Thursday, 3 July 2014

Easy Rider Trip: Dalat to Hoi An

The highlight of my time so far in Southeast Asia was the Easy Rider journey I did from Dalat to Hoi An. 

I had the crazy idea to buy a motorbike in Saigon and ride it all the way to Hanoi, so the price of the Easy Rider program was a bit steep. 

It's usually $75-85 per day, although I got it for $50 since I had my own bike (my stepdad would be so proud of my bargaining skills!) 

My guide was amazing - Mr Binh was full of knowledge about the Vietnamese war, local customs in the minority villages we visited, and Vietnamese culture in general. 

I cannot recommend this experience enough - the places you see, the local people that you meet (and can actually talk to, thanks to Mr Binh), and the things you learn...absolutely fantastic!

I think we saw about 2 other westerners each day, typically also on bikes heading the opposite direction. 

If you're looking for the real Vietnam experience off the beaten track, don't think twice - just do it!

Dalat, Vietnam

Driving into Dalat, I was amazed at how similar it looked to Mont Tremblant in Quebec, Canada. 

It is a cute European-looking city in the central highlands of Vietnam, so there are mountains all around. 

The temperature is generally between 15-25C, a great escape from the 40C heat I endured along the eastern coast of Vietnam! 

I didn't spend very much time here - less than 24 hours, actually, but it is definitely a cool place to wander around the hilly streets - kind of what I imagine San Fransisco to be like - and enjoy a bit of fresh air. 

Crazy House 

Crazy House is, indeed, crazy! 

The Crazy House, a must-see if you go to Dalat - is the project of a Vietnamese architect, whose father used to be the President, in the aim of reconnecting people with the importance of nature. 

It has been under construction for years, and continues to be built upon to this day. 

It is made out of concrete and painted to look like tree houses, with branch-like stairways connecting them all. 

It offers great views of the city, as long as you aren't too afraid of heights - the archways are a bit precarious up in the air. 

So glad that I checked it out!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Mui Ne, Vietnam

After such an incredible time spent on the gorgeous island beaches of southern Cambodia and Thailand, I was a bit disappointed with Mui Ne. 

I knew that I was approaching Mui Ne when I started to see the Russian signs for big resorts along the side of the highway. 

If you've spent any time in Southeast Asia, you will know the little Russian enclaves that have been developing. Turns out, Mui Ne is one of them. 

Mui Ne stretches out on a peninsula, with little guesthouses and shops on either side of the road that follows the ocean side, with larger and more glamorous resorts along the water. 

I stayed at 1 & 10 Hostel - the owners are super nice and the dorm is only 70,000 Vietnamese dong ($3.25). Although the mattresses and pillows could use a bit more stuffing, it's a cheap and cheerful place to stay. 

I was ready to leave pretty much as soon as I got there, but unfortunately I came down with a super bad flu and was essentially bedridden for two days straight. 

Not too shabby when you are laying by the water on a comfy lounge chair from a resort across the road from your cheap hostel ;) 

There are tons of little fishing boats along the water, and the beach is perfect for a long stroll. 

The seafood is amazingly fresh and delicious (for obvious reasons). Def try Mr Crab's restaurant for the most amazing grilled seafood! Fresh out I the tank. 

Delicious banana pancake 

You can also rent a bike and see the red and white sand dunes. 

Aside from that, I wouldn't suggest sticking around for too long. If you're looking for the beach, there are much less-developed areas further up the coast of Vietnam. Otherwise, I would say you can skip this destination altogether...but that's just my humble opinion ;)

Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon), Vietnam

Ermagerd, I love this city!

I had a great bus ride from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh (aka Saigon), sat beside the cutest Vietnamese lady who kept feeding me snacks along the way. 

As we came into the city, which is HUGE, I could tell right away that there was something a tad different from other South East Asian cities I have seen so far: there are millions of motorbikes here. 

I mean, don't get me wrong, there are lots of bikes in other cities too, but this is a whole other level of bike traffic. 

Trying to cross the road is like some sort of mean joke - you essentially have to just take a deep breath, roll your shoulders back and strut out with confidence as the traffic magically surges around you. 

It's terrifying. 

One strange (annoying?) thing is that everywhere lists prices in USD (1USD = 21,000 Vietnamese Dong) but they don't take it anywhere, unlike Cambodia where they use both USD and Cambodian Real. Mais c'est la vie!

My fave park to run around in the morning :)

There are a bunch of exercise machines there, so you don't feel quite so crazy being the only Western chick running around like a sweaty mess ;)

War Remnants Museum

There are tons of museums in Saigon, although I unfortunately did not have enough time to see them all. 

I went to the War Remnants Museum and was very glad that I went. It gave me a much better understanding of the timeline of the Vietnamese war, although it was very difficult to see photos of some of the atrocities committed against Vietnamese villagers, not to mention the lasting effects of deformities due to the use of agent orange. 

Reunification Palace 

I also stopped in at the Reunification Palace en route to the museum. Such a cool place! 

It's super 70s style, with very severe placement of all of the furniture in the various rooms that used to house the president and his family. 

There are also rooms downstairs where the president and his war generals camped out during the Vietnamese war to do their logistics. 

It just happened to be the anniversary of the unification of north and south Vietnam when I was in Saigon, so I was able to see some of the festivities. 

There were tons of free music and dance shows throughout the city, along with fireworks along the waterfront. 

Modern Art Museum 

I did a little self-guided tour of the old part of Saigon (found it in the Vietnam Lonely Planet travel book) and stopped at the Modern Art Museum. 

I'm glad I did - it also had some historic art and pottery, along with sketches from the Vietnamese war and more contemporary pieces. 

Momster, you would have been so proud ;) 

Opera House 

I had the amazing opportunity to go see an A O Show at the opera house, called 'My Village'. 

Tickets are usually $60, way over my price range, but I was able to go for only $15 as long as I promised to write a review on TripAdvisor :) 

Sneaky, sneaky - I know! 

The show was amazing and had music and dance with bamboo sticks depicting life in rural northern Vietnam. The building itself is gorgeous. 

So glad that I went! 

I even splurged on a $10 drink and went to the sky bar to look out on the city. 

Unlike my snooty sky bar experience in Bangkok, I was allowe inside even if I looked a bit like a backpacking bum ;) 

So worth it!

Anywho, there are tons of things to do and see in Saigon, including some awesome markets. Def a great place to spend a few days! 

Vietnamese drip coffee. Love at first taste. 

Another cool thing about Saigon: people drink on bamboo mats out on Bui Vien street, the backpacker area. It was refreshing to see so many locals hanging out too :)