My Intimate Meeting With The Pavement

Just make it stop. The rain. It wasn’t going to stop. So on we went…out of Buon Ma Thuot and onwards toward Pleiku. We had gone about 30KM when the potholes started getting bigger and bigger. And then bigger and closer together. Louis, in front of me, went through a pothole, and I followed thinking if his bike can make it so can mine. Nope, I was wrong.

My bike didn’t make it, and I fell. It suuuuuucked. I had a hard time getting up, and a super nice guy behind me quickly stopped and pulled me and my bike up. Louis realized what had happened and sped back. Inspecting my wounds, I knew I was lucky. Just a couple scraped palms and a torn poncho (my poncho was garbage anyways), but one largely bruised ego. I think the shock of the fall hurt more than anything else and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a few tears. I already wasn’t thrilled about driving, and falling just made it that much harder for me. I caught my breath, wiped my tears, gave Lou a big hug, and kept going. We kept on for a while, with the plan being to pull over soon at a cafe to get a coffee and wash my palms.

We ended up playing a few games of cards at a cafe while we waited for the rain to slow down. It didn’t. When the roads started flooding I made the executive decision to stop driving for the day. It wasn’t the most economical idea as we hadn’t even driven that far, and we still had a long way to go, but this wasn’t how we wanted to road trip. I didn’t want to be nervous while driving, and I sure as hell didn’t want to be constantly soaked to the bone. Our Visa’s allowed us five more weeks in Vietnam, why waste our days not enjoying ourselves?

All this was marshmallows and puppies compared to what we experienced the next day though…

It legitimately did not stop raining all day and all night, but in the morning we really did need to carry on. Buon Ho was in the middle of a rain storm and it wasn’t going to stop any time soon. We left Buon Ho with “Ok. Let’s just take it easy and go slow” because of the weather and the roads. That’s until I hit another pot hole and ripped my palms open…again!

AGAIN! This time it wasn’t just a little scrape. A rock lodged itself into my left palm while another made itself comfy in my left thumb. Dirt and gravel pockmarked my hands and my foot was stuck under my bike. All this happened in front of one of the friendliest mechanics I Travel VIetnam Katie Fallsever did meet, and he ran over to lift me and my bike up. After setting my bike off to the side, he helped me hobble over to his shop/house. My hands were completely immobile and my foot was throbbing, but I was much more calm than the previous day. Other than the odd swear, I was mostly muttering about my own stupidity. Mr. Mechanic pulled over a chair for me while his daughter got to work pulling the rocks out of my hands with my tweezers. She was incredibly delicate and something told me she had done this before. Mr. Mechanic knelt in front of me, icing my knee and scolding his daughter to be more gentle any time he saw me wince. I was too nervous about the state of my foot to call attention to it, but since it was slowly regaining movement I figured it wasn’t broken.

This all happened very quickly, and my homemade First Aid Kit finally came in handy for something other than shaving cuts. They applied some sort of magical-smelling green potion, and a fizzing topical disinfectant before wrapping my hands in the jumbo sized bandaids I had with me. They were a wonderful family and we had to plead with them to accept the few dollars we were offering in great thanks. Before allowing me to bike off into the gloomy, pothole-ridden day, Mr. Mechanic checked my bike over. He gave me the go-ahead after popping a few pieces back into place. That night we finally reached Pleiku. I’ll admit it, I wasn’t loving Vietnam that day. I was in pain, soaked to my core, and feeling mildly homesick.

I’m writing this 8 days later. I only told my family 2 days ago about the fall, showed my mom

Infection

Infection

via Skype, and she knew instantly that it was infected. Jeez Mom! I had never even fallen off my bicycle as a kid! And now here I was, on the other side of the world, with an infected hand. Fuck. I spent the night after telling my mom tossing and turning from the pain. It wasn’t getting better, it was getting worse. I found a doctor in Hoi An (the town we’re currently in) and Louis and I walked over. He spoke fantastic English and everything was very clean. It was a private practice, seemingly with his home above (very Vietnamese). The consultation was over fairly quickly as he knew immediately that it was infected and after checking my temperature and such, he knew the infection hadn’t spread. With a quick peak down my shirt as he checked my lungs (no joke), and a look up my nose, he also concluded that my cold was just in my head and not bacterial. Fantastic!

My bill was 650,000VND (~$30) in total for anti-inflammatory pills, amoxicillin, a tube of Silvirin, 3 gauze bandages, and the peep show. Louis called this the package deal “The Works” since it included the brief and unnecessary feel up. You should’ve seen us biting back our laughter after Doc got a peek at my goodies – I’m just disappointed I wore my bra with the rip in it!

Healing process

Healing process

PS: It is about two weeks later, and my hand is totally healed. I have some light scarring, but other than that I’m great :) 

Books Shmooks

Reading reading reading. Books books books. I love it, I love ‘em! Being done school means many things for me, one of those things being ENDLESS pleasure reading. Louis & I brought an abundance of books travelling with us, which seems absurd because of the weight, but when book exchanges are using a 2-for-1 system, it’s worked to our advantage. We’re both book-aholics and it’s one addiction we encourage each other on.
This summer is endless. Back home, Summer is drawing to a close with turning leaves and cooler temps, while Vietnam is toasty warm. This September did not mean the return of school for me, which means I can *gasp* continue reading for pleasure! Here is a list of my latest book conquests from the time I left home (July 19, 2013) up until meow. I’ve starred the ones I especially loved.

