On Travel: Churchill Good Eats

There were few staples in Churchill that I stuck to in addition to eating in, mainly because they were conveniently located close to my B&B … and they were open.  It could also be that they were the only available restaurants in Churchill (lol).  It’s a small town, things close early.  

So without further ado, let’s check out the Churchill eats.  


1 – Tundra Inn

As seen on the Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here with John Catucci, The Tundra Inn Dining Room & Pub is a favourite local and tourist hangout. 

They serve up home-cooked meals with a regional arctic twist.  It is also home to the famous Beyond The Borealis Veggie Burger made with Quinoa & Black Bean Patty, Havarti Cheese, Lemon & Coriander Mayonnaise, Avocado, Lettuce, Tomato, Onion, Toasted Brioche Bun, House Cut Fries – which I had. 

The other meal I had was the Spinach Dip – Cream Cheese, Spinach & Artichoke Dip Topped with Mozzarella Cheese Served with Toasted Flatbreads & Vegetable Sticks  I also added some hummus. Yum!

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Beer deals to be had, check the board behind the bar for beer specials. The deal while  was there was a bottle of Labatt Light for $4.00.

The vibe is good, laid back, just as you’d expect in a small town. It’s the perfect place to enjoy an evening after a full day of exploring Churchill’s wonders. 

Dining room on one side, pub on the other.  


2 – Seaport Hotel

Whether you’ve come to Churchill as part of a tour group or you are here by yourself, like me, the Seaport Restaurant and Coffee Shop has you covered. The restaurant is fully licensed, the dining room has a seating capacity of 72 while the coffee shop can accommodate another 36.  

The food was decent.  I ate there three times during my stay.  I had the crispy chicken burger which was good but salty, as was the chipotle type sauce for my yam fries – which were good. The second and third times I visited, I had the club sandwich.  It was actually really good.  I had yam fries again the 2nd time and then I had a poutine the third time.  

Overall the food is decent pub style food.  I wanted to try the Jack Daniels ribs but they weren’t served until after 5:00 pm, I went for a late lunch. 

The bonus to the Seaport, and the reason it’s my fave, is that they have a patio – perfect for enjoying a burger and a beer on a gorgeous, sunny Churchill day.  

While I was there, it was patio dining only due to COVID (not sure why since The Tundra Inn had dine-in eating) and I was 100% ok with that …. the weather was stellar the whole week I was there!

Note: The patio only has 4-5 tables available, so you may have to wait for a table or go elsewhere.


“Food brings people together on many different levels. It’s nourishment of the soul and body; it’s truly love.”

– Giada De Laurentiis


Churchill Chinese Food

New to town as of August 2021, Churchill Chinese Food are using the kitchen at the Dancing Bear to offer delicious, authentic Chinese food to locals and tourists alike.  

They currently only offer take out, there is no dine in option.  

I ordered from here once during my visit.  I had pre-arranged a pick-up for 7:00 pm after my beluga whale kayak.  It’s not your Canadianized Chinese food, so expect more authentic dishes.  It was really good.  Definite recommend.  


Caribou Café

Dining out can get expensive, especially if you’re visiting for more than 3-4 days.  If you’re into saving money and less into ambience then, the café at the Churchill Health Centre in the Town Centre provides a budget friendly option.  

I had breakfast there, and for $5.25 I got 2 eggs, 2 toasts and 3 meats (choice of bacon or sausage). Other options such as bagels or muffins are available, as are a selection of juices and coffee.  

Prices are very reasonable!  A friend went for lunch and got a steak, homemade mashed potato and corn on the cob for $12.95!   


Related Blogs to Help Plan Your Trip to Churchill

How to Get to Churchill

Where I Stayed, Is a Must Stay

Exploring the Wonders of Churchill

Lazy Bear Café

I wasn’t able to enjoy this café, the 2 days that I went they were closed.  However from what I heard from others staying at my B&B … if you’re looking for the restaurant with the best ambiance in town, look no further than the Lazy Bear Cafe. The log-cabin style interior looks beautiful, and I’m sure the central stone fireplace makes you feel right at home. The restaurant serves Indigenous foods such as Braised Peppered Elk, Arctic Char and Manitoba Bison grace. They are also farm to table – they have their own local greenhouse.  

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(photos from the Lazy Bear Café website)

Note: the Café does not serve alcohol.

Note: It is the only place in town to get espresso.


Alternate Options

If you’re staying at a B&B or some place that has some basic amenities for you to make use of, you may want to consider buying a few things for your room or to make at your B&B.  

Set your expectations … this is a northern town, on the edge of the arctic with no road access – items are brought in my train or plane.  Prices are not going to be what you’re accustomed to.  I found that some things were wayyyyyyyy more expensive and others were more in line with what I was accustomed to paying.  For example a 24 case of Nestle water was $24.95! 

 – The Northern Store

The Northern Sore is the town’s all purpose store.  Fresh/Frozen Food.  General Merchandise. Clothing.  Electronics. Housewares and Liquor.  You get it all here.  

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While I was there, I stocked up on a loaf of rye bread $3.09, a package of lunch meat $5.49 and a Pho Instant Noodles $3.49.  I made a few sandwiches for lunch and for dinner one eve when I wasn’t feeling as hungry I had my Pho bowl.  

 – Tamarack Foods

Tamarack is a smaller local store further down on Kelsey Blvd beside Tamarack Car Rentals. They are usually open daily from 11:30 am – 6:00 pm. Prices are similar to The Northern, a few items had better prices.  

So there you have it folks, the places I ate while visiting Churchill. Overall dining prices weren’t extraordinarily more than I would pay where I live in South Western Ontario, given the cost of shipping goods up. The portion sizes were large, wear your leggings ladies. Alcoholic beverages also within reason to what I would pay where I live.

On Travel: Where I Stayed in Churchill is a Must Stay!

I can’t speak directly to other hotels, inns or B&Bs. However, I can say with absolute certainty that my experience in Churchill was greatly enhanced because of my B&B hosts. I couldn’t imagine my trip without them being part of it. I want to share as much as I can about where I stayed because I want you to experience the best of Churchill, the way I did.

I started off looking on Booking.com, I usually use this site to book because of my Genius Level 2 discount. I researched all the ones that came up and to be honest it was the Iceberg Inns that had me.

  1. Every single review I read on Booking.com (9.5/10 rating) or Trip Advisor (9.7 rating) were all about how amazing the hosts were, how friendly they were and that they loved their experience at the inn. Traveling solo, it was important to me to stay somewhere that had excellent reviews and that the hosts felt like family.
  2. I was also really wanting to take advantage of the Angela Mak tours and professional photography.
  3. The next thing was that the prices were very reasonable.

And with all that, I booked the Iceberg Inn.

About the Iceberg Inn

The building itself dates from about 1980, it used to be the old Sears Canada building back in the day.

Iceberg Inn (front)

Angela and Bill are the current owners since just before the pandemic … and are amazing!  I’d stay here again just for them.  They are soooo friendly and really just want their guests to have the best time while in town.  And, as I mentioned, it is one of the most highly ranked B&Bs in Churchill, and I understand why.  My whole Churchill experience was as phenomenal as it was, thanks to Bill and Angela!

The inn is located a conveniently short 100 metre walk from the Churchill Train Station and the Parks Canada Visitor Centre. 

All rooms are non-smoking. 

The inn offers common sitting and dining areas as well as use of the kitchen.

It also offers a communal microwave as well as dishes and utensils for guest use. 

Each room has it’s own private washroom, mini fridge and table. 

The rooms are identified by local animals, I stayed in Wolf.

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There is no eat-in dining service, however it is conveniently located within walking distance of all the restaurants and is situated directly across the street from The Northern Store which has groceries, clothes, alcohol etc. You can buy food and bring it back to the B&B, which I did on a few different occasions.

Guests have access to an on site washer and dryer at no extra cost.

All rooms include Wi-Fi.

I was greeted every morning coming out of my room with “Good morning Tina, how did you sleep?”. Bill already had my plate, coffee cup and utensils out on the table, My coffee was being poured just as a sat down. Ever the gracious host, he was there repeatedly to see if I or there other guests needed refills. Breakfast is available at $5.00/day which includes unlimited coffee and toast (rye bread or Angela’s homemade bread, if you’re lucky). The toast is served with butter, peanut butter and jam.  Angela has also been known to make homemade muffins – which were yummy!

The B&B also has an assortment of pop you can buy onsite @ $2.00/ea.  

As with the aurora borealis photography (an absolute must do!), the B&B also offers photography tours, guided by professional photographer and co-owner Angela Mak herself!  The tour includes the Cape Merry Battery, the Miss Piggy plane wreck, the Polar Bear jail, the SS Ithaca shipwreck and lunch at Northern Study Center.  After lunch, you visit the Rocket Research Range, Churchill Golf Balls, and drive down Launch Road (with the possibility to view polar bears and other wildlife). I saw 2 polar bears on Launch Road as well as an American Eagle, a Golden Eagle, a flock of Sandhill Cranes, a pair of Trumpeter Swans and more). Since your tour includes professional photos of your adventure, she’ll edit them and airdrop them to you. At only $99/pp for 2+ hours, this is a steal in my opinion. Other tours cost the same but with no professional photos. This is worth every penny in my opinion! 

Suggestion: I did this tour twice, and my suggestion is to bring water (it can get quite dry due to the gravel roads and salt water air) and a snack (you can be out longer than 2 hours sometimes).  You’ll also want to bring along your binoculars for scoping out wildlife and polar bears.  Wear a solid pair or running shoes or hiking boots – you’ll be hiking over some rocks and uneven terrain at Cape Merry (but there are pathways in the event you want to stay on even surface) and again at Miss Piggy if you’d like to get up on the plane’s wing and explore inside. You’ll also want to apply bug spray and/or your mosquito jacket/hat.

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The accommodation offers a tour desk – that is Bill will help you arrange tickets for whichever tour you’re wanting to go on from Tundra Buggy to kayaking with the belugas.

