Hue, Phong Nha, Northern Vietnam

Our one night in Hue we spent at the hostel socializing. I found two backpackers from Buenos Aires so I spent the whole evening practicing my Spanish with them since I haven’t really had a chance to have a real conversation in Spanish in so long. It was so fun and it came back to me quickly, although it also made me feel like I need (and want) to take some Spanish lessons once I get back to the states…

The next morning I woke up and ate some banana pancakes, checked out of the hostel, and put my backpack in storage. We were only in Hue for one day so I spent the whole day meandering around the imperial city there. Hue was the capital of the Nguyen empire, so the imperial city is a massive walled complex. A ton of it was completely destroyed in the war, as Hue was also unfortunately one of the most intensely bombed areas. However, despite this, about 40 (of the originally 180) structures are standing and what is left is so beautiful and impressive. There were palaces, a royal reading house, a royal theater, various royal residences, and numerous beautiful temples. Also, every part was covered in very informative signage so you knew what every pile of bombed rubble used to be and what every standing structure still was. Unfortunately I can’t remember which things were which so I’ll just post a whole bunch of photos of the whole imperial city.

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I spent the whole day at this imperial complex and still hadn’t visited everything but at a certain point my back and sinuses were feeling unhappy so I walked back to the hostel, stopping at a cute but little royal antiquities museum. Then I got some delicious spring roll/vermicelli noodles as an early dinner.

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Eventually it was time to hop onto my night bus to Phong Nha, a small town that serves as the base for exploring some of Vietnam (and the worlds) most impressive caves.

Our first day in Phong Nha, Emma and I took motorbikes to Paradise Cave, the longest dry cave in the world. The drive there was truly gorgeous. The whole area was limestone cliffs and the mountains were covered in lush jungle vegetation. It was so pleasant. Once we got to the entrance we had to hike in through the pretty ferns to get to the cave.

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The cave itself was so stunning. It was indeed a very long walk through all of the stalactites and beautiful cave formations. There were also these little mineral ponds that were so calm that the surface was like a mirror. It was stunning.

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After a while wandering through the cave we headed back out, hiked back through the jungle and got on the motorbike to head to Dark Cave. Here we actually swam to the cave (with a guide this time) and we’re given headlamps and hard hats once we reached the entrance. Then we hiked through knee deep water until we reached a section that was almost like a slot canyon. At this point it was starting to get very muddy. We finally reached this lake that is completely mineral mud. It is the weirdest mud. It makes you completely buoyant, so much so that it takes serious effort to push your feet down to touch the bottom. It was really cool but it made my organs feel all weird to be so completely weightless. Also every single inch of us was covered in this mud which was quite funny but frustrating if you opened your mouth, and it would have been a disaster if you had anything in your eye. After a while of floating around in the mud we hiked back out and kayaked downriver to get back to the motorbikes. The river was also so clear and blue so we swam around for a bit to try and get some of the mud off, although it seems to have permanently stained the white parts of my bathing suit a weird pinkish brown.

Then it was back onto the bike to head back to the hostel. The light was stunning on our trip home as the sun had already set but the remaining rosy light was reflecting off of the white limestone cliffs. The trip back was also gorgeous but in a different way as we were going through rivers and farmland and villages. I tried to take a couple photos but we were in a rush since we didn’t have lights on the bike and darkness was fast approaching so the photo below doesn’t even come close to doing the scene justice.

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Emma left that night, so I was back to traveling on my own, and that night I even got my dorm room completely to myself as Phong Nha is quite a small place and hasn’t hit peak tourist popularity yet. It was very calming.

The next day I had a slow lazy morning and then spent the rest of the day wandering around the village and the neighboring villages taking photos and eating delicious Vietnamese food.

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Eventually it started pouring rain so I headed back to the hostel and later got on a night bus to Hanoi.

I arrived in Hanoi quite exhausted and couldn’t check in to my room until 1. Fortunately they had a free 3 hour walking tour of the old quarter of Hanoi at 10 so I joined in. It was a really lovely tour. Hanoi is a really nice city, at least the old quarter is. We went to a small temple, then to a catholic cathedral. Our tour guide told us that Vietnam is very religiously diverse and the population is evenly split between Buddhism, Catholicism, and atheism, with a minority group practicing Confucianism. Very interesting.

