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.

Travel Vietnam Phu Quoc Lou 2

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

Ba Dong Ka Donk- Part 3 of 3: Hate/Love Relationship

Read Ba Dong Ka Donk – Part 1 of 3: Are We There Yet? and Ba Dong Ka Donk- Part 2 of 3: gettin’ our hate on first!

Cast in lime tones, giant paddies had sewn SAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSCtheir wild oats amongst the coconuts and palms, all crafted with Mother Nature’s erotic precision. Along a winding dirt road, where gravel gets chewed and spit with the spin of the tire, we passed timeless homes that each backed out onto the coffee-tinted Mekong Delta. Each home giving birth to a floating vessel, you could just imagine the pruned fingers. As we passed at a snails pace to capture it all, we had peeped a lady of leisure on her front porch, waving & giggling her little gum tooth smiling head off, as well as a man with a furry sun kissed baby duck on a makeshift fishing pole. Clueless as to what kind of catch he was fixing to hook. Amazed by the flow of life…we carried on our journey and reached the ferry.

The ferry ride was peaceful thanks to the travel vietnam mekong delta 2bus full of nuns (perhaps you are more familiar with the term, nun-truck) that was perched perfectly at the front, almost by the hand of GOD…or perhaps just by coincidence. Anyways, we didn’t sink- so some of you would consider the ride uneventful. When we exited the other side we carried on to the bustling town of Ben Tre. A city famed for its coconut candies.

We pulled into Ben Tre around nine pm, it had just started to sprinkle outside, we had been riding all day, we didn’t have a room booked for the night…and to poop on us when were down, it just sank in that it was annoyingly difficult to get a room without our passports. We pulled into a hotel, walked in, and just as quickly walked out, loathing that cursed word and the receptionist’s smug look. She shoo’d us in the direction of another hotel- saying they would take us. I doubted it.

Along the Delta, we tried a new hotel. It was big and classy, just how I like my women. And it came with an American breakfast buffet- so the fatty in me was praying. We told them from the start we didn’t have our passports, but that we had ID and we knew our passport numbers. It didn’t work. Beside the front desk was a computer. We thought we were saved! In each of our emails we have our visa documents stating we are welcome in the country until October 23rd, 2013. The receptionist seemed on board so we dug up the visa’s and printed them. So far so good…then, not so much. They said they wanted our pictures on the visa documentation, which isn’t part of the visa they e-mail you. The official visa is glued to the inside of our passport á la safe box. There was nothing the receptionists could do, so they said. With Katie almost in tears (KT Edit: I just kept thinking, imagine my father was here, seeing these horrid creatures turn his youngest daughter out into the cold, wet, dark, foreign night, with no where to sleep! The tears were also my way of trying to guilt the receptionists. It didn’t work…) we flipped through our copy of Lonely Planet: Vietnam and found a cheap motel that would hopefully not ask any questions. We drove over, slapped on a couple of the darndest fucking smiles you could travel vietnam mekong delta 3ever imagine with attempts to butter the owner up as much as possible and get ourselves a bed for the night. I’ll cut out all the details, but we were standing in the room and I was forking over money and giving her the ol’ I bet you were something before electricity line, before she could even get the word “passport” out. But, then she did. Oh that trifling word. We explained we only have our driver’s license to give her, and she could NOT have cared less in the world. We thanked her so much. She will never know the weight of her acceptance. I think we even cried a little, I faintly remember being moist.

Anyways it was nighttime. We were hungry. We’d been on our bikes around eight hours and we finally landed a room. We found a restaurant to celebrate- we think it was pork, but I swear it looked like chicken. KT Edit: It was also the ONLY place open to eat in Ben Tre. 

That night we planned to wake up early and find a boat to go for a cruise up The Delta, since I highly doubt we’ll be back to this part of the earth, it was something that basically had to be done. After looking in The Lonely Planet, it read that you could purchase tickets at the tourist office, which happened to be just up the street from our hotel. We grabbed a coffee, Vietnamese style (KT Edit: which meant we sat at a cafe facing the street for 10 minutes while our coffee dripped, before we could carry on), and biked over to where the office was located on the map. Not one building had English, so with our heads darting back and forth I did a U-E the same time a guy shouted over at us “Boat ride?”. I suspect it was the miraculous work of those nuns… bless that nun-truck! “Yes!” we shouted back. We pulled over, discussed the fine print, and met him an hour later along the shores to board his boat.

travel vietnam mekong delta 4Hopping over a barrier, walking along a two-by-four walkway out and onto his twenty-foot outboard-motored boat, equipped with three wicker backyard chairs. Above our heads hung a tarp that would come off after it poured while we floated down the swampy Mekong.