The site also offers luggage storage prior to check-in and after check out – which I needed on both occasions. This allowed me the opportunity the explore while waiting for check in or my departure train.

Angela and I even went wild blueberry picking before my train back to Thompson, so I could have some for the ride back . Not too many owners would take the time out of their day to do that with a guest.

The environment that was my home for 5 days was a place where I felt safe, relaxed and very comfortable. Bill and Angela were the friendliest and warmest people I could have asked for. They went out of their ways to ensure I had a great stay and because of that, my trip to Churchill was one for the ages.

As they stay … come for the place, stay for the people (I wish I could have stayed longer).

Related Blogs to Help You Plan Your Trip to Churchill

Exploring the Wonders of Churchill

Where to Eat In Churchill

How to Get to Churchill

On Travel: Last Stop, Churchill – My Journey to the Far North

Churchill, Manitoba is as close to a frontier town as there is in Canada. Churchill is Manitoba’s northernmost community, and is located where the boreal forest meets the tundra, on the shores of Hudson Bay, bordering the newest Canadian territory of Nunavut.  The town sits on a narrow point of land bound by the ocean to the north and the Churchill River to the south and west. 

Second polar bear sighting

Churchill is the furthest North I’ve traveled in Canada, in fact, anywhere. Visiting this town in the far tundra north has been on my “bucket list” for ages and while I’m back here in Manitoba, renovating my house to sell, I thought “hey let’s do it … I’m here, why not?”. 

The town is known for its polar bears, beluga whales (also known as ocean canaries) and is one of the most premier places in Canada to see the Northern Lights dance in the night sky. These things and more have made Churchill the pinnacle go to place for adventure and wildlife seekers from around the globe.

In this blog series I share with you my personal experiences of life and tourism in this amazing town full of culture, flora and fauna.

Are you ready? Let’s go …….

The Basics

The town of Churchill has a year-round population of under 900. 

Churchill’s human history goes back 4,000 years, with the Inuit, Dene, and Swampy Cree all having a connection to this land and the wildlife that sustained them.

Churchill is touted as the Polar Bear Capital of the World, the Beluga Whale Capital of the World, and one of the best places to experience sub-Arctic tundra AND the Northern Lights (aurora borealis).

Polar bears come onto land every July when the Hudson Bay ice breaks up. In autumn, scores of these great white bears gather along the shores of the bay, waiting for the ice to form so they can venture back out to hunt their favourite food – ring seal. Pregnant females go inland into dens to have cubs in late November and re-emerge in mid-February, when they return to the sea ice.

The Northern Lights can be seen 300/365 days per year!

From June to September, approximately 3,000 Beluga whales visit the Churchill River basin and approximately 60,000 come into the Hudson Bay area. Not only can you go whale watching but you will also have the chance to get up close and personal to these incredibly friendly creatures.

How to Get to Churchill

Churchill is located on the edge of the Arctic. This remote Canadian town on the shores of Hudson Bay is 1,006 km north of Winnipeg.  There are no roads that lead to Churchill, you can only get there by train or plane (… planes, trains and no automobiles – insert John Candy and Steve Martin laugh here lol).

Air

Air travel to Churchill is operated by Calm Air. The small Manitoba airline has flights from Winnipeg and Thompson through Churchill and up to Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. Although flights to Churchill may be more expensive than the train, they usually only take about 2.5 hours from Winnipeg. While not cost effective, it is definitely time effective.  

Train 

Many travellers opt for the scenic route, myself included.  The Winnipeg-Churchill train is the only dry land connection to the community. The 1697 km journey takes about 45 hours from Manitoba’s capital of Winnipeg (count on it being longer,  there are often delays, be flexible with your itinerary).  The train travels at low speed due to the topography the rails lay on.  

I am currently in Dauphin, Manitoba, so, I drove to Thompson, Manitoba, about a 7-hour drive.  I could have taken the train from Dauphin, but I planned on making some stops on the way back to explore and it actually takes much less time to drive than take the train. The train to Churchill, takes about 19h20 to get from Dauphin to Thompson, as is goes through parts of Saskatchewan was well. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the sleeper cabins were not available, nor was the 360˚observation dome. 

The seats are quite comfortable and recline most of the way back, there is a foot rest which goes up to level as well.  There are no assigned seats in economy class, so I was able to choose my own seat. I located quad seating with two rows facing each other (if you can’t find one already turned, you can turn them yourself) …  perfect for sleeping.

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The seats have plugs to charge your phone or laptop.  There is no available wi-fi because there isn’t any internet service along the route.  You will not have service for the trip’s entirety, until just before you arrive in Churchill.  

Each car has a filtered water fountain available at no charge. 

VIA offers some on-board services such as sandwiches, snacks, coffee (it was decent) and alcohol (a standard 12 oz can or Coors light cost me $7.00).  

It cost me $144.90 for this leg of the trip (return), I used the 33% discount offered to people of Indigenous heritage – have proof of identification when you board.  You can book your train trip to Churchill via the VIA Rail website.  

Train suggestions:

  • bring a blanket and a pillow
  • bring food – I purchased a pizza from Quiznos for the train ride up
  • bring your own drinks, if you prefer not to purchase on board
  • bring a book to read (currently reading An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield)
  • bring a few games – I brought a deck of cards, crossword puzzle and Yahtzee
  • download some podcasts to listen to or some audio books
  • download some Netflix shows

Welcome to Churchill

This small and quaint town hugs the western shore of Hudson Bay, the town lies directly in the path of the migratory route for the largest concentration of polar bears that come ashore to hunt for seals every Fall. As I mentioned, it’s the Polar Bear Capital of the World, and the town is built in the bears migration path.  When the sun goes down here the locals know to watch their backs. Tourists are advised to do the same. An alarm sounds at 10:00 p.m. promptly, each night.  Don’t be alarmed (no pun intended). No one warned me upon arrival, I was scared half to death it was a warning that there was a bear currently in town. The siren (long and loud) is a voluntary curfew as part of the Polar Bear Alert program.

Upon arrival in Churchill, after 17 hours on the train

** If travelling via train, you will arrive at the historic Churchill train station.  Walking straight out of the station, about 100 metres will bring you to Kelsey Rd – the town’s main drag. 

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** The airport is just outside of town – you can likely make arrangements with your hotel, Inn or B&B to retrieve you.  If not, there is a taxi in town – Churchill Taxi – (204) 675-2345.

** Car doors are never locked in case a passerby needs immediate protection from a polar bear and polar bear costumes are strictly prohibited for treat-or-treaters during Halloween.

What To Pack :

Summer is a beautiful time to visit Churchill, the flora is teeming with colourful blooms, the beluga whales are swimming into the Churchill River by the thousands, and the long Summer days offer plenty of daylight to view incredible wildlife. I went from August 26-August 31.  It’s just at the end of the Summer season – the belugas are getting ready to leave and the polar bears aren’t quite ready to hitch a ride on the ice quite yet (that starts the beginning of October and lasts about 6 weeks), BUT my adventure DID NOT DISAPPOINT!  I saw everything I came to see and more.

Although Churchill is considered a subarctic climate, you may be surprised to hear that it can get quite warm in the Summer.  The 5 days I was there it was 21˚C-22˚C with the sun out, it was hot.  

My list is for the Summer months, I’ve not included the basics you should pack (that’s up to you).

Boots, Socks and Jacket: In the Summer you can get by with a solid pair of running shoes or hiking boots. I arrived in Churchill on August 26, 2021 and it was 22˚C, it was GORGEOUS!  This is my favourite weather.  I was comfortable wearing my Adidas slides while out and about around town, for any distances I wore my hiking boots.  

In terms of coats, I brought my light down filled puffer coat (that I normally wear for hiking) and a lined lumberjacket so I could layer. I didn’t require either of them during the day, however it did get cooler at night, especially by the bay watching the auroras.  

Hat and Gloves: I brought a pair of mitts and a pair of thin knit gloves.  I also brought a Carhartt toque.  I only used these in the evenings watching the Northern Lights.  But you never know when the weather will turn so come prepared for anything.

A Good Camera: Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my decent Sony Alpha, I wasn’t expecting to be in Manitoba as long as I have been, and I thought of it too late to have it shipped out to me.  Even if I did, I still haven’t purchased a 300 mm lens.  So, I managed as best I could with my iPhone 8 Plus which has dual cameras and takes decent photos. 

Thankfully Angela at my B&B is a professional photographer and offers town tours if you stay that the B&B, for $99.00/pp for 2+ hours  …. WORTH every cent! I will discuss where I stayed in a separate blog.

I also Airdrop swapped with others.  

Binoculars: You could use a monocular if you prefer, you just need something that can help you see at a distance. I found these helpful to view birds and scope out polar bears.  Binoculars are also an ideal way to view the night sky. Even inexpensive models can give depth to craters on the moon, and enhance the colour and shape of stars and planets.  I picked mine up for under $20.00 at Walmart.  

Deterrents: When visiting Churchill, you should be aware that a polar bear may be encountered anywhere at any time of the year and while not expected, be prepared (like a good Scout!).  Before your trip, discuss possible plans of action for dealing with bears in a variety of circumstances and be sure everyone understands what to do. The actions of each individual either contribute to or detract from the safety of everyone else. For information on how to deal with a possible encounter read this pamphlet here, specifically created by the government of Manitoba to address visits to Churchill.  

You can consider an air-horn and/or pepper spray (which may freeze in cold weather). 

I brought a bear whistle and a bear bell, which I also picked up at Walmart. I don’t know why they’re so much more expensive online, I purchased mine in-store for $3.98.

Bug repellent and/or bug jacket, mosquito net hat:  I can’t stress this enough.  Depending on the time of year you come, you should give serious consideration to bringing one or all of these items.  I can’t even start to count the mosquito bites on my neck and ankles.  It’s also a good idea to bring some After Bite.  

