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??

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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

Gettin’ Hogs in Ho Chi Minh

There’s nothing better than being a foreigner in a new land. Vietnam is no exception. It’s not that rules don’t apply to you- it’s just that ways and laws may be bent or broken to see fit that your stay is more enjoyable. Half the time pure ignorance just ends up fitting the bill and the other half perhaps you just roll with the punches. I see to it that I don’t take too much advantage of local laws, but when it comes to licenses, insurance, contracts; that kinda jazz, that’s where the life of a foreigner truly trumps that of being just another local at home.

The plan after getting our apartment was to pick up a couple of motorcycles. Well, a motorcycle for myself, and motorbike for the misses. After a couple of days on craigslist, expat blogs and forums- I deduced that the bike I was looking for was a Honda Win. I really don’t know much about the bike, aside from it being manually driven. It has four gears and is one of the more widely known bikes for touring the countryside and playing in the hills, swamps and beachfronts. Although the Honda Win is not a Vietnamese bike, there is such an abundance of them in Vietnam- parts and labour I would find out are readily available and mind-blowingly cheap.

Katie, being new to the bike world, opted for an automatic bike, the Yamaha Nuovo. With more horsepower than my bike, 115hp to my 100hp, it’s a nice bike to break her into feeling comfortable on two wheels and more importantly cruising the chaotic streets of Ho Chi Minh.

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Now back home in Canada, the process of acquiring a bike is I’m sure very similar to that of acquiring one in Vietnam. One would write a test or perhaps have a driving test along side that and once that was settled, you would pay a fee and get your drivers license. Then you would find a reputable, aka cheap, insurance company and sign a contract for a year (which is bullshit back home in Canada because the riding year is only good for 4-6 months, 8-10 if you’re ballsy) and then assuming you already have a bike picked out- you would register that and then pay taxes on top of everything. Sounds like a very worthwhile system… Uhhhh, no thank you! The whole ordeal of receiving my M license cost me a hundred dollars or so in tests, then plates and a license are another hundred or so, on top of $1400 /year insurance and then $3800+tax ($494 to get specific)… all in all costing me just over of $6000. Which is pricey, but, like all bikers, we all justify the cost because of that sweet rumble between our legs and the wind kissing our face…I’m taking about freedom- and sweet Jesus it is!

Now let’s say I skipped the insurance and skipped the license and just bought a bike… well that wouldn’t work in Canada because I would need plates. And then it’s over from the get go- but if I had plates and threw them on, lets say, well then perhaps I could get away with it, that is until a cop saw I had outdated stickers and bam… huge ticket, bike taken off the road, and so long freedom.

Hop on over to Vietnam, Xin Chao everybody, and lets pretend you are a foreigner. You want a motorcycle, what do you do? What I did was search all the websites until I found another foreigner looking to unload his bike. Usually foreigners travel from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi or vice versa and then sell their bikes before heading to another country. That’s the usual story. Along with your new purchase, not only do you get a license plate, but you should also receive the original papers to the bike (inscribed with original owners name), and if you are lucky, a couple of helmets, tie-downs, and a map.

But what happens if you get pulled over in Vietnam? Well, something that I have already witnessed in front of old presidential palace was a cop slipping a bribe into his shirt pocket. The going rate I have been told is $5 dollars for locals (100,000 dong) and upwards of $10 (200,000 dong) for foreigners. Hell, I could be pulled over 140 times back home and break even just on the insurance alone. What I have been told countless times from traveller’s is to not even show your papers and just play dumb. If the officer knows English… You do not. If you don’t know another language- try counting to ten in Spanish over and over again until they brush you off for the annoyance you are. If that doesn’t work, pull out a small bill- nothing large.

post bribe photobomb

post bribe photobomb

Now, I’m not saying any of this is ethical. No, I never said that. Nor do I condone my behavior- I’m aware I am taking advantage of the system. But honestly, I’m not going to stop. It feels too damn good to be above the law. Too damn good. I’m flying over here.