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After this we went to the main lake in Hanoi, Hoan Kiem Lake. On weekends they shut down the roads surrounding the lake to vehicle traffic so everyone is just out playing in the streets. There were so many families around and there were all sorts of little plastic cars and scooters and roller blades that kids were renting and riding around on. It was so sweet to watch.

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The lake itself was also quite pretty and there is a special little temple island in the middle of it dedicated to the turtle god. Within the lake there are apparently ~20 different kinds of turtles that you can find. Unfortunately though I didn’t see a single one…

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After the lake we headed to the original place that made egg coffee, a Vietnamese specialty. Although I don’t usually drink coffee, Hanoi is famous for this egg coffee so I had to try it. They mix egg yolk with condensed milk and whip it so that it becomes a meringue, then you have to stir the meringue into the coffee.

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It was actually so delicious, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t really care for eggs or coffee. It was very thick and frothy and creamy.

After that we headed to a market which was fairly uninteresting and chaotic so we moved on quickly and headed back to the hostel. I checked in to my room, rested a bit, ate lunch and then headed off to return to the lake.

I sat down next to the lake and within minutes was approached by a group of 20 year old students who wanted to practice their English. This is apparently quite common around this lake (as I was later approached by 3 more groups of students ranging in age from 8 up to 20… the 8 year olds were the cutest). They had a list of questions that they were supposed to ask but we ended up getting super off topic and we ended up chatting for a full hour and a half. It was so lovely, and they tried to teach me some Vietnamese but the pronunciation is so hard that I’ve already forgotten almost everything that they taught me.

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After bidding my new friends adieu I continued my stroll around the lake, meeting some more curious Vietnamese people and watching all of the sweet couples cuddling up along the shore.

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Finally it was getting late enough that I decided to head back to the hostel, just in time for some free beer. I spent the remainder of the evening making friends and getting destroyed at foosball.

The next day I checked out of my room and put my bags in storage. Hanoi is famous for its food, so I soon went out to find some Bun Bo Nam Bo, a Hanoi noodle bowl specialty that I’d read about. I found a little hole in the wall type place and ordered some and it was so tasty.

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It was also a humongous portion and I was so hungry that I gobbled it down and then realized how stuffed I was. I wandered around the old quarter for most of the remainder of the day. Eventually I was hungry again so I tried another Hanoi specialty, this time called Banh Cuon. It was honestly a bit weird. First off they barely spoke English so I thought I ordered pork but then it looked very odd and tasted possibly a little shrimp-y. It’s basically these big wide slightly soggy rice noodles surround some ground mystery meat and you dip it in this sauce that seemed just like fish sauce with chilies floating in it. The flavor was quite good but the weird texture and mysteriousness of the ingredients were just odd enough to push me to gobble it down rather then savor it.

After dinner I headed back to the hostel to rest and then took a night bus to Sapa.

Sapa ended up being my favorite place so far. It’s in the far north of Vietnam, right on the border with Yunnan, China. It’s very mountainous and the area is scattered with hilltribes who have terraced the foothills of the mountains for rice paddies. We trekked 16 km through the mountainous terrain with a beautiful little hill tribe family as our guide, stopping to eat and catch our breath. It was actually one of the most scenic and gorgeous places I have ever been.

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We made it to our homestay around 4 and settled in. My tour group was such an amazing group of people. It was 2 Americans who were on their gap years before starting at private liberal arts colleges (so I gave them lots of fun advice), an incredibly fun Australian guy, and a hilarious brother and sister duo from Toronto (and the sisters name was Tara so that was fun). Our beds were in a cabin and right next to eachother so it was basically like summer camp. In the evening, I broke away from the group and went on a walk down the river to read my book and watch the sunset. It was so beautiful and peaceful.

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Our homestay family made us a delicious dinner and then we spent the whole evening having such a blast. We played game after game and then danced around for hours before the mosquitos and exhausting from our hike got the better of us.

The next morning we woke up to a delicious crepe breakfast, put on our hiking shoes, and continued on to our next village. The breath-taking views continued on and we eventually reached this big cliff face with a waterfall down it where we relaxed for a bit and enjoyed the view.

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The remainder of the walk was quite arduous as we went up huge hills and then down slippery muddy slopes but we eventually got some tasty noodle soup for lunch, and then finally reached the main town of Sapa.

