Chapter 3: Vietnam

October 15, 2018 (Hanoi - Mai Chau)

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Vietnam welcomed us bright and early, at 4:50 AM to be exact.

Everything lined up exactly how it was supposed to.

  • Early arrival.

  • Acquire Vietnamese SIM cards. Best decision we’ve made thus far.

*The airport offers a variety of combo SIM packages, which fit our needs perfectly. Ryley got the internet & phone package (18GB high speed internet, 70 minutes local & international calling, and 30 free international & local phone MMS messaging) $11.00 USD or 250,000 VND. I got the internet only package (60 GB high speed internet for 15 days, 4 GB usage/day), and free incoming calls) $10.00 USD or 225,000 VND.

  • Download Grab (the equivalent of Vietnamese Uber - you can see how much your trip will cost, and how long it will take to get to your destination), so we could avoid getting ripped off by a taxi driver. Our driver arrived quickly, and there was no room for communication errors.

 May, September, and October are rice harvesting months.

May, September, and October are rice harvesting months.

We had decided that we did not want to stay in Hanoi, because we wanted to avoid the bustle of the big city. We had already received a heavy dose of that in Hong Kong. Instead, we wanted to immerse ourselves in the mountainous farming district of Mai Chau. Located 4.5 hours southwest of Hanoi, Mai Chau is situated in a picturesque valley like town surrounded by rice fields and dirt roads. There are different methods of getting there from Hanoi, but we’re on a budget, and are always in search of the cheapest modes of transportation.

After extensive research, I came across a blog which turned into our holy grail while travelling to Mai Chau. The author, Liz Deacle, gave a detailed description of how to get there while travelling on a budget (bussing = most economical option).

The best route: Hanoi Airport — My Dinh Bus Station — Mai Chau

My Dinh was full of locals travelling to their next destination. It was still quite early, and the hustle and grind of the day had already begun.

We followed the instructions from the blog:

  • We went to ticket window #7 that read “Mai Chau”. It was 5:30 AM, and the bus wasn’t scheduled to leave until 6:30 AM. Tickets wouldn’t go on sale until 30 minutes before the buses departure time.

  • Asked/confirmed how much the tickets were (we knew they should only be 70,000 VND - $3.95 CAD/person)

  • Ignored aggressive “helpers” who kept asking us to follow them. A strange man came in HOT while we were sitting in the waiting area. He got a little too close to Ryley, and caressed his thigh, all while chanting “Mai Chau” and pointing towards the bus terminal. Liz’s blog said that we might encounter people trying to sell us tickets or “help” us, but to pay them no mind. Ryley kept trying to shoo them away, but they were incredibly persistent. We later found out that the two men who kept pestering Ryley and I were the bus conductors. Yikes.

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Seats towards the back were calling our names, and we boarded without issue. I’m not going to sugar coat it, the bus was ghetto. It was more like an oversized van, that hadn’t been serviced in a long time. We were getting the real $3.95 experience. One of the strange men disappeared to the front to drive the van, but the leg poker floated to the back to flirt with Ryley. My poor man. The creepy gremlin left him alone after the tenth bout of ignoring, and “go away” hand motions.

I was packed into my seat like a sardine, and mildly stressed out about how fast and reckless the bus was being driven. I would later find out this is how all bus drivers drive in Vietnam. Horns are used every 2-5 minutes, to warn scooters and smaller vehicles, to get the hell out of the way. I quickly learned to accept this.

Vietnam Bus Fact: Sometimes the bus driver’s assistant will demand more money for your bags, but do not give in. They might pester you, and tell you it’s mandatory, but do not give in. Eventually, you will be left alone. Also, bus drivers may not actually stop at designated bus stops. It is common for the conductor’s assistant to yell out the window to ask if anyone will be boarding.

Half way through our journey, we stopped at a gas station in a small village. After a bathroom break, and a quick bowl of pho we were back on the road. We arrived in Mai Chau shortly after 10:45 AM. The positive side to early flights/bus rides is that you don’t lose a day during travel.

