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!