Archive | February, 2017

Vietnam: South, to Adventure!

15 Feb

Rachel and I were ready to leave Ho Chi Minh City.  The plan was to rent a motorcycle and hit the road!  South central Vietnam!  I was to drive and she, along with our backpacks, were to be strapped onto the back.  I was super excited.


The trip: Oh yes, it’s colour coded.


Minor change:  Unfortunately, the day we left Tét was still ramping up and we hit waves of traffic.  Rachel and I both felt strongly that this wasn’t the safest move and we returned to our favorite guest house, The Link, deciding, instead, to leave first thing the next morning #safetyfirst

Rachel and I were determined to beat traffic!  This was going to work.  We left at 3:25AM.  I repeat, we left at 3:25AM.  With our bags strapped down and our plans in order, I was ecstatic.  Rachel and I drove off into the dark, wee hours of the morning and encountered our first problem; a cracked muffler that sounded like a gunshot going off every 5 minutes.  We pulled over to google if this was going to be an actual problem or just disruptive (the latter), and continued on our way, sounding like total bad-asses.  Things were going well until about 6AM when, to our shock and dismay, we were once again engulfed in bumper to bumper traffic. This wasn’t just Saigon traffic –  which is notoriously some of the worst in the world — This was Saigon traffic, during Tét, on a motorcycle, with a pretty girl holding onto the back.  Honestly, it’s the hardest driving I’ve ever done.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, was heading into the countryside for this national week-long holiday.  This drive was too risky.  Feeling deflated, Rachel and I found a roadside stop, pulled over, and made the difficult decision to forgo the motorcycle portion of this trip.  It was hot, dangerous, and neither of us felt safe.  Plus, returning the bike in HCM was tough on our budget.  We had paid in full and, of course, since the mistake was ours, we forfeited all of the money, about $80 each. Ugh, Tét.  For the rest of our trip, Tét became the answer for whenever things weren’t going our way.  Oh, they’re out of green tea kit kats?  Must be Tét.  Why did that Swiss guy keep bothering us? Tét.  That road is closed? Well of course, it’s Tét.

Once again, Rachel and I showed up at our favorite guest house in HCM, The Link.  Nga, the manager was surprised and happy to see us.  We told her what had happened and she consoled us by help organize a two-day tour down south along the Mekong Delta.  We were to leave the next day.  Starting at 8AM seemed like a well-deserved sleep-in.



On a boat: We saw the famous floating markets!



Drank hot coffee on the river.



Saw a huge sitting Buddha.



Went on a a gorgeous river trip.



Sampled warm, coconut candy at a coconut candy factory, bought some, and spent the rest of the trip trying to keep it safe from the ants.



Slept in a homestay.  (This photos makes the bed look soft.)


We saw plenty of above-ground graves in rice paddy fields (so that when they flood farmers can identify which farm is theirs).  We cracked up seeing turtles slapping each other repeatedly at the temple Jade wooden temple.  And admired the hammocks on the side of the road for motorcycle drivers to stop and rest (brilliant).  It was a great trip.  Made all the better by not having to drive ourselves.




There are some rusty nails on that child’s see-saw.  Probably because of Tét.


When we finally left Vietnam, after our successful bus tour down south, we had a layover in Singapore, the nicest airport in the world. We ate ramen, walked around multiple gardens, and wished we could spend more time.  But alas, our flight was leaving.  Next stop?  Thailand!


The Year of the Rooster,

Vietnam: An Education on the War

10 Feb

The Vietnam War is called The American War in Vietnam and I was in need of a history lesson:

The American War lasted approximately 20 years, finishing in 1975.  Fourteen million bombs went off in Vietnam but there are 800,000 bombs that are still missing.  Three million people died in Vietnam.  And now, tragically, the number of US Veteran suicide’s, following the war, has officially exceeded the total number of US fatalities during the conflict.   I took a tour of the Cuchi tunnels, a place where some of the fighting took place, to learn more and see more.



Our guide making his already small body smaller, before he entered the claustriphobic Cuchi tunnels. It was so hot inside people came out drenched in sweat.

There are 100 kilometers of tunnels preserved from the original 250 kilometers.  And on location was a place tourists could shoot big guns, loud guns, machine guns, and other guns, so that during the tour we would hear constant gunfire in the background, adding to the drama.

The ground was hard and difficult, which made digging the tunnels arduous.   I saw many Viet Cong traps with various debilitating implementations.  I saw horrific photos of agent orange’s impact and shuddered at thoughts of becoming a prisoner in any communist prison.


I learned that Viet Kong was not the name of the people from the North.  It was the name of the communist people who were from the south but fighting for the north, against the Saigon government agency.  The people who were fighting from the North were called the North Vietnam Army.

