Freaking Keys, Opulent Hash Browns, 70 Year Old Bear Hugs, and a Hike

Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
October 11-12, 2013

Do you have a key that fits into anyone else’s lock? How about a car key? Imagine trying it in a 1996 Dodge Stratus one day and BAM it unlocks. Then you put the key into the ignition and off you go with a sweet set of wheels. What would you do if someone just up and stole your 1996 Dodge Stratus?

I don’t know the odds, but I was under the impression one key for one lock, with an immeasurable grey area of chance or error. Meaning one key opens two locks. I don’t know what the statistic is, but I know that I have put the wrong key in the door hundreds of times, probably a thousand in my life and it’s never worked. Think of all the times fumbling in the dark. Coming home drunk. Stupidity as a child. Then you have the senile and bling thrown in the mix as well. If I’ve done it even ten times in my life and there are shy of seven billion people on this planet that have done it as well (which averages out all the people who have done it in the hundreds to the people who live in far regions of the world where ox are vehicles and houses made of mud and sticks are yet to be padlocked) then we are sitting at 7 billion times 10= 70 billion times. Yah. I know!

Our first room on Cat Ba

Our first room on Cat Ba

Well this morning. And it’s always this morning. There is nothing like starting the day with a hiccup. And my hiccups these days have been brought on continuously by Michael Douglas. Over the last two months Michael Douglas has brought me to the highest peaks and the lowest lows, ya dig!

I lost my keys. Like a fool. I scorned myself for the child I am “you idiot”. That was meant for me. But if you feel like you’ve done something stupid lately- then lay it on yourself too, my brother.  I lost my key. Fast forward twenty minutes to one fatty sweated t-shirt; one room flipped upside down; two cadavered bags gutted on the sidewalk like a 1920’s Chicago massacre. Which is exactly how I felt inside. And like the cynical untrusting man I am I was hooked on the hotel manager pinching the key from my bike after I had left it in the slot accidentally over night. Which is a fool thing to do in the first place. But as soon as those thoughts popped it I forced them right out with an internal apology. It was my fault. And after I painted him guilty he came to my saviour.

The manager, who by now has witnessed my stress and sweaty t-shirt, runs into his hotel to grab his set of keys. Coming to my aid he put his key in my slot. I don’t know what kind of bike he had and it really doesn’t matter because the key didn’t work. He grabs his friends set of keys, who’s now a bystander, and fiddles with it in the slot. Nope! Then he grabs Katie’s key and puts it into her ignition, which it obviously rev’s up, and then he takes it out and magically it stays running and then fiddles the key into my ignition. And would you know it my Honda kicked in shining that beautiful green neutral square. I turned the key and BAM it started revving. How the hell did that just work? I drive an early 2000 Honda Win and Katie drives an early 2010 Yamaha Nouvo. I’m still enamored. I’d love to know the statistics of this feat occurring. I don’t want to do the research or math myself, but if someone knows it and you want to contact me that’d be wonderful and appreciated. Louisstroud@gmail.com

Travel Vietnam Cat ba us smile

So the bike is running and the guy offers to run down the street to get me a copy. Ahh this is where he gets me I think this was his plot all along, to make a few dollars off the key. Aha!! I’m getting too suspicious for my own good. How the hell would he have known that her key was going to work. I guess I’m just destined not to trust this guy. Which is good because he turned out to be an asshole the next day. Well maybe I brought that on too.

We left the hotel after I got the bike working in search of breakfast. And what a breakfast. Our morning soon turned into an obsession. Taking a break from the eggs and baguettes we found a restaurant serving up western style breakfast and great coffee. None of that syrup or corn replacement we’d begrudgingly sipped to quench our parchment. Vietnam has great coffee, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that they don’t always serve it to you. Like I’ve said to Katie a handful of times “Vietnam is the land of great food prepared without love – and the same goes for coffee”.  The night prior we found a restaurant-cum-café on a walk and made plans to head then in the morning. So we did.