We had 2 more hours until our bus so our little group wandered around the town, and we eventually found a little cafe to just enjoy the incredible view and drink juice and coffee.

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Then it was back onto the bus to Hanoi. I got in at 10 PM and immediately had to repack my bags before catching a 7 AM bus to Halong Bay.

I went on a tour through my Hanoi hostel in halong bay as it is fairly confusing to deal with on your own and there are lots of “tour” scams. It was nice doing it through the hostel as there were 12 other backpackers my same age with me and we had 3 tour guides who were also our age and knew how to keep everything fun and laid back. Our first day in halong bay we checked into our dorm bungalow on a private island and got served a delicious lunch.

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Then we got onto a boat and went all around the bay, finally stopping at one point to jump off the boat and swim around a bit. Unfortunately it was freezing outside so it made the swim and post-swim a tiny bit miserable but it was still fun.

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Then we went a little further and got to kayak all throughout the bay. It was so much fun. We went through one area that was a floating village. There are ~1000 people that live in these floating villages throughout halong bay. It was really amazing to see. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera with me but it was all so scenic. After a nice long kayak ride it was back to our little island for rest and dinner. After dinner we all stayed up late hanging out and playing games.

The next day we took a boat ride to one of the major islands where we got bicycles and went all around the island. It was such a nice ride.

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Eventually we got off and hiked up one of the many limestone mountains in the area. It was quite the grueling hike, but the view at the top was so worth it.

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The hike back down was equally brutal and a few people in our group took some big tumbles. Thankfully I was not one of them. Then it was time for a long bike ride back to the boat where we were greeted by an extremely late lunch. We were so starving that the food was quickly gobbled up. We got back to our island stuffed and exhausted and all napped until dinner time. After dinner it was another night of dancing and games. Our group of people was so much fun and we all got along really well so that made the whole trip even better.

Our last day in halong bay we went on another hike, but this time on the island that we were staying on. It too had some brutally steep moments but the views were again so worth it, and we got to go to a beach that was covered in monkeys.

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Then it was back to the main part of our island for some final card games and lunch before our bus/boat trip back to Hanoi. I made it back in the evening, caught up with people back home, and then decided to head out for some late dinner. I got Pho from a tiny stand on the street and it was quite tasty, then I wandered around and stumbled onto the Hanoi night market. It was really interesting. It was geared towards locals, not tourists, as most of the stuff was clothing and accessories, but it was fun to wander around in the chaos and just watch people haggle over prices while snacking on the various fried street foods along the way.

Today is my second to last day in Hanoi. For the most part I took it easy for the day since I’m pretty physically exhausted from all of the hiking and exercise from the past week. I finally headed out for lunch at a nearby place that specializes in Bun Cha, a Hanoi specialty that Obama tried when he came to Hanoi. I didn’t make it to the place that he went to because it was far away and there was a place closer that had better reviews on trip advisor.

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It was indeed quite delicious and they showed me the proper way to eat it which was very nice. Afterwards I decided to stroll around through the Old Quarter to see if I could find myself a watch. I unfortunately broke mine beyond repair and thought it might be cheaper to just get a replacement in Vietnam. It was quite a frustrating search and I ended up confused and with no watch, so I guess I’ll just find one when I get home. The stroll around the old quarter was nice though. It was, and still is, the main shopping hub of Hanoi. Every street is named after the type of goods sold on it. Some of the stores have just turned into general tourist-crap stores but many of them still retain their original function so there is a street where every shop is selling aluminum wares, a street where every shop is selling silk, and then the street that my hostel is on is dedicated to stores selling ropes and string.

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Tomorrow’s my last day in Vietnam which is sad but I’m excited to head back to Thailand and meet up with one of my old school friends!

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Saigon, Da Lat, & Hoi An

My second evening in Ho Chi Minh, 5 other travelers and I headed to a bar that’s on top of a skyscraper. The view was really amazing and the other people were so friendly so that was fun. My next day in Saigon, I booked a Mekong river tour. I hadn’t heard the best reviews of it, but it was only ~$6 and included water and lunch so it couldn’t really be that bad. We started out with a 2 hour bus ride to the river delta while our very funny guide explained what was on the schedule for the day. Our first stop was a small temple that had 3 giant Buddha statues, one standing, one sitting, and one reclining. It was a pretty little temple, and seemed to have a lot more Chinese influence than the temples in Thailand.