Lip balm and moisturizer:  Churchill has a subarctic climate.  It’s also on the ocean.  It could be salt in the air, the days out walking as the wind swept or traveling in the van with the windows open but my skin and lips were constantly craving moisture.

Reusable travel mug or water bottle:  The tap water in Churchill is excellent. I mainly drink water, from the tap if I can – I prefer not to purchase single use disposable water bottles or any type of single use bottle for that matter.  It’s a good idea to bring one, I did and I used it daily.  Also, cases of water up there are super expensive.  I’ll write about food prices separately, but a case of Nestle water was $25.95 at Tamarack Foods.  Do your pocketbook and the environment a favour by bringing a reusable water bottle. 

Ok folks …. that takes care of how to get to Churchill and what to bring …. tune in for the next blog …. “Things I Did” … where I’ll go through all the things I did while in town (which is pretty much everything a tourist would want to do).  I’ll also provide you with the historical significance and/or backstory of each of the site as well as some photos.  

Related Blogs to Help You Plan Your Trip to Churchill

Exploring the Wonders of Churchill

Where to Eat In Churchill

Where I Stayed, Is a Must Stay

Ready to start planning your trip to CHURCHILL?

VIA Rail Train

On Travel: Awesome Day Trip! Big White, BC to Greenwood, BC

A couple of days ago, I posted a blog on my exploration of the abandoned 102 year old smelter in Greenwood (Anaconda) BC – what a cool experience! If you haven’t had a chance to read that blog – click here.

This blog will document our journey from Big White, BC to Greenwood, BC – with stops at Beaverdell, Rock Creek and Midway.

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We headed out on Highway 33 (Kelowna Rock Creek Highway), which is the main access road to where I’m staying up at Big White.  Big White is located near the apex of the pass between West Kettle and Kelowna.

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Beaverdell

The only other visible community on Highway 33 is Beaverdell, an unincorporated settlement in Monashee Country. It’s located midway along the West Kettle River between Kelowna and Rock Creek.

Interesting Little Tidbits on Beaverdell:

  • Beaverdell was originally called Beaverton. The post offices of Beaverton and Rendell were amalgamated and the name was changed to Beaverdell.
  • Silver was discovered here in 1897 and was mined right up until 1987.
  • 350 residents make this town their home.
  • Despite its proximity to Kelowna, Beaverdell receives about 25% more rain, due to its higher elevation.

We pulled in to fill up the tank.  They have a convenient gas station that also serves as a coffee shop/and auto repair shop – convenient, right?  If you happen to drive an electric car – they also have electric chargers to meet your charging needs.

Once we gassed up we headed back out onto Hwy 33 and continued straight.  Other than absolutely stunning views and vistas, there aren’t any communities to stop at.


Westbridge

Your next point of reference will be Westbridge – you can’t miss it, it’s a bridge.  You’ll turn right onto the bridge, turning left will get you to Christian Valley. The bridge crosses the West Kettle River at the community of Westbridge, BC.

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For the remainder of the drive to Rock Creek you will see utter forestry devastation on both sides and new builds where folk lost their homes.  In 2015 an aggressive wildfire forced hundreds of people to flee the area – not to mentioned the complete devastation to plant and wildlife.  It turns out the fire appeared to be human caused and burned more than 2500 hectares.  Vegetation has since regrown and wildlife has returned and 5 years later trees still stand bare, blackened, scorched.

We just drove through Westbridge – I’d like to check out more on the Skycliffe Humph Monastery Retreat. Apparently this centre is for spiritual awareness specializes in Buddhist Transcendental Meditation.


Rock Creek

Eventually Hwy 33 turns into BC-3 E (Highway 3, which is also known as the Crowsnest Hwy) and you’ll have arrived at Rock Creek, BC. Rock Creek is an unincorporated settlement in the Boundary Country.  It’s situated on the famous Kettle Valley Rail Trail that has stunning views of the banks of the Kettle River. 

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It’s also site of the Rock Creek Gold Rush of 1859.  I was actually excited to visit Rock Creek as I had heard about the western Canadian gold rush via the television documentary series Gold Trails and Ghost Towns, (Season 3, Episode 8).  I thought I may have had a chance to see something a bit more exciting than what I did.  I saw a very high, fast moving Kettle Creek (close to breaching its banks) and campers camping at various sites for the May 2-4 Long Weekend.  Rock Creek wasn’t super exciting for me – maybe next time I can do some panning for gold?  It’s a thing, you can!

After the initial mining boom, the residents of Rock Creek began to develop an economy in agriculture, forestry, and ranching.

Next stop …


Midway

The Village of Midway is in a tranquil valley surrounded by protective mountains between the Thompson Okanagan and Kootenay Rockies. The Village of Midway’s population is a whopping 649 people!

Honestly, I thought Midway was super cute.  Could have spent a little more time here.  Also, the museums and things I’d normally love to do were closed due to COVID-19, which is unfortunate, I love museums – so full of rich local history.

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Located at “Mile 0” of the Kettle Valley Railway, one of the Museum’s main attractions is the original Station House.

Midway is also home to the Ferry-Midway Border Crossing which connects the town of Curlew, Washington with Midway. The current US border station was built in 1936 Curlew, WA and is an unincorporated community with 118 residents based on the 2010 US Census.  You can connect to Copper Bute Mountain, WA via Midway.


Greenwood

We’ve arrived!  Greenwood, BC!  I really took a liking to this historic little city.  That’s right, city not town. It’s the smallest incorporated city in Canada Pop: 665 as of 2016 and has retained its “city” status despite declination in population and business/industry.  Although it’s the size of a hamlet, it was incorporated in 1897 as a booming city, the epicentre of the mining and smelting industry in Boundary country with a boisterous population of 3,500.

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On your approach to Greenwood (just outside the city) you’ll note a historic stop point or two, worth the quick stops.

Per my last blog on the BC Copper Company Smelter ruins as you enter Anaconda, BC – the unincorporated township just outside of Greenwood – where the smelter is located, you cannot miss the 100 ft mound of dark black slag and imposing 215 ft smoke stack. Deciding to “save the best for last” we first went to explore Copper Street and the Nikkei Memorial Site.

Snow Falling on Cedars

Did you know that in 1998, several scenes of the Oscar nominated movie Snow Falling On Cedars (featuring Ethan Hawk) were filmed in Greenwood?  A lot of the Japanese extras were Japanese-Canadians who were interned during there war. Some of the phantom signs and shops remain.  The phantom signs and revamped store fronts helped transform their little mining town into the Puget Sound fishing village of Amity Harbor. The signs have faded over the years and unfortunately have not been up-kept.

These phantom signs and shops are still visible and are located on historic Copper Street.

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Nikkei Legacy Park

HOW WELL DO YOU KNOW YOUR WWII HISTORY?

Next we headed over to The Nikkei Legacy Park which is located just on the outskirts of downtown Greenwood.

In 1942, internment of Japanese Canadians occurred when over 22,000 Japanese Canadians, comprising of over 90 percent of the total Japanese Canadian population, from British Columbia were evacuated and interned in the name of “national security”. The majority were Canadian citizens by birth. This decision followed the events of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent Canadian declaration of war on Japan during World War II. This forced relocation subjected many Japanese Canadians to government-enforced curfews and interrogations, job and property losses, and forced repatriation to Japan.

Beginning after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and lasting until 1949, Japanese Canadians were stripped of their homes and businesses and sent to internment camps and farms in the B.C. interior and across Canada. The internment and relocation program was funded in part by the sale of property belonging to this forcefully displaced population, which included fishing boats, motor vehicles, houses, and personal belongings.

On September 22, 1988, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney delivered an apology, and the Canadian government announced a compensation package, one month after President Ronald Reagan made similar gestures in the United States. The package for interned Japanese Canadians included $21,000 to each surviving internee, and the reinstatement of Canadian citizenship to those who were deported to Japan.

Among those interned at Greenwood were Isamu and Fumiko Kariya and their son Yasi, the grandparents and uncle of NHL star and Hockey Hall of Famer Paul Kariya; his father Tetsuhiko was born in internment.

Odds and Ends, Out and About Town

BC Copper Smelter Ruins

I wrote a specific blog about this, here’s the link, again.  It was super cool and I would strongly recommend exploring this!  Here are some awesome pics of that adventure. DO IT!


Deadwood

Next we went on the hunt for the abandoned ghost town of Deadwood, BC. We drove down Deadwood Rd. looking for some relics, some semblance that there once was a town here. Deadwood existed in 1897 and was located several miles west of Greenwood. A number of copper claims in the area gave rise to Deadwood. The Mother Lode Mine became a great mine although Deadwood disappeared within a few years. Deadwood contained two hotels, a store, a post office and a school.

There’s nothing left of the town, although there’s a large field where it once stood and two small shed like structures which were half falling town toward the other side of the road. However, they could have nothing to do with the former town. The name survives in Deadwood Road and Greenwood’s Deadwood Junction Small Town Coffee Shop.

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Well folks, that just about wraps up our day trip from Big White to Greenwood. It’s definitely worth spending a day exploring this route.

I hope this blog has helped you decide if this is a route worth exploring and what points of interest may be in each hamlet on the route from Big White to Greenwood.

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Exploring the 102 Year Old Abandoned BC Copper Company Smelter Ruins

DID THE COOLEST THING YESTERDAY!!! I explored the BC Copper Company Smelter Ruins in Greenwood, British Columbia (BC). IT’S BEEN ABANDONED FOR 102 YEARS!

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The weather on Big White (Mountain) called for rain all day, that was the perfect opportunity for a day trip! Initially planned to head to Penticton, BC and the weather was equally sucky there, so opted to head in the opposite direction and head down toward Beaverdell, Rock Creek, Midway and Greenwood.  I’ll post a separate blog on Greenwood, BC because I think it’s worth having a separate blog, it’s a super cute “city” with a colourful past and history. Today, I’m specially going to focus on the BC Copper Company Smelter ruins.