I had booked a homestay in Lac Village, which I found off of Liz’s blog. When we got to Lac Village (15 minutes from the town centre) we realized there was a vast selection of homestays. I hadn’t paid for the homestay I booked before we got to Vietnam, so we decided to shop around to find a place we liked in person. The other homestay had a flexible cancelation policy, which allowed us to cancel for free on less than 24 hours notice.

*By the way, it was 33 degrees when we arrived in Mai Chau. We walked from the town centre to Lac Village and nearly melted into little brown puddles. I thought I knew humidity, but Vietnam is next level.

We ended up staying in the first place we walked in to: Countryside Homestay. As soon as we saw the traditional stilt houses, and magical koi pond, we were sold. We did our due diligence and asked other homestays, but for the price, location, and vibe, Countryside couldn’t be beaten.

 Our traditional homestay built on bamboo stilts, overtop of a beautiful koi pond.

Our traditional homestay built on bamboo stilts, overtop of a beautiful koi pond.

A warm greeting by the owner’s son, Tuan, and he showed us the private room that he had available. A double bed with mosquito net canopy, fan, full toilet and shower set, fresh towels, extra blankets, and free WiFi for 250,000 VND ($14.00 CAD)/night. Plus, Tuan’s Mother refreshed our room every morning (made the bed, emptied the garbage, and gave us fresh towels). I don’t think I’ve ever stayed anywhere so lovely, yet so inexpensive.

After getting settled, we wasted no time, a quick Vietnamese coffee was in order. Next stop, rent scooters (500,000 VND - $28.00 CAD for 4 days). Ryley and I spent some time practicing in the quieter areas off the main road, so I could get comfortable with my scooter. It was only appropriate to share a lunch of pho and beer afterwards. A proper welcome to Vietnam.

The rest of our time was spent posting up in the common area. Tuan’s Father always brought us tea whenever he spotted us on our laptops. He also brought our scooters inside right before it rained. The homey and familial touch was what made our stay so noteworthy.

Kindness needn’t be expressed through the same tongue, but through one’s actions. This is universal.

If you’d like to read Liz Deacle’s full blog “Hanoi to Mai Chau. 10 Things to Know Before Making the Trip”, follow this link: https://itsadrama.com/hanoi-to-mai-chau-vietnam-travel-blog/

October 16, 2018

Sweet Jesus our bed was hard.

I myself appreciate a firmer mattress, but this was like padded concrete. Hunger and back spasms took us into the town for breakfast (we opted out of our homestays breakfast so we could explore). We perused many of the street vendors, until we came across a man selling barbecued quail and traditional homemade Vietnamese spring rolls. He spoke some English, and was able to guide us through the ordering process. A hearty breakfast of 6 spring rolls, one quail, a giant bowl of steamed rice, and a plateful of stir fried veggies started our day off on the right foot. The amount we paid for all that food almost felt like WE were robbing the vendor. 90,000 VND ($5.08) for everything, including a Vietnamese coffee.

Before a day of adventure, a heavy carb and protein breakfast is a necessity. We followed the map the owner of our homestay gave us, and began the 20 km trek to Go Lao Waterfall. We passed through a few small villages full of roaming livestock and dogs. A terrace of rice fields and a river caught our eyes, so we took a moment to explore. There are so many amazing places you can discover along your journey to one destination. Lush greenery surrounded us, and so did a a small village…up the side of mud hill.

A woman in her late 60’s, dressed in farming regalia, summoned me to follow her up into her village. Along the way she told me a story, but not through words. 10 fingers counted the age of the bamboo trees around us. A hand to her heart explained this was where she grew up. A humble village comprised of bamboo homes with one giant main floor where families slept together. We walked up a muddy path, and mud stairs in order to get there. She didn’t break a sweat and seemed to be 10 times more agile than I was. Her feet remembered the exact places to step, and I tried my best to mimic the epic uphill foot dance. The higher we went, the more bamboo homes appeared. Everyone we passed greeted us with a friendly head nod, and a kind wave.  