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Then we piled onto a boat that took us over to an island that had a coconut candy factory on it. We got to sample the coconut candy but then they of course tried to push us to buy some. Didn’t buy anything the whole day. Next we went to an island where they served us lunch. It wasn’t the most appetizing lunch, but it was food. Then we had an hour to explore the little island. I had mixed feelings about this. First we walked past a “crocodile” (pretty sure these were caimen, not crocs but that’s what they called them) farm. At first I was excited to see “crocodiles” but then I realized how terrible the conditions were, it was like 50 animals in one tiny enclosure barely bigger than my living room and I got a bit depressed. So I moved on to explore the remainder of the island with a couple Dutch people on my trip. We got free bike rentals so we took the bikes out of the tourist area and biked around the island through banana and coconut farms, which was charming.

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Our next stop was a honey farm, where we were served free honey tea but then of course pressured to buy some. Thankfully we moved on quickly and got in these little banana boats that took us down a little Mekong tributary. It was really pleasant, and I kept spotting these weird little creatures that looked like a mix between a fish and a salamander that were climbing out of the water onto the mud using what looked like fins, not legs. I still have no idea what they were but they were everywhere. I’ll have to look them up.

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We ended with some fresh fruit at this place where we were serenaded with traditional vietnamese singing. It was a bit bothersome because I don’t exactly like being sung to and it wasn’t particularly good and of course they asked for tips. After this we headed back to the main land and got back on our bus to Saigon.

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So in total, it wasn’t the best experience because a lot of it was clearly designed as a sort of tourist trap, but the banana boat trip and bike trip were quite nice and worth it so I don’t regret my $6 spent. Then it was back to the hostel for some free beer and socializing. A new British girl arrived at my hostel who was so incredibly entertaining and had just gotten back from scuba diving for 2 weeks in the Maldives where she got covered in jellyfish stings. So I listened to all of her diving stories and then we headed out on a pub crawl put on by a neighboring hostel. It was really fun, and I made a lovely group of friends.

The next day I checked out of the hostel and then spent much of the day lazing around their common room. Eventually my hunger overtook my laziness and I found a stand selling sandwiches that were a cross between a banh mi and a gyro. It was fantastic. Then I walked through another part of downtown Saigon for the rest of the day. After wandering I was feeling sore so I went to a massage place where the masseuses are blind. It was the best massage yet and it was only $3. So crazy. After dinner with some of the people from my hostel, it was time to get on my overnight bus to Da Lat. It was truly the weirdest bus I’ve ever been on. The seats are beds and there are two levels of them. So there was someone sleeping above me.

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Thankfully I passed out right away and woke up when we arrived in Da Lat at 5:30 am. Unfortunately the reception at my hostel wasn’t open until 7, but there were two other backpackers in the same boat as me, so we lugged our stuff up to a little cafe, ate some breakfast Bun Bo Hue (noodle soup), and rested. Then I walked the 2 km to my hostel and fortunately there was an open bed, so I was able to check in immediately and sleep for the remainder of the morning. Also the beds at this hostel were memory foam, which made sleep all the better.

I finally decided it was time to get out of bed around lunch time. I walked all through the center of town looking for street food called da lat pizza. Eventually I reached the main lake in Da Lat and thought maybe there would be a food cart somewhere around it.

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After almost fully completing the 6 km trek around the lake I finally found a cart selling banh mi so I bought one. My inability to know how to order food in Vietnamese meant I just got whatever she handed me. It was a sandwich with about 5 meats in it. It tasted delicious, although the texture was a bit suspicious so I just had to gobble it down before thinking too hard about it. Then I wandered back up through the hillside and around the town where I bought some more questionable street food, this time a weird jelly boba type drink that ended up being overly sweet so I only made it through half of it.

Once I got back to the hostel I rested some more before a tasty “family style” dinner served for all of the travelers and then some more evening socializing.

The next day I set out early for an EasyRider motorcycle tour. This entailed me and 3 other people from my hostel sitting on the backs of motorcycles while we were toured around the Da Lat countryside. Da Lat is very different from other places that I’ve been because it’s at 5000 ft elevation so the weather is significantly drier and there are pine trees rather than palm trees. Our first stop was a little pine grove that we hiked up to see a view of the city and surrounding farms (a huge portion of produce around Vietnam is grown in Da Lat).