Katie’s List

Galapagos – Kurt Vonnegut
Desirable Daughters – Bharati Mukherjee
The Cocaine Diaries – Paul Keany with Jeff Farrell *
Mr. Nice – Howard Marks *
Papillon – Henri Charriere
One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest – Ken Kesey *
Catcher In The Rye – J.D. Salinger
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
Tobacco Road – Erskine Caldwell *
Eleven Minutes – Paulo Coelho *
On The Road – Jack Kerouac
The Power of Positive Thinking – Norman Vincent Peale (read some of it, skimmed some of it. A little too bible-heavy for this girl. Although it did inspire me, which I think is the point!)
Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts ***
Life of Pi – Yann Martel
The Time Keeper – Mitch Albom
The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom
Atomised – Michel Houellebecq
Dry – Augusten Borroughs
Happiness – Will Ferguson *
The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell *

Lou’s List
Animal Farm- George Orwell
Tobbaco Road- Erskine Caldwell
Cocaine Diaries-Paul Keany with Jeff Farrell
The Picture of Dorian Gray- Oscar Wilde
The Count of Monte Cristo- Alexander Dumas *counts as 3 books
Kingdom of Fear- Hunter S. Thompson
On The Road – Jack Kerouac

What’s your favourite book? What books do you recommend?

Why I’m so happy…

Aside

This is why I’m so happy right now. I’m in Da Lat, Vietnam – the city of Eternal Spring. You know those cool, fresh feeling spring days that make you silently grin to yourself as you stroll down the street? That’s how my soul feels right now. Silently grinning. I’m curled up on a wicker bench wearing my comfiest pants and fuzzy warm sweater. I’m sock-less, bra-less, and have my hood up. The lovely Mrs. My, the owner of Cafe 13 (named after her superstitious favourite number) just brought me a steaming cup of delicious tea, and here I am, curled up, sipping on my hot tea. The cafe patio is filled with plants, greenery, wood, and art that says “Peace Love Music”. These are the reasons I’m so happy right now.

Santa Cafe – Ho Chi Minh City

Mmmmmmm I’m day-dreaming of the banana pancake smothered in chocolate sauce as I write this. Traveling through Vietnam, Santa Cafe ended up being Louis & my favourite breakfast joint when we got bored of our home-cooked egg breakfasts in Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon. Imagine: a thin crepe (they called it a pancake, but it was more the thickness of a crepe), folded over an entire chopped up fresh banana, with a side dish of creamy chocolate sauce. Now pour that chocolate sauce all over the banana crepe goodness, and consume! But slowly, savour every bite. Mmmm…

We indulged in a few of their meals, them all being relatively cheap and tasty. Their veggies and tofu in sauce with a side of rice is delectable, healthy (a backpackers diet isn’t always veggie-filled), and cheap. With the average 12,000VND for a Saigon Green, Santa Cafe is the best choice if you’re looking for some munchies with your beer all at a great price. This is coming from cheap backpackers who are budgeting for a year…
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If you’re planning on indulging in more than the one beer, I’d suggest opting for the large Tiger bottle, as it’s twice the size of the Saigon Green, and only 22,000VND. Vietnamese Rhum on ice is 16,000VND for a “shot” (it’s pretty much a double shot…they fill that little measuring glass right up to the brim). And boy do I ever recommend the rhum. It’s like a spiced rum with hints of caramel. If you’re a non-drinker, their shakes are to die for. I can personally recommend both the strawberry and the banana.

During the morning, lunchtime, and night, there will always be at least one older expat gentleman that includes Santa Cafe in their daily routine. Oftentimes, there will be a gathering of them, chatting and/or bellowing away. Some of them are very friendly and have some great Vietnam tips.

Santa Cafe has a second floor with a balcony overlooking the street which is neat if you want to get off the main floor, but we always enjoyed the street level seats more. The staff is all very pleasant. If you joke around with them they love it and totally play along and joke right back.

Santa Cafe is on Bui Vien, part of the backpackers district, so expect to be asked to buy a bunch of nonsensical and unnecessary items. Shoe-shiner boys are ever-present. This is nothing new to wandering around Ho Chi Minh City, so try to let it slide off your back. Eye contact, a smile, shake of the head, and firm “No thank you”, usually does the trick. I noticed the same few vendor ladies always smiling and being respectful of our personal space, so when I decided I DID want to buy a few bracelets or a book, I waited until I saw them again and bought from them.
Santa Cafe Saigon

The one thing I didn’t particularly love was the Ca Phe Da at Santa Cafe. It got the job done, but didn’t have the same bursting flavour as many of the other cafe’s.

Santa Cafe has reliable WiFi and a decent bathroom WITH toilet paper (if there isn’t any, just ask staff, they’ll grab you a roll from the nook in the stairs). Overall, it was a great place to go for a quick, tasty breakfast, a leisurely lunch sandwich, or a late night snack, brewski, and some card playing.

Santa Cafe gets the Twisted Footsteps stamp of approval ;) So please, check out the Santa Cafe at the corner of Bui Vien and Do Quang Dau in District 1!

Have you been to Santa Cafe? What were your thoughts on it? Where is your favourite spot along Bui Vien, if any?

Slather Me With Peanut Butter Because…

These buns are toasted!

The first 3 days of our motorbike trip through Vietnam from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi
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Day 1 – Ho Chi Minh City – Mui Ne

We set off from Ho Chi Minh at 10AM after a hearty breakfast and some coffee at our favourite HCM hot spot – Santa Cafe. It was later than expected, but hey, we’re on vacation (our excuse for everything these days hehe). I was a little apprehensive about how the roads were going to be out of the city, as we had experienced treacherous roads out

Awkward photo of the year goes to...haha loved this family

Awkward photo of the year goes to…haha loved this family

of the city previously on our way to the Mekong. We got incredibly lucky; no rain, bearable traffic, and great roads all the way out. Puttin’ along the highway, we were making great time. We had one extended stop at a highway-side cafe/karaoke joint full of hammocks and smiling faces. After a short photo-shoot with the local mamacitas and grandmamacitas, we hopped back on our bikes and continued on. If you’ve read our previous blog posts about road-tripping, you know we got lost a LOT on our way to Ba Dong Beach. But not this time! Nope. We headed to Phan Thiet, which lead us to Mui Ne.