We hopped back on the bike, and continued our journey to the falls. On the way, there were babies of all species: chicks, puppies, and humans. I was overwhelmed with cuteness, and had to control myself. Ryley’s scooter driving skills continued to impress me. A downward slope of moguls taunted us as we made our way down an unpaved road. The man behind us didn’t even flinch as he trundled through the bumps with an empty water cylinder twice the size of him and his scooter, buckled on with a single zap strap, and with his music blaring.

The signs pointed us in the right direction towards the waterfall, but we couldn’t figure out how to get down to see it. We stopped by a little store, where a man was washing his bike. He told us we could pay him 10,000 VND ($0.56 CAD) to park on his property.

 Parking Fact: Most places that connect to an attraction will have parking lots manned by locals. You will have to pay to park there, but it isn’t expensive, usually between $0.30-$0.75 CAD.

 Gò Lào Waterfall

Gò Lào Waterfall

A set of stairs guided us down to the falls, which were full of other tourists. They left shortly after we arrived, and we had the area to ourselves. Any chance you have to see a waterfall, do. Some yoga on a slippery rock accompanied by jumping in and out of the falls made us hungry. We brought mango and oranges, which held us over until we could get back to Mai Chau.

On our way back I saw something I cannot unsee. A dog roasting on the side of the road on an open flame. Ryley tried to shield me from it, but it was too late.

*Context: I love dogs. I love them. If you know me, I would do anything for my dog. Dogs are my friend. Dogs are love.

Non-First World Perspective: (objective stance) We were travelling through a fairly remote area of Northern Vietnam, where wild dogs are plentiful. I’ve learned that eating dog is a common practice in the North. Meat is expensive, and there’s no such thing as Costco or local super markets. Farmer’s raise the animals, feed them, and either sell or butcher them. It’s a lengthly process, and can be an expensive one. There was an overpopulation of dogs in this particular area, and they raise themselves. Most dogs live off of scraps, so nobody has to pay to feed or home them. From an objective and logical perspective: when you don’t have a lot of money, and you can’t afford to eat your own live stock, you find the next best protein. In this case: dog. I had to put my ethnocentric, and privileged views aside to try to understand this from an empathetic point of view. This doesn’t mean that Vietnamese people don’t like dogs, or want to keep them as pets too. Depending on your circumstances, where you are living in the world, protein is protein. We’re all out here trying to survive. Now, do I agree with the practice of eating dog? Absolutely not. Would I eat dog? NO! But I am still an omnivore. I eat meat. But I was born into Canadian culture, where we grow up with dogs who become our best friends. Who am I to say that another culture is less than, or wrong for eating dog. Not my place. I can only control my choices, and nobody else’s. It’s okay to agree to disagree, and I can confidently say that is where I stand on the topic.

I knew I was going to face this at some point during our trip, and I’m glad it happened the way it did. It was raw, and sobering. It gave me a lot to think and reflect about, and I am still on an emotional rollercoaster in regards to animal ethics/welfare.

Back in Mai Chau, we stopped at a tiny squat spot “restaurant”. These places are comprised of plastic mini chairs, tables, and a variety of food. The family of cooks show up in the morning, and pack everything up at the end of the day. This spot had THE best deep fried chicken wings, sweet bananas, and burritos packed with sweet onions, skinny carrots, and minced pieces of marinated pork. The most impressive part was the lady behind the 5 deep friers managed to cook everything to perfection. Her rhythm was impressive.

It was time to recharge with a massage. 200,000 VND ($11.30 CAD)/person for 60 minutes. It was not the type of massage I was expecting. The room was low lit with 6 beds, pillows and towels. It smelled lovely, like coconut and oranges. Normally, your massage therapist will leave the room while you get changed, and tuck yourself under the sheets. Nope. Our two “massage therapists” queued us to take off our clothes, but stood around and chatted while we undressed.

BE FREE.