Visible to passersby just off Highway 3, travelling East (left hand side) is a HUGE black slag ridge and imposing  215 foot smokestack.

In searching for the entrance to the smelter, we came across this kind gentleman.  He owned a house near the Welcome to Greenwood sign. He wore a ball cap, had thin transition glasses on, which were in sunglass mode because he was outside gardening. IMG_7353He dawned a greyish/black moustache and had lightly greyed hair sticking out from his ball cap.  He described his little town, where he’d come from to settle there, and the inexpensive price of land.  He offered to take us to another abandoned mining town (City of Paris).  We rain checked and definitely will take him up on it some time in the future. He guided us to turn left at the road before you get to the Cango gas station to get up to the smelter (then turn left). 10 minutes or so into the conversation and, just as we were departing, I introduced myself,  he replied “my name is Pat”. This man not only looked like my dad, had some of his mannerisms … to boot his name was Pat. Ironically (or not) this weekend marked 5 years that we spread my dad’s ashes at the trailer (came up in my Facebook memories). Dad was undoubtedly saying “hi”.

The smelter was built by the British Columbia Copper Company, a new York-based organization that bought the Mother Lode mine in 1898. All of the material that was processed at the smelter came from the Mother Lode mine, which was about 8 kms away my rail. The smelter was erected on a 22-hectare site at the mouth of Copper Creek in Anaconda (just south of Greenwood), the smelter’s own little community.

The smelter operated 24 hours a day and during its 1st year in operation, 106,200 tonnes of ore were smelted.  January 18, 1902 marked a record day …. 416 tonnes (about 9 tonnes for every man employed), were smelted!

Throughout World War I the smelter operated at a reduced rate and on November 26, 1918 it closed its doors, forever. The plant was apparently sold to a Mr. Leon Lotzkar who then disposed of the machinery and gave the site to the City of Greenwood as a park.  Nothing has been done with the park other than erecting the gazebo type structure below, by no means is it a “memorial park”.

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As instructed by our local friend Pat, we turned left just prior to the Cango gas station and parked at the entrance … gates are closed for driving access and there’s a sign that suggests you enter at your own risk.  Contrary to the sign at the entrance, the mine is not active, nothing has been mined here in over 102 years.

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When you first enter you’ll see a house on the left hand side, I didn’t take photos of that (and I should have).  I assume this was the house of the person who operated and oversaw the smelter.

This must have been a very impressive operation, the ruins are massive!  Walking past the house, you immediately come to the large, and I mean large,  black mountain of slag. The smelter ruins mostly sit on the heavy ridge of slag. Very cool to see up close and walk on. Slag is the glass-like by-product left over after a desired metal has been separated (smelted) from its raw ore. Slag is usually a mixture of metal oxides and silicon dioxide. It was light (maybe a couple of ounces) “rock”, looked like glass and was very dark black/grey.  Every so often you come across slag in the shape of bells.

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The ‘bells’ are huge black slag cones which are referred to as “hell’s bells”.  They were a by-product of the smelter operation. Transported by bell-shaped rail cars (see last photo above – remnants of an old rail line), they were dumped onto the ground, red hot and glowing.  What a sight that must have been at night time – similar to molten lava from a volcano!

Walked up a bit further to find the entrance of what appeared to be a draft shaft and a side shaft.

Further up the trail appeared the smelter stack —- tada!  The original stack was built with sheet steel and was replaced by the present brick stack when the works were expanded in 1904. The brick stack is 36 meters tall, the highest in the province, and contains nearly 250,000 bricks.

Other building ruins have been graffitied – although not in keeping with the historical were pretty cool and created awesome photos.

A little further down from the building ruins, I came across remnants of mining materials which were not sold off.  These artifacts have been sitting and exposed to the elements for 102 years!  102 YEARS!  One looks like to could be some type of boiler or air compressor, the other large piece looks like it could have been part of something that belonged in the Blower Room.

Abandoned SINCE THAT TIME, the smelter’s huge slag pile and tall brick stack has become a landmark along Highway 3, with the site possessing a very appealing mystique. From the last I saw, the City was writing grants and looking for funds to develop the BC Copper Company Ruins into a tourist destination, that was in 2016, nothing yet.

I could have spent way more time at the smelter, really taking in the historical significance of where I was.  Getting really present to what an awesome piece of history I was standing on. I think it’s absolutely fascinating.

This is a must see/do in my books if you’re in/near Greenwood, BC.

Monster Hunt: My Search for the Ogopogo Lake Monster

COVID-19 social distancing walk and I’m out and about in the great city of Kelowna, British Columbia (BC). Whilst living up on Big White, a trip down to Kelowna would not be complete without taking the time to search for the legendary Ogopogo who reputedly resides in Okanagan Lake.

Lake Okanagan is about 400 kms east of Vancouver. The lake is 135 kms long and between 4 kms and 5 kms wide, with an average depth of 249 ft. Up to 800 ft deep in some places, ample space for a large creature.  

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I’ve long been fascinated by cryptozoology … intrigued with folkloric creatures with the likes of Loch Ness, Sasquatch, Chupacabra, Abominable Snowman, Kraken, Sea Serpents, The Mothman, Thunderbirds and Jersey Devil, just to name a few.  And since I’m here, I definitely could not pass up the opportunity to search out Ogopogo.  A few years ago I visited Toutes Aides, Manitoba (while I lived in Manitoba) in search of Manipogo (check out that blog here).


It’s not really a monster, it’s a spirit of the lake and it protects this valley from one end to the other,~ Pat Raphael of the Westbank First Nation


What is Ogopogo?

Claimed to be a distant cousin of the Loch Ness Monster and is said to reside in Lake Okanagan, near Kelowna, BC.  Ogopogo is to Kelowna what Nessie is to Loch Ness: a yet-to-be-identified cryptid that reputedly resides in the lake’s depths and surfaces just often enough to keep the legend alive.

Per the Kelowna Tourism BoardStories date back thousands of years where the Interior Salish First Nation people spoke of N’ha-a-itk, the spirit of the lake. Stories of N’ha-a-itk changed over the years as European settlers transformed the stories they heard into a creature, which later became known as Ogopogo, and the purported sightings over the years continue to strengthen the legend.”

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(Taken at the top of Knox Mountain)

What am I searching for?

Descriptions vary, but certain characteristics have been repeated through the decades: Ogopogo is green with a snakelike body about 25 meters long. Some say its head looks like a horse, while others say that it’s reptilian or goat-like.

What are eyewitnesses seeing?

  • Dark and multi-humped, with green, black, brown or gray skin.
  • The head is said to look like that of a snake, sheep, horse, seal or even an alligator.
  • Some eyewitnesses say it has ears or horns; others don’t.
  • 15 to 25 meters long.
  • Many sightings simply describe a featureless log that came alive.

Oddly enough, quite the similar description to when I posted about Manipogo!

Not to be confused with:

  • A giant sturgeon
  • An aquatic serpent
  • A wave
  • A floating log
  • A river otter
  • A beaver

It was 17° and partially sunny in Kelowna a couple of days ago when I was out and about, the weather was perfect!  To scope out Ogopogo, I decided to take a walk down by Kelowna City Park and the Waterfront Boardwalk. The park/waterfront/marina area is a beautiful location to go for a walk and enjoy the scenery of Lake Okanagan.  I loved breathing in the fresh air and soaking in the moments.  People were out today and maintaining/respecting the social distancing measures of COVID-19. I also searched out Oggy while taking a hike up on Knox Mountain.

Around town, Oggy takes the form of a cartoonish 15-foot-long green and cream coloured statue placed along Kelowna’s waterfront walk.  I also spotted another Oggy down at the Parkinson Recreation Centre at the kids water park (not open due to coronavirus).

I’m not going to get into all of the reported “sightings” in this blog.  You can easily search online and find all that you’re looking for there with one click.  My blog is to capture MY experience around Lake Okanagan, on searching out Oggy, and to capture the beautiful sights.

Here are a few shots of my walk about around Lake Okanagan down by the marina and Kelowna City Park.

I had about as much luck finding Ogopogo as I did Manipogo.  None.

That aside, Kelowna and the lakefront itself are absolutely stunning and 100% worth the visit.


If the Okanagan is on your places to visit list … make sure to keep your camera/phone ready, your eyes peeled, and your minds open …. you may be the one to spot Ogopogo!

Happy searching!


Unsolved Mysteries with Robert Stack – Season 2 Episode 17 – Full Episode

This episode includes: Thanks Captain Sharp, Harold and Ma, Over the Edge & UD and Ogo Pogo.

(Fast forward episode to 38:38)
 

COVID-19: My 12 Month Trip of a Life Time Was Canceled, I Quit My Job, Sold My Car & Rented Out My Condo !

In the words of sexy hotness, Matthew McConaughey, “alright alright alright”.

It’s been a hot minute since I’ve posted … so I just want to bring you all up to date on the current lay of the land -> the status of my year long adventure to South East Asia, the COVID-19 pandemic and the world of social distancing.

What a crazy time we are living in at the moment! COVID-19 has turned our world into 4 walls and a ceiling.  Hundreds of thousands are infected, thousands have died and the whole world is living in a circle of physical distancing and a certain degree of fear. We’ve started hoarding hand sanitizer and toilet paper!  Some of us are following the rules established by government and others continue to act like this is not the global pandemic that it is.

I live in Canada, the province of Ontario – I live in a community in South Western Ontario called the Region of Waterloo – which is comprised of the cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge and the townships of North Dumfries, Wellesley, Wilmot and Woolwich.  Region of Waterloo Public Health has reported another 26 cases of COVID-19 in the region, bringing the total to 58.

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Canada is making unprecedented use of the federal Quarantine Act in a bid to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting tonight at midnight, all travellers returning to Canada are now legally required to go into self-isolation for 14 days rather than simply urged to do so.