At about 5PM we were popping our heads in to some hostels and guesthouses; we were determined to not pay more than $10. We found one lovely little place, Ly Ly Guesthouse and decided to call it home. After dropping our bags in the room, we set out in search of food. Famished from our first day of motorbiking excitement we went to one of the first joints we saw. The lady was also incredibly friendly, which we’re suckers for. A couple of unexceptional meals and some free fruit later, we snacked on some ice cream cones and sat by the sea, watching the fishermen do their thang farrrr out in the water. We walked back to our home and Louis was fast asleep and snoring almost before his head hit the pillow. I stayed up and read (finished Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coehlo. Very interesting book, I recommend it!).

Day 2 – Mui Ne – Di Linh

The next morning we had some breakfast down the road (mushroom and onion omelets), played with a puppy, and went for a cruise on our bikes. Sand dunes on one side, sea on the other – wow! I can see how people could get completely lost in the desert. Walking up and

Our faces say it all...

Our faces say it all…

down dunes with the sun shining so bright is disorienting. Tobogganing down the rolling sand dunes seemed like the natural thing to do, so we parked our bike and started the twisted trek up the dunes when an old(ish) Vietnamese lady came running over with two toboggans. We decided on a price of 50,000VND for both Lou & I. We all hiked up together, with a younger girl joining us, then another girl. The older lady cleared a path for us and I won’t lie, at first I was a bit nervous. It was hella steep, but really…it’s sand, get a grip, right Katie. We went down 5 times in total, twice with both of us together. It was pretty hilarious and we got entirely covered in sand. I could feel my legs burning as I climbed back up the

She gave us kisses

She gave us kisses

dune, and I was completely out of breath. As we thanked the ladies, and found some more breath to laugh with them, they decided to change the price from 50,000VND to 150,000VND. “You tip her!” the youngest girl said to us. “Yes, we were going to” was our reply, and we held out our hands with a huge tip. The older woman thanked us, hugged us, kissed us, while the middle girl looked at us disappointingly. She had tried to change the price on us at the last minute, not this time, sand dune lady!

We drove home, changed into our suits, and hopped in the South China sea. And ahhhh how amazing it was! It gets me every time how incredibly warm the sea is. A huge wave hit us…”Ah something touched me.” “AHHH THAT DEAD FISH TOUCHED ME!”. And sure enough, there was a dead fish floating in the water beside me that had just graced my back with its dead scales. It was close to check-out time and we had to get on the road so we got out, packed up, and headed out.

The spot we wanted to hit up today was Di Linh. We were excited about the drive there because we had a met a man at Santa Cafe that has a coffee plantation in Di Linh and had told us about the beautiful roads and scenery. Nothing could have prepared us

CLOUDS I tell you...CLOUDS!

CLOUDS I tell you…CLOUDS!

for the beauty of this day. Driving along the open roads with fields and rice paddies on each side, and mountain ranges in the distance, we were laughing and grinning like idiots. Then before I knew it we were in the mountains. Louis and I are both nutty about mountains. Twisting and turning up the mountain, both my bike and I could feel us climbing. She kept puttin’ away and didn’t let me down. Soon enough we were driving through clouds and ooh-ing and ahhh-ing at the mountain towns and fields etched into the sides of hills. Up and up and up, then down and down.

It started to rain and we were ready for a pit stop so we pulled off at a little shack with a few (very very) drunk men taking shots, eating snacks and chillaxin’ out hard. We took our coca-colas and strolled through this hill-farm-town. Knowing that there was much more to come, we got back on our bikes and headed out the last 30KM towards Di Linh.

Happy as a pig in...

Happy as a pig in…

It was getting rather chilly as we got to Di Linh at 7ish. We bartered some hotel rooms, found what seemed like a decent one, threw our bags down and went to grab some (cheap!) dinner. Just down the street we ran into a lovely little pho shop with a woman and her son running the joint. It was heavenly. The best pho we’ve had so far. Thick noodles, delectable broth, chunks of beef, fresh greens, steamed bean sprouts – YUM! Before calling it a night we went for a stroll to digest our drool-worthy meal then parked our butts in bed to watch a movie – Now You See Me – it was just OK. We were lights out pretty quickly after that.

 Day 3 - Di Linh – Da Lat

I won’t lie…I woke up groggy and grumbly. The mattress was, well, worth nothing more than the $6 we paid for it, and there was a table full of Vietnamese men down the hallway that I swear were up gambling all night. After some com tam (pork and rice, with a tasty soup side) and a ca phe da for breakfast, we flew out of Di Linh in pursuit of happiness – Da Lat.

It was another day full of breathtaking views and lovely roads. It only took us a few hours to get to Da Lat and we were driving along the centre river by 1PM. A river! And mountains! And french-inspired buildings! Da Lat is in the center highlands of Vietnam where the

Da Lat grows a ton of stuff - from strawberries to avocados to flowers, grapes, coffee, and tea!

Da Lat grows a ton of stuff – from strawberries to avocados to flowers, grapes, coffee, and tea!

French soldiers went to escape the heat of Vietnam, so all the architecture is largely french-inspired. Da Lat is said to be the city of eternal spring. It is very warm in the morning, quickly followed by a light drizzle and cooler temperatures. It’s everything we wanted. We’re escaping the heat of Saigon and couldn’t be happier about it. After checking out a few hotels, we settled on one basically by the very friendly owner and his willingness to barter and give us a good deal on two nights. Our room is on the third floor facing a field and mountains, and half the room is windows. The mattress is a complete 360 degrees (lol jk – a complete 180 degrees) from our mattress the night before.