The massages commenced, and I don’t know what the hell this woman was doing to me… but I let it happen anyways. At one point, she hopped on the bed with me, sat on my butt, and went to town on my back. These ladies were 5"0 on a good day, and 100 lbs soaking wet. Your arms can only stretch so far when you’re that small. It was comical. I felt a little beat up afterwards, but relaxed at the same time. It can be a gamble to get a massage in a Vietnamese village, but for $11.30 that was a risk we were willing to take.

October 17, 2018

Off to the rice terraces we went! But not without stopping at our favourite fruit stand to grab some mangos and oranges. We had been buying fruit from the same lady for the last 2 days. She would pick out the ripest ones, AND cut it up for us. Absolutely spoiled. It was the cheapest and tastiest snack we could find.

10 kms further than the day before, and what a ride.

Motorbike Fact: Many locals will wear face masks while operating their scooters/motorbikes to prevent the inhalation of dust and exhaust.

For the most part our ride was pleasant, until we drove through a village that did not have paved roads. It had rained earlier in the day, causing our path to be dangerously muddy. We got through it holding our breath. Not only were we trying not to wipe out, but Ryley was also dodging giant lumber trucks. It was a proper gong show.

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The rice terraces were worth the terrifying ride. Kilometres of terrace dominated the area, and harvesters worked diligently alongside their water buffalos. Ryley showed me how to fly the drone, and I was able to practice over the open area. We spotted two women herding their water buffalos, and they were quite striking. 70 years old, black teeth, and a face sprinkled with incredibly expressive laugh lines. Ryley asked if he could take her picture, and she instantaneously straightened her wrap and posed for the camera.

We continued along, and found another herd of water buffalo, also known as Carabao. They’re native to the Philippines, but can be found all over South East Asia. Carabao are stout, and have horns that curve back towards their neck. I don’t know what it is about them, but they truly are majestic beasts. The sun had started to go down, so we made our way back to Mai Chau. The road we struggled on the first time, nearly injured us the second time around. We trundled down a hill, to get back onto the main road, but the mud was caking around our wheels. Ryley had control of the bike until we started slipping, and we almost fell off. Normally, I keep my feet and legs tightly glued to the sides of the bike. I never put my feet down until we’ve stopped. This time I had to put my feet down, in order to help keep us up right. It was a quick order of events, and thankfully neither of us got hurt. He got us back on track, and we pretended like we didn’t almost get into an accident.

Exhaustion and hunger got the best of us. There was a rowdy local restaurant near by, and we decided to check it out. Turns out this place did not have a menu, and everyone was W-A-S-T-E-D. We were so confused, because it was the middle of the week. Was it a holiday? Someone’s birthday? Didn’t people have to work in the morning? Who cares! It was just fun to be apart of. The locals were shooting a light brown liquid while they ate, and we couldn’t figure out what it was. We had seen this mysterious liquid being drunk in shooters the night before, and were determined to try some before we left Mai Chau. But not yet. Pho was the only thing that was on the menu that evening.

October 18, 2018

A day to relax.

Our batteries would need to be fully charged for the evening to come.

Dinner consisted of ordering a bottle of the local rice whiskey for $1.50 CAD. Apparently you don’t order single shots, you order the whole bottle.

 29% alcohol if you were wondering.

29% alcohol if you were wondering.

In order to be like the locals, you must drink like the locals.

7:00 PM - There was some sort of party going on in the back room. The restaurant was buzzing with people, and EVERY table was drinking. People we’re stumbling in and out of that back room, laughing and hiccuping all the while. The table next to us, a group of teenage boys, were indulging in a giant bowl of hotpot and shooting rice whiskey…which they scooped out of a plastic bag that sat in bowl (what does this even mean?) We noticed that people drank while they ate, so we thought we’d try to do the same. It wasn’t until our third round, that we stopped making scrunchy faces every time we tossed one back. About 1/4 of the way through our bottle, warmth crept into our cheeks. Sharing is caring, so we thought we’d pour our neighbours a shot and learn how to say cheers in Vietnamese. Then, a few locals across the restaurant saw what we were doing and waved “hello”. Before we knew it we had 1,2,3,6,8 people at our table drinking with us. I’ve never had so much fun drinking with strangers. One of the men was a tour guide, and gave us a history lesson of Mai Chau.

Mai Chau Fact: Mai Chau is comprised of 7 ethnic minority groups - White Thai, Kinh, Hmong, Zao, Muong, Tay, Hoa a Viet.

8:15 PM - Our history lesson was enlightening, and the man thanked us for practicing English with him. Our bottle was nearly empty at this point, but our new friends left to sober up over a “late” night coffee. We ended up donating the rest of our bottle to a few French guys, who kept looking over at our bottle with inquisitive eyes.

Liv Hypothesis: People drink earlier in the evening during the week, so they can get up on time in the morning. There is no rhyme or reason for drinking hard throughout the week, other than people like to party and enjoy themselves.

Off to Ninh Binh bright and early the next morning!

October 19, 2018 (Mai Chau - Ninh Binh - Trang An)

 Saying goodbye to our little koi friends was so hard. They brought us so much joy during our stay.

Saying goodbye to our little koi friends was so hard. They brought us so much joy during our stay.

7:00 AM wake up call.

Within the hour we had to eat breakfast, return our scooter, and walk back to our homestay to meet our taxi. There is only one bus a day that goes from Mai Chau to Ninh Binh, and we didn’t want to miss it.

The best route to Ninh Binh from Mai Chau:

  • Take a taxi from your homestay to the bus stop (120,000 VND - $6.78 CAD)

  • Catch the local bus, it only comes once a day at 9:00 AM (150,000 VND - $8.47). It’s a 3.5 hour bus ride.

  • Ninh Binh is the capital city of Ninh Binh province, but the hidden gems are in small countryside towns nearby: Trang An or Tam Coc.

  • Once you get to Ninh Binh, head to one of the quieter towns. We chose to go to Trang An, as it was only 7 km outside of Ninh Binh city. Again, I would highly recommend using Grab Taxi, so you don’t get ripped off. We paid 120,000 VND ($6.68 CAD), which was reasonable.

As soon as we arrived in Trang An, we found out it was a holiday. Spoiled with cheap accommodation and food in Mai Chau, our expectations were interrupted by the holiday/tourist prices that we were running into. Accommodation was $21.00 CAD/night (I know, I know, you’re probably thinking this is cheap…but you have to be nit picky about staying on budget when you’re travelling for 6 months). Everywhere else was ridiculously priced, or full. Our room was fully loaded with: hot water, ensuite bathroom, towels, complimentary water, and a comfortable queen sized bed. We felt as though we were getting our monies worth. We loved the room at Trang An Homestay, but not the vibe or the owners. They were quite pushy about asking how many nights we were going to stay, and if we wanted to stay another night we’d have to stay in the dormitory. They were fully booked the next day, and got frustrated with us when we told them we needed some time to think about what we wanted to do. The receptionist told us that her friend 1.5 kms down the street had a room available for the next evening, so we ventured down the way to check it out. I won’t deny that this was helpful, but we weren’t able to get this kind of help until we said we wanted to stay for 3 more days.

After negotiations, we were able to lock in at 600,000 VND ($33.89 CAD) for 3 nights, with breakfast included. The owners were super relaxed, and very kind. I was excited to move in the morning.

October 20, 2018

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[Read in Forrest Gump Voice]

“One day it started raining, and it didn't quit for four months [the whole day]. We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin' rain, and big ol' fat rain, rain that flew in sideways, and sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath. Shoot, it even rained at night.”

- Forrest Gump

Beyond accurate. We woke up to a pitter patter of rain on our roof, which turned into a small storm. The receptionist said a taxi wouldn’t come to pick us up, because he would have to come in from the city to drive us 1.5 km. So off we went on foot, slipping and sloshing in the giant puddles on the uneven and unpaved road. It was a character building experience. Along our wet walking journey, we rented a motorbike. Ryley dropped of his bag, first, and picked me up on the second trip. It saved us from having to walk another half kilometre in the down pour.

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After getting settled, we decided that the rain wasn’t going to stop us.

Off to a nearby temple, and then to the Mua Caves. Thank goodness it was only misting at this point, as we climbed 400 steps. Old uneven concrete, turned slippery from the day long precipitation.

 Strange lifelike roasted goat for sale.

Strange lifelike roasted goat for sale.

Trang An Sighting: When we arrived in Trang An, we passed by street vendors selling goat…except the goat they were selling was on display in its entire form…just cooked. It was quite alarming at first sight, and made us feel strange every time we drove past it.

The end of a long, wet, day. The sun had gone down, and we were damp to the bone. I have never been more thankful for a waterproof windbreaker, and waterproof pants. They are a must pack if you are travelling through Asia during the rainy season.

October 21, 2018

Our last day in Trang An, and we wanted to spend it exploring the Trang An Grottoes.

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For 100,000 VND ($5.00 CAD)/person we enjoyed a 2.5 hour boat ride. It was packed with foreign Vietnamese tourists, as we were there during a public holiday. I highly recommend checking to make sure your stay does not fall during a holiday, because you will face surge prices for accommodation and have to fight large crowds while sight seeing.

We adventured through multiple caves, some so low that we had to duck while floating through. Every 15 minutes we would stop at an on land site: a pagoda or miniature island with ancient structures to tour through. At one point we stopped at the famous Kong Island where Kong: Skull Island was filmed. Having seen the movie helped, because I was able to pin-point certain areas where specific scenes were filmed, like the famous T-Rex vs. Kong battle.

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Trang An Fact: The Trang An Landscape Complex is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

Not only were we surrounded by stunning structures, water, lush flora and fauna, but we were lucky enough to witness a live traditional performance in a lonesome pagoda in the middle of the water. It was magical to see everyone float by in silence to take in the woman’s captivating voice. After our tour ended, we headed back to our homestay and planned our next steps to Hoi An.

A full day of travel was ahead of us in the morning.

October 22, 2018 (Ninh Binh - Hanoi - Danang - Hoi An)

Packed and ready to go, but not without the help of the Grandma from the main level of our homestay.

 85 years old, and not a single word of English. Bless her.

85 years old, and not a single word of English. Bless her.

Ryley returned our motorbike, and I was doing a final sweep of our room. We had an ongoing joke that the Grandma (who was a very sweet old lady), would come up the stairs one day and scare us when we weren’t expecting it. Sometimes you just shouldn’t say things, because once they are out into the universe you cannot take them back. I had left the door to our room open, as we had been doing this for the last few days undisturbed. I was bending down to zip up my backpack when a small hand landed on my shoulder, accompanied by a stream of high pitched Vietnamese. Never have I been so close to peeing my pants. I thought I was being accosted and that this was the end of me, but as soon as I turned around it was GRANDMA. She just wanted to come upstairs and say hello, and keep me company while I was packing. She apologized for scaring me, with hand motions and bowing. Once we got over her scary little entrance, she made herself right at home, sat on the bed, and chatted with me while I continued double checking everything. I had noticed over the last few days that she did not really have anyone to talk to, except her sons and Ryley and I when we visited her on the main floor every morning/evening. I’m sure she was bored out of her skull, and was craving company. Grandmothers seem to share a universal love of wanting to make sure you’re taken care of. She paced the room, and kept pointing at things to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. She proceeded to look out the window, and point at things. A few minutes later and Ryley came trundling back into the room only to see Grandma had joined me. We looked at each other and laughed at the fact that our innocent joke had come true. We weren’t sure she could even climb the stairs, but she proved us wrong. It was a hilarious and incredibly cute end to our stay in Ninh Binh.

Off to the train station, where we thought we would be catching a train to Hanoi. An announcement was made that our train had been delayed 45 minutes, and then delayed another hour. The reason why we chose to train to Hanoi was because it would give us enough time to taxi to the airport, and have a moment to eat before boarding our plane to Danang. Thankfully, a local bus conductor heard the news and told us we could get a refund from the train station and take his bus. The train would have been 1.5 hours, whereas the bus was a 2.5 hour ride. Turns out, the local bus was cheaper than our train tickets (120,000 VND - $6.75/person) and got us to Hanoi just in time. A 45 minute taxi ride to Hanoi Airport, and off to Danang we went.

Booking Fact: When booking a train or bus, it is usually cheaper to do it at the station than online. You may be charged additional “taxes” or a booking fee.

Shout out to Dichungtaxi for picking us up from Danang airport and dropping us off in Hoi An. For 240,000 VND ($13.50 CAD) you can pre-order your taxi to the airport (we did this online the night before), and your driver will be there with a name sign upon your arrival. There is a sharing option which is the cheaper alternative than a private taxi (we chose this). You pay less, but may have to share your ride with other travellers who are going to the same or nearby destinations. It’s a cost efficient way to travel from city to city, and there is more than enough room in the mini van your driver picks you up in.

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We arrived at Cloudy Homestay and Hostel, and were greeted by the sweetest lady who overloaded us with information and hospitality. We told her we wanted to catch the tail end of the lamp lighting festival, and she gave us a map with explicit details, all whilst shooing us out the door so we wouldn’t miss it. Into the city centre we went, and just in time. On our walk towards the lamp lighting festival, I stepped off of the sidewalk momentarily and got slapped by a scooter coming around the corner. It all happened so fast, and the person driving did not stop. I was slightly traumatized afterwards, but the show must go on.

 Our paper “lamps”.

Our paper “lamps”.

Note to self: pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way in Asia. Ever. Don’t kid yourself.

By 7 PM the sky and river were pitch black, but colourful lamps lit the back drop. Small flickering wishes in the shades of red, yellow, orange, pink, and blue drifted down the canals. We hopped into a long gondola like boat, and glided through the water until we found the perfect place to release our lamps. After having been moving all day, trying to get to each destination efficiently and on time, it was the most peaceful ending we could have hoped for.

A dinner of Vietnamese seafood hotpot and beer coaxed us into a brooding food coma that we could not escape. About 5 minutes into our 25 minute walk back to our homestay, an older gentleman offered us a taxi service on his scooter for 100,000 VND ($5.50 CAD - $2.75/person). WHY NOT. I hopped on first, and Ryley second. The three of us went scooting down the street, and I’ve never laughed so hard in my life. Sandwiched between our 50 year old scooter taxi driver, and my boyfriend.

What a day.

October 23, 2018

OUR FIRST BEACH DAY. I’d been waiting so patiently to hop into the ocean, and finally the day had arrived.

 10/10 recommend yoga on the beach.

10/10 recommend yoga on the beach.

Ang Bang Beach (7 km from city): quiet, very clean, and great lounge chairs. If you come by motorbike you will have to pay a parking fee of 10,000 VND ($0.56 CAD). Upon entering the beach, expect locals to try to “sell” you lounge chairs for the day. DO NOT pay to sit on a lounge chair. The beach is not attached to a resort, so there is no fee to lay on them. We walked further down the beach, and made ourselves comfortable under a cabana. The waves were fantastic, and we splashed around for hours. Other vendors will ask you if you’d like to purchase drinks, which lots of tourists do, but I wouldn’t recommend buying drinks on the beach if you’re on a tight budget. Buy your own beverages from the corner store and bring them with you, as they are half the price of what you would pay on the beach.

 Hoành Thánh Chiên - Fried Wonton

Hoành Thánh Chiên - Fried Wonton

Hunger struck at 12:00 PM, and the food hunt commenced. There were tons of restaurants near the beach, but they were tourist traps. Many of these restaurants catered to Western pallets, and we have been trying to avoid eating food we can eat back home. Down the road there was a tiny restaurant called 339. It looked dingy on the outside, but was clean and quaint on the inside. From the moment we walked in we were treated like VIP guests. The food was exceptional, so exceptional that by the end of our meal we were already thinking about going back for lunch the next day. We found out that Vu, the owner, had only one chef who made the meals in his kitchen: his Mother. This might sound sappy, but it all made sense when he told us this, because the food tasted like it was made with love. Vietnamese soul food, made from the heart of a Mama.

