pace without having to worry about someone else’s schedule or if they’d like the things I had planned.  But, this was a first for me – I had never traveled solo.  Up until a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t even eat dinner at a restaurant by myself.

2) meeting and getting to know new people as I travel:  this was the best part.  I purposely chose to stay in a hostel when I arrived in Ha Noi, not to save $ but rather to meet new people, new friends who’d been traveling – to get to hear of there adventures – to go out and about with them and explore the city.

I’ve enjoyed my time with the new travel friends I’ve made, but, I also very much enjoying my me time, solitude.  This leg of the trip, I get to spend with my eldest daughter, whose been living here since last August 💛

This week we’re in Vũng Tàu and Hồ Chí Minh City …..

Vũng Tàu

My daughter and I wanted a beach getaway – so the morning after I landed in HCMC, we hopped on a two hour bus ride from HCMC to Vũng Tàu – which cost 100,000 VND ($5.63 CDN) each, one way.  From the bus station we walked and checked into our hotel – which I booked via Booking.com (via Ebates.com to earn reward dollars – gotta be smart with the savings folks!).  

Vũng Tàu is the largest city and former capital of Bà Rịa–Vũng Tàu Province.

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Bãi Sau Vũng Tàu – Back Beach

We spent the afternoon at Back Beach.  This busy swimming beach offers a long strip of sand for sunbathing & sandcastle making or digging holes to burry your friends.  The South China Sea was warm – it made for the perfect beach day. Lots of people playing in the sand and water. Nice walkways to get around. There are plenty of chairs and inner tubes for rent.

Some minor trash noted on the beach, but I did notice ladies cleaning up the beach while we were there.

Sea Memory Hotel

Located in Front Beach district, Sea Memory Hotel offers free parking and only  comprises of 12 rooms. We booked a standard room at $17 CDN per night.  The room came with climate control, flat-screen TV (it did have English channels).  Every room is fitted with a bath, a shower and toiletries. They also offer scooter rentals at 100,00 VDN for a whole day ($5.70 CDN).

The staff were courteous and helpful.  They offer “slippers” when you arrive (they are actually flip flops) – you don’t wear your shoes into the hotel or lobby (you leave them at the front door). The bar is stacked for a fee – not certain of the pricing – but we paid 10,000 VDN ($0.56 CDN) for a small bottle of water – but only paid 9,000 ($0.51) at VinMart for 1.5L.

There is a short walk to the beach.  But, for the $17.00 CDN price tag it was well worth it. Plus, I don’t mind walking – I need to get my 10,000 FitBit steps in lol.

Vũng Tàu Lighthouse 

We decided to rent a scooter from our hotel for 1/2 day for the mere cost of 50,000 VDN – about $2.85 CDN.  Cassandra has been driving in Vietnam for the last few months, so I opted to let her drive – the traffic and every day driving here is nuts to say the least.

We made our way from the hotel to Vũng Tàu Lighthouse which is perched at the top of the Nui Nho Mountain, the French-built Vũng Tàu Lighthouse is still operational and gives visitors a 360-degree vista of the city and sea.  The views were beautiful!

Vũng Tàu Lighthouse is considered the oldest among 79 lighthouses in Vietnam. France built this site in 1862 to signal and instruct ships to cross. Great place for photo ops and to take in the city scapes.

Christ the King of Vũng Tàu

After spending time at the Vũng Tàu Lighthouse, we made our way to the Statue of Jesus, standing on Mount Nhỏ.  The Vietnam Catholic Association built the statue in 1974, it was completed in 1993.

There are a total of 811 exhausting steps to get to the top of the statue.  Which for me, is difficult enough, add in 33º stifling heat and humidity – I embarrassingly have to admit that I had to stop on a few occasions for rest and water breaks!

The statue is 105 ft high, standing on a 13 ft platform, for a 118 ft  total monument height with two outstretched arms spanning 60 ft. There is a 133-step staircase inside the statue – which we did not climb as we were not wearing the appropriate clothing (we had knees and shoulders which were not covered).

Pineapple Beach Bar

At the recommendation of my daughter, who had previously been with some friends – we ate dinner at Pineapple Beach Bar – she claimed the sunsets were to die for. Although we missed the “sun setting” we did catch the sun set – and it was magnificent as you can see by the photos!

The menu is short, but quality.  I had the falafel burger on a charcoal bun and Cassandra had the pulled pork burger, we both also enjoyed a rum and coke for 40,000 (about $2.30 CDN).


Hồ Chí Minh City (Sài Gòn)

I had some initial misgivings about HCMC – that it was going to be too big (population of 8.4 million, 13 million in the metropolitan area), too many people and too much chaos …. and I was right, it’s all of those things and more.

As big and populated as is it, I didn’t find it as overwhelming as I thought I would.  It’s technically bigger than Toronto, but does not feel as large or congested even with 8 million motorbikes. Maybe, it’s the ‘feel’ of the city?  It’s not stuffy or pretentious.  Although there’s a lot of traffic, yet you seem to be able to manoeuvre around the city a lot faster (I could get from District 1 to Tân Phú district way quicker than I could make the same jaunt in Tdot). Maybe it’s also that the people here aren’t preoccupied with themselves, or which meeting they need to get to next or maintaining some high level status quo?  I don’t exactly know what it is, but, I was pleasantly surprised.

It is also really good to reconnect with my daughter, whom I haven’t seen since last August when she moved to HCMC to teach English.  She would be my personal guide to all things Hồ Chí Minh (she even planned us/me an itinerary for the days she works and doesn’t work).