We hopped on my bike and went for a scoot around town, stopping at the market to have a gander at a mountain market and get some grub. The meat market had live chickens and ducks for sale, that could be butchered while you wait. There were also dishes full of brains and other body-part substances I couldn’t name. Don’t forget the flies buzzing all around and women cutting meat on the cement ground. I’m still in awe at the handling of meat here. We wandered up to the second floor and grabbed a seat at a little stall selling Vietnamese things with a menu translated into English. I can’t remember what the dish was called now, but it was just alright. Something with mushrooms and pork.

We decided to kick back to our hotel to grab our computers and go to a coffee shop to do this – blog – but when we got back to the hotel we both crashed so hard…for 5 hours. We woke up and it was pitch black out, 9:45PM. Da Lat has a curfew of 11PM but we knew we had to get out of the hotel and eat something before being stuck in for the night, so we snuck out (not really, we told the owner we were leaving so he knew the front door would be unlocked) and walked through the light drizzle in search of cheap pho-ood. It was incredible. The city was fairly empty, just the odd motorbike whizzing past and the odd shop open. The air was so fresh – something we had really missed after being in smog-filled Ho Chi Minh. We came upon the night market and each got some vegetarian chow mein (funny, because Louis had JUST been talking about how much he would love some chow mein and we hadn’t seen any anywhere) and a couple of pops (or sodas for you American-type). We sauntered back to our hotel, walking along the river, and marveling at the gorgeous mountains and peacefulness of this Vietnamese-French mountain town.

We again started to blog, but Louis put on Kickass 2 so we watched that and passed out so hard – that bed! So comfy! We had looked at a bunch of stuff we wanted to do around Da Lat, and were contemplating living there forever as we fell asleep. Tomorrow would mean more Da Lat adventuring.

What kind of adventures have you been on? What has been your favourite roadtrip? What roadtrips do you hope to do in the future?

PS: Hey guys! We’re on Facebook and Twitter :) We’ll post little updates and non-bloggy things there as well!

Phu Quoc-ing Crazy Roads Part 3 of 3: Le Fin

Read Phu Quoc-ing Crazy Roads Part 1 of 3: Happy Birthday Lou! and Phu Quoc-ing Crazy Roads Part 2 of 3: Just The Tip first!

Sunshine and smiles consumed our Monday morning. Another day on the bikes was ahead, and I was full of nerves and excitement. After a quick breakfast of french toast and glorious maple syrup for myself, and a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast for Lou, washed down with a couple of ca phe da at Buddy’s, we hopped on and headed out. We rode slightly inland for a while before reaching the road that snaked around the perimeter of the island.

The roads were what my motorbiking dreams were made of and we were making

Fisherman

Fisherman

excellent time. The road got closer and closer to the water until we were driving right along the edges, cue big grins. What’s that? A completely deserted beach? Why yes I DO want to go for a dip! This time I wasn’t afraid of jellies because the waves made it so that I couldn’t see what was in the water anyways – I put my blind faith in this water and it didn’t let me down.

After our dip we carried on down the road, finding ourselves driving through a quaint river-village full of hilarious Vietkids playing and yelling “hello!” as we drove past their homes. It was literally an alley with houses on our left side built over the water, and the houses on our right side built on the sand. The houses were but shacks made of corrugated tin and wood, and the alley was a mere 6 feet wide. Oh the places you will see! From trees to beach to boats to floating houses. We waved our simultaneous hellos and goodbyes, and made out for the “forest walk” where we hoped to see some animals.
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We found the entrance because of a few motorbikes parked there (or else I’m sure we would have driven right past) and hiked in with only a 1/3 of a water bottle left between Travel Vietnam Phu Quoc Bugboth of us. There were no trail markers, and certainly nothing in English, so we just hoped to not get lost. The tourist map showed animated images of monkeys and pigs, so we were under the assumption these animals resided in this forest. We accidentally happened upon someones farm, and strolled past rows and rows of pepper plants. The shade of the forest was most welcome, and we listened intently for the sounds of animals. At one point we did think we heard a monkey, but as we never actually saw it, we’ll never know for certain.

After exiting the forest walk, we bumped into the most gentle of gentlemen. His wife and daughter were just entering the forest walk while he, not interested in hiking at all, hung out near their cab. After chatting for a few minutes (he wanted us to wait to speak English with his daughter) we apologized but we had to get going, we were awfully hungry. Upon hearing this, he rushed to his hired cab and pulled out a bag of rice crackers, informing us that the next town was quite far away. What a guy! We apologized again, but we must be going, we were awfully thirsty. Upon hearing this, he rushed to his hired cab and returned with a bottle of water. What a guy, again! We thanked him profusely, not realizing then how long it would be until we ate. He gave us his phone number – he lives in Hanoi and we are to call him when we arrive there.

Finally we were on our way again, stopping one more time a while down the road to SAMSUNG CSCquench our thirst (the last bottle of water lasted about 30 seconds) again, and purchase a couple bottles of petrol off a roadside vendor. Yes. Bottles of petrol. That’s how far out we were. No petrol stations anywhere near, only roadside bottled petrol vendors. As we guided ourselves down and around the dirt roads, the mountain views were astounding. So much greenery and nature!

Travel Vietnam Phu Quoc road of death

These pictures are not even close to the worst of it

I was taking in all the beauty, until all of a sudden the road disappeared. I mean that literally. The road was no longer in front of us, in its place was an eroded section of clay and sand. Back to, “How is THIS a road?”. Turns out it USED to be a road, and the detour, now behind us, was not marked at all. I really don’t think I can express my horror in words, and I was too frightened to take my camera out of my bag, so all I have now are the  feelings of driving up the mountain over ramps made of sticks. “Just hit the gas and don’tTravel Vietnam Phu Quoc death road look behind you”, I kept telling myself. We got to the top and I was glad it was over. Oh right, coming down…that part sucked too. Then there were full out bridges made of sticks, crossing rivers and ravines. My palms were sweaty and my heart was racing, but I just kept telling myself (aloud) You can do this, You can do this. I also didn’t have any other choice but to go forward. This “detour” lasted an hour or two, who knows, it really felt like days. Louis was loving it! He was incredibly positive and encouraging, while he himself tore down the path like a natural dirt biker. My stomach is feeling tight just thinking about it!