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Emergency alert from the government sent to our phones

I’m currently held up at my youngest daughter’s house while I wait for coronavirus to become a thing of the past.  I was supposed to leave on my year long epic adventure all over South East Asia last Wednesday.  Not gonna lie, I was crushed.  I spent the better part of 12 months prepping, planning, plotting and organizing.  I had plans to travel to 12-14 different countries in 12 months — Vietnam – Phu Quoc and climbing Mount Bà Đen, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia – climbing Mount Bromo volcano (in Java) and relaxing with both of my kids in Bali.  I was going to spend the month of July in Japan and had plans to attend the Summer Olympics with my friends Linda and Mark (and their kids) – I was going to climb Mount Fuji. Northern Thailand was on my list prior to heading over the New Delhi and meeting up with my friend who is supposed to be flying over from Canada – we’re supposed to spend 4 days in New Delhi and then fly up to Nepal to climb Mount Everest Base Camp – from there I had more plans to spend time in India, head down to Sri Lanka and then I wasn’t quite sure.  I am hoping that I’m still able to do the last part of my adventure.  

I sold my car, rented out my condo, resigned from my job and put all of my worldly possessions in storage, ready to take off and live a year of a lifetime – only to have that all change 5 days before my departure date!  I was CRUSHED!   I went with it, I allowed myself to feel whatever it was I was feeling – upset, anger, fear, disappointment. I lived with it for a bit, didn’t make myself wrong about it and then I was ok.  It took 6 days.  I am able to stay with my youngest in her townhouse until the end of the month. I was able to rescind my resignation from my job and I was able to postpone my flight for a $69.00 fee and get reimbursed for my travel insurance.  

After I got complete with that,  I decided that if this was happening and it is out of my control, I’m going to come out the other side ready to set my world on fire.  I don’t have to sit here and mope.  I can do all of the things that I’ve been wanting to do – here, now.   My new favourite saying is a Buddhist saying, “Relax, everything is out of control”   

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SO ….. 

I enrolled into two courses 1) The Science of Well Being through Yale and 2) Leadership in 21st Century Organizations via the Copenhagen Business School.  If you’re looking to take some continuing education courses to further your career, your life, your well being – consider taking some courses, here’s the link to a bunch of Ivy League Schools Edx courses which are FREE!

I also decided to face one of my biggest phobias head on … finances, stocks and investments. Ask my financial planner how much the word “taxes” sends me into a downward spiral.  I never file my taxes on time, ever.  I’m decent with money, and that’s thanks to the trust and faith I put into my planner.  So, just like I’ve been tackling all of my fears head on this past year (remember when I jumped out of a plane in September? Or when I did the Polar Dip in January?).  Last November I took Phil Town’s Rule One Investing Course.  What’s Rule #1?  DON’T LOSE MONEY. The best investors in the world use this rule to invest with certainty. I learned how to not just invest in stocks, and rather invest in a wonderful business at an attractive price to generate consistent returns.

What did I do after I was so gung-ho post-course?  Nothing, I did nothing with it!  I did what I always did when something is out of my wheelhouse and frightens me, I ignored it.  Enter the novel coronavirus and event-driven investing, now is the time, markets are low, so I decided to tackle it once and for all (I mean I have nothing else to do than catch up on 5 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy – which is getting really awesome btw – I’m at Season 11 ep. 10).  I set up my brokerage account and talked to a couple of friends who invest and trade and off I went.  I’m trying to remember 2 things — 1) I don’t need to be an expert to invest like one and 2) Don’t lose money.  

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Photo by Lorenzo on Pexels.com

I’ve popped into some free concerts that musicians are hosting.  I’ve joined a Being In Communication: Time With a Landmark Forum leader call with Forum Leaders who are keeping the community connected.  I’ve had daily Facebook Messenger calls with my oldest, who lives in Vietnam, she wakes me every morning with a new song she’s learned on the ukulele, I love this!  I take extra long walks with the dog and binge watch my fave shows that I’ve long ignored.

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While we’ve been sequestered, the world continues to spin, people are living and sadly dying (this breaks my heart) and no matter, the sun comes up and the sun goes down. The earth is starting to heal itself – the canals in Venice are again running clear and there are minnows, dolphins have returned. Forrests and plants are regenerating. COVID-19 has decreased air pollution. The ozone layer is starting to repair itself. There’s an unlikely beneficiary of coronavirus: The planet.  Is this the earth’s way of dealing with what we’ve chosen to ignore?  

Many are binging pandemic like movies: Contagion, Steven Soderbergh’s strikingly realistic portrayal of the modern world scrambling to contain the fictional virus MEV-1. Outbreak, inspired in part by the AIDS epidemic.  Stephen King’s “The Stand,” Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain and Max Brooks’s World War Z, have proliferated on social media as of late. In a time of real crisis, many of us are spending our time watching fake crises.  Why?  We’re living in ONE RIGHT NOW.  I’m a documentary nerd. I prefer fact over fiction any day.  I’ve been watching documentaries on past pandemics, the plague, the Spanish Flu (which contrary to popular belief did not originate in Spain). The 1956-1958 Influenza Pandemic, the 1968 Flu Pandemic, SARS and H1N1.  What really lands for me is that as I’m researching these past pandemics, what we are living through right now, at this very moment, will form part of the future generations history.  Just as I’m watching and reading about pandemics in the last 100 years, future generations are going to be watching, reading and learning about the 2019-2020 novel coronavirus COVID-19 global pandemic.  

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Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I tell you bizarre times …

Where in the world are you and practicing social distancing?  How are you occupying your time? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only 4.5 Months Til I Leave for SEAsia!

It feels just not too long ago I had posted that I was traveling all over South East Asia and here it is ONLY 4.5 months away!  I can hardly believe it!

I have changed my departure date so many times – it was originally end of February and then I had postponed it to March, then April and then May and now I’m back to my initial departure date — at the moment I am starting look for flights departing Toronto on March 3 2020.

The hardest thing for me is not have an itinerary.  I intentionally have NO firm plans because I am a hyper planner, I literally used to go on trips with excel spreadsheets so I can pack in everything I want to do and capitalize my time, no joke.  And, this lifetime adventure is going to be completely different,  it’s going to be good for my soul.  Kind of my personal version of Eat, Pray, Love.  No plans, just taking things as they come, letting the Universe take me where ever it feels is best for me.  Meet new people, spend as much time with my oldest daughter before she moves back to Canada and taking care of my health and my soul.

While I have no itinerary per se – what I do have is an idea of how I’d like to travel so that I can have meet up friends who plan on visiting and get an idea of costs (I am traveling on a set budget).

When I first head over, I’ll stay in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for the first little while and spend as much time with my daughter as she will allow.  Since I won’t be working my 9-5, I can learn to relax and spoil my kid rotten.

So, here’s what I’m throwing around right now. 1 month in each country (because Visas expire after 30 days and you need to leave the country) – see map.

I’d depart Pearson from Toronto (Canada) and fly into Ho Chi Mihn City 🌃 spent a few weeks and then visit the south of Vietnam 🇻🇳 (I didn’t get to see as much as I wanted while I was there in Feb).

Then I’ll cross over into Cambodia 🇰🇭 and then over to the southern part of Thailand 🇹🇭 and the islands 🌴 (Phuket, Ko phi phi etc) and then down to Malaysia 🇲🇾

Cassandra will meet up with me in Singapore. Then we’ll head over to Java, then spend an amazing time in Bali.

I’ll fly onto the Philippines and back then back to Vietnam to do the northern part of the country. I want to spend some time on the smaller rice fields and towns of the northern villages ( Sơn Tây, Sa Pa), then I’ll fly to meet Miranda in Nepal where we’ll be taking on Everest 💥

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After hiking 🥾 UP to Everest base camp ⛺️ (19,000 ft) we’ll take the train to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and then spend two weeks in a traditional Indian ashram – nothing luxurious – silence, meditation 🧘‍♀️, prayer and servitude.

Miranda will leave to head back to Canada and I’ll continue along the northern part of India 🇮🇳. The rest to be determined, I know I’ll be hitting Sri Lanka 🇱🇰 for sure.

I’ll also be reaching out to friends and fam who have connections in certain locations so I can stay with them and visit that location as a local, not a tourist.  I

I’ve been watching so many YouTube videos — I’ve been addicted to Our Curious Georgia for years and just this year I stumbled across The Budgeteers – which is great because they’re all about traveling to places on a budget – so I may steal a few of their tricks and tips (except of the hitchhiking LOL).

Oh Em Gee!  This feels so foreign to me – this concept of just living life as you please, unscripted, no plan, no agenda.

Open to suggestions on places to visit, stay, tips, tricks ….. please share anything you thin would be valuable.

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I’d Rather Have a Passport Full of Stamps

I never used to think this way. I used to be of the belief that I wanted the great house, the awesome vehicle, a closet full of name brand clothes – have a Louis Vuitton on my shoulder and Louboutin’s on my feet … I have all that and more.

And, guess what? …. it all means nothing to me at this stage of my life.

I’m trading it all in for a passport full of stamps and a bunch of memories to last a lifetime 💗

I leave on my year long journey in 9 months time …. Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, India and more!

Traveling, experiencing different cultures, learning the history, meeting new people along the way, rediscovering myself …

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Who’s there with me?

On Travel: Vietnam – What I Loved and Didn’t Love

I’ve been back from Vietnam for about 2 weeks now.  I have to admit it’s been tough being back – to the cold, the snow, back to working 9-5, not traveling …

Today I want to share a little about my overall experience in Vietnam.  What I loved, things I wished I had done and things that perhaps I wasn’t overly fond of.

If you’ve been following along with my blog and my journey through Vietnam, you’ll quickly remember how much I love this country.  Every one should get to Vietnam given the chance, it truly is spectacular (well I think so anyway) … I’m envious of my daughter for making this country her home.