Ok let’s get started on HCMC and some of the key things I did here — I’ve been a busy visitor.

Củ Chi Tunnels

The tunnels of Củ Chi are an immense network of connecting tunnels located in the Củ Chi District and are part of a much larger network of tunnels that underlie much of the country. The Củ Chi tunnels were the location of several military campaigns during the Vietnam War. The tunnels were used by Viet Cong soldiers as hiding spots during combat, as well as serving as communication and supply routes, hospitals, food and weapon caches and living quarters. The tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, and helped to counter the growing American military effort.

The 121 km long complex of tunnels at Củ Chi has been preserved by the government of Vietnam, and turned into a war memorial park with two different tunnel display sites at Ben Dinh and Ben Duoc.

To combat these guerrilla tactics, U.S. forces trained Korean/Chinese soldiers (because they were smaller in stature) known as “tunnel rats” to navigate the tunnels in order to detect booby traps and enemy troop presence.

In heavily bombed areas (a lot of craters are still visible from the intense bombing), people spent much of their life underground, and the Cu Chi tunnels grew to house entire underground villages, with living quarters, kitchens, ordnance factories, hospitals, surgical wards and bomb shelters.

What I found interesting is that our guide shared with us some of the ingenious ideas they came up with.  For example, they created specially designed sandals, with the same specifications at the front and back so that the enemy had no idea in which direction they were walking (in the wet season when the ground was muddy).  They also created ventilation hatches in the design of rocks so they were not visible to the enemy and when the US troops used dogs in an attempt to locate them – they used American clothing in the vents to simulate a “friendliness” scent to the dogs and they would pass them by.  They also designed ventilation in the form of rocks for their kitchen and so they were located – and cooked at 3-4 AM so that they smoke coming from the vent would blend in with the mist and not be visible to the enemy.

(I don’t have as many photos, I took more videos)

The Hồ Chí Minh City Post Office

The Central Post Office in Hồ Chí Minh is a beautifully preserved remnant of French colonial times and perhaps the grandest post office in all of Southeast Asia.

This was a quick visit, for a few photo ops, visit the inside of the post office and mail a postcard back home.

Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon

Following the French conquest of Cochinchina and Saigon, the Roman Catholic Church established a community and religious services for French colonialists, who initially named it Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saïgon, the cathedral was constructed between 1863 and 1880.

Also a quick visit and conveniently located directly across from the post office.

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War Remnants Museum

I love museums, I try to go to as many museums as I can, especially ones on history.  The War Remnants Museum was probably one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen – there were times I teared up and other times I gasped.   The museum contains exhibits relating to the Vietnam War and the first Indochina War involving the French colonialists.

Exhibits include graphic photography accompanied by a short text covering the effects of Agent Orange and other chemical defoliant sprays, the use of napalm and phosphorus bombs, as well as war other atrocities.

I won’t go on about this attraction – although I do believe that everyone should see it if they are able.  The pictures speak for themselves.

*caution – some photos contain graphic nature*

Bến Thành Market

Bến Thành Market is located in Hồ Chí Minh’s District 1 and is a great place to buy local handicrafts, branded goods, art and other souvenirs. You’ll find eating stalls inside the market where you can get a taste Vietnamese cuisine or simply cool off with a cold drink when the bargaining becomes a bit too much. The market is BIG and can be difficult to navigate.

I found the market to be a bit overwhelming at times, being pulled in all different directions – each stall owner asking to visit “their” shop — “bag for you madame?”, “come look in my stall Miss?”.  And, if you are interested in something – you need to be a keen negotiator or you will definitely overpay.  I was looking at this one bag – we started off at 900,000 VDN and by the time I left her stall she was down to 350,000 VDN (I didn’t end up buying the bag).

I went to have some lunch and cool down with a drink – all at once I had 4 food stall operators surrounding me vying for me to sit that their booth.  Thankfully, a brother and sister combo from Los Angeles saw the commotion and saved me 😂 – they are Vietnamese and were home visiting family in Huế before heading back to L.A. They helped me order my bún riêu and fresh lemon drink and we chatted for a bit.  They even extended an offer to try sweet snail with lemongrass – being someone who likes to try new things – I did.  Not what I expected – more chewy.  I’ve had escargot back home but it usually comes smothered in garlic and cheese.  These were just cooked (steamed) in the shell as is, and served.  You had to use a mini fork to dig them out.

I enjoyed my bún riêu – which I have to say is much different than in the North, which I prefer.  This one was filled with some chunks of tenderly stewed pork, blood jelly as well as some type of snails or shell fish. It wasn’t bad, just not as good as the one I had Da Nang or especially the one I loved in Ha Noi 😋.

The World of Heineken

Being a beer enthusiast I had to experience the World of Heineken tour where you have the opportunity to understand the beer brewing process, learn how to pour that “perfect” glass of Heineken (which I did not lol – see photo).

You may be wondering … Heineken is big in Vietnam?   Yep, sure is, they love Heineken – and they have a large brewing operation here. Apart from the brewery in District 12, Heineken Vietnam Brewery has 100% ownership of breweries in Da Nang, Quang Nam, Tien Giang and Vung Tau. And, currently, Heineken Vietnam Brewery has a broad and impressive portfolio of beers which includes Heineken, Tiger, Tiger Crystal, Desperados, Biere Larue, Biere Larue Export, BGI and Bivina.