Even after we seemed to have left the deathtrap roads behind, I was never certain they wouldn’t reappear. I’m just thankful I had gotten my wipeout out of the way the day before so I could master with a shred of confidence the stick-bridges and clay/sand hills.

We eventually reached the main highway again and let our maniacal laughter loose into the Travel Vietnam Phu Quoc waterfallwind. The tourist map had a picture of a waterfall nearby so we stopped by to check it out. Hailing from the Waterfall Capital of the World (Hamilton, Ontario), I wasn’t too excited about a measly waterfall. Louis was all amped up to swim in the fresh water though, so away we went. We payed an admission and parking fee of about 50 cents, hiked on over to the waterfall, and took in the hypnotizing powers that only waterfalls have.

It was starting to get dark when we reached Duong Dong again, and we were adrenalized by the thought of having the freshest of fresh seafood at rock bottom prices, especially since we had only eaten rice crackers since breakfast. As we walked into the Night Market Travel Vietnam Phu Quoc bluecrabit went completely dark. Pitch black. All of the power had gone out! Shoot, now what? Slowly, vendors powered up their generators and we went to the first one up and running. We each picked out some scrumptious sea creatures (Louis a blue crab and myself a red snapper) and sat in the makeshift restaurant in the night market. Louis’ blue crab was succulent, and my red snapper was probably the best fish I’ve ever had.

A couple people we had met at our resort joined us for dinner and we had a hell of a time chatting about past and current travels and adventures. Picking up some booze and continuing our little party at Beach Club where we could sit on the beach and chat in peace seemed like the logical next step, so Lou & I hopped on our bikes in search of cheap Vietnamese rum and beer. As all of the local stores were closing up shop, it took us a while to actually GET the booze, but we finally made it back to Beach Club. By the way, a bottle of Vietnamese rum costs 50,000VND ($2.50CAD). The five of us (Alex, Emily, and Max from the UK) relaxed on the beach swapping stories until we were too tired to talk.

The Gang!

The Gang!

The next day consisted of swims, reads, chills, eats, and chats as we soaked in the last of the sun before heading back to the mainland. Alex and Emily left a couple hours before us, saying they’d meet us in Ho Chi Minh City on September 5th, while Max still had a week left at Beach Club, finishing his three month Asian adventures. I left Beach Club, Phu Quoc Island, with a few scrapes and bruises, a sunburn, a thirty-year-old boyfriend, and the idea that Phu Quoc just MIGHT be the best place on Earth, but I am willing to give some other destinations the opportunity to prove themselves ;)
Travel VIetnam Phu Quoc beach palsTravel Vietnam Phu Quoc beachyfeetTravel Vietnam Phu Quoc beachytingz

Phu Quoc-ing Crazy Roads Part 2 of 3: Just The Tip

Read Phu Quoc-ing Crazy Roads Part 1 of 3: Happy Birthday Lou! first!

The sound of the wind and waves woke us from our extended slumber. As we munched on our omelet, baguette, and banana-pancake-with-honey breakfasts, the employee we had spoken with the previous day walked over with motorbike keys in his fist. “Motorbike?” Yes! We had mentioned to him yesterday that we were interested in renting motorbikes. He handed the keys over and that was that. No papers to sign. No info on the bikes. No cautions about the roads. Just…here you go. Sweet! No red tape. Great. He also gave us a tourist map of the island.

Armed with the map, my GPS equipped tablet, and our bathing suits, we saddled our bikes and set out to tackle Phu Quoc Island. We can ride the whole thing today, right? It didn’t seem too big. We were horribly mistaken. Deciding to do the southern part first, we were off, and (maybe too) quickly, impressed with the quality of the road. That was until SAMSUNG CSChuge potholes and mud swamps created from the overnight thunderstorm we had slept through replaced the smooth pavement. Wait. This can’t be right. “How is THIS a road?” ended up being our Phu Quoc motto, along with my overly cheezy “These roads are Phu Quoc-ing crazy!”. We were off-roading in every meaning of the term, but the mud trail eventually led to a full-fledged red-clay highway that is clearly being slowly developed.

Riddled with potholes this road was…intense. And we loved it. On our right side we had SAMSUNG CSCthe Gulf of Thailand. Bright blue waves breaking against an even brighter blue sky, and on our left side we had fields and abandoned houses and marshland. There were zero cross roads, so the path was very simple to follow, and eventually led away from the sea and into the forest, where trees lined both sides.We pulled over, turning off our engines, and just listened. No honking! The animals and insects were creating a symphony that I swear only we could hear. No one was around, just us and the animal choir.

After emerging from the trees some time later, we pulled off at a little shack-cum-house-cum-convenience store to quench our thirst and check our GPS. After a 7 UP, a Sting, and some giggles with the local kids, we set off in the direction of a small fishing town that would complete our southern journey before we started back up the East side of Phu Quoc.

We reached An Thoi easily, in hopes of finding a beach, and instead found rows and rowsSAMSUNG CSC of boats unloading their catch-of-the-day. The smell assaulted my nasal passages while we walked around the docks, watching the fishermen heaving and ho-ing crates, boxes, and bags, of sardines from the boats to waiting trucks. Also being tossed were bricks, crates of beer, and other unnameable objects. It was fascinating to watch as we knew the main economic industry in Phu Quoc was the fish sauce that is oh-so-popular in Vietnam (but not-so-popular with my taste buds).