 

 

travel vietnam mekong delta 7After making some headway along the larger channel, we snuck into a tributary where its width at times was almost an arms length wide. Cutting the motor at times, we grabbed onto hanging limbs and ushered the vessel along its watery path. Our trip eventually led to an island in the middle of it all, and trusting our guide, we docked and walked a path on the land donned, Coconut Island. And like its name, there were coconuts a plenty. Leaving our packs and bags on board he maneuvered his craft downstream to meet us at the other end. We uneasily joked about how our captain could just be chugging down stream laughing at a couple of trusting tourists who are going to be eating coconuts and bananas until they grow old- instead, we see him docked with a machete in one hand and a freshly picked coconut in the other and he’s hacking away at the top. He even brought straws. What a fucking guy.

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On the float home, we ended up making a pit stop at his family’s plantation of sorts. Pulling up, you could see about eight-thousand coconut husks. And after hopping onto land, we travel vietnam mekong delta 12bore witness to this little operation he had kicking. His wife, along with a staff member, who could have been his mother, were wrapping up a wack of coconut tchotchkes. Trolling us through his property, he brought us over to a group of workers, aged twenty years, slicing out the chunks of coconut meat. To their right were several giant vats of coconut milk that had recently been drained, think nine-person hot tub big. We hung travel vietnam mekong delta 6around drinking coconut & banana liquor and staving off the rain before Nam’s wife jumped on board on our way home. Before we had even pushed off, she took her days garbage, neatly confined in a plastic bag, and tossed it into the Mekong, like you would a Whiska’s treat to a fluffy kitten. And like magic, the garbage was gone. Katie and I both looked over at each other with the same it is what it is look on our faces. We docked, paid Nam, and picked up our bags from the hotel for our four-ott hour journey back to Ho Chi Minh City. This time, opting for the straightforward AH1, destination, end-of-the-line.  And like afternoon clockwork during Vietnam’s four month long monsoon season- it starting raining… again. Bring it on Vietnam.

travel vietnam mekong delta 14Home safe!

Ba Dong Ka Donk- Part 2 of 3: Gettin’ our hate on!

Read Ba Dong Ka Donk- Part 1 of 3: Are We There Yet? first!

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Middle of nowhere hotel!

The next morning we showered and dressed like most do, and crossed our fingers that Katie’s bike would work. We paid for the night, I think to the tune of $8, and got our health card & driver’s license in return. Putting the keys into her ignition the engine turned over and we were soon on the road- but only for a minute. The bike died in front of a mechanic, which seemed to be a wonderful running theme. He pulled the bike in, took off the gas cap and pointed to an empty tank, turning around he got his laugh on at our expense, then pointed to a petrol station a hundred meters up the road.

The rest of the trip was as straightforward as Dien said. All the arrows pointed to Ba Dong SAMSUNG CSCBeach, which legitimized that we weren’t crazy, and that Vietnamese suck at local geography. Yeah that’s right- generalization baby. Being of the breakfast hour, my eyes darted as we made headway. Upon the descent of a small bridge, I noticed a riverside market full of produce and photographs alike. We parked and navigated the weaving wards of the market to gawking eyes and incredulous sales people. We passed through veggie alley, then a woman on a mound ofSAMSUNG CSC freshly picked tobacco and presumably within arms reach of rolling papers, past the chopping blocks of hacked skulls and stubborn limbs of the meat market, then onto the livestock which ran along the shore into the fish and quite-lively skinless & headless frog market and eventually into a backstreet fruit department which led to a coffee shop where we sat down and enjoyed an ice coffee along (ca phe da) with our purchases of grapes, lychees and a baguette.

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After a while the owner came and sat at our table and ate a few grapes at our offering, and brought his shy son along to ultimately practice his English. The four of us shared a bunch of laughs, which is to say that we understood what the other was saying to some extent, but who says that communication is only linguistically deep. We finished our coffees, said our farewell’s and returned to our bikes, which were parked in front of yet another mechanic. Having the limited vision of but one mirror, the mechanic fixed my bike with a set of new mirrors for $1.50. From there it was a straight shot.