The tour atop the Bitexco Financial Tower (58th through 60th floors), also includes an additional 2 free pints, water and a bowl of chips in addition to playing interactive games (I chose to play DJ for the whole floor). I enjoyed my two pints, served at the highest bar in Vietnam and enjoyed the beautiful view of Ho Chi Minh City while I chatted with another solo traveler, Marc from Shanghai, China.

At the end of your experience, you also receive a keepsake bottle of Heineken with your name on it.  Well worth the 250,000 VDN!

My last day in Hồ Chí Minh City

Obama Bún Chả – Cassandra and I went down to District 1 for lunch.  She wanted to try out Obama Bún Chả.  Decked out in all things Obama and Bourdain – their claim to fame, right?  Wrong,  we were disappointed to find out that the one we ate at was a double of the original one in Ha Noi – I mean it makes sense – bún chả is more of a Ha Noi (Northern) thing.

What is bún chả?  It’s a Vietnamese dish which contains grilled pork in a sour slightly spicy soup, rice noodles, and LOTS of herbs and vegetables and originated in Ha Noi.  I’ve had it in Ha Noi — but we wanted to try this cute little gimmicky place – I mean both Obama and Bourdain cant be wrong!  

We ordered the exact meal that President Obama and Anthony Bourdain chose – Bún Chả & Nem Vuông Cua Biển.  Not gonna lie – it was one of the best things I’ve eaten this whole trip! Definite recommend in either Ha Noi or HCMC.  Cost 95K ($5.35 CDN).

Flea Market – Green Edition – we then mozied on over to District 2 (where the majority of ex pats reside) to a Flea Market – Green Edition (I accidentally referred to it as a Bohemian Yard Sale lol).  Entry was 20K ($1.15 CND) and included either a beer, water, tea or coffee.   It’s actually a cute idea – all geared toward GREEN initiatives – which I love because I’m an environmentalist.  Those selling their wares included homemade soaps, perfumes and lip balms as well as reusable bamboo straws, cups and utensils (I loved these and the colours were cute).  There was also a clothing swap – GREAT idea – bring clothes and swap for other clothing OR buy 7 items for 100K ($5.65 CDN) – Cassandra  purchased 2 items and I added a shirt on that tab – so 3 items … the best part — she can go on their online store and pick up 4 other items for FREE.  They had the same premise for books as well.  We picked up our FREE Saigon Red and sat down to watch people temp the rock climbing wall or skateboard – great way to spend a few hours.

Rice Field – Homecooked Vietnamese Cuisine – located in the heart of Saigon, decorated with traditional Vietnamese style & split into 2 parts – cozy indoors with A/C & a countryside touch with rice field on its rooftop where you can enjoy the view of Bitexco – iconic building of Saigon. The menu is very extensive with a variety of foods from the North to the South of Vietnam.  It has 4.5* on Trip Advisor and I can see why – the food and wait staff were excellent.  We chose the grilled pork and the bánh xèo – at first glance, you might think that these are omelettes.  But, there’s actually no egg in the batter for these pancakes. Rather, it’s turmeric that gives the batter its characteristic yellow hue.  The best part is the sauce (which at times I feel I could just drink as is) – nuoc cham is a classic fish sauce-based dipping sauce that creates a beautiful balance between sour, sweet, and salty.

This is my last full day in HCMC – tomorrow Cassandra and I leave for a 2 day, 1 night trip to the Mekong Delta — then, I have to fly back to Canada ….. BUT, I’m having soooo much fun here 😞.

Just a random tidbit, that I find hilarious. When you travel to countries where language is a barrier, you typically use a translation app on your phone to help along the way — we use Google Translate. We had eaten at this restaurant 2 night prior and the food was DELICIOUS!  So we decided to go back a second time.  That time we had the seasoned chicken wings – they were great – this time we thought, let’s try the chicken legs instead – they’ll have more meat – using the Google Translate app – it said “chicken leg” – PERFECT!

This is what we actually ordered ….

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Soooooo …. would you have eaten the chicken feet? LOL

 

On Travel: Da Nang and Hoi An, Vietnam

Xin chào!  

I hope all is WELL with all of you —- I’m continuing my travels through Vietnam this week – in Đà Nẵng and the ancient city of Hội An.

I am more than pleased with my trip to Vietnam to date.  It’s truly a beautiful country, steeped in a long difficult history and a strong resilience – through 4 separate Chinese dominations, a French domination (French Indochina), the Vietnam War and the re-unification of the North and South.

I’ve found the Vietnamese people who I’ve encountered to be kind and pleasant.  That’s not to say that I have not encountered the odd taxi driver trying to take advantage of the foreigner by offering me “foreigner” pricing.  One taxi driver wanted me to pay 150,000 to go airport when I know it should have cost way less (thanks to a nice guy who helped me on the bus – Instagram @Minhtraaa). I opted for a Grab car, it only cost me 85,000 VDN.  As a Westerner, I’ve found that Grab is the winner – it’s like Uber/Lyft back home – your price is fixed and you know your total cost in advance. 

Other than that experience when I got off the bus from Ha Long City on my way to Ha Noi airport – the rest of my experience has been a lot to write home about.

Ok …. let’s  move on to this week’s adventure …

Đà Nẵng

Đà Nẵng was the city I was MOST excited to visit — for me it holds the best of BOTH worlds — sea and mountains – it is ringed by mountains on one side and the South China Sea on the other. Most of the research I did before coming to Vietnam was on Đà Nẵng as well as its ex-pat community.  But, first and foremost, I wanted to explore the city, the culture and see the things I spent so much time researching with MY own two eyes – to make MY own memories. 