We hopped back on our bikes, preparing to leave An Thoi, head North along the East SAMSUNG CSCcoast, and suss out a beach, when things took a turn for the worse. I wiped out on my bike. Fully down on the ground, bike on top of me. Ok, ok, mom & dad, relax. I was driving about 2km/hr when I hit the brakes a bit too hard and my bike skidded and fell over because of the loose dirt and oil I was driving on. Louis promptly hopped off his bike, lifted mine off me, and helped me up. It’s actually impressive how quick to react he was. Well done, Lou! Anyways, I was fine. A few scrapes here and there, an impending bruised knee, a couple sore joints, but I was fine. My first spill! My first bike wipe-out! And it wasn’t even on the treacherous streets, it was on a tiny stretch of paved road. Haha.

Carrying on down the highway (this time a real, paved highway), we passed by what looked like a prison. “Woah, Lou, look at those guards! They’re armed to the teeth and have dogs!” What a blonde moment. This was Coconut Tree Prison, where the South Viet held Communist prisoners during the war, and those “guards” were mannequins. We pulled into the old prison, finding out it was free to tour.

Surrounded by rows of barbed wire coils, fully sharp and dangerous, was the prison. The sun was high, there was no shade, and yet neither of us could complain while reading the atrocities and tortures the prisoners endured.
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The scenes and commentary was horrific. Prisoners endured tortures of all kinds. They were mind, body, and soul crushing. From being boiled alive, to stuck in a “Tiger’s cage” which was a small, unventilated metal shack that housed groups of people all day and night, making it excruciatingly hot during the day and bone-chillingly cold at night.

Entering one of the last barracks that housed some mannequins mimicking scenes, there was a (real-life) Vietnamese family, a couple of them snickering. Soon enough, Louis Travel Vietnam Phu Quoc Prisonstarted snickering too. I scanned the room, trying to uncover the source of the hilarity I was clearly missing. Oh, there’s a t-shirt draped over a mannequins shoulder, that must be it. Is it? I smiled uneasily while looking around, what the heck is going on here? Then all of a sudden, the face of one of the mannequins flinched ever so slightly. WAIT a minute! Then this “mannequin” burst out laughing! The Vietnamese family’s father was posing with the prisoner mannequins, and totally fooled me. Everyone laughed entirely too hard, I think there were tears. He kept posing with them while we ducked out of the barracks. Well, that felt completely inappropriate. Leaving the prison we by-passed the souvenir shop, hopped back on our bikes, and gunned it for the beach.

We reached Sao Beach fairly easily, and practically sprinted towards the water. As excitedSAMSUNG CSC as I was, I was a little unsure of hopping in. You see, I have a very strong fear of jellyfish. Sure, they’re tiny, and probably more afraid of me than I am of them, but still. Louis jumped right in and slowly coaxed me out into the water. It was glorious! A whole day on the bikes was being washed off our shoulders by the calm, turquoise water.

All it took was one little jellyfish floating by for me to leap into Louis’ arms and beg him to carry me out, no horsing around. Yeah, I was being a bit of a baby, but I had cooled off and washed my wounds and I was ready to leave the jelly-infested waters. It didn’t help that two foreigners walked past us and said “watch out for jellyfish!”. I relaxed on the beach while Lou frolicked and splashed, before we encountered just about the happiest litter of puppies we’ve ever met on our way out of the beach. We would’ve adopted them all but we knew Ten would be waiting for us back at our bungalow and we didn’t want him to get jealous.

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We stopped in Duong Dong for dinner, feeling rather nostalgic, and opted for Buddy’s, a Western style restaurant/cafe. After devouring our club sandwich and fish and chips, we rode over to the night market and found ourselves surrounded by rows and rows of seafood vendors. Blue crabs, tuna, lobster, and red snapper were everywhere! Disappointed we had already eaten, we vowed to come here for dinner the next night.

Arriving back at our beachfront bungalow we had smiles plastered across our faces. We did it! Although we didn’t tackle the whole island today, we completed the southern part of it. We spent the rest of the evening reading on the beach and cuddling and playing with Ten. Tomorrow, we would tackle the rest of the island!  (Lou: A trek that check-marked a little black box on my bucket-list, while it simultaneously made Katie’s list of ‘never-agains’.)

Stay tuned for Phu Quoc-ing Crazy Roads Part 3: Le Fin!

Phu Quoc-ing Crazy Roads Part 1 of 3: Happy Birthday Lou!

This story is a 3-parter as it encompasses four adventurous days on Phu Quoc Island! Stay Tuned for Part 2…

It was Saturday morning. Louis’ 30th birthday. We had spent the night before cruising Saigon streets and sneaking into a swanky hotel rooftop pool in nothing but our skivvies.

Airport brews on his 30th bday! What a lucky feller.

Airport brews on his 30th bday! What a lucky feller.

We cabbed to the airport, arriving at 1:50PM for our 2:50PM flight. Feeling pretty smug about how perfectly everything was going, we traipsed through security without a hitch and sat at a ‘restaurant’ near our gate to indulge in a little caffeine for myself and a brewski for the birthday boy. With the gate in view, we noticed absolutely no movement as our boarding time approached. No customer service reps, no planes at the end of the walkway…nothing.

We asked the one lonesome, tired looking traveller sitting near the gate, his reply being, “No. I’m waiting for Hanoi”. What?!?! Then I looked around…this area all said Vietnam Airlines and we were flying VietJet! Louis asked a nearby customer service rep. She SAMSUNG CSCpointed us in the correct direction with a “but they’re at final boarding call! Hurry!”. And hurry we did. We sprinted, barely making it to the gate, sweating, panting, and red-faced, bursting into laughter as we walked down the hallway towards the plane. Whoops! Apparently the boarding gate for our plane had changed, while none of the boards updated. We were too busy having a ball sippin’ on our beverages and taking goofy pictures to notice the message over the loudspeakers.