Pulling into the Ba Dong Beach parking lot we were greeted by a single toothed lot SAMSUNG CSCattendant and a dull looking beach in the framework. The man was sweet as pie and pointed to the bungalows on the beach where we could get a room, so we walked on over. We followed a winding path with sprouting grass in between the concrete slabs towards the front desk. Looking around, garbage littered the area, and a large concrete embankment separated us from the beach, that at one time might have been nice, but had been reduced to rubble. On the far side of the bungalows, a handful of towering cranes were being manned, and it is hard to tell if they were building or destroying- and I left the beach wondering the same thing, although the question left my thoughts until the recount of this story.
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Behind a comically pregnant woman was a posted sign. It read the nightly charges for the different rooms, of which I correctly assumed that the cheapest rooms would not be SAMSUNG CSCavailable. After settling on a price point at this barren wasteland of a beach, she would mutter one word that would soon replace itself as the most loathsome word that has ever blessed my ears. Out of all hateful words that have been spelled against me, out of all the words that have been cast down in the form of racism or overweight remarks- this word will be the demarcation of my sanity. What is the word you ask? It is difficult for me to bring the words to print, ahhh, but alas, I will for stories sake, the word, the despicable word, spit, is passport.

Having not thought to bring our passports along our travels, assuming they would be much more secure locked up in our room’s safe box, we had seeded the birth of our downfall. Throwing money, ID’s, and motorbike registrations had no affect on this stubborn bursting woman- she just kept repeating the word passport, spit! Knowing my passport number, I gave it to her alongside all my other information, but it was no use. We begged and pleaded and more, and yet she kept repeating her one word, with a sadistic grin on her face.

Explaining to her that we were not leaving, I asked her to call the owner/manager anyone above her head to please quell this cookie cutter problem. After a sea of rolling eyes, clenched fists and ill wishes- she finally called someone and they agreed to let us stay. Yippee-fucking-yay!

She brought us to our shithole and we unpacked our bags and walked to the lackluster beach. We swam, strolled, prodded jellyfish and were ignored by coastal canines…travel vietnam roadtrip 8you know, took in the sites. When we returned they were at our door within a few minutes escorting us to another room for some reason- this one though was connected to the only other bungalow that was rented for the day, out of the ten bungalows lined up in a row. Which is just plain ign’ant and something that escapes me entirely, whoever trained the staff, or perhaps the owner him/herself has no clue about the concept of privacy, nor romance, nor simple addition, nor that their country is trying to create a friendly image of travel and tourism. Bahhh! Anyways, I went for an afternoon nap, which is not like me at all, no joke, and woke up to knocking on the door. Katie opened the door to travel vietnam roadtrip 9a sheep of a man running commands from head office. “Motorcycle phone number.”  Now what the fuck? We had already given them our passport numbers, along with our ID’s and now they want a motorcycle phone number. After playing dumb, he left. Katie looked over at me and we just shook our heads. No more than one minute went by before we got another set of knocks on our door. It was another guy this time. “Motorcycle phone number” he said in broken English. “No… No number… Go away. You have passport number.” We said without accepting him as a human. He walked off without achieving his goal.

I know why they wanted our motorcycle phone number. Our names weren’t on our bike registration we handed to them-which I accidentally threw at them in a fit trying to assure us the room. We bought our bikes off a couple of travelers in town, who had their motorcycle papers handed down to them, and so on. The original names on our unregistered bikes were of a couple of Vietnamese people who we know nothing about. So after she read that- I wasn’t sure if she wanted to call in our bikes to see if they were stolen or not- so it was best for us to just play dumb. That was the last knock of the night and I ended up going back to sleep.

mmmm fries! ...with sugar & butter?

mmmm fries! …with sugar & butter?

I am fully aware this all sounds like a shit-storm of complaints, while I’m vacationing the countryside of Vietnam on my leisure, without a job or a care in the world. Its kind of like complaining about a free meal, or something of that sort, but I honestly don’t care at this point- these people need a harsh realization of their ign’ant actions and the only way for me to vent is through writing… it’s therapeutic. I’m feeling better already…. Breathe!