Đà Nẵng is the fifth largest city in Vietnam after Ho Chi Minh City, Ha Noi, Haiphong and Can Tho in terms of urbanization and economy. It’s one of Vietnam’s principal port cities. Located in the south-central region of the country, at the mouth of the Han River.

These are some of the things I found interesting while I was in Đà Nẵng …. 

The Marble Mountains – Ngũ Hành Sơn

The Marble Mountains is a cluster of five marble and limestone hills located in Ngũ Hành Sơn District.  They literally just jet out in the middle of the city!

Regardless of it being jam-packed with tourists, it would be hard for anyone to find any place beside Marble Mountains which contains both religious diversity and magnificent scenery.

There are five separate mountains in the cluster, named after the five basic elements:  Kim Son (Mt. Metal), Moc Son (Mt. Plant), Thuy Son (Mt. Water), Hoa Son (Mt. Fire), and Tho Son (Mt. Soil).

I visited Mt Water.  I spent the better part of 3 hours here, I could have stayed longer – but it was stifling hot. I wish I had known that for my 40,000 VDN entry fee (about $2.30 CDN), I could have spent the WHOLE day there – I would have brought my book and just read in one of the quiet areas – it would have been a charming retreat.  

Be aware that you must climb many stairs …. like a trooper, I opted to walk up the stairs – but, I really wanted to take the elevator – which you can for an additional 15,000 VDN.  I was wearing flip flops and I found it manageable.  People opting for running shoes also had no problem.  The women wearing high heels struggled 🤦🏻‍♀️.

Mt. Water is famous for its amazing system of pagodas and shrines either on the ground or inside the caves.  There are 156 stone steps (built in 1630) set into the spine of the mountain. At the top is where you’ll find the 400-year-old sacred pagoda, Tam Thai Pagoda.  It  was built in the 17th century, but has been renovated many times.

Richico Apartments And Hotel

While in Đà Nẵng I chose to stay at the Richico Apartments and Hotel.  This location was perfect — the property is 550 feet from My Khe Beach and close to mostly everything I wanted to see.  The room was nice, clean and modern.  If offered free wifi, TV, A/C, a fridge and free bottled water.

The best part however …. the rooftop pool, offers 2 completely different sights of Đà Nẵng – sea and mountains on one side and city scape on the other.

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Sea scape side

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City scape side

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This hotel cost me 163,224 VND per night = about $9.35 per night CDN and breakfast is included in the room rate.  Great location and excellent pricing!  I would recommend this  place – especially for the price point and the location.  

My rating: 🧡🧡🧡🧡 (4/5)

My Khe Beach

My Khe Beach is famous for its blue sky, smooth white sand, clear & warm water year round and beautiful areas surrounded by coconut trees. Everything around you is peaceful, natural, relaxing …. those reasons and more are why Forbes Magazine selected My Khe beach as “one of the most attractive beaches on the planet”.  

I loved it, being in the heart of a major city, it wasn’t at all crowded – I had ample of beach space to choose to set down my towel and create a space for myself for the day.   You can rent a chair for 40,000 VDN, but I opted to save money and just lay down a towel, as I would have at the beach back home.  Most places offer drinks/beer for purchase.  I paid 15,000 VDN for a Larue bia and settled in for a few hours of peace and quiet, reading and a little bit of heaven (don’t forget to wear your sunscreen!).

Dragon Bridge

I decided to talk up to the Dragon Bridge one evening.  This 1,864-foot-long bridge has a steel dragon that breathes fire every Saturday and Sunday evening or during the country’s major festivals.

To celebrate the 38th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, authorities in the port city of Da Nang have opened the world’s largest dragon bridge. It has six lanes for traffic.    I mean it beats any of the bridges we have back home in Ontario (CANADA) so this fire breathing bridge is pretty cool.  I had missed it on the Sunday by 1 hour (because my flight was delayed).  

Lady Buddha @ Chùa Linh Ứng Pogoda

I met up with one of the girls I met while in Ha Noi.  We grabbed lunch and decided to take a Grab car over to Lady Buddha.  Being the tallest Buddha statue in Vietnam, Lady Buddha is located at Chùa Linh Ứng Pogoda on Son Tra Peninsula in Da Nang which is only 9 km away from My Khe beach and my hotel.  Lady Buddha is 67 m and the lotus diameter is 35 m.

Admission is free – Grab car cost Kim and I 130,000 VDN (about $7.40 CDN) – it’s less expensive to take a Grab bike, but they don’t accept two passengers.


Hội An

I took a Grab car to Hội An.  Old Town Hội An, the city’s historic district, is recognized as an exceptionally well-preserved example of a Southeast Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century, its buildings and street plan reflecting a blend of indigenous and foreign influences. Prominent in the city’s old town, is its covered “Japanese Bridge,” dating to the 16th-17th century.

Two great things about Hội An’s Ancient Town are that it is small enough to get around in on foot and the traffic is nowhere near as heavy as in bigger cities (but it’s still very much tourist driven). Some of the streets only allow bike and motorbike traffic and some are pedestrian only.

You will notice Hội An lanterns best at night. Silk lanterns are everywhere. Locals say they hang them in front of their homes to bring health, happiness and good luck.  They really were breathtaking.  Hội An has a monthly lantern festival, this month it’s on February 18, 2019 – I am missing it.  But, I cannot imagine how much different it would be – Hội An is filled with colourful silk lanterns every night.  