Well Jeeze Louise I’m so excited, I forgot to tell you the best part. So it took me a couple days to contact a seller- he was leaving in three days and needed to unload and he fortunately lived a ten-minute walk from my house. Katie and I walked over and met Raphael, a 22-year-old medical student from France who was on a volunteer/vacation in Vietnam.  I looked the bike over, hopped on and gave it a test drive. By no means is it a pretty bike. Oh, she’s beat up and abused- loved too much one might say, but she ran well and Raphael seemed like a good guy.  I ended up giving him $300 for the bike and the three of us went out for a couple beers to settle the deal. We did. We finished our beers, shook hands and parted ways. I didn’t even have time to be excited about being a new bike owner because Katie had made plans to meet a potential seller almost immediately after I wrapped up my deal.

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We walked across the street and there was this Thai bloke with the thickest UK accent- it really threw me for a loop. Tattooed up and dressed in a t-shirt that read ‘I fuck on the first date’ he was lined up to be a real salesman. KT Edit: I asked if I could consider this sale a date. He just laughed awkwardly. Damn! I jumped on the bike to give it a go- spinning through the Saigon streets and back. This bike was in much better running condition. So after a little bargaining he took 20 bucks off and she landed it for $420. A steal considering Katie could put 5-6000 km on it and then sell it for the same price to the next newbie.

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We both hopped onto Katie’s new bike and doubled back to Raphael’s pad where the bike was still sitting, Raphael was there with a friend. Hopping onto my new bike he walked over and said ‘I think you paid me too much- I was asking 500,000,000 dong, that’s only $260’. Raphael then hands me $40 back and says ‘this will be incase you need to fix anything on the bike along your travels’. Marveled by my good fortune, I accepted and promised him I would keep him posted along the travels and be sure to put some good kilometers on the bike.

With new bikes under our asses and an unknown world that surrounds us, Katie and I explored the wild city, throwing ourselves front wheel first into oncoming traffic, it’s the only way to learn the streets and how the traffic works and what we have to do to stay alive on these wicked streets. We got home safe, parked our bikes on the inside of our house in a designated area that sits eight more for our household. I’m already getting antsy to get cruising. Perhaps we will take a look at a map tonight and be off before we know it.

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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

Pho-king Delicious

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City on July 23rd, figured out a taxi to take us to where we were staying – an apartment in the Manor 2 with Louis’ friend from Korea (Pam)’s boyfriend Haider, snuck in around midnight, and crashed in the spare bedroom. Setting out on the first day of our adventure after a relatively long and unbroken sleep, we had no idea where to go or what to see first. We were Vietnam virgins in the purest sense, with not even a map as a guide. We left the Manor 2 in which we thought was District 7, with the sole purpose of exploration. We quickly got lost, but can one REALLY be lost if one has no specific destination, and one is never really “found” to begin with?

Our first order of business was breakfast. It was after 11AM, past Vietnamese breakfast time, but that wouldn’t stop us. The airplane and airport food of the past two days had left a lot to be desired. We kept seeing little plastic tables and little plastic stools set up all over the sidewalks with people of all ages stooped and slurping. Alright…so how does this work?? Should we just sit down and see what happens? Not speaking the language…this really was our only option.

So that’s what we did! We sat at a metal table on the sidewalk, lined on both sides with tiny plastic stools and covered in containers holding chopsticks, spoons, toilet-paper-cum-napkins, diced limes, various spices, and a number of things we couldn’t put a name to. A middle-aged woman smiled at us sweetly and got to putting together two bowls for us. How did she know what we wanted?? She didn’t. Didn’t we have some sort of menu or choice? We didn’t.
Travel Vietam Pho KT

This sweet lady brought over two bowls of Pho. Just like the pho restaurants at home, there was a plate full of fresh herbs in the middle to mix in with our noodle soup. One “herb” looked quite strange, and when I asked Louis about it he stated very matter-of-factly, “It’s not octopus”. With a shrug, I threw it all in my bowl, squirted lime like the lady was insisting, and slurped away, no more questions asked. And…it was great! Very much like the pho we have at home, but much better…assumingly because everything was the freshest of fresh, and maybe because we were starving. And also because we really couldn’t be sure what was involved in the making of the pho.