As with any other country, Vietnam has a glowing list of fantabulous things to see and do, its natural beauty, its history, culture, kind and giving people whom I met and made my experience in Vietnam one for the record books.  But, it also has things that need to be improved upon and aren’t so glamorous, I’ll highlight some of those things in this blog.

I encourage you to go back and read my last few blog posts if you haven’t, just to catch up on the amazingness of Vietnam prior to reading this post.


🎶 Let’s Talk About Food Baby 🎶

The food 😋 was one of the absolute best parts of Vietnam, so many yummy choices, which vary from region to region.  For example, some of the foods I loved in the north (Ha Noi) weren’t necessarily available in the south (HCMC).  But, it’s great to be able to experience each region’s specialty dishes.

Eating street food in Vietnam is a rite of passage for every visitor, and I’m all about throwing myself into the local culture so I was prepared to give most foods a go. In every doorway, on every street corner, and down every alley, food is being prepared literally on the street.  Many a time I pulled up a tiny plastic stool to a tiny plastic table and ate.

Traditional Vietnamese cooking is greatly admired for its fresh ingredients, complementary textures, and reliance on LOTS fresh herbs and vegetables. Vietnamese cuisine is considered one of the healthiest cuisines in the world and always combines fragrance, taste, and colour.

Below are just SOME of the foods I ate over my month long visit.


👍🏻  Fan Faves:

(1) Bún chả  –  served with grilled fatty pork (chả) over a plate of white rice noodle (bún) and herbs with a side dish of dipping sauce.  I ate this twice while in Vietnam.  Definitely worth trying guys! It was super good!

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Bunch in Ha Noi (not yet assembled)

(2) Bún Rieu – LOVED this, I first tried this in Ha Noi –  it was incredible.  See below for the types of Bún Rieu I wasn’t so fond of.  Freshwater crab flavours this soup which is made with rice vermicelli and topped with pounded crabmeat and deep-fried tofu.  Chilies, lime and fresh herbs add the finishing touches.

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Bún Rieu in Da Nang

(3) Bánh khọt – if you love crispy savoury pancakes, you’re going to love Vietnamese bánh khọt – it’s usually provided with lettuce, tons of herbs and dipping sauce – really good. Equally as yummy in the pancake department is bánh xèo.

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Bánh khọt, a specialty of Vũng Tàu

(4) Bun Bo Nam Bo – could be the best street food in Ha Noi – the broth at the bottom of the deep bowl is made of fish sauce, sugar, lemon and chilli and has deliciously light sweet and sour undertones. The sauce is topped with marinated beef, vegetables, noodles, onion crisps and crushed nuts.

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Ate this yummy dish in Ha Noi

5) Cơm tấm – broken rice and pork chop – very basic meal – but reliable, inexpensive and yummy.  Usually served with pickled veggies and a side soup for about 20K – about $1.15 CDN.

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A staple for me in Saigon

I could GO ON … I had sooooooo …. many amazing meals whist in Vietnam, but, I’ll limit it to my top 5 —- Honorable Mention to rau muong xao you- morning glory with garlic.

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👎🏻 Not So Fussy On:

(1) Chicken Feet – I just didn’t enjoy them at all – no meat on them.  They were crispy, like chicken wings, but with NO meat. Imagine just eating chicken skin on bone – that’s what I can best compare it to.  I didn’t hate them, but I could definitely do without them.  Don’t quite get the appeal.  Is it your thing?

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(2) Bún riêu with congealed pig’s blood – bún riêu is a truly sensational Vietnamese street food — if you forgo the blood cubes.  I realized that in different areas of Vietnam – there are differing varieties of bún riêu.  For example I DID NOT like the bún riêu in HCMC at all, I liked the one in Da Nang and loved the one in Ha Noi – all a little bit unique with their own regional touches.  But , the main thing I realized is that I did not like it at all with the congealed pig’s blood. So, now I know to always order my bún riêu “không huyết” — with no congealed pig’s blood.

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The bún riêu in HCMC that I was not fond of

(3) Mixed Rice Paper in a Bag – this wasn’t a salad – I’ve heard of Rice Paper Salad – this was more like a seasoned rice paper snack in a bag – which was essentially rice paper strips as well as chilli powder and other seasoning.  I had seen it on many vlogs and YouTube videos on Vietnamese street food, and I was disappointed.  It was hard, the texture was weird and only got soft after you chewed it for a bit – I guess I would liken it to chewing rice paper 😂.

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Did not enjoy the rice paper snack while in Cần Thơ at the Night Market

(4) Rượu rắn – Cobra Snake Wine – an alcoholic beverage produced by infusing whole snakes in rice wine or grain alcohol. The snakes, preferably venomous ones, are not usually preserved for their meat but to have their “essence” and snake venom dissolved in the liquor. The snake venom poses no threat to the drinker. It is denatured by the ethanol – its proteins are unfolded and therefore inactive and would be denatured by stomach acid anyway.  It was good just to say I’ve tried it, but I just couldn’t imagine sipping on this  – it tasted more like tequila than wine to me (and I loathe tequila).

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Tried rượu rắn during our trip to the Mekong Delta

(5) Sweet Snails with Lemongrass – oc huong hap xa – not a dish I was particularly fond of.  They say half the fun is extracting the hot cooked snails from their shells (who actually says that?) – I did not find it fun nor tasty.  I’ve had snails here in Canada  – but we cook them with lots of garlic and butter and out of the shell.  Even here, I don’t LOVE them, but I liked them less in Vietnam.  They were chewy in texture – especially the head and had little to no taste.  It was decent enough to try, but I won’t order them – thankfully, I was offered one by a girl I met who ordered an entire plate – she loves them 🤢

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Tried these at Bến Thành Market in Saigon


Things I Really Enjoyed/Liked:

PLACES TO VISIT

I can’t pick just 2 places I loved to visit — I really enjoyed every place I chose to visit for different reasons.  Some were for beauty, some for historical importance or significance, and others for simple relaxation.  There wasn’t a moment that I didn’t enjoy being in Vietnam.  The sights, the sounds, the culture, the people and the food ♥️.

For things to do I would suggest the following as they were my top places, but truly, I loved every place I went, so you can’t go wrong:

  • Hoi An – all of the silk lanterns at night were gorgeous and the ancient town is a fabulous place to visit.   See my blog on Hoi An here for more details on things to do  and see.
  • Cu Chi Tunnels – outside of HCMC – you’ll learn about its important role in the Vietnam War, the daily struggles of its inhabitants, as well as the ingenious strategies and weapons that were used. Click my blog here for more about the tunnels.
  • The War Remnants Museum – HCMC – sad and heart breaking at times, but I would 10000% going to this while you’re in Saigon – it really gives you pause for thought
  • Ha Long Bay and Ha Long City – WOW!  Spectacular views, scenic, breathtaking – I only did a day trip – but next time I go I’d like to do an overnight trip and sleep on the ship.  Click here to see more about my trip to Ha Long Bay and Ha Long City.
  • Mekong Delta – this is what I think of when I think of Vietnam – this trip was priced right 550K for 2 days, 1 night – hotel breakfast and lunch included as well as English speaking guide and A/C Bus, for more click my blog here.


COST OF LIVING

As a foreigner, the cost of living is ridiculously low for us.  The exchange rate when I was there was $1.00 CND Dollar to 17,000 VDN.

Most basic every day things are super inexpensive for us as Westerners.

Here are some approximates:

Beer was between 11K and 20K on average, depending where you purchased and the type of beer – Larue was usually the cheapest (and luckily my favourite common beer), and then 333, Saigon and Tiger.  My absolute fave was Tiger Crystal in a bottle (I could def use one of those now).

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Most street foods ranged between 10K and 70K – bánh mì was always on the low end at about 10-20K as was cơm tấm at about 15-20K

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1.5L of water was approx 10-20K, again depending on where you purchase it.

Grab taxis are super cheap compared to Canada – I think the sitting rate just to enter a taxi is now up to $3.80 where I live – in Vietnam that could literally be my whole trip (by Grab).  Taxi’s are more expensive and not always reliable for pricing.

Fresh fruit was always well priced – I picked up pineapple for 10K, jackfruit and a 1/4 watermelon both for 50K.  There are fruit cart ladies on each street corner, sometimes more than one.

Ice coffee was anywhere between 10-25K (depending where you went – chain coffee houses are more expensive).

Even hotels – my most expensive hotel on the trip was $17.00 CDN – and it was a very nice hotel.

Some days, I was living off less than $20.00 CDN and that included my hotel rate!

Below are some of the every day items that we would buy back home and their associated VDN price — remember $1.00 CND is 17K VDN!


Things I Wish Were Different:

HONKING

What I could have done without perhaps is all of the HONKING! They honk at and for everything.  Unlike us back in North American – we honk when we are trying to relay something important or semi important “hey, you’re crossing over into my lane”, “Come on man, the light is green!” or even “I’m at your house, let’s go.”

But in Vietnam they honk to signal EVERYTHING …  I’m here watch out, I’m behind you, move over, get out of my way, I said get out of my way 😜, I’m not stopping, go already, I’m turning … 

Honking is so loud and so regular in the country that people just seem to accept it, I’d be scared, in fact, of asking them not to honk … somewhere along the way, it has become habitual and a major cause of noise pollution. It can really get on your nerves when drivers keep pressing on their horns for no apparent reason.

I was fairly decent at blocking it out most days, however, the one day I was about to scream out “please, for the love of God, stop effin honking” … I mediated when I got back to the hotel and the moment passed 😂


LACK OF RULES OF THE ROAD

In certain parts of Vietnam there weren’t any traffic lights or signs – it just seemed like a free for all – some type of organized chaos that I wasn’t privy to – but somehow works, I don’t know how but it does!

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Crazy traffic in Saigon as we were heading home on our motorcycle

I’ve literally seen people drive on sidewalks rather than waiting in congestion.

The Vietnamese don’t often obey the traffic lights or signs when there are any – they seem more like suggestions than an actual legal traffic requirement.

