Thursday, April 14, 2016

The one where Kat comes to visit and we go to the beach.

My BB (best buddy, bosom buddy, something along those lines) Kat came to visit me in October 2012. Before you get all Judgy McJudgerson, you should realise that at least I’m writing this BEFORE the FOUR YEAR MARK! Crazy how time flies and how much I procrastinate with doing the things I really want to do. Not my job…obviously. Kat had never been out of the country before and has now visited three countries in four years, for which I’m immensely proud of her. Leading up to her first trip though, there were a ton of emails back and forth all full of questions like “will there be signs in English?”, “do I need a visa?”, “how do I hail a taxi?” “is that safe?” (in regards to a seafood buffet I wanted to take her to), which are all perfectly legit questions, but I never think about things like that. I mean, I do, but I do all the research on my own and never think to ask others about it so it was a particularly stressful time for both of us because I kept taking on her stress about visiting. Once she arrived it was easy peasy time. Well, for her. I got sick…of course. More about that later.

Kat arrived on a Friday and I decided to keep my evening classes because I was losing an entire weekend which sucked because of my low hours, but was also amazing because having a free weekend felt so darn good at the time. It didn’t affect me that much though because she arrived late Friday evening and by the time I picked her up from the airport and we got back to my apartment it was pretty late and we had an early morning train to catch. We had enough time for a late night snack, some minor BB catching up time, shower (for her since she’d been traveling for close to 19 hours) and sleep. We were up pretty early on Saturday to catch our train up to Nha Trang. It was my first time on the train so that was pretty exciting. We got a soft seat in air con (just a regular chair in air conditioning) which I can’t remember why because it was about a 7-hour trip and the soft sleeper wasn’t that much more expensive. It was a good trip though. Make sure to buy your tickets in advance since reservations are required. I went to the train station about a week prior to buy the tickets, but you can also buy through most travel agencies on Bui Vien. I didn’t see the point since you have to pay an extra fee, but it does make life easier for lazy travellers. Ga Saigon is located at 1 Nguyen Thong, 9th Ward, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. If you need more information on train travel ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, check out Seat 61, which is absolutely one of the best websites ever. For more information on train travel in Vietnam, you could also use the Vietnam Railways website.

Kat and I caught the 6:00 a.m. train and got into Nha Trang around 1:00 p.m. We got a taxi to our hotel, the Golden Sea Hotel Nha Trang, which I don’t remember very well, but I have over good memories of it. We had an oceanfront view, as in a view of the actual ocean. I only got to see it for a little bit before I promptly got sick. It was probably motion sickness because after a few hours of rest and lots of water I was back to normal. The beach in Nha Trang (to me) wasn’t particularly nice (as nice as Cambodia and Thailand for sure) and I took a personal exception to it because a wave *literally* knocked me on my face, which caused endless amounts of laughter on Kat’s part. ::I’m still shaking my fist at you, Katherine:

The seafood in Nha Trang is generally delicious. We found a restaurant, Truc Linh 2, not too far from the hotel for dinner that was not. Avoid it all costs even if Lonely Planet touts it in their guidebooks.  The pictures of our food look good, but it did not taste good and that’s all I have to say on that matter.

The next day we rented a motorbike and drove around town to see some of the sights. I successfully managed to not kill us and find Long Son Pagoda (Chùa Long Sơn) (success!!), which is a Buddhist temple with a beautiful and huge statue of…you guessed it…Buddha! It’s really peaceful and definitely worth a visit. We also managed to successfully find Po Nagar Towers (Thap Ba) which I can’t say enough good things about. It’s an old Cham temple (but apparently is still used by visitors) and the architecture is so different from Buddhist temples you find in Vietnam. I think I prefer the Cham style, I have no words, but lots of pictures so hopefully you’ll be able to see why. It’s situated at the top of a hill overlooking the water and there weren’t that many visitors when we were there in October so it was quiet and exuded the sense of peace you usually only find in temples.