We woke up, which is always pleasant, dressed & packed and went over to the restaurant to grab a quick bite of french fries with a side of butter and sugar. Sitting in a couple of reclining Muskoka chairs travel vietnam roadtrip 11we ate, read and relaxed before reaching a quick swim. Under a roof of torn sheet metal, rested a wiry cage that was erected with the sloppiest of craftsmanship- something you wouldn’t even consider putting your tools in back home out of fear of scratching the shit out of them. Inside sat a monkey on a little blanky, beside a couple of torn plastic bottles. He was picking something from his fur without fully acknowledging me. It appeared that, aside from his horrible living SAMSUNG CSCconditions, he was fed well and regularly by the busses of tourists whom exploit the beach for the hour or weekend. I grabbed the remaining grapes and lychees and rolled them one by one under his cage, where his little arm would reach through a triangle of caged steel, grip them with his human-like fingers, and peel them before bringing it to his mouth. The monkey was my last sight. We jumped on our bikes and said peace to this Oprah-sized-shit-stain-of-a-beach.

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The ride leaving the beach was nice. We knew the route. The sun was shining and we had lots of it left. We had no destination except in the direction of home. And the ferry ride we’d be able to visibly enjoy this time around. Well, it didn’t take me long to make a wrong turn at a fork in the road and instead of skirting a city we entered it and it threw us off track. At least that was how it was dressed. After chatting with a few laid-back locals and scouring Katie’s GPS we were once again enroute, and it turned out that my mistake turned out to be a blessing, for the night before when we drove along the Mekong and palm trees it was solely lit up by our headlights. And thanks to my shotty directions, we had once again discovered the back road dreams are made of. KT Edit: Little did we know that before the day was over I would shed tears & be contemplating sleeping on the street… Part 3 coming soon!

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Read Ba Dong Ka Donk- Part 3 of 3: Love/Hate Relationship here!

Ba Dong Ka Donk- Part 1 of 3: Are We There Yet?

Google Maps said it would take three and a half hours on the TP Ho Chi Minh (AH1) ,

Our supposed route.

Our supposed route.

a highway we were dreadfully trying to avoid after hearing nightmare stories of traffic, pollution and just pure chaos. The alternate route ran at about four and a half, cutting through the countryside and small towns; Vietnam’s take on small towns that is. Having nothing but time on our hands and brand new motorbikes for our butts, we obviously chose the latter- perhaps the small town in us had a little play in it as well.

Our destination was a beach called Ba Dong, a landmark we would soon find out didn’t register on anyone’s radar. It doesn’t even register on Google maps, because a connecting bridge had not been erected when the eye-in-the-sky snapped this shot, so the directions stop about ten minutes short of the South China Sea, where our beach happens to reside. So with a hand sketched map, a genuine map, our pack strapped to my bike, and two full tanks of gas we set out on an adventure- looking to get lost and to see another side of Vietnam, one that didn’t consist of concrete.

Let’s just say that it took us a good hour or two to get out of the city after battling foreign street signs, the on and off bouts of rain, and a variety of mechanical problems. After travel vietnam motorcyclebreaking down the first time in front of a mechanic, I had to switch from my automatic start to using the kick-start, which eventually proved to be a huge fucking pain in the ass, because every time I came to a stop the bike would need to be restarted, and the worst part was that if I held in the clutch to coast the bike would also die- try kick starting a bike 30-40 times in the matter of an hour when you’re trying to enjoy the ride… you get the picture so I’ll stop bitchin’. I obviously knew it needed a new battery, so when I broke down in front of another mechanic I had it replaced while Katie and I ordered a couple of beers and Banh Mi sandwiches.  A crusty baguette filled with shredded carrots and some suspicious meat that turned out to be unbelievable- probably dog or cat or something domestic.

We loved this Banh Mi lady!

We loved this Banh Mi lady!

With a new battery that ran me $13 that included labour, full bellies, and knowledge that we currently were on the AH1, we continued on our journey that we’d already put in 3 hours of travel time. Unfortunately, minutes later we were lost again and were on the side of the road looking at the GPS on Katie’s tablet, which came to our savior countless times along our trip.

So far the countryside had been nothing spectacular, we swapped paved roads for a mixSAMSUNG CSC of dirt and gravel and then back again, high rises for low rises, and each district we drove through housed the same shops, in what seemed to be, in the same order. And as much as I am a lover of adventure, I was looking forward to getting out of this area and off the newly found AH1. KT Edit: The huge trucks and speeding busses were making the NEW motorbike rider in me tremble as I gripped my handlebars with one hand while constantly trying to dig the dirt out of my eyes with the other…in the rain. 