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After this we continued on for a while on this long and winding, but very scenic road, stopping at another viewpoint, a flower farm, and a coffee plantation. At the coffee plantation we learned about this special coffee that is actually made from coffee beans that have been digested by weasels, which apparently makes it a delicacy. It was very interesting.

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Our next stop was a cricket farm (for eating) and a rice wine farm. We got to try samples at both and the rice wine was especially delicious. Then it was on to a silk factory which was interesting but a little gross as every surface was covered in wet silkworm carcasses.

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Next we went to Elephant Falls, which was gorgeous. We walked way down to the bottom of the waterfall which was fun, but muddy.

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Then we had a cheap little lunch. It was good but the meat was slightly questionable (thankfully did not get sick from it!). Then we walked over to a fairly modern temple that was built in 2007. It was very Grand and impressive, with a gigantic Happy Buddha statue.

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Then we got back on our bikes and headed off on a long trip to Pangour waterfall. We stopped once to look at these peppercorns trees that are actually growing around gigantic coffee trees.

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Pangour Waterfall was incredible. Truly breathtaking, I had no idea there were waterfalls like that in Vietnam. We walked around there for a bit, checking out the waterfall from all different angles before hopping back on the motorbikes for a long ride back towards Da Lat.

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On the way back we stopped at a mushroom farm and an indigenous village where they had build a massive rooster statue. We also stopped at a couple more viewpoints, including a beautiful alpine-esque lake.

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In the end, it was an incredibly informative tour and our guides were so friendly and knowledgeable. I had a family dinner that night with the other travelers from my tour and then we went to this crazy bar that’s designed like a mix between a maze and a funhouse. There are false stairways everywhere and in places the ceiling drops to about 3 ft. It was quite entertaining.

The next day in Da Lat, I went on a canyoning tour with 4 other backpackers. First we got dropped off and geared up in half wetsuits, harnesses, and hard hats. Then we headed to this dirt hill where they taught us how to rappel. With this knowledge in mind we hiked up this canyon until we got to a bit cliff face. First we rappelled down the dry part of the cliff and then it was time for the challenge of rappelling down the waterfall. It was a bit terrifying because the water is just pouring down on top of you so you can barely see but it was quite exhilarating.

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Then we hiked through the jungle for a bit more than a half an hour. There were birds everywhere and it was lovely to be tucked away in such a forest. Eventually we reached our next waterfall, the “washing machine”. For this waterfall we weren’t really climbing down it but rather just dropping down it. It was a bit overwhelming because it’s just a bunch of water pushing you down and again you can’t really see much but it was very refreshing and the swimming hole at the bottom was quite nice.

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Then they set us up on this zip line across a giant swimming hole and we spent the remainder of the afternoon zip lining into the water and cliff jumping.

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After a full day of activities they set us up with a make your own banh mi station which was so delicious and some beers. By then end of the day I was damp and exhausted and cold so it was nice to go back to the hostel and just relax. I spent the remainder of the evening there socializing with other people of course before heading to bed early.

The next day I checked out of the hostel and then had to wait for my night bus to Hoi An (a 17 hr bus ride). Our bus was running 2 hours late but thankfully I booked the same bus as a British girl, Emma, that I had befriended in Ho Chi Minh who was on the same trip plan as me. Having a bit of company made both the bus delay, and the accompanying overnight bus ride, a little more tolerable.

We made it to Hoi An and were staying in the same hostel for the same number of days, so it’s like having a travel companion. Our first day we were exhausted from our excruciating bus ride so we rested a bit at the hostel and then headed out with 2 other backpackers to explore Hoi An. Hoi An is famous for its tailoring shops and there are hundreds of them where you can get custom clothes designed and made overnight for dirt cheap. Emma had a list of things she needed made, and one of our other friends wanted to get a custom suit made so we spent the afternoon wandering around between tailor shops until we found the best price with the best fabric to get their clothes made. It was interesting to watch, and I decided to get a jumpsuit made since I can never find ones in the US that fit right. Then we went to a bakery that had incredible banh mi for less than $1 and was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. We spent the remainder of the evening just wandering around some of the produce markets along the river in Hoi An.