We didn’t try to see much more because Kat was still feeling jetlagged and I was still getting over my sudden sickness from the day before and it was pretty hot to be driving around, in the sun mind you, so we called it quits in the early afternoon. Plus, we had a bus to catch to Da Lat, which I thought would be a great place to visit for several reasons. I’d never been, Kat wanted to see as much of Vietnam as possible so I thought seeing the beach, a big city and the mountains would count as “as much as possible” and it was chilly in the mountains in October and I was really missing the cold. So off to Da Lat we went. More in the next post…

Sunday, April 10, 2016

More from Phu Quoc

Thanks to Facebook memories, I found this review I wrote to my friend Alee after Helen's and my stay in Phu Quoc and I thought I ought to share it.

"I stayed at the Coco Palm Resort in Phu Quoc just last week and it was great. It's a bit further away from town, but you'll get all the rest and relaxation you want. They treat you like family there. Plus, you'll get your own private beach. It's right on Ong Ang Beach which is so much nicer than Long Beach where the majority of hotels are. Sao Beach is amazing, beautiful, perfect but on the other side of the island. If you stay at Coco Palm, especially due to your mom's injury, be prepared to stay there the entire time unless you take a taxi for 175,000 VND back to town. I'd wholly recommend staying there, though."

Granted, this happened four years ago and who knows what it's like now, but it was fantastic back then!

This also reminded me of the funniest story. Helen and I shared a room while there because that always makes financial sense. It was late at night and I can't remember whether we had fallen asleep or were woken from sleep by this scuttling noise. The rooms all had tiled floors, as should all good beach hotels, so we could here the definite sound of a "click click click" on the floor. It scared the bejesus out of us. I mean, we were terrified. We're two pretty smart people and we should have realised that it was probably a crab or something, but nope. We immediately think man-eating spider or a snake that developed claws. I know, we're weirdos. We're up-on-the-bed-flailing-around-trying-to-make-a-run-for-it-but-we-can't-reach-the-door-and-what-will-we-do-outside-in-our-nightgowns-weirdos. Anyway, I recently remembered that and I can't stop laughing about it.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Mui Ne, Phan Thiet, Vietnam

It's been 7 months but I finally made it to Mui Ne. Then I went back a week later. When I do something I do it hardcore. Twice. Apparently.

Mui Ne is an idyllic, quiet beach town about 5 hours by bus from Saigon. It's one of the best places to go, in my opinion, if you need a quick getaway because while Vung Tau is only an hour away by hydrofoil it's actually a nice place to visit.

My friend Aubrey, who I had not seen since 2004, decided on a last minute trip to Vietnam because her boyfriend Paul was doing a month and a half backpacking through Southeast Asia. She only had a week and decided to visit me in Vietnam and meet Paul as he ended his trip. I picked her up at the airport and we spent a really good first day after so many years together. It was like nothing had changed. Always the sign of a good friendship. We met up with Paul after he got off the bus from Cambodia. We did all the touristy things, made sure they were sufficiently impressed and fed. They were both impressed and fed when I took them to my favorite Pho place. The next day she and Paul flew to Hanoi and then headed to Ha Long Bay for a two night stay on a boat in the middle of the bay. I absolutely cannot wait to do that. She then had a few days to kill and as I wanted her to see enough of Vietnam without being too rushed I suggested Da Lat (a gorgeous mountain town) and Nha Trang (a really beautiful beach/party town) but in the end we ended up in Mui Ne. I think I made the right decision in the end. Mui Ne is a smaller beach town near the larger town of Phan Thiet. They have some pretty amazing resorts, which I'll mention more in another post, but I chose to stay in a backpackers lodge for my first night. I left Monday morning, spent the first night with my friend Matt and his super amazing parents, Jan and Kevin, and then met up with Aubrey and Paul the following evening. They flew back from Hanoi on Tuesday morning and then caught the bus to Mui Ne. Lots of travelling but it was so worth it.

I digress. My first night I spent at the Mui Ne Lodge Resort. It's not a resort and for $20usd/night it was a bit pricey considering it didn't have a pool or comfortable beds. It was, however, extremely gorgeous, right on the beach. LIKE right on the beach. And it was on the quieter end of the strip which I appreciated a lot. I arrived Monday afternoon and immediately met up with my friend Matt who was visiting with his aforementioned amazing parents. I spent the afternoon/evening in their lovely company at their amazing resort, Allezboo Resort. I highly recommend that place.