Traffic moves in all possible directions, no matter if it’s a sidewalk, a pedestrian street, an alley obviously too narrow for a motorbike – I’ve also seen on many occasions traffic flowing in the WRONG direction – YEP – coming at you when it’s clearly a one way street!

Pedestrians:  Forget all the standard rules of crossing the street, the Vietnamese don’t seem to have the culture of respecting pedestrians. Pedestrian cross walks are rare and if they do exist, they are ignored. Crossing the street for a pedestrian is like a game of chicken each time! You learn to have faith. You start to walk and hope that the motorcycles and cars that run in both directions will avoid you. I became a pro at it very quickly – I look, I go and I watch – they will usually manoeuvre around me.

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Also, they park on the sidewalks (which is customary there).  So walking can be a pain from time to time as you’re constantly switching from road to sidewalk, back to road etc …


LITTERING

When I first arrived in Vietnam, I was struck by its beauty.  However, as I started exploring I came across a lot of litter on the ground in Ha Noi.  I thought it was initially just Ha Noi but as I explored I noticed that even in remote regions, I always came across large areas that were inexplicably strewn with trash. The litter consisted mostly of plastic bags, plastic bottles, beer cans, leftover food containers/items and plain old garbage. I didn’t get it!  The trash wasn’t piled up, awaiting collection at the side of the road; it was spread around, over large areas and in natural beauty areas such as river beds, beaches etc. Thousands of locations all over the country are now utterly ruined by trash. It’s sad, disappointing and infuriating.

These are just SOME of the pics I took – I only started taking photos of this my last few days in the country. I could have taken dozens more.

Very few people bothered to clean up after themselves – I would see people open items and then just toss the wrappers on the sidewalk. I was told by my tour guide to just put my litter in the gutter while I was in HCMC (which I absolutely did not) and a local once brought it to my attention that I had “garbage” in my back pocket – I put the wrappers there because I could not bring myself to just toss them on the ground – it just goes against everything we’re taught here in Canada and most certainly for me as an environmentalist.

I can’t even recall seeing trash bins, if there were any, they certainly weren’t prominent enough to stand out, given I was carrying my personal trash with me.  If they were more available, would people even use them?  Click here to read an article by Forbes Magazine on Vietnam’s littering epidemic.

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Taken on a river bed in the Mekong Delta

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I took this as I randomly walked down a street in Vung Tau


Things I’d Still Like to Do

  • Head to Sapa to discover the spectacular scenery of the Tonkinese Alps where Montagnard hill tribes have lived for centuries.
  • Ninh Binh is a good base for exploring quintessentially Vietnamese limestone
  • Ha Giang is a beautiful destination located in the Northwest Highlands. scenery.
  • Ban Gioc Waterfall – the most famous place in Cao Bang province, the landscape is dominated by limestone hills.
  • I hear you can opt to skip out on Halong Bay (which is touristy) and head over to Bai Tu Long instead. Located North East of Halong Bay, this area can stretch up to 100 km to the Chinese border.
  • Co To is an island located in the middle of the sea in Quang Ninh Province, a beautiful island with fine white sand and blue water
  • Nam Du is one of the islands in the Nam Du archipelagoes. It’s about 60 km from the mainland. Nam Du is beautiful, pristine and peaceful with beaches.
  • Kon Tum province of the Central Highlands has a border crossing with Laos and Cambodia, also known as the Indochina Fork.

These are just some of the MANY MANY places I’d still like to visit in Vietnam – I chose most of these places specifically because they were less touristy and would allow me to truly explore the country and all that it has to offer.


Conclusion

Overall, while Vietnam has its quirks that it’s still trying to iron out, I still very much like the country.  I’ve had nothing but positive experiences there.  I’ve heard others have mixed reviews and others nothing but negatives.  I suppose part of it can be attributed to the way you prepare for your trip and how you’ve set your expectations … and the way you choose to look at the experience.  True,  you may get scammed – then try not to put yourself in a situation where you may be – book only with reputable companies, ones that come recommended to you by others.  You may get pick pocketed – well, that can happen any where in the world, not just Vietnam.  Yes, they will try to overcharge you on items – they’re trying to make a living – do you how much they make and live on? What’s an extra 50 cents or a dollar to me in the grand scheme of things?

It’s not a country without its share of faults, but it is an emerging country trying to change its past global footprint. They are now posting anti-littering signs and I hear that police are trying to enforce non littering (that I have yet to see).

Some ex-pats and locals who are passionate about the cause gather groups and clean beaches, neighbourhoods and streets.

Certain restaurants are now committed to recycling – when I saw this at one café in Saigon, I wanted to hug the owner.

At an ex-pat green market I attended (in D2 Saigon) they were focussing on the sale of reusable items – such as water bottles (it’s not common there to use reusable water bottles as we do in most other places in the world).  They also focussed on eliminating the need for single use masks by creating cloth ones.  There were also reusable cloth coffee holders for your motorcycle.  I know this is probably hard to understand to us, but, because everyone travels by motorbike, they actually sell you your coffee and put it in a plastic bag or plastic cup carrier (single use) so people can hook it onto their bikes when they drive – more plastic waste.  EVERYTHING comes in a plastic bag.  They looked shocked when I would tell them “no bag” cause I had my Herschel knapsack with me.

Think of what changes could be made IF every person, used a reusable bag, had a cloth mask, used a reusable cloth coffee carrier and water bottle!

On Travel: 24-hour Transit Into Guangzhou, China Without Visa

As I write this, I’m home, in bed, it’s 3:00 AM and I cannot sleep.  My body still thinks it’s 3:00 PM, jet lag sucks!  So I thought, what better time than to start my layover in China 🇨🇳 blog.

The process was a lot easier than I imagined, so I thought I’d share in case it’s something you were stressing about or just wanted to know in the event that you too have a layover in China.

24-hour Transit Into China Without Visa

I’m flying back to Canada from my monthly long adventure to Vietnam (please be sure to check out my posts on that amazing trip).

When I landed in Guangzhou, China, at the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, the temporary immigration process to enter China was much simpler than I expected it to be.

If your layover in China is less than 1 day, you can possibly enjoy a 24-hour transit without a visa (24-hour TWOV). It is available to passengers of most nationalities at most ports of entry.

If your layover is more than 24 hours, you can consider 72-hour TWOV or 144-hour TWOV.

Most countries are eligible for the 24-hour TWOV except those listed below: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

When I deplaned, I went over the area for the Visa (the sign is easily displayed – you’ll be heading to the right).  I filled out the necessary application form and handed it to the kind lady at the counter.  After providing her with my passport, boarding pass from my current flight, and for my flight onto Toronto, I was asked to take a seat as they reviewed my application to enter the country. The process was smooth and quick – I hardly had enough time to vlog that I was waiting for a response before she provided me with the answer – YES!

From there I went through to Customs and then made my way to Gate 50 (it’s downstair on the first floor – you’ll be walking to the right), the China Southern Airline counter for my FREE hotel accommodation. I found that gate a little hard to find, but once I found it, the rest of the process was fairly simple.  I showed the counter agent my boarding pass and passport and was then asked to review a selection of hotels from an iPad and select one.

Free Hotel Provided By China Southern Airlines

I chose the W.Y. Lera Hotel based on the looks of the hotel alone, I didn’t read the whole summary of each hotel because there was a line up behind me.  It looked like something I might see in Vegas – tall, flashy lights, had a tower, and it looked as if there was be something “happening” near by.  That wasn’t the case so much.  The hotel is located in the Huadu District of Guangzhou in the far northern suburbs of the city, quite the distance from any sightseeing in the city centre.  But, it was provided for FREE and I am definitely grateful for that and am not in a position to complain.

I noticed online that China Southern Airlines also offered FREE sightseeing tours. I asked at the desk, they do, however, it ended at 1:00 PM and my flight was at 2:30 PM,  I wouldn’t have enough time to finish the tour, get to the airport, through security and make my flight – so that was not an option for me.

After selecting my hotel, I was provided with a sticker with the hotel name and asked to wait in the designated area until the airport shuttle could take us to the hotel.

When I arrived at the hotel I asked at the front desk how long it would take by metro to get to the city centre – by subway 1.5 hours each way — having to grab my shuttle at 11:00 AM the next morning, this was not going to work either, so I would have NO sightseeing during my time in China 😞.

I really applaud China Southern Airlines for providing this service to their passengers, I was happy to sleep in a (hard) bed rather than on an airport floor.  This is a 3-star hotel, has 178 rooms.  The  room was “nice”, it wasn’t outstanding.  The room was tired and dated.  The carpet was worn and dirty, the decor tired.  Also, the WiFi did not work in my hotel room at all, it barely worked in the lobby.  The rest of the hotel however, was quite nice.

Breakfast was provided a NO COST, the buffet style selection was endless and was quite yummy.

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Enjoying some egg, fruit, beignet, fried fish cake, gyozas, a nada, ramen soup and a coffee

The best part was the view from the 22nd floor revolving restaurant (it did not revolve while I was eating breakfast). It was an overcast day and was overlooking the tops of other buildings,  but, I still found the views quite nice.

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View from the 22nd floor restaurant

The next morning, I decided to go for a walk around the hotel to check out the neighbourhood.

It was pure suburbia, mostly stores, banks and car dealerships. I found it interesting nonetheless simply because of the language of the signs.

It would have been nice to see some of the things I wanted to during my brief stay in Guangzhou. The city features avant-garde architecture such as Zaha Hadid’s Guangzhou Opera House; the carved box-shaped Guangdong Museum; and the iconic Canton TV Tower skyscraper, resembling a thin hourglass. The Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, a temple complex from 1894.

At 11:00 AM the airport shuttle did exactly that – shuttled us the 20 minute drive to Baiyun International Airport.  We arrived rather early.  Having already received our boarding passes in Vietnam, we just needed to clear security and customs, which was a breeze.  Although they did confiscate my fave hot sauce from Vietnam – it was over 100 ml 😢. (I only traveled with  a carry on and a Herschel knapsack, no checked luggage / best way to travel 🧳).