We ordered a couple of ice coffees, com dung com sua, without sugar or milk, which I have grown accustom too. Pure black gold. Waiting for the coffees we flipped through the breakfast menu. Our eyes lit up to stacks of pancakes & French toast & hash browns & crispy bacon, oh GOD crispy bacon & Denver omelets & everything looked holy and

Only a delicious breakfast can achieve this dopey grin ;)

Only a delicious breakfast can achieve this dopey grin ;)

wonderful and they were all laid out in little neat combos that had bites of everything all in the range of three bucks. A splurge from the buck or two we had been used to for our routine eggs and baguette, but hell, we’re on vacation. Even if our entire life feels like a vacation. “When in Rome” I believe is the saying. We conquered our meals like we had just been given a clean bill of health. Which is probably far from the truth since we’ve been living off eggs and bread for the last three months. I think I’ve lost twenty pounds already. It’s a wonderful diet if you’re looking for one and you don’t think the whole carb-free Atkins or the don’t eat anything with a shadow diet will work for you. Eggs and bread. BAM! Do it! Perhaps consult a physician first seeing as though I am just a backpacker and not an actual bankrolled doctor.

After our breakfast we set out for a new room. We heard about a secluded bungalow on the beach that was said to be cheap and rundown. It sounded perfect. We lit out and found the land we were looking for although it looked a lot nicer than how it sounded. We got off our bikes and went up to the reception. She pulled out a pricing sheet. It was somewhere around $60/night and we were under the impression that it was in the $10 ballpark. It turns out all the comments had been outdated and the bungalows had been redone and thusly re-priced. What a flop. (KT: I couldn’t believe it. I was so bummed! I was looking forward to some little craphole bungalow with a beach setting for backpacking prices. Not a beachside resort with flat screen TVs! Who needs a TV when the sea is at your feet??) So we turned around…away from the beaches and found a new hotel on the same strip as the night prior, but larger, cleaner, and closer to the beach. We talked the guy down to $10/night for four nights. We unpacked, jumped back on our bike and went straight back to the bungalows which were located on the most beautiful cove and set up camp. It was magical. A hidden treasure. A beach that you see in movies on tropical deserted islands. An oasis where people slave the entire year just to dip their toes. We swam. Yes, swam. And it was glorious. (KT: & of course neither of us snapped any pics. Dopes.)

DAY 32- breakfast melt down, oh and climbing an awesome mountain

We woke up with breakfast on our minds. I couldn’t stop thinking about those damn hash browns, I had to have them. So when we pulled up in front and saw that it was all locked up, you can guess how upset we both were. We actually stood around for 15 minutes with guffaw looks on our faces like we had no clue what to do next. And to be honest we didn’t. I knew the restaurant next door would be shit compared to our heavenly plate we chowed down on just yesterday. And guess what? The food next door was shit. I’ve told myself many times to travel without expectations because if you build yourself up – you can easily be let down. And boy were we low. Eggs and baguettes just didn’t seem the same. (KT: Turns out the owner of our breakfast joint was at a wedding that morning, so we forgave him hehe)

With indifferent bellies we went to trek through Cat Ba National Park. A mountain range with the slogan “Save The Langurs”, an endangered monkey which is  apparently tastier Travel Vietnam Cat Ba Hospital Cavethan it is cute. On the way there we pulled over at an entrance to a Hospital Cave which is exactly as its moniker sounds. We paid the seventy cents and climbed a makeshift staircase to an opening on the side of a mountain. A “guide” showed us the lights to switch on and said for us to turn them off after we exit. Inside was the equivalent to any horror movie setting; dark, eerie echoes, creepy shadows, a dozen completely empty concrete rooms except for one with a ladder that led to nowhere, and an unnerving feeling that you weren’t alone. Aside from its spooky air it was extremely interesting that it was once in fact an actual functioning hospital inside a mountain. People shot in combat were stitched up in these rooms. People bled on these floors. People died between these walls while some people were healed. Although everyone that found their way into this hollowed mountain had been affected one way or another by the war. We crept out as another group walked in so we left the lights on for them.