In a stretch of luck and constant countryside inquiries we ended up swapping our current mode of direction to one that would make the trip run a lot smoother. Since no one had heard of Ba Dong, we began asking people about the town Tra Vinh that sat beside it, and taking one step even further back, we started looking for the town of Ben Tre that connected to Tra Vinh. Now that we had gained a sense of direction by being able to follow road signs, not only did it boost our energy, but it also succeeded in creating a flow to our journey rather than having to pull up every few miles and re-check the map.

We cruised through the town of My Tho and over its brand new bridge that connected it to its neighbour Ben Tre, and then across another bridge that eventually led us to a ferry that crossed over into Tra Vinh.

By now it was dark and we had been on the road for at least five hours, thanks to being lost, although the traffic definitely came into play, but when we pulled up to the port, the ferry was pulling in at the exact time and saved us a good 30 minutes from having to cross, unload and come back.

The ferry, much like everything else in Vietnam, was cheap. Each ticket cost 7500 Dong, SAMSUNG CSCso for a pair it rang in at 70 cents. They packed the ship with trucks and cars either full of loads, or empty from hauling loads to the mainland, and then they crammed motorbikes into all the nooks and crannies that remained. We got a spot amongst 30+ bikes at the front and set off for a flicker that shone from the other side of the river.

Whilst snapping photos, a guy who introduced himself as Dien asked us where we were heading. Being a native of Tra Vinh, and the sole person that had heard of Ba Dong Beach, he said that we could follow him as far as he was going and then we could carry on up the road for 40-60 km towards the beach. With the sun long asleep, we just wanted to end this journey, so we delightfully accepted his offer and turned off our thinking caps.

When the boat docked we all herded off the ship and past the gate and caught up to Dien who had slowed down for us. Cruising up next to him, I pointed to my empty tank and he SAMSUNG CSCmotioned his understanding. We followed him to a random shanty house on a random dirt road. It had to be around 10 at night, and Dien is outside yelling in at them, something to the effect of “I’ve got a couple of foreigners who need a fill- charge them whatever you like, it’s late and an inconvenience.” I could care less at the cost of a litre of gas when that litre is our salvation. He filled our tanks at a little over double the pump price and we carried on along the dirt road. KT Edit: Louis so lovingly left out the part where I almost rear ended him & Dien when they stopped to pull over while I was trailing behind, lost in my own world. 

The glaze of our headlights lit up palm trees along the sides of the roads and blips of water through breaks in the tropical brush- it was the Mekong Delta. Having put away our maps, we hadn’t a clue which direction we were heading, he could have driven us down a dark alley and sodomized and robbed us- we’re happy he didn’t. After crossing a rickety bridge, then down furthering dirt roads, we eventually reached a town, and then we drove right through it.

Back on a quiet country road with nothing but our headlights glued to the dotted line and tropical wind slapping our dopey grins, the three of us were cruising along. With Dien leading the way and myself trailing a handful of meters behind, I looked in my mirror and saw Katie’s lights growing further and further distant until it was dark as The Delta. Shouting up to Dien, I spun my bike around and started cooking until I spotted flickering lights that eventually hadn’t the strength to shine bright.  Dien caught up and pointed out a random hotel about ¼ of a km down the road. We thanked him and he sped off in pursuit of his own bed. KT Edit: I’d like to add that as the boys kept speeding down the road while my bike sputtered and died at the side of the street, I had a mini panic over the fact that it was pitch black, I was alone, & I could only assume alligators and snakes were coming to consume me. 

With the moon hidden, we pushed on for the hotel when three bikes pulled up to our SAMSUNG CSChaunches. I think four guys all together, all in their 20’s, jumped off their bikes to lend a hand. Insisting Katie sit on her bike instead of pushing, she climbed on and the guy saddled his bike with his foot on her back peg and the six of us cruised down the road and into the hotel, where we parked our bikes indoors. KT Edit: I laughed the whole way. 

We greeted the owners as they swung in hammocks chilling out; the bikers passed on a few words about how they found us broken down on the side of the road, and after passing on our ID’s the guys left and we were guided to a perfectly simple room.  All ten channels on the TV flickered or spouted nonsense, the bed was hard, and gecko’s screamed us to sleep- a perfect end to a long day on the road.

Next up: Ba Dong Ka Donk- Part 2 of 3: gettin’ our hate on!