Lantern Making Class

At the suggestion of some friends I met during my travel (thank you Miek and Kim), I joined a lantern making class with The Lantern Lady.

She offered two options:

1) she provides the bamboo that forms the base of your frame or

2) you build your lantern from scratch, including making the bamboo frame

I opted for #1.  Once completed, my lantern was easy to fold and put in my luggage. I’m not a fan of souvenirs – this is the ONLY thing I’m taking back to Canada with me because it’s my own hand-made souvenir home from my visit to Hội An.  

This is a must do experience in my books. 

Sac Xanh Homestay

While in Hội An I stayed at the Sac Xanh Homestay for 2 nights at a cost of VND 512,000 – $29.22 CDN.  I stayed in a Double Room, which included free (SPOTTY) WiFi.  To be quite honest, I wasn’t super pleased with this accommodation.  For $15.00 CDN per night I would have expected a bit more.  I know $15.00 doesn’t sound like a lot of $, but here it’s a decent chunk.  My room was a bit moldy and damp feeling.  The A/C didn’t get super cold (or maybe just as cold as I like it to be).  However, I suppose it may have been a fair representation of a Vietnamese “home” stay.  The homestay couple were polite.  The food for breakfast was good – they also offered tea and coffee and free drinkable water.  They seemed to struggle a bit with communication (English), but we managed.  The homestay does offer free bikes for use so you can bike to old town, around the neighbourhood or other sightseeing.  They were kind enough to assist me in securing a better deal to Da Nang Airport – Grab was 347,000 – I paid 250,000.

The stay was to include:

  • Minibar •  NONE
  • Safety Deposit Box • NONE
  • Air conditioning • WORKED OK BUT DIDN’T GET REALLY COLD
  • Balcony • WOULDN’T REALLY CALL IT A BALCONY PER SE
  • Bathrobe • NONE
  • Desk • MORE LIKE A PLASTIC TABLE AND CHAIR
  • Seating Area • AT THE TABLE?
  • Free toiletries • NOTHING PROVIDED OTHER THAN A TOOTHBRUSH
  • Fan • NONE
  • Private bathroom • PROVIDED 
  • Slippers • NONE
  • Flat-screen TV/Cable Channels • A SMALL 20″ TV WAS PROVIDED, I DID NOT TURN IT ON
  • Bath or Shower • SHOWER
  • View • OF THE SIDE OF THE OTHER HOUSE
  • Mosquito net • PROVIDED
  • Towels/Sheets (extra fee) • OHHH EXTRA FEE TO USE A TOWEL! FOR $15.00/NIGHT I WOULD HAVE EXPECTED FREE TOWELS TO USE
  • Wardrobe or closet • PROVIDED

My review of this one, is just ok — 🧡 🧡 (2.5/5)

Chùa Long Tuyền Buddhist Temple

I really enjoyed Chùa Long Tuyền, a Buddhist temple located just around the corner from my homestay. It’s a bit off the beaten track and away from the Old Town… which I didn’t mind at all – this meant it was totally empty.

Honestly, I wouldn’t have found this temple nor the rice paddies had my Grab driver decided to take the usual way back to my homestay after the old quarter.  Instead he took me the back way through the less busy roads and I came across this temple – which I went back to the next morning with the free bikes offered by my homestay.

Rice Paddies

Aside from taking in ancient town, another thing I loved to do in Hoi An was take the scenic route around town on my bike to see the city’s lush, green, rice fields. The locals probably thought I was crazy for stopping every few meters to take pics.  But, this is so new to me and we certainly do not have rice fields back in Canada 🇨🇦.

Next Stop … 

I’m currently at the airport waiting to board my flight to Ho Chi Minh City (flight is delayed an hour).  I’m excited to see my daughter (I haven’t seen her since she moved here 6 months ago) I’m not sure how I’m gonna handle Vietnam’s largest city … with a population of 8.4 million (13 million in the metropolitan area) as I thought Ha Noi was crazy at 7.58 million.

I hear I am missing miserable weather back home … 2 major snow storms, a freezing rain storm and temperatures still down in the minuses —- awwww zut lol

Keep posted for next week’s blog when I cover HCMC, Vung Tau and The Mekong Delta.

Comment below, if you’d like to know more about the places I’ve been so far or if you have any questions or comments 🙂

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You say I dream too big.  I say you think too small.  

On Travel: chúc mừng năm mới from Vietnam!

I’d been planning this trip for months -> months of research, watching YouTube vlogs, booking hotels, finding places to sightsee- which cities to visit?  What to see while I was there? Did I want to start in the North and travel South or vice versa?

I decided to fly into Ha Noi and travel South to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC).  The reason for this was purely financial.  It was cheaper for me to fly into Hanoi than it was Ho Chi Minh – that was the deciding factor for me.  That, and my daughter isn’t even in the country – she’s adventuring in nearby Cambodia.  I don’t meet up with her until I get to Saigon.

My final travel itinerary is as follows:

Canada ▶️ China (4 hour layover) ▶️ Ha Noi ▶️ Ha Long Bay ▶️ Ha Long City ▶️ Da Nang ▶️ Hoi An ▶️ HCMC ▶️ Vung Tau ▶️ HCMC ▶️ Mekong Delta ▶️ HCMC ▶️ China (18 hour layover) ▶️ Canada


Are you ready to live vicariously through me as I make my way through Vietnam over the next 4 weeks? 🇻🇳 

I commenced my journey in the capitol city of Hanoi … I’m going to write this blog more journal style – I’m doing so much and I’m finding I’m not having enough time to put pen to paper (or more like fingers to keyboard).