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Our next day in Hoi An, I accompanied Emma to some of her various fittings at the tailors and then we bought old town exploration tickets that allowed us to go into 5 different buildings, sights, or cultural events. We went to the old Japanese covered bridge, 2 old assembly halls, an old house, and a traditional performance art show. They were all very spectacular and at one of the assembly halls, we got swarmed by a class of elementary school kids who all wanted high fives, it was very cute.

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We got some delicious Hoi An specialties for dinner and then finally we headed back to the hostel, socialized with some other backpackers and headed to bed early.

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The next day we slept in a bit and then finished touring the old town. Emma had her final tailoring fitting and I had to pick up my jumpsuit, and then we wandered into a different part of the old town, admiring the lanterns and fruit vendors, and picking up some Vietnamese donuts along the way. Eventually we headed back to the hostel where we got a free street food tour that took us to various stops. Only one stop included something I hadn’t already eaten but it was still all so delicious. We got banh mi, pho, these little rice paper/egg/beef dumplings, and fruit shakes. At this point I started feeling a bit sick, as my throat was feeling very scratchy and my head was hurting.

I woke up the next day to a full blown sickness, I’m thinking it’s just a common cold. I couldn’t get out of bed all morning because of my congestion and body aches, but in the afternoon I finally decided I needed some fresh air so Emma and I rented bikes and biked through the rice paddies on the outskirts of town on our way to the beach.

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We didn’t make it to the beach because at one point along the way we stopped to take photos and I heard some mewing sounds coming from a gutter. We ended up finding 3 itty bitty kittens, wet and shivering, dumped in a shrub. We freed them and fretted about what to do with them. We ended up wrapping them in Emma’s sweatshirt and putting them in my bike basket.

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They quickly fell fast asleep in the cozy sweatshirt while we struggled getting through the rice paddies and coconut farms in all of the mud. We finally emerged onto a main road and I saw the name of a hostel that I recognized. We went inside and they helped us get in contact with a woman who runs the only cat shelter in Hoi An. After struggling with communication with her we finally got her address, and biked all the way across town to find her. By this point it was dark and drizzling and one of the kitties was mewing again. Finally we found her, and she was so lovely and said that she had already found them a foster family. So the story ended really happily, and it was a lovely little Valentine’s Day surprise. Then it was back to the hostel to pack up and get ready for our next bus ride.

Emma and I just arrived in Hue, so we’ll do some exploring here before heading north to see some caves.

Chiang Mai & Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Our first day in Chiang Mai, we got a tasty Thai lunch at our guesthouse, booked a cooking class for the following day, and then set out on a walking tour of the historic part of the city.
We started out visiting Wat Chedi Luang.
It contained a very ancient and large pagoda (although now much of the pagoda has slowly worn away with earthquakes). The pagoda was very distinct from the other Wats in Thailand that we had visited. Interestingly there was also a small temple there that was for men only, due to menstruation making women unholy and thus apparently ruining the sanctity of the temple. Not sure how I feel about this… Luke chose not to enter as well, in a stand of solidarity. I don’t really see much feminism in Thailand, although they seem to show women so much respect in other regards that I didn’t really even think about Thai feminism up to that point. Besides that, it was quite a lovely Wat.

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Before our next stop we found a little stand that was serving up mango sticky rice for unbelievably cheap. So of course we had to buy one (and a passion fruit shake) and it was one of the tastiest mango-sticky rices that I’ve had.

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The next temple we visited, Wat Phan Tao, was very distinct as it was made out of wood and was decorated in gold flags rather than the usually gilded temples that we were used to seeing. It also had a little bamboo walkway along a pond decorated in Chinese New Year flags that was quite pretty and peaceful.

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After this we strolled along a street that was lined in little crafts shops. In general, there was quite the abundance of crafty gift shops in Chiang Mai. This street led us to our final wat, Wat Phra Singh. This was the primary royal wat in Chiang Mai. It was quite the fancy temple complex and much of the gilding and architecture reminded me of the royal temple accompanying the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

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For dinner we decided to head to a little market area to eat some street food. We got Khao Soi, a Northern Thai specialty that is chicken and egg noodles in a yellow curry broth. Half of the egg noodles are regular noodles and the other half are deep fried so that they’re crunchy. It was so so delicious.