We dove head first into the food culture and were not disappointed. At a whopping 50,000VND (about $2.50CAD) for 2 meals, we’d say we got a great bang for our buck. At Pho Dau Bo in Hamilton, which is my favourite pho place back home, the same setup and meal for two people would have cost $14. All this, plus a little Vietnamese boy and his mother offered lively entertainment, wanting to take pictures and laugh with us. The boys mother informed us that the “not octopus” part was, indeed, dried squid. Whoops! Whodathunk the girl who gags at the thought of eating an olive would be munching squid on her first day in Vietnam? The one thing I couldn’t bring myself to eat, although Louis did give it a go, was something femur bone-looking, with the texture of tofu. I’m still unsure what it was, but my money is on something sausage related.

Travel Vietnam Lou

the WHY factor

Twisted Lou:

So the question on most people’s mind is why? You can probably guess how many times I’ve heard that from my parents and friends alone. But, it’s way more than that. Think about the phone company when you have to give the reason for cancelling. And the bank when you tell them there might be a few overseas transactions. And the chicken’s flown the coop once word hits Facebook. Hell, its hands-down the most asked question I’ve received when I told people “I’m moving to Vietnam.” And to be honest- I didn’t even know why at first.

At first I told myself it was to get a job. Although what kind of job I was unaware. Vietnam is rich in textiles (aka cheap labour) as well as coffee and cashews, but where do you really start? I had been an ESL teacher in South Korea from 2007-2009, and I knew that I didn’t want to go down that route again. But, all that aside… the answer still remained- Why Vietnam?

Bambini Montessori- Class of 2007

Bambini Montessori- Class of 2007

I think it had to stem from my love for Asia. I had a great dose of it over in S.K. and Vietnam sounded like it had everything Korea had to offer- but on a cheaper budget.Throw in beaches along a coast that runs 1000 miles, mountains just shy of 10,000 feet and a bowl of phó on the streets for $1- I guess Vietnam was just calling my name. It’s also a great stomping ground in S.E.A. to do a little country hopping. With Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, China and the Philippines next-door, it’s almost as easy to cross the border, as it is to ask your neighbour for a bowl of phó.

I guess I knew the answer all along- it’s the adventure. The unknown. It’s about being able to walk down foreign streets with my head on a swivel in awe. It’s about meeting amazing people and being let into a slice of their life for the day. It’s about not understanding anything at all, and having it all slowly piece itself together.

It’s about being so unbelievably passionate about life that you can say good-bye to everything behind you, put on a backpack with the rain in your face and say where next. That’s why Vietnam. 

Costa Rica December 2012

Costa Rica December 2012

Twisted KT:

“Because you have to start somewhere…”
This was my clever little way of getting around the inevitable “Why Vietnam?” inquiry. The truth was that I didn’t know why. I didn’t know how. I wasn’t sure when or for how long, either. As I answered the who, the what, the where, and the when, I was still stuck on the why.

I always knew I would travel after finishing University. As my fellow classmates applied to post-graduate programs and started looking for “adult jobs”, I was making lists of places I wanted to visit, searching travel blogs and reading travel books. I joked that I wasn’t ready to start “real life” yet, I had other things to do. How could I commit to Hamilton when I hadn’t seen all the other places first? I love you Hamilton, but we need some time apart. I just wanted to get out, I needed something new.

Vietnam offered something that Canada didn’t – foreign food, faces, and feelings. While there is nothing specifically drawing me to Vietnam or making me obsessed with Vietnamese culture, it is a place to start. There are beaches and mountains to explore, bustling cities to get lost in, and rich history to learn about. There are religions to be inspired by, cultural customs to be baffled by, and insane traffic to master. There are neighbouring countries to navigate, a plethora of cafes to read in, and endless street-eats to experience.

Every journey needs a beginning, & for mine I chose Vietnam!
@kt_mllr