Ha Noi

After what felt like an eternity, I landed in the capital city of Ha Noi 23 hours after leaving Pearson  International Airport in Toronto – flight was delayed – we had to de-ice 😂 – remember I’m from Canada and it’s cold as crap there right now (or it was when I left – hang on lemme check – right now where I live it’s -6 degrees Celsius and where I used to live it’s ….. -26 degrees Celsius).

I flew China Southern Airlines to Guangzhou, China and then onto Ha Noi after a 3.5 hour layover – that flight was only 2h5mins.  From Noi Bai International Airport, I took advantage of the airport shuttle pick up and headed on over to my hostel, I WAS EXHAUSTED!  The airport shuttle was $18 USD – but well worth  it to me after such a long travel and I didn’t have to worry about hailing a taxi (hmmmm afterthought – I should have maybe considered a Grab, it would have been less expensive  but I wouldn’t have had a personal greeter with a sign waiting for me 😊).  

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I booked a bed for 4 nights at the Little Charm Hanoi Hostel. A 4 bed Female Dormitory Room was ONLY VND 1,119,800 or CAD $64.00! For 4 nights! (there are much less expensive hostels to stay in for $4-5 per night, but, I wanted mid-range and all girls, 4 bed so it’s a bit more expensive).  I needed to stay an extra night because my trip to Ha Long Bay was changed by a day – and was transferred into a 6 bed women’s dorm with no problem, staff here are quite accommodating and friendly. Free breakfast and WiFi access were included in the price.

I REALLY liked this hostel – it has an excellent rating on Booking.com (which I booked via Ebates to earn free Ebates cash back rewards).  It’s set a 2-minute walk from Old City Gate in Hồ Hoàn Kiếm district.  It offers a really nice accommodation. It also features an indoor swimming pool, and a bar (there is a FREE happy hour daily, but again due to Tết – they served tea – not quite the same lol).  All units are fitted with personal lockers, and a personal reading light – good for blogging late a night (I admit I did not do that – I was typically asleep by 8 PM lol). Guests have access to the shared bathroom, equipped with a shower and free toiletries.  A continental breakfast is available each morning at the property.  I’d definitely recommend staying here if you’re into hostels – this was top notch and didn’t feel like a hostel at all.

My review ✅✅✅✅.5 — I’m only rating it a 4.5 because both times I had anything to eat (other than breakfast) off the hotel menu – it wasn’t all the great (and yes, I ordered Vietnamese food lol).

chúc mừng năm mới 2019

I arrived just in time for Chinese New Year – after a nap, my roommates and I went down to Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake to celebrate the lunar new year – the year of the PIG – and take in the fireworks display with a few 333 for 13K ($0.73 CDN).  It seems like everyone was out to enjoy the night – and according to this article they were!

A little about the Tết Holiday for those of you who may not be as familiar with it – it’s the most important celebration in Vietnamese culture. The word is a shortened form of Tết Nguyên Đán (節元旦), meaning “Feast of the First Morning of the First Day”. Tết celebrates the arrival of spring based on the Vietnamese calendar.

Many Vietnamese prepare for Tết by cooking special holiday food and cleaning the house. Many customs are practiced during Tết, but the ones that were obvious to me as a foreigner were ancestor worship, wishing New Year’s greetings and burning Joss paper (fake money) in the streets. The practice of burning spirit or ghost money is quite deep-rooted in Asian culture – in (very) short – the paper money is believed to be deposited in an afterlife bank of sorts, from which the deceased spirits can make withdrawals.

At Tết, every house is usually decorated by peach blossoms – but I understand this blossom is only in the northern part of Vietnam

Due to Tết  a lot of things that I wanted to do were closed.  

My travel tip is this:  if you want to experience the Lunar New Year come for Tết.  

IF NOT, avoid Tết.  A lot of the things you will want to do will be closed and everything has a Tết surcharge – you end up paying up to 30% more in some cases.  

Hồ Hoàn Kiếm Lake 

According to the legend, in early 1428, Emperor Lê Lợi was boating on the lake when a Golden Turtle God (Kim Qui) surfaced and asked for his magic sword, Heaven’s Will. Lợi concluded that Kim Qui had come to reclaim the sword that its master, a local God, the Dragon King (Long Vương) had given Lợi some time earlier, during his revolt against Ming China. Later, the Emperor gave the sword back to the turtle after he finished fighting off the Chinese. Emperor Lợi renamed the lake to commemorate this event, from its former name Luc Thuy meaning “Green Water”. The Turtle Tower (Tháp Rùa) standing on a small island near the centre of lake is linked to the legend. The first name of Hoàn Kiếm lake is Tả Vọng, when the King hadn’t given the Magical Sword back to the Golden Turtle God (Cụ Rùa).Since it was New Year’s Day – the Vietnamese were all dressed up in their finest and were out and about taking photos.  They were praying at temple and bringing in the new year with family.Being in the heart of the French Quarter and being Tết it was super busy at the Lake while I was there – the line to get into the Temple of the Jade Mountain (Ngoc Son Temple) was looooonnggggg, understandably – they wanted to pay homage, respect and pray.