The Viet Cong were very resourceful:

  • Sometimes, when a bomb wouldn’t go off, The Viet Cong would recover it, take it underground, and saw it open with a wet saw.  This was so that the sparks from the metal saw wouldn’t explode the bomb in their confined space.  The Viet Cong would then recover the gun powder and use it to their own advantage.
  • During rainy season, the Viet Cong wore their shoes on backwards to trick enemies into thinking they were walking the opposite way.
  • The tunnels went deep down into the earth and the Viet Cong stuck bamboo straight through in order to draw in fresh air and help them breath easier.
  • The Viet Cong also built underground kitchens with steam chambers that dispersed the steam smoke much farther away from where they were actually cooking.
    • And then they would start to cook only at 5am so to hide the kitchen smoke with fog from the morning ground.


The Cuchi Tunnels were an incredible education.  I took notes (clearly) and felt humbled by how little I knew before I went.  In my defense, it’s much easier to learn about history in the place where the history event happened.  This blog post is so I can easily review what I learned.

Feeling slightly more educated but still have a lot to learn,

Vietnam: So Long, Saigon! (Ho Chi Minh City, formally known as Saigon)

6 Feb

Coming back from Cambodia, Vietnam felt like a developed metropolis.


Goooooooooooood morning, Vietnam!


A tangle of electrical wires.  The electrician, like the moped driver, is wearing a helmet for protection.  And I’m assuming bamboo is shock resistant, right?


I based myself on Bui Ven Street, the backpacker district of Ho Chi Minh (HCM), reading books, doing research, and planning an ambitions motorcycle trip to southern central Vietnam.  I met up with Audrey, a friend from college who’s currently teaching English in HCM; Luis, a Portugese friend of a friend; and Tony Giusti, who shared his friendship and knowledge of the Vietnamese countryside as well as The Vietnam Coracle, a very impressive website, which I consulted daily.  Shout out to Paula and Dan Malone for making these connections happen.  And to Victoria, who was with us in spirit ❤

I picked up a friend of mine, Rachel, from the HCM International Airport late night when she was tired, jet-lagged, and acting silly.   We took public transportation to our hotel and read street signs as best as we could.  Some were written with English letters but phonetically spelled in Vietnamese.  My favorite was “Naimabank” which we pronounced as “Nah, I’m a bank” and used as an answer for questions such as: “Would you like to go out tonight?” “Nah, I’m a bank.”

We stayed at the Link Guest House with a woman named Nga.  The hotel was clean, safe, and the bed was fine but up 5 flights of stairs.  We got an early start the next day.


Oh, the places you’ll go in Ho Chi Minh City!


Rachel, a local restaurant owner, and me.  The tree in the background is in honor of Tét, the Vietnamese New Year, which lasts for an entire week and happened to be the week we were in town.  Tét ultimately gave us a headache, created traffic in a mass exodus of HCM, and altered our itinerary substantially.  But this photo is from the beginning when we thought Tét was cool.  And the tree in this photo, like many we saw, had both real and fake flowers glued on to it in order to maximize the amount of good luck this restaurant would receive.  To be clear, in Vietnam, gluing flowers on a tree for luck is NOT cheating.  Yellow flowers are for South Vietnam and pink flowers are for North Vietnam.


One of the first orders of business was to get Rachel’s phone unlocked.  I watched Rachel hilariously, albeit unsuccessfully, try to bribe an employee at Samsung with an American $5 bill.  She (ultimately) fixed the problem and the two of us went on a self-guided walking tour around the city while consuming as much food as we could find.  Almost every corner had something new and exciting.


Vietnam nam nam nam



What’s this? I don’t know but we ordered one and drank (half of) it.

The extra food we would give away to beggars.  One particularly memorable moment was with a delicious fruit called soursop which we had already opened.  It didn’t seem like anything edible went to waste.


Rat meat. Tastes like chicken but with more bones. The rats in Vietnam are about the size of a small cat #MEAT



The Soup Lady.  Actually, the soup country.  If you’re a soup lover, this is the place for you.



Oh, the things you can do with rice.



Dog meat.  Prepared three different ways.  We didn’t accidentally stumble upon it either, Rachel and I sought it out.  After consumption, my heart hurt for days.  I don’t think I’ll do it again.  As a side note, cat meat is illegal in Vietnam.



My favorite restaurant: The Loving Hut.  Not pictured: The exquisite banana leaf salad.



Noir: A dining in the dark experience.  We couldn’t see anything but if I’d known that my hat was going to block my blindfold, I might have cheated at this matching game that I found difficult and the restaurant insisted we play before we were allowed to eat.


A midnight flower market.

When we were tired of walking, Rachel and I jumped onto the back of motorcycle taxis, the cheapest and most efficient way to get around.  Grabbike (a Vietnamese motorcycle version of Uber) became our favorite app.


Motorbike madness. Moves like Jagger a school of fish.

More tales (and history lessons) to come!

Still full of food 8 months later,