Our evening turned into scoping out clothing shops, as we both wanted to get a few custom made pieces. The last time Ryley was in Vietnam, he had a few dress shirts hand made. He seemed to be dreading the experience ever since we started talking about it. He knew it was going to be a stressful event, but I could not have imagined what an unpleasant shopping experience it was actually going to be. Every shop we walked into, we were bombarded by the shop employees.

“Come, sit down”.

Never, I repeat never, sit down unless you are actually going to buy something. Once you sit down, you’ve committed. I learned that the hard way. Everyone wants to make the perfect outfit for you, but it’s hard when you’re not sure what you want. We went to 5 different shops, and each visit became increasingly frustrating. We had almost given up, when we came across a quiet shop with mannequins dressed in stylish one pieces. I didn’t know it, but this was exactly what I had been looking for. I tried on the one piece in two difference designs, and fell in love. Ryley played an integral role in helping me pick the right one. The seamstress measured me, and pinned the places that needed to be taken in. My tailored piece would be ready in the morning.

An entire evening dedicated to shopping, and we almost came back empty handed. I’ve never been so exhausted from window shopping in my life (what a first world problem, Jesus).

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Our last stop was meant to be enjoyable, but turned out to be disappointing. We were told to try “Chicken Rice”, a Hoi An delicacy. It turned out to be rice with cold chicken, some sprouts and a bowl of soup. Instead of spending energy on being sad, we sought out a delicious banh mi from a hole in the wall. It was incredibly flavourful, packed with spicy pork, cilantro, skinny carrots, and a secret sauce.

We knew where we’d be getting dinner the next evening.

October 24, 2018

Our last day in Hoi An.

 FREE lounge chairs.

FREE lounge chairs.

We magically found ourselves back at the beach. And we magically found ourselves back at 339 for lunch. There’s nothing wrong with a little repetition. When you find something or somewhere you like, be a proud repeat customer.

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Ryley’s neck had been bothering him, so we decided to get massages in the evening. The night before I had researched the top massage spots in Hoi An, and it turned out the second highest rated on Trip Advisor was only 6 minutes away from where we were staying. Aaron Spa was an absolute treat, from start to finish. We each paid 400,000 VND ($22.00 CAD), and received a mind blasting experience. To start, a foot soak in warm herbal water accompanied by a cup of hot tea. Then, we were taken upstairs to the massage room. Ryley requested the Swedish Massage (deep pressure), and I requested the Hot Stone Massage. They incorporated aroma therapy as well, which was a pleasant surprise. Our massages were only supposed to be 60 minutes, but our massage therapists added on an extra 15 minutes each. We left the table feeling refreshed, and incredibly relaxed. Yes, we paid a higher price but received extremely high quality service.

Sometimes you just have to treat cho self.

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All pampered and content, we scootered back to the shop to pick up my one piece from the seamstress. Then, off to the banh mi restaurant. Spicy pork banh mi, with spring rolls, mixed vegetables with garlic, and beer.

Our last night in Vietnam, and we wanted to go out with a bang. Our stay in Vietnam was such an adventure, and we didn’t want it to end.

Liv Review: Home to the most incredible comfort soup, and best hangover cure known to man: pho. Green onion cakes don’t exist in Vietnam, because they’re not Vietnamese; they’re a Western invention. So don’t ask for them. You don’t want to be that foreigner. It is worth visiting both the North and the South. Depending what you would like to see, and what kind of vibe you are on the hunt for. Inland or coastal, Vietnam has so much to offer. If you have the chance, go during the months of the rice harvest. The rice terraces are absolutely stunning, and a sight I never got sick of. Next time, I would allot 2-3 weeks for Vietnam, as 10 days felt like a tease. Vietnam is the most affordable, culture packed, and friendly country to visit. You’d be silly to skip it.


Check out “A Farmer’s Tale”, filmed and edited by Ryley.