The next day I decided to rent a bicycle, because I couldn't work up the nerve to ride a motorcycle just yet. I had so much fun riding down the strip towards Matt's hotel and I'm sure I would have had even more fun if my tire hadn't popped. The worst part was that it was the middle of the day. Do you know what noon sun feels like? It feels like what I imagine the hottest part of hell to feel like. Actually the worst part was that no cabs would take me and the bike back to the hotel. Such bs. So I had to walk the bike back. I'm sure it was an interesting sight. It did give me a chance to stop at other hotels and inquire about rates because I couldn't stay at the same place I was at when Aubrey and Paul showed up. They just didn't have any rooms that were big enough. I found a pretty nice one with an awesome pool for $55usd/night with three beds. Jackpot!

After I found a new hotel I packed up my stuff and moved in, but had to head back to the old place because I booked a tour and they jeep was supposed to pick me up there. Mui Ne is full of sand dunes. I know that doesn't seem like anything but in reality, these sand dunes are amazing. It's amazing that there is so much sand so far away from the shore and it's amazing that they're piled so high. It's almost like a mini desert. Really cool thing actually. Matt, his parents and I did a jeep tour of the red, yellow and white sand dunes, the Fairy Stream and waterfall (so not as cool as it sounds, feel free to skip over it), Mui Ne fishing village and we watched the sunset from one of the sand dunes. It was an amazing day. After I got back to the hotel I washed about 5 lbs worth of sand off my body. I was completely covered in a thin layer of super soft sand. I was actually finding sand even after I thoroughly washed off (trust me I was thorough) and jumped into the pool. My ears, belly button, nose, etc. That sand gets everywhere.

Paul and Aubrey arrived that evening and I took them to a restaurant that Matt's mom suggested for dinner the night before. It's called Bamboo Bamboo and if you're ever in Mui Ne, please please please please do yourself a favor and have dinner there. It's so reasonably priced and everything  I ate that night was delicious and scrumptious and savory and mouthwatering and...well I'm running out of adjectives to describe how amazing that food really is.

We stuffed ourselves silly on grilled sea bass and seafood fried rice...well I did...and we turned in early. We made plans to watch the sunrise and by golly we were going to do it. We did it and it was totally worth it. We figured we could catch up on sleep by the pool afterwards, which we did. All. Day. Long. It was so relaxing. That day I did get a bit sick but I'm pretty sure it was just food poisoning and nothing seriously detrimental because after sleeping it off in the room and 2 cups of green tea I was right as rain. I managed to make it out to dinner. That's when we ate tons of seafood and Aubrey made a new friend. See pictures below. I then had to head back soon after because of that thing called a job, but it was SUCH a memorable time.

Kite surfing is HUGE in Mui Ne.

My 100th Post: Part 4 (Dessert and Wine Night)

One day I discovered brownie batter at Phuong Ha, which is one of the two really awesome international grocery stores on Ham Nghi. I got so excited and almost bought them all, but then I realised I'd probably eat them all. However, I realised if I invited my friends over I could share it with them. Of course, it tumbled out of control and Dessert and Wine Night was born. I think we all agree that this time all pictures are totally right for this post. You can thank me later.

Brownies with almonds on the left and brownies with snickers on the right. 

So many desserts!

I've forgotten what these were called, but they were delicious even though (I think) they had a creepy name.

Oh hai, there's the wine and cupcakes, of course,

Look at how nicely we share.

City Hunter was on in the background and I think this picture perfectly sums up the evening.

My 100th Post: Part 3 (CELTA Celebratory Dinner)

Once upon a time, I moved to Vietnam to do a teacher certification training program. 4 hellish and intense weeks later, including an accident with a motorbike, I 'graduated.' For our celebratory dinner, one of our instructors had a boyfriend who owned (?) Baba's, an Indian restaurant on Bui Vien and we all gathered there. It's interesting to note that on Bui Vien alone there are three Indian restaurants. Interesting, over done, same same, but they're always busy so I guess there's no interference from the competition.

Here a few pictures from dinner: