Nha Trang to Saigon

Mar and I finally got a computer charger! It broke in Nha Trang, Vietnam so we’ve been out of commission. After Hoi An, We spent another week making our way down the coast of Vietnam. We visited Nha Trang for a few days, a beach city, then headed to Da Lat in the mountains to do some canyoning. Canyoning was the coolest thing I’ve done! We propelled down waterfalls, slid down natural water slides, and jumped off cliffs. I accidentally hung myself upside down from the waterfall, bashing my knee into the cliff face, then falling head first into the water below. OOPS! The cliff of the waterfall goes inward so you can’t walk down it after a certain point. You have to loosen your rope, push off the waterfall and fall into the water. I didn’t loosen mine enough so I got hung up. Never the less I survived and it was hilarious. Mar got it on video! On the last waterfall I was actually terrified. We couldn’t see over the waterfall so we had to listen carefully and remember his instructions. 1) absail down a few feet 2) slide down 3)spin and drop. Well number two threw me off once I was in the process. By slide I was thinking a natural rock formation to slide on like previous times that day. NO. What he really mean was throw yourself into a gushing waterfall, let go and fall. It would have been fine if he hadn’t said “slide.” I yelled up at him and said “WHAT DO YOU MEAN SLIDE?! THERE IS NO SLIDE.” Hahaha. When it was over the guide and I had a good laugh about it. He said “you dropped too soon.” Oh is that why I felt like I was drowning?

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Da Lat was refreshingly cold because it’s up in the mountains. It’s the newest city in Vietnam and Mar and I were surprised by it’s size. We didn’t spend much time in Da Lat and quickly made our way to Mui Ne. We only spent one night in Mui Ne as well. We wanted to check out the sand dunes and fairy stream before making our way to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). While there, we went to the War Remnants Museum which shows the history of the Vietnam War. It was graphic and hard at times, but I did my best to learn. The next day we did the Cu Chi Tunnels, where Vietnemese people lived underground and conducted guerrilla warfare against the Americans.
After Saigon we changed countries- CAMBODIA! I know I already wrote about the Killing Fields. I did that because it was still fresh and didn’t require many pictures.

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Fairy Stream, Mui Ne

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Nha Trang

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Motorbikes in Saigon

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Martha and I love Vietnam. We had a lot of time to really enjoy the country and learn about it. I know I will return to Vietnam someday to see how it changes and evolves! Plus, I’ll miss the traffic.. 😉

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To Nam

Anna and I just wrapped up three weeks in Vietnam. We stopped in seven different cities and rode approximately 300 buses (it was actually nine buses, and around 60 hours.)

Quick recap of our time:
Three nights in Hanoi.
Two nights in Halong Bay.
Pit stop in Hué.
Seven nights in Hoi An.
Two nights in Nha Trang.
Two nights in Da Lat.
One night in Mui Ne.
Two nights in Ho Chi Minh.
Add a few nights on sleeper buses and you have our itinerary!

Every stop was completely different. Hanoi was wildly busy and bustling.

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Halong Bay was an oasis.

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Hoi An was a city of lanterns and our week of pure bliss.

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Da Lat was mountainous and refreshingly chilly!
Mui Ne was rolling sandy dunes colored with paprika and curry spices.
Everywhere we went the people were kind (and always eager to sell you something!).
Some days were pure relaxing on the beach.
While others we challenged ourselves to learn about the Vietnam War from the other perspective.
Beginning I was a little bit worried about how people would treat us. Would they resent us? Or blame us? But in actuality most people were incredibly kind. Many people told us the past is the past and they live in the present.
We went to the Cu Chi Tunnels outside of Ho Chi Minh. I can’t remember the exact number but there were thousands of soldiers and civilians living underground to avoid being killed. There were entire civilizations underground with schools, kitchens, living areas.
We climbed through one of the tunnel that has been widened so westerners can climb through. It was 100 meters long and even with the expansion I was feeling very claustrophobic!
There was also a larger display of the traps they would set for US soldiers. I didn’t really listen at this part because our guide was kind of laughing as he said things like ‘Ah! And then we killed another American! Got him!’ I think going out of your comfort zone to better your understanding of the world is extremely important, but the way he talked about death so casually bothered me.
But the country was mostly fun! We spent a lot of time trying to NOT get hit by motorbikes while crossing streets. In Ho Chi Minh there are 10 million people and five million motorbikes. They have two rules of the road: honk constantly and there are no other rules.

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We met so many amazing people — local and other travelers. We watched World Cup games and saw the sun rise!
I could have stayed waaaay longer. It was just truly amazing. I can’t wait to go back!
Now we are in Cambodia and heading to the islands soon!!

xx

Still without a computer charger so posting from a cell phone. I’ll try to update again soon!!

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Crazy Vietnam

My first reaction upon arriving in Hanoi was WHOA. The city is bustling, with vans and motorbikes zipping by constantly. We quickly learned that the old “look both ways before crossing the road” doesn’t apply in Vietnam. You’ll never cross the road. All you can really do is just go and not hesitate or you’ll disturb the flow.
Vietnemese people love to grab a bite on the side of the road at food carts. Each food cart has mini plastic tables and chairs where people sit in packed crowds to enjoy their meal. When the crowds become too big, people often spill into the street with their tables and chairs, which is illegal. It’s funny because the police will come down the road but they announce that they’re coming over a loudspeaker on top of the car. When people hear the police are coming, suddenly every table and chair vanishes! We went out on a saturday night in Hanoi only to find the clubs unoccupied and the streets overpopulated. Sidewalks should be called motorbike parking lots. About 90% of the time you can’t walk on the sidewalk because people are selling food and nick-nacks or there’s a sea of motorbikes in the way. Needless to say, coming from a chilled out Luang Prabang to a fast paced Hanoi was a little overwhelming. It also seemed so dirty, with leftover shells from seafood everywhere and interesting waves of indescribable smells.
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We took off to Halong Bay for a few days, which was amazing-incredible-fabulous-extraordinary, etc (see previous post for pictures). Once we got back to Hanoi we started to enjoy it more; the longer we stayed the more it grew on us. We walked to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum to see where Ho Chi Minh lays but we got there too late. Such a weird thing, to have a man’s dead body laying there for everyone to see… We ended up going to the Museum instead. Ho Chi Minh was the communist leader of Vietnam for many years. From what we understand, the Vietnemese people really like him. He lead them through the Vietnam War and seemed to really care about his people. I want to read a book about him and the Vietnam War though, to gain a better understanding. It shouldn’t be hard to find one in a second hand shop.

We left Hanoi via sleeper bus direct to Hoi An (on the coast in central Vietnam). It was 16 hours but it wasn’t so bad because it was at night. The driving skills people have in this country are insane. First of all, there are people on the FREEWAY with little stands selling bread and what not. Next there are the countless motorbikes zipping around with families of 5+ per bike (not joking). Then there are the buses that pass the vans when there’s a semi fast approaching. Passing on the shoulder is completely normal and driving into the chaos of a roundabout looks like a death trap but somehow everyone manages to survive.. We wonder why they even bother putting paint on the roads to be honest. Oddly, I don’t feel scared when in a vehicle, I just feel amused, knowing that this is the norm for them.

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Anyways, we’ve been in Hoi An since Sunday and plan to leave tomorrow (Sunday). We really like it here. It’s an old city that used to be a major shipping port. It has a lot of charm and glows at night with pretty hanging lights everywhere you look. We’ve been walking around the city, eating a lot, and biking to the nearby beaches every day. It’s been a nice to place to hang out and slow down. I highly enjoy biking to the beaches! One day our hostel only had one bike so we had two of us on one bike for 4km. It was hilarious! What’s scarier than trying to cross the road? Trying to make a left turn on a bike in traffic with two people on it.
Okay we aren’t actually scared because we know it’s the flow and everyone will work their way around you. It’s more of a hilarious accomplishment:)
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We have absolutely loved our time in Hoi An, but we are off the Nha Trang tomorrow night via sleeper bus. We are going to be in Vietnam for about another week. From Nha Trang, we will head to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) to see the War Remnants Museum which should be emotional. We plan to be in Cambodia by July.

Cheers:)

Learning as we go

Two years ago I studied abroad in Stirling, Scotland. My pals and I did weekend trips and some longer stretches at the end of the semester. I also traveled for a bit around Europe with my parents before heading back to the states, so I like to think that I wasn’t a total amateur traveler before this trip. I’ve slept in some sketchy dorms and used some nasty showers.

With that said, things have been quite different traveling in Southeast Asia, and I am learning everyday.

Backpack fully loaded!

Backpack fully loaded!

 

Realizations:

  1. Two long sleeve shirts are not necessary.
    Right before I left Wisconsin I had a conversation with my cousins, Kelly and Ellen. They have both spent time in Costa Rica and warned me that I might get use to the heat. ‘It would be 80 degrees and I would have a hoodie on,’ Ellen said. But man. The heat in Asia is not a heat you ‘get use to.’ I would definitely ditch my heavier shirt at home and stick with the light, hiking material for long shirts and pants.Also, I made the strange decision to purchase two pairs of pants over here. Why? No one knows. Thiapants have a hold on my heart and they won’t let go.

    Thai pants for days

    Thai pants for days

  2. Clothes need to be durable.
    With packing my clothes I was only thinking about light clothing that I could mix in match. I had planned on throwing away a lot of the tanks I brought over before returning home because I imagined I would be sick of them. But I didn’t account for the wear and tear that would happen when I wear the same tank top every other day. The cheap tops I picked up at Forever 21 before I took off from home are already running thin and are significantly stretched out. Anna and I may have to do some shopping before too long! Bummer, right? 😉
    Shoes also need to be durable.
    Back home I NEVER wear flip flops. I have my Birks and my Chacos and that all I need in life (little dramatic but I love my Birks). I almost forgot to bring a pair but my doc stressed that shower shoes are a must for SE Asia. The morning of my trip I frantically recovered a pair of pink Victoria’s Secret flops from the back of my closet (high quality, right?).
       Anyways, it was week two and Anna and I were a bit turned around in Chiang Mai, and when I say ‘turned around’ I mean we forgot the name/location of our hostel so we just followed the AC around town. Well, this scorching hot day was about to get even better and my flip flop blew out in the middle of an intersection. I continued to wander aimlessly around town with one shoe dragging until a random Thai man — my saving grace — jumped out of a passing by car, showed me a piece of wire in his hand, and fixed my shoe for me! Whoever you are Thai man, I owe you my life! Or a hug!

    Post blow out. The wire eventually broke and I had to resecure the shoes with a bobby-pin. #crafty

    Post blow out. The wire eventually broke and I had to resecure the shoes with a bobby-pin. #crafty

    Moral of the story: Don’t bring crappy quality anything with you when you will be living out of a backpack for a few months. Now I’m sporting some super fashionable Abercrombie and Finch flops from a super legit street corner vender. What up!

  3. Plan for accidents.
    Our pals Maddy and Desirée are traveling with what they refer to as a pharmacy. Before they left they stocked up on motion sickness meds, Benadryl, creams and pills for swelling, bug bites and allergic reactions. I brought or took in advance the stuff my doctor recommended (like prescribed pills for typhoid fever, malaria, traveler’s diarrhea) and I brought Tums, Advil and some Band-Aids and Neosporin. But it was definitely not enough. Being the accident-prone klutz that I am I have a handful of bruises cuts. In Laos I slipped in a waterfall and bashed my leg against a SHARP rock. In Laos we got locked out our hostel and had to jump the front gate. Trust me. The spikes are effective.

    Beware

    Beware

 

Differences/Hints

 

  1. While traveling in Europe, aside from a few exceptions, we mostly stayed in hostels with dorm-style rooms. Sometimes the rooms would be as many as 16 people to a room. Here in Southeast Asia, Anna and I had intended on the dorm life, but with private sweets charging only a buck or two more than the dorms, we are high rolling a little bit.
  2. Another difference is towels and bedding! Most places required you to pay a few dollars for a towel … sometimes even for sheets! We definitely don’t need to be toting towels around.
  3. Another thing we are dragging around … TENNIS SHOES! We brought Chacos, light, water-proof hiking sandals that fight great and stay on in water or on land. So far I haven’t even considered touching my runners. I was thinking I would be working out a lot in SE Asia, but with this heat I would have to be getting up at 5 a.m. to beat the sun. No thank you!

    Where my runners have sat the entire trip (and where they shall stay).

    Where my runners have sat the entire trip (and where they shall stay).

4. It was also very unnecessary to bring a water bottle with. I was hoping I could use it to live a little eco-friendly on this trip but the only water you can drink comes from a vendor (sorry Mother Earth!). My water bottle has sat in the hood of my bag and it isn’t going anywhere fast. Do I leave it behind? But I love my water bottle. It’s been a month and I haven’t ditched it yet … but we will see.

5. Oh and for anyone out there thinking they will be writing and blogging while traveling, invest in a tablet. This beat-up, slow, janky MacBook Pro is driving me nuts.

6. The last tid-bit of information I’m going to share is the beauty of a neck pillow. Most people reading this are probably thinking, ‘Well, duh Martha. Everyone knows neck pillows are quite nice for airplane travel.’ But you don’t understand the love I have for my neck pillow. I would choose it over my computer as a travel necessity. Anna and I bought neck pillows in LA as a last second decision prior to our 14-hour flight. I use it constantly and people stare on with envy as we whip them out on overnight trains and buses.

Dreaming of her neck pillow

Dreaming of her neck pillow

Maybe I’ll update when I realize more mistakes I’ve made. Until then, Anna and I are doing well!

xx