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While I waited for my flight to board, I sat, had coffee and chatted a bit with my new friend Petr, whom I met the night prior as we both waited for our shuttle to the hotel.  That helped pass the time quickly.  Then, off I went to departure Gate A160 to board and be on my way back to Canada.

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The flight was long – I don’t know how else to make 15 hours pass fast – most of my flight was during the “day” – so I watched a lot of movies, read, did word search (I clearly made a typo in my Insta story above lol).  

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Upon landing at Pearson International, I was greeted with a blanket of white snow and a balmy temp of -11, a huge difference from the 31 degrees I had become accustomed to.

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Welcome Home!

I’m suffering from jet lag, my sleep is off and I have no motivation for the time being. Thankfully I took 2 work days off at the end of my trip to deal with the time difference.

Next blog will cover my fave moments, foods and things about Vietnam and well as some things I wasn’t so fond of.  Tune in shortly.  

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?

On Travel: Beautiful Vancouver, BC and Area

Good afternoon, good morning or good evening folks, wherever you’re reading this from.  I’m writing this today from beautiful British Columbia (BC) – it’s so true that they immortalize it on their license plates.   I’m out here visiting my youngest daughter and her boyfriend who moved here a few months ago to enjoy a less chaotic lifestyle than that of Toronto.

Before I get into my 2 cents about Vancouver — let’s start with some FACTS for those of you who don’t know much about Van City:

  1. Vancouver is a coastal seaport city in western Canada, located in the Lower Mainland region of British Columbia.
  2. It is the most populous city in the province, the 2016 census recorded 631,486 people in the city, up from 603,502 in 2011, making it the eighth-largest among Canadian cities. The Greater Vancouver area has more than 2.4 million residents, is the third most populous metropolitan area in the country
  3. Vancouver was the host city of the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics which were held in Vancouver and Whistler.
  4. Major film production studios in Vancouver and nearby Burnaby have turned Greater Vancouver and nearby areas into one of the largest film production centres in North America.
  5. Vancouver has been ranked one of the most livable cities in the world for more than a decade.
  6. As of 2010, Vancouver has been ranked as having the fourth-highest quality of living of any city on Earth.
  7. According to Forbes, Vancouver had the sixth-most overpriced real estate market in the world and was second-highest in North America after Los Angeles in 2007.
  8. Vancouver has also been ranked among Canada’s most expensive cities in which to live.
  9. Forbes has also ranked Vancouver as the tenth-cleanest city in the world.
  10. In May 2018, the Zero Waste 2040 Strategy passed Vancouver’s city council. The city’s plan is to decrease the amount of single-use items distributed in the city, and has stated its intention to ban these items in 2021 if businesses don’t meet reduction targets.
  11. A ban on plastic straws, polystyrene food packaging and free shopping bags will go into effect during mid-2019

Living in Canada, you’d think that I’d have visited BC more often.  But, the truth is that visiting within Canada is actually quite expensive, most times it’s much cheaper for us to travel abroad.  That’s unfortunately why I tend to visit abroad rather than within my own BEAUTIFUL country (unless you luck out and score a great deal on a flight).  This flight cost me $502 return CDN which is actually a great deal to be honest.  But most times it’s cheaper to do an all-inclusive somewhere.  For example my trip to Cuba this past March cost me $625 (flight, resort, food, alcohol and taxes).  See much better deal to go South!

The last time I came out West and came to see my cousin who lived on the Island in Courtenay.  Vancouver Island is a MUST SEE – Uclulet, Tofino, Victoria, Port Hardy, Port Alberni and so much more.

HERE ARE THE TOP THINGS I LOVED SEEING/DOING IN THE GREATER VANCOUVER AREA (in no particular order):

1. Capilano Suspension Bridge

The Capilano Suspension Bridge is a exactly as the name states, a suspension bridge, which crosses the Capilano River in the District of North Vancouver. The bridge is 460 ft long and 230 ft above the river. It is a private facility with an admission fee, I paid $50 for an adult ticket, which I found a bit steep as a Canadian visitor. Residents of BC can get an annual pass with the admission of a regularly purchased admission ticket.

The bridge was originally built in 1889 by George Grant Mackay, a Scottish civil engineer and park commissioner. It was originally made of hemp ropes with a deck of cedar planks, and was replaced with a wire cable bridge in 1903.  The bridge was completely rebuilt in 1956.

Being the end of September I was hoping for less tourists, that wasn’t so.  It was still jam packed.  The bridge is pretty cool, I won’t lie, but with so many ppl on it and most of them stopped to take in the sights or for photo opps it made it hard to enjoy and just be in the moment. Having a fear of heights, I thought I was going to be scared being up 230 ft – but I wasn’t, I walked right across the wobbly, unsteady suspension bridge with no problem. I felt safer knowing the stat that the bridge could hold the weight of 4 fully loaded Boeing 747s lol.

We also went up Treetops Adventures, which consists of 7 footbridges suspended between old-growth Douglas Fir trees.  We also toured along Nature’s Edge Walk soaked in the rainforest and braved The Cliffwalk – which features a narrow walkway that juts out from the face of a granite cliff perched high above the Capilano canyon. The dizzying distance from your feet to the ground makes your heart skip a beat.

RATING:   👍🏻👍🏻 👍🏻 👍🏻  – overall, it was a great day at Capilano, you can certainly spend a whole morning or afternoon there.  I’d say it’s a thing to do if the cost is no object to you.  It can be expensive for a group at $50/ticket for an adult – a youth is $30.

Daily traffic Around 2,200 per day (800,000 per year)


2. Fisherman’s Wharf – Steveston, Richmond

What a gem!  This village is super cute and littered with sit-down restaurants, fish & chip joints, and coffee shops.  This was one of my fave things to do.  What better place to take a stroll than to walk down the streets of a charming fishing village.

Located on the South Arm of the Fraser River, what was originally a fishing village has now grown into a bustling local & tourist area. Lots of benches for resting or just enjoying the gorgeous views. Watch fishing boats, freighters and tugs come & go. I was literally in awe here.  I enjoyed a great salmon salad lunch and rosé (rosé all day 🙌🏻) at Sockeye City Grill while overlooking the gorgeous view.  I felt I was in a little piece of heaven here.  Treated myself to a rum & raisin ice cream cone and sat on a bench and just soaked it ALL in – I really didn’t want to leave.

RATING: 👍🏻 👍🏻 👍🏻 👍🏻 👍🏻 – this place is just a hidden little gem and I absolutely loved my time in this charming little village.  It’s free to stroll and the prices for seafood off the boats is very reasonable – the restaurant prices are pretty decent – but that VIEW though!


3. Canada Place/2010 Olympic Cauldron

Canada Place is situated on the Burrard Inlet waterfront of Vancouver. The building’s exterior is covered by fabric roofs resembling sails. It is also the main cruise ship terminal for the region (cruises to Alaska originate here).  We were lucky there were two cruise ships docked at the time of our visit.  I’ve never been on a cruise before, so the I was awestruck at the sight of these mighty ships.

Canada Place was built on land which was originally owned by the Canadian Pacific Railway and which was built in 1927.  The structure was expanded in 2001 to accommodate another cruise ship berth and during the 2010 Winter Olympics, Canada Place served as the Main Press Centre.

The views from here are wow, especially on a clear day.  We sat and watched the boat traffic, watched the sea planes take off from the nearby sea airport.  No fee to walk around the harbour front.  There are some coffee and ice-cream shops. You can pay to take a ride on FlyOver Canada – we didn’t, we were more interested in the views.

RATING: 👍🏻 👍🏻  👍🏻 👍🏻  – for breathtaking views this is one of the places to go.  Stroll around for incredible views of the Port of Vancouver, Stanley Park, Coal Harbour, Burrad Inlet and the beautiful North Shore mountains.

During Vancouver’s Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2010 there were two Olympic torch cauldrons in the city, including the one by the Convention Centre. Although no longer still lit (except for special occasions I hear – sorry guys, but apparently our trip is not considered to be a “special” occasion), the Olympic Cauldron at the Convention Centre is available for viewing.

I love my country and I love the Olympics. The cauldron is one of the few overt remnants of the 2010 Olympics.  The cauldron no longer has flames like it did during the Games, but still takes pride of place at Jack Poole Plaza along the waterfront. It’s a beautiful sight during the day, especially when combined with the downtown skyline in the background or with the harbour and North Vancouver mountains to the north.

So, if you like the Olympics you can appreciate this piece. No flames, but still, it’s a cool remembrance from our 2010 Olympics.

Its just a short walk from the the Olympic Cauldron to Canada Place.  That’s why I’ve included these two venues as one visit.

RATING:  👍🏻 👍🏻 👍🏻 👍🏻


4. English Bay Beach/Stanley Park Sea Wall

The Vancouver Sea Wall is a stone wall that was constructed around the perimeter of Stanley Park to prevent the erosion of the park’s foreshore.  Park visitors walk, bike, roll, and fish on the seawall.

English Bay Beach is located along Beach Ave between Gilford St and Bidwell St, it is the most populated beach area in Vancouver’s downtown area. The Stanley Park Seawall, a popular running and biking route, runs along the east side of the beach.

I loved this beach, it had such a laid back feel to it – not like the ones back home in Ontario (Grand Bend, Wasaga) –  rock sculptures, logs laying in the sand and watching the world go at near sunset. It’s a great spot to wander, vibrant with other walkers, cyclists, bladers –  joyful on a sunny afternoon!

Take your time go for a walk along the sea wall or rent a bike. Sunset is breathtaking. And the best of all if FREE!

RATING: 👍🏻 👍🏻 👍🏻 – it’s free and a  great place to watch the sunset, ppl watch and get in your 10,000 daily steps.