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We followed that up with some roti with chocolate sauce which are kind of like bubbly fried crepes with toppings on them. That was delicious as well. After that we wandered outside of the old town to find the night market. It turns out that the night market is a whole street lined with thousands of handicraft-selling booths paired with multiple giant bazaars containing even more handicraft booths. It was overwhelming but fun and colorful. Eventually we found a little night bazaar that reminded us a lot of Portland. The square was lined in hip ethnic-fusion food trucks, the handicrafts that they were selling there were slightly more unique, there was an abundance of cafe lights and rustic furniture (so very portland-esque), and there was a stage in the middle of it all. We found ourselves a little upcycled pallet table to sit at and watched a very pleasant singer-songwriter for a bit while he covered familiar acoustic songs. It was a very charming way to end the evening.

For our second day in Chiang Mai, we started off my lazing around the hostel and catching up on Internet-things. Then it was time for our traditional Thai cooking class! We started off with a market visit where our chef-teacher explained to us all of the vegetables and ingredients that you see at a Thai market and what to make with each one.

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Then we drove out to the organic farm where our cooking class was located. The whole place was quite serene.

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Then school was in session. First we learned how to make curry paste. We followed that by making Tom Kha Soup. It was shockingly easy to make and tasted so delicious, even made by us amateurs!

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Next we learned how to make sticky rice with mango and green papaya salad. After eating those up, we moved on to curries. I made panang curry and Luke made green curry so that we would both learn how to make different curries. Then it was on to Pad Thai, which was also way easier than I was expecting. Luke somehow managed to make his Pad Thai inside of a fried egg (like an omelet), but when I tried to do this it came out looking like a complete mess.. I seem to lack the artful part of cooking. Finally we made holy basil stir fry and cashew chicken stir fry. During this part our teacher taught us how to make the pan shoot up in flames, which Luke attempted but I was too intimidated by. In the end, it all tasted delicious but it was sooo much food and we were stuffed by the time we left the cooking school.

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Our last full day in Chiang Mai, we wandered around the city and got more delicious Khao Soi at a cute little cafe.

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I followed that up with a Thai massage while Luke found a fun little coffee shop to hang out in. It was quite an interesting massage, very different from western massage but it felt phenomenal and was less than $6. They also gave me complimentary Thai iced tea for hydration afterwards. After some post-massage lazy time, we headed out for our final Thai dinner and then returned to the night market to pick up a few souvenirs and a couple clothing items to add to my sparse wardrobe. By this point in the trip I became acutely aware of my terrible packing, as I fully under-packed. Thankfully picking up a few clothing essentials did not break the bank.

The next day Luke headed back to the US. Thankfully I didn’t have to check out of the hostel until 5, so I spent the remainder of the day packing and planning my next steps in Vietnam. After dinner, I got a tuktuk to the airport and proceeded to have a fairly miserable remainder of the night. I spent ~5 hours in the Chiang Mai airport and then ~5 hours in the Bangkok airport. This was followed by a terribly messy situation with immigration that was solved by an airline representative taking me through the back route of the airport, bypassing immigration. It was very confusing. Finally I arrived in Ho Chi Minh yesterday at 7 am having gotten a total of 45 minutes of sleep. Thankfully it is so organized here and I got on a bus that took me straight to the hostel in no time. By the time I was able to check in to my room I was so exhausted that I ended up spending the remainder of the day sleeping, waking only for dinner at a nearby Pho stand (so so tasty and cheap!) with a British journalist staying in the same dorm as me. After a bite to eat, I got my two complimentary beers from the hostel and spent a few hours chatting with other travelers in the common room. Almost everyone here is a solo traveller which is super nice for social purposes and everyone has such different backgrounds so it was fun to spend a while chatting with people.

Today I woke for an amazing complimentary breakfast (between the 2 free beers, decadent complimentary breakfast, and really incredible amenities at dirt cheap prices I don’t see how this hostel makes any profit). After a post breakfast rest I headed out to discover some of Ho Chi Minh, or as everyone prefers to say, Saigon. I wandered all over, through various markets and down all sorts of streets.

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At one point I actually stumbled upon a catholic cathedral. It wasn’t particularly magnificent but it was so oddly out of place amongst all of the temples of SE Asia that it was interesting. Then I ate an incredible Banh Mi for lunch before wandering (a bit lost) back towards the hostel.