 

Ha Noi Street Train 

Afterward, we went up to see the Ha Noi Street Train – I saw this on YouTube as I was planning for the trip, so mentioned it to the group – they’d never heard of it, so they were game!Hidden amidst the hectic, narrow streets of the Ha Noi Old Quarter lies a funky little area, where motorbikes are no longer the biggest danger to locals stepping outside of their front door. They’re replaced by high speed trains, hurling through the residential street, mere feet away from peoples everyday lives – their dishes and laundry drying by the tracks.  This is the street train.  It comes through twice per day around 3:10 PM and 7:10 PM – and it does NOT slow down.I was pretty excited for this to be honest. I couldn’t believe that this was a tourist attraction – in Canada they’d never make cafés and restaurants encouraging people to crowd in a cramped space to witness a train hurling thought a narrow lane with houses bordering each side lol – but that’s what I love about traveling – you get to see different things – but hey, let’s all be smart about it …

 

Thăng Long Water Puppet Theatre

Our group next decided to go to a water puppet show. It wasn’t on my list of things to do, I’m not an artsy person per se, but, I’m not one to say no to something new and I could use a little Vietnamese culture. Traditional legends and historical tales are among the enchanting puppet plays performed at this popular theatre.We paid 200,000 VDN (about $11.45 CDN) – those were top of the line seats – they had no more cheepos left …. but, we had some of the best seats in the house (2nd row). It lasted about an hour and to be honest, it was better than I expected. I wouldn’t have done it if I were solo so I’m glad I stuck with the group and went.   The puppeteers were amazing!

Hỏa Lò Prison

I have a thing with visiting prisons, they have such history.  I’ve been to two others – Kingston Penitentiary (Kingston Ontario Canada) and Eastern State Penintentiry in Philadelphia.

Time to make it a triple – I walked up to Hỏa Lò Prison – it was a prison used by the French colonists in French Indochina for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for U.S. prisoners of war (POW) during the Vietnam War. During this later period it was known to American POWs as the Hanoi Hilton. The prison was demolished during the 1990s, although the gatehouse remains as a museum. Most of the prison was demolished in the mid-1990s and the site now contains two high-rise buildings.  I found this museum very interested and would definitely recommend it — but, I like museums and I like prison museums 🤷🏻‍♀️

Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum 

The Hồ Chí Minh Mausoleum (Lăng Chủ tịch Hồ Chí Minh) is a mausoleum which serves as the resting place of Vietnamese Revolutionary leader Ho Chi MinhIt’s located in the centre of Ba Dinh Square, where Hồ, President of the Communist Party of Vietnam from 1951 until his death in 1969, read the Declaration of Independence on 2 September 1945, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

Again with it being Tết – the museum itself was closed, but, we did walk around the gardens.

Note:  shoulders and knees NEED to be covered for entry.

Egg Coffee

I really wanted to try egg coffee, not just any egg coffee – the ORIGINAL egg coffee.  I had seen it while researching and it look sooooo yummy!

Giang Café was founded by Mr. Nguyen Giang in 1946, when he was working as a bartender for the famous five-star Sofitel Legend Metropole Ha Noi Hotel. Although the café has been relocated twice, its egg coffee recipe is almost the same as in its early days, with its chief ingredients being chicken egg yolk, Vietnamese coffee powder, sweetened condensed milk, butter and cheese.

The coffee is brewed in a small cup with a filter before the addition of a well-whisked mixture of the yolk and other ingredients. The cup is placed in a bowl of hot water to keep its temperature.

Mr. Nguyen developed the recipe in days when milk was scarce in Vietnam. He used egg yolks to replace milk.

Again, since it was Tết, the cafe was CLOSED!  So, I didn’t get to cross off “original egg coffee at Giang Cafe” off my list ❌. I did, however, try egg coffee in Ha Noi – my second time at the Ha Noi Street Train.

It tasted nothing as I expected.  It tasted much sweeter and thicker, the best way I can describe it would be caramelized marshmallow.  Once you mix it all together to get the coffee taste – spectacular!


Hạ Long Bay

… 🎵 Hey Hey What Can I Say 🎵 (a little Led Zeppelin reference there) … about Hạ Long Bay – it beautiful and stunning, I was in awe about the caves — but touristy, super touristy.

Hạ Long Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular travel destination. The name Hạ Long means “descending dragon” – we learned all about this from our tour guide Noi on the 4 hour dive there – there is a shorter way – by expressway – but then you’d miss the tourist trap stop shop lol. Most travel companies do take the express route back to Ha Noi however.

The bay consists of a dense cluster of some 1,600 limestone monolithic islands each topped with thick jungle vegetation, rising spectacularly from the ocean. Several of the islands are hollow, with enormous caves – those are stunning and spectacular.  Unfortunately, the pics won’t do them justice.


Hạ Long City

I decided not to take my tour bus back to Ha Noi and opted to stay in Hạ Long City for the night. So they let me off at the corner of the expressway before they turned to go left and directed me toward taxis. I should have called a Grab – negotiating a taxi is a bit frustrating with them wanting to charge you more and the language barrier. I  was able to negotiate a good price with the cab driver and off we went to my hotel.

The population in 2013 was 227,000.  This is more my size of city.  As much as I enjoyed Ha Noi, it was a bit to hectic for me and other than the river – no real water nearby.  I loved that Hạ Long has the beautiful limestone islands/mountains views, but it also has beautiful beaches and French Colonial neighbourhoods mixed amongst the traditional Vietnamese neighbourhoods.  To me, Hạ Long is underrated, I saw online that most people mentioned having nothing to do there other than scaling Poem Mountain, I guess that depends on what you’re looking for.  I loved it – I was only there for a day/night, but I loved the vibe and would have stayed longer.