The flight was an uneventful 50 minutes and after deplaning we were all herded onto a tiny shuttle that drove us literally 20 feet to the airport door. More laughter ensued. It was easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy to grab a cab and get to what was to be our humble abode for a few days - Beach Club on Long Beach, the Western coast of Phu Quoc Island. If you’re cabbing from Phu Quoc airport to Beach Club your cab shouldn’t be more than 120,000VND (About $6CAD).The cab ride was fairly quick, and oh my, stunning! Trees! Mountains! Nature! Yay! We immediately fell in love with the place and when the employee told us that the Beachfront Bungalow was available for $30/night instead of the regular room for $20/night we decided to splurge and spoil ourselves. It WAS Louis’ birthday after all!

We promptly threw the doors wide open, and our grins even wider. Does it get any better than this?? You know when you smile SO big you can’t help but laugh? Yeah. That.
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We spent the next few hours swimming, reading, lounging, grinning like idiots, and almost drowning. OK, maybe that last part was only me. The waves and current were just how I like my men – big, strong, and unpredictable. (Insert something here about my bathing suit repeatedly almost coming untied, but I won’t because my parents will read this)

Travel Vietnam Phu Quoc Beach 3Louis being Louis wanted Indian food for his birthday dinner and we were lucky enough that our favourite Vietnam Indian chain (Ganesh! Go there!) has a location just a beach stroll away from Beach Club. We walked down the beach toward Ganesh, taking in the breath-taking sunset. Is this real life??

Travel Vietnam Phu Quoc Beach 1
We got a little lost when one local told us Ganesh was right down the beach, then another local told us it didn’t exist, then another told us it was further into town on the main road. Road beers were in order for this Ganesh hunt so we picked up a couple of 333′s and kept on keepin’
on. It was WELL worth the hunt…
We gorged on our favourite Indian dishes, smoked espresso flavoured cigars, drank Vietnamese rum on ice, and overall felt like rockstars. All we were missing were a couple groupies. Although, the servers were waiting on us hand and foot, so maybe that counts.

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To add to our rockstar status, we had a nightcap lounging on recliners back on our privateTravel Vietnam Phu Quoc Beach 2 beach, staring out to where the water turns into sky as the Gulf of Thailand lapped up the sand at our feet. Large bodies of water have a way of making one feel so small. I could only imagine all the plants, animals, and various life forms that were out and about, thriving under the surface, while all we could see was the moon’s reflection bouncing off the top, as the salty sea air licked our cheeks. Or maybe it was Ten licking our cheeks.
Ten is a puppy we befriended and I named him Ten after “Tenacious D”. His full name was actually “Tenacious D-O-G”, but for short we called him Ten. He guarded our beach, cuddled on our chairs, played, and tried to sleep in our room with us! We eventually closed our beachfront bungalow doors, stunting our vision of the sea, while the waves crashing and breaking over each other lulled us to sleep.

Tenacious D-O-G

Tenacious D-O-G

War Remnants Museum & Reunification Palace

Arriving in Ho Chi Minh City, neither of us knew a whole lot about the history of Vietnam and it was one of our goals to learn more about this country we were immersing ourselves into. We had heard a lot about the War Remnants Museum, and after being in the city about a week, we decided it was time. I had read about how heavy the contents of the museum were, and to go prepared for an emotional beating.

We paid our 15,000VND admission (about 75 cents), parked our newly acquired bikes in the secured Travel Vietnam War Memorialparking (about 3000VND each), and trooped on up. The front entrance on the main floor is covered in propaganda posters from countries all around the world supporting the Vietnamese and pressuring the United States army to evacuate Vietnam. I handed my camera to Louis, as I didn’t have the patience to take that many photos, and I didn’t think the museum was one I would want detailed in my photo history of Vietnam, it was incredibly upsetting.

After finishing the first floor (which had gotten incredibly packed once it started raining) we walked up to the second, already heavy-footed by the posters, not quite prepared for what was to come. Photos of Americans torturing Vietnamese men, women, and children, statistics about death, imprisonment, torture, bombings, etc, plastered the walls. Cases of bombs, shells, equipment, uniforms, mines, guns, and so on circled the rooms. There were stunning photo exhibits from war photographers who risked their lives (some of whom lost their lives) documenting atrocious and horrifying scenes of violence. Many of the photo placards are written in unintelligible English, but the photos speak for themselves. Some say a picture speaks a thousand words, but these photos asked a lifetime of unanswerable questions, the biggest one in my mind being “Why?”.

Comparative before & after Agent Orange

Before & after Agent Orange

The room dedicated to statistics and photographs about Agent Orange truly took my breath away. Photographs of Agent Orange victims, from the land to children born generations after the war, were unnerving. There are still people being born in the United States and Vietnam with birth defects from their parents’ and grandparents’ exposure to Agent Orange during the war. After the war, between 1975 and 2002, there were 42,135 people killed by bombs and explosives that had been leftover from the war and 62,143 people wounded. This is AFTER the war, after the carnage was supposed to stop.

 

The tankers, fighter jets, and boats outside the museum were interesting to stroll through, but after the lethargic photos, stories, and statistics of the museum, I didn’t have much interest in seeing the heavy killing machinery.

