I arrived to David’s house at around 10 am on Tuesday March 5th. We did some laundry then went and ate some yummy Mexican food. After showing me a couple of the major sites in the city, we headed back to David’s house. That night I went with David to watch his dart team play at Red Bar. It was quite interesting to see how intense darts really can be. David’s team ended up winning, which makes their current record 3-0. Finally once all of the darts has been thrown, we headed to a “Viet Thai” food restaurant. I settled for a Singaporean glass noodle dish, knowing that the Thai just wouldn’t be the same.
On Wednesday we headed to the airport bright and early at 4:30 am to go to Da Nang then transfer to Hue. We decided to be rough travelers and take a $2.50 bus from Da Nang to Hue and boy was that a mistake. We sat in the back of the bus where they proceeded to stuff as many people as possible. Imagine David and I with our bags and then like 3 Vietnamese people hanging over us because they are sitting on the floor right in front of our seats. It was rough. Finally after 4 plus hours on that fantastic bus, we made it to Hue and transferred to our hotel- Jade Hotel. It was FABULOUS. Amazing hospitality. The rooms were really clean and comfortable. Breakfast was incredible and it all cost only $15 per night. I highly highly highly recommend this hotel. After taking a nap for a couple of hours, we wandered out of the hotel to get some dinner at Golden Rice. It was a good restaurant, nothing to write home about. After dinner was over, we walked to the night market along the Perfume River. The night market had the typical booths with all different kinds of “nick-nacks”. After living in Thailand for two years, I wasn’t too impressed, but it was fun to walk around the city and people watch.
Thursday morning after a delicious breakfast, we headed out to see the sites. First stop was at Big C to get some things we had left behind in HCM. After Big C, we went to Khai Dinh’s tomb. This was by far the most amazing tomb I have seen thus far. The main area where the tomb is located is made up of ceramic mosaic. It is beautiful. Next we went to Tu Duc’s tomb, which is located on many acres around a pretty lake. After seeing the tombs, we stopped and got some lunch then headed back to the hotel for a power nap. The afternoon was filled with a visit to the Imperial City (the Citadel), which is surprisingly in horrible conditions as they are trying to restore it. You can tell how beautiful it once was, which is depressing because currently it needs a lot of TLC. Then Mu Pagoda is a lovely Buddhist temple with monks living on the property. It is along the river as well, so the views are fabulous. That night we went to a “hole in the wall” type of restaurant to try some of the local dishes. The evening was spent with many pool games and catching up.
Friday we transferred to Hoi An by taking a private car (after the bus incident, I don’t think David and I were to eager to try again). Plus with a private car, we were able to stop along the way at: Hai Van Pass, China beach, Marble Mountain and…. The views and sites were beautiful, but I think I can say that we were both extremely excited to get to Hoi An. It is one of the most charming cities I have ever been to. I feel like my pictures cannot even do it justice. That night we ate at a yummy Mexican fusion restaurant right in the middle of the Old Town overlooking a live street performance. Seriously, just walking around this town can make you get lost in the moment. There isn’t much to see, but it is still so fascinating and charming.
Saturday we slept in and then wandered around the town for a couple of hours before heading back to the hotel for yet another rest. That evening I tried some street noodles (YUM) and bought a couple of purses (beautiful). We ended up staying up late watching horrible (literally silly) movies on Star Movie channel and playing UNO (I dominated if you were curious, although David did win a couple of times…).
The 10th was spent traveling to Hanoi and preparing for our overnight train ride to Lao Cai, which then we transferred to Sapa. Basically, it was a lazy Sunday once we arrived in Hanoi where we posted up at a coffee shop, checked emails, charged our devices and ate some food.
Monday was the same as Sunday, a recovery time period for all of the travel we have done. We arrived in Sapa after an overnight train and checked into the guesthouse. Sapa reminds me of a tourist-ier version of Sagada in the Philippines. There are beautiful rice terraces and tons of cafes. Unfortunately, the town is completely crowded by tourists coming to “trek” to the local villages for home stays. Luckily, David did not want to do a home stay because I am really wary as to how authentic they truly are. After living in a real village in Thailand for two years, touristy treks, and what not, are not too appealing. I spent the morning talking with all different kinds of people in coffee shops trying to steal Internet and power as our guesthouse had no electricity. I had some amazing crepes and hot chocolate, walked around the local market and ate some pho, did laundry and watched some TV.
Monday through Wednesday we spent the time in Sapa. The town was amazing. I even rented a motorcycle one day with a couple of friends to drive to the local villages and see the terraces. Besides that fun excursion, I ate a ton of great food and enjoyed being up in the mountains with the beautiful weather that comes with it. Wednesday night, David and I took another night train back to Hanoi. This time we decided to take the local train instead of the tourist train, which wasn’t too much of a difference with interiors, but a huge difference cost wise. We arrived in Hanoi realllllll early in the morning and headed straight to the Hanoi Hostel where they were kind enough to give us a bed until our room was ready. Boy did I need sleep- me and trains do not mix (along with airplanes).
David ended up spending the afternoon hanging out around the hostel and I went out to walk around the town. I found my way to the Women’s Museum, which had an amazing exhibit about the history of women throughout the Vietnamese culture. It was really interesting to see the differences and similarities between Thai women’s culture and Vietnamese. After the Women’s Museum, I headed to the Hao Lo Prison, the prison where many American pilots and soldiers were held during the war. It was really neat to see parts of the prison and read more about the time period. I even saw photos of John McCain back in the day when he was imprisoned. For dinner, I was able to find this food that I absolutely love from Vietnam (we had it in Thailand as well, but it wasn’t the same). It is a large dumpling filled with pork and quail eggs- YUM. Plus it only cost 50 cents.
The next morning we headed to Halong Bay for a junk boat cruise for the night. Although the weather wasn’t sunny, it was beautiful to see Halong Bay. The Bay is filled with these old wooden junk boats and tons of tourists. The first day we went to a cave and did some kayaking (mainly watched some people kayak because the water was so cold). That evening we had a fun time jumping off the boat into the water (FREEZING) and singing karaoke with some friends we made on the trip! Of course, David dominated karaoke, while I tried my hardest to avoid it at all costs. Saturday was filled with more cruising on the Bay and then a lunch in the town of Halong, finally ending back to the hotel that night. I decided to stay in and get some sleep because I knew there were a ton of monuments and places I wanted to visit Sunday.
And visit them I did. The day was filled with a visit to Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum (AMAZINGLY COOL), the Temple of Literature, the oldest College in Vietnam, the Art Museum and a temple in the middle of the lake. After a long and crazy day in Hanoi seeing all of the sites, David and I headed back to Saigon.
Monday, we slept in and eventually headed out into the city to find some propaganda posters for my new apartment (by the way, they are fabulous) and jewelry. David really enjoyed shopping with me, I think… That evening we headed over to one of David’s best friends houses to check out his girlfriend’s jewelry line. It was incredible and of course I snagged a couple (a lot) of pieces. The evening was filled with some great conversation with David’s friends in Saigon and then an early nights sleep, as I would be leaving the next day.
As I am sure you could guess, Tuesday I spent the day sleeping, packing and stressing about how I was going to fit everything into my luggage. Vietnam was AMAZING. A trip of a lifetime and I am so lucky to have had David there to join me on my travels and show me around Saigon. I hope someday to go back and visit again because I know there is so much I didn’t get to see, but I guess it is good to leave things that way, making it more probable that you will return. Stay tuned for a blog on Paris and then finally one on my last month as a Peace Corps volunteer! See you soon Houston!