While there I stayed at Lea House Hạ Long, I strongly recommend this place if you plan on staying in Hạ Long.  The hosts Hahn and her husband were super amazing to me during my stay with them.  I sat and chatted with them and their daughter, Lea – they all speak Vietnamese, English and French.  They even helped me out with catching a bus back to Ha Noi and dropped me off at the station. They arranged for me to go back to Ha Noi with their father who was heading back – he spoke no English – but asked the bus driver to drop me off at the stop closest to the airport.   Very kind and gracious.

Lea House Ha Long features free WiFi and rooms with air conditioning. Super cute rooms, aptly named. I also had a little terrace on which to enjoy my coffee. The property is situated in the Hon Gai district. All units come with a flat-screen TV with cable channels, a coffee machine, a shower, free toiletries and a wardrobe. Every room includes a private bathroom with a hair dryer, while certain rooms come with a balcony.

☑️☑️☑️☑️☑️ —- everything was top notch, clean, modern, friendly hosts, great location

So folks, that wraps up my 1st week here in Vietnam, it has been A BLAST.  Especially for my first time traveling solo. I’m really enjoying the sights and sounds of Vietnam (although there is A LOT of honking, like a lot!), whilst meeting new friends along the way. Conversely, I’m also really enjoying my ME time.

I have to remind myself that sometimes it’s ok to do ‘nothing’ because I’m on holidays, so if I want to read a book and not sightsee – that’s ok too (Sorry, I was reiterating that to myself lol).

NEXT STOP …. Da Nang and the ancient town of Hoi An … catch up with you in a week!

Comment below if you’ve been to any of these places, what were your thoughts?  Where should I go while in Da Nang?  Any good recommendations for places to eat in Hoi An?

I Just Completed #dryjanuary!

#dryjanuary, have you heard of it?

Dry January is a public health campaign urging people to abstain from alcohol for the month of January.  I just heard about it in December and thought “why not!”

So, Why Ditch The Alcohol?

Millions of people pledge to ditch the booze every January!

Participants testify to how great a month off from alcohol can be; they sleep better, have more energy, some lose weight, save money, and others notice improvements in their skin and hair. That sounds great!  So, I decided to give it a try this year. We live in a culture where drinking is often synonymous with socializing and as far as wellness trends go, Dry January seems pretty harmless.  I mean, it couldn’t hurt me physically, but perhaps it could perhaps put a dent in my social life 🤣.

With the New Year’s Eve hangover finally lifted, I viewed Dry January this way – abstaining from alcohol this month is more about starting the New Year off right than about giving up alcohol itself.  It gives me a chance to let go of the gluttony of the Holidays (food and drinks). The New Year is an opportunity to make ‘amends’ for that behaviour and wipe the slate clean and IF I reap some benefits from it, perfect 👌🏻

It was also a way for me to set a goal, make a commitment and honour that commitment while acting with integrity.

Further, it gave me the opportunity to try to rid myself of an unhealthy coping mechanism.

Friends request to meet for a “drink” led explanations about my no-alcohol decision, but, EVERYONE was totally supportive. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by family and friends who respect my choices.

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Remind me to dust the top of my fridge 🤣

So, after 30 days of being a teetotaler and parting ways with my vodka soda, Prosecco and beer, here’s how I feel:

  1. BETTER SLEEP:  I was able to sleep better – I know I’m not the only one who sleeps poorly when they drink.  I had no days of crappy sleep due to alcohol consumption (I still sleep crappy because I have insomnia, but it’s way worse when I drink) – I slept deeper, and I woke less often than I normally did when I drink.
  2. LESS ANXIETY: I has less anxiety – alcohol changes levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which can worsen anxiety.  I often feel way more anxious the next day after the alcohol wears off.
  3. MORE PRODUCTIVE: I was more productive on weekends – I was able to get up early  – start my day, get stuff done instead of nursing a hangover.
  4. SAVED MONEY:  Let’s do a bit of basic math to showcase the amount of money I saved. Generally, on any given week, I’d go out with my friends twice a week – that would set me back anywhere between $40-$50.  Then we’d may go out one night on the weekend and spend about the same $40-$50.  To keep things a bit modest, that places a week’s alcohol budget at around $80.00. You may spend more or less, but that’s my general tab. So, $80.00/wk x 52 weeks / 12 months = $346.66 per month – minimum!
  5. LOST WEIGHT – I lost 2 lbs in a month just from stopping drinking alcohol (wasn’t ingesting any empty calories)
  6. MORE STABLE MOOD – My mood was more stable – alcohol is a known antidepressant – and I now realize why I feel low after I drink – did you know there’s a thing called post-alcohol depression?  I did not, but it totally makes sense – that’s usually when my mood is at its lowest and lasts a few days. DING DING!

Please note, I am not making note of any scientific measures, I’m just telling you how I personally felt after being alcohol free for 31 days.

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Honestly, I didn’t mind doing Dry January at all.  I feel the overall experience was a positive one, and other than the odd day or two when I had super stressful days – I was completely fine 🤩

Interested in trying it?  It’s NOT too late ….. Try Dry Feb – it is a fundraiser that challenges you to go alcohol-free in February, and raise funds for the Canadian Cancer Society. It helps you get healthy and clear your head while also raising funds for an important cause.

Could you commit to your health and give up drinking for a month?  Try #dryfeb it’s only 28 days!

I challenge you to make your commitment stronger than your excuses!

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First drink of Feb done in VIP Style


“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” ~ Benjamin Franklin