A kitty we met

A kitty we met

We got back on our bikes and zipped off.  About one kilometer from the national park a couple of men were having bike problems and waved me over. I assumed so one could hitch a ride. I was correct. A man in his seventies hopped on and without any Travel VIetnam butterflycommunication I just drove. He was wearing a green jacket that had Vietnamese on the back so I assumed he worked at the park. Maybe a concession booth. As I closed in on the park entrance he pointed for me to make a left, so I passed the gate and kept rolling. For the next twenty minutes I drove this man from one end of the island to the other, some twenty kilometers weaving along the Cliffside. Halfway into the ride I got the feeling that he was in pursuit of reaching the ferry. The one we came in on. Well it was his lucky day. It was a beautiful day and with his seventy year old arms wrapped around me I took him all but one kilometer from the port and swapped him onto another mans bike. Climbing off my bike he Travel VIetnam butterflieshad the biggest smile on his face. Not knowing what to do he stuck out his hand and kissed me on the cheek. We had not spoken a word to each other the entire ride, but he left with a thank you. My shirt had become damp from the grip he had around my waist, with one of his hands resting ever so close to my cough. I wonder if it occurred to him that I drove forty minutes out of my way when I was at the park entrance? Where did he think I was heading? As he climbed onto the other bike I saw that his jacket had three gold star lapels.  I wondered if they were accomplishments from the war and what he had to do in battle to get them. I thought about all the horrors he has seen. As I rode away I saw another man riding in with a jacket fully decorated ten times over. (KT: It was quite hilarious watching Lou tow this guy around the island. Then when the guy kissed Lou on the cheek…I thought I would die laughing. What an adorably cute and hilarious thing to witness. The man was so grateful and he just wasn’t sure how to show it – a peck on the cheek does it!)

Ribbit

Ribbit

The ride back to the mountain was just as beautiful. We parked, paid the fee, and started Travel Vietnam Ngu Lam Peakclimbing. The point of the climb was to reach a peak sitting at an arguable 1200 feet. We reached the top easily with a few skipped heartbeats. The peak opened up to unbelievable 360 degree views of mountains, mountains and more damn mountains. On top of the peak was a looming tower with a dated wooden plaque reading “Dangerous No climbing” which are the exact words that stir the adventure in me. I slipped through a metal bar and onto the staircase to Katie’s chagrin, although I know it was purely out of love (I amTravel Vietnam Cat Ba lizard loveable you know), and climbed the rusted iron steps up five flights to a deck that was more of a work in progress. It was like they ran out of planks to finish the top so they just said fuck it and threw up a danger sign instead. The view though. It was worth the risk. Alone at the top of the world free to think about what all men think about. (KT: Yeah, I did NOT want him climbing up there. “There’s a sign for a REASON, Lou!”. Then I dropped it, and let him do his thing with a promise to be careful while I sunned myself like a cat on a rock. It was great.)

Trave Vietnam Cat Ba Peak

When I climbed down the group from the hospital cave had arrived. This time we actually introduced ourselves and traded travel stories. Frankie and Katia were an Italian couple traveling with Fabio, a German that had linked up. They had just came from Laos and told us about their route, the absence of a culinary experience, and the unrivalled countrysideTravel Vietnam Peak US beauty. We all snapped photos and descended together just as a lengthy and garish group were arriving, and then another, and another, and even another. The peak had snug room for ten and that’s generously allowing everyone a few feet of space to do what you do at the top of a mountain – enjoy the view. We had passed 20-30 all within a span of four minutes trying to snake ourselves down a set of shifty and unhinged ladders. Our timing couldn’t have been calculated more perfectly. We all walked down together and parted ways at the entrance. But that wouldn’t be the last of them.

Travel VIetnam Cat Ba National Park

My Intimate Meeting With The Pavement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Infection

Infection

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

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

Healing process

Healing process

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

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

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