Gunned up boats

Gunned up boats

Next up on our “history to see” museum list was Reunification Palace, or Independence Palace, depending on who you’re talking to. Let me say up front that if you’re interested in going here, make sure you get in on a free tour (walk in the front doors & there’s a “Tour Desk” – easy peasy!), or nothing makes sense. The tour was about 30 minutes, our tour guide spoke English (mostly), and there are NO signs in this place other than ones in Vietnamese telling you not to enter, and “The lift is only for the old, disabled and pregnant woman”. That is one woman in an unfortunate position that really wants to visit the Reunification Palace. Anyway, admission to this big old house that used to be home to the President of South Vietnam during the war is also 15,000VND and although not as mind-blowing as the War Remnants museum, it was worth the 75 cents and 45 minutes we took to tour it.
Travel Vietnam War Palace Louis

It is a significant part of Vietnam’s history as it was this location that the Vietnam war ended at the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975 when a North Vietnamese army tank tore through the front gates. Without giving you a full history lesson, as Wikipedia has everything you’d want to know, the house was interesting enough and full of “this is where the President met his friends” and “this is where the President played with his children” type of rooms. One of our favourite spots was the winding tunnel of basement hallways and rooms containing war correspondence equipment and Vietnam maps. You could tell it was full of stories and secrets that no one but the people who spent hours and days down there during the war knew.

Basement communications equipment

Basement communications equipment

House Hunting – Ho Chi Minh City Style

For those of you who don’t know, Louis & I had thought we would settle down in Ho Chi Minh City for a while before motorbike trekking North through Vietnam and ending up in Hanoi. We not only wanted to be “in” a foreign culture, we wanted to be “part” of a foreign culture. What better way to do that then become residents?

So, our apartment search all started at the Manor 2. Well actually, it started back in Hamilton before we even left for Vietnam. “What do you want in an apartment?” Louis asked me casually one night. I wasn’t really sure. Safety? Somewhere I can be comfortable? No more student house? “I’ve never lived with anyone before…” “Me neither…”. Not only were we looking for somewhere to settle down for a short while in Ho Chi Minh City, we needed somewhere to please both of us, and a place where we could get away from each other if needed.

Thanks for letting us crash, Haider!

Thanks for letting us crash, Haider!

Skip forward to Ho Chi Minh City. We had been crashing at Haider’s apartment for a few days when we decided it was time to find our own place. Haider was incredibly hospitable, setting us up in his spare room, letting us use his spare phone, and having us pick his brain a bunch about Ho Chi Minh City, but we didn’t want to outstay our welcome.

How does one (or two) go about apartment searching in a foreign city when they’ve hardly learned to cross the street? We started by walking down one street we had become familiar with, Le Than Ton – an interesting area full of Japanese restaurants and relatively close to downtown. We entered some buildings that looked like they might contain apartments and asked “Apartment? How much?” over and over. We quickly learned that Le Than Ton was out of our (jobless) price range. Now what? We buckled down at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf coffee shop on Le Than Ton and decided to divide and conquer the online apartment ad world. One of us took Vietnam Craigslist while the other took expat-blog.com.

We started calling, texting, and emailing the places we were interested in. We repeatedly got the same response, they wouldn’t rent for only one month. Then Louis found what *seemed* to be the perfect living situation. $300/month plus electricity for a place with a balcony. But it *might* be shared kitchen and living room, we couldn’t tell from the ad.

The address was 258/37 Tran Hung Dao in District 1. We walked and walked and found what we thought was 258. The woman Louis talked to on the phone said the house was at the end of an alley. So we walked down a pitch black alley (it was 8PM by this point). At the end of the alley was a pool and a restaurant/bar and all around were doors that we assumed led to apartments. It felt a little eerie and the woman we were looking for wasn’t there. Something felt off. We finally saw her at the entrance to the alley. When we met her she was laughing and shaking her head – we were in the wrong alley. Whoops! We walked a bit further down Tran Hung Dao, past a construction site, down a couple more alleys, and stopped at the very last house at the very end. Louis and I were shooting each other unsure glances behind An’s back as we walked – what were we getting ourselves into?

Living Room #1

Living Room #1

An unlocked both doors for us and we were greeted with a front foyer with five motorbikes, a big plush couch and chair, Buddhist shrine found in most houses and businesses, a flat screen TV, a piano, and an elevator. It was all very modern and clean – much nicer than the student houses I had stayed in at home. So far so good. Walking up a few steps into the kitchen we met George, an Australian chef, and Tu, his Vietnamese girlfriend. George assured us he loved the place, after a few days you don’t notice the noise from the construction next door, and even though you share the kitchen with 5 other people, you hardly ever see them.

We started up the steps to view the bedroom, stepping over a cockroach…uhhhh…Another sitting room and the available bedroom were on the second floor. The bedroom was very spacious, containing a large bed, desk with a mirror, two

Partial view from apartment roof

Partial view from apartment roof

bedside tables, air con, fan, flat screen TV, mini fridge, and armoir. Connected to the bedroom was a pretty standard bathroom, nothing fancy but with all the essentials. After seeing the bedroom we climbed the four floors to the roof top terraces. They gave a stunning view of the city and we immediately started envisioning us working out up there, writing up there, and drinking a few cheap beers up there.

We took the elevator back down (an elevator! cool!) and An informed us we would get all that, plus maid/laundry service/security three times a week for $300. Neither of us cared too much about the maid/laundry service but after a quick discussion, Louis and I agreed and told An we would take it! She said we could move in the next morning.

We got back to Haider’s apartment that night excited to move into our new place. It had only taken one day! Then we got a text from An…she was sorry but her husband said no, he wanted a minimum three month commitment. Shit. Ok, well…so much for that! We were pretty bummed. We loved that place! But not enough to stay there for three months…shit! We decided to text An proposing to stay for two months. This seemed to please her husband as she agreed to that, and the next morning we moved in. The maid let us in and we met An later that day to fill out the Registration Form and sign the lease. In Vietnam you need to fill out a Registration Form even if you’re only staying one night (which we would find out the hard way on our long trip to Ba Dong Beach…). & just like that, we had maid service, laundry service, security (kind of…), and a super cozy place to settle in to.

We were soon to add our motorbikes to the foyer's collection

We were soon to add our motorbikes to the foyer’s collection

-Twisted KT