Our time in Hue, Vietnam

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This time in-between our stops we just had a 4 hour bus ride instead of 10-11 hours like we’ve been used to. From Hoi an to Hue was just a short drive with great scenery so it passed by very quickly. We stayed in Hue for 3 nights and we could of stayed many more. The hostel was family run and were always there to help no matter the issue or if you just wanted to sit and chat with a cup of coffee they were willing and ready. Very easy going people who made our stay very enjoyable.

The first day we rented motorbikes and rode to the abandoned water park outside of Hue with a few friends we met from Canada, Carly and Kendra. We zipped all around the eerie park, climbed to the top of the dragons mouth and even slid down the empty waterslides. This attraction was definitely the highlight of our trip to Hue, and was completely free, short of the motorbike rental and fuel. The four of us jumped on our motorbikes and slowly started heading back towards town to the Thien Mu Pagoda which held some impressive statues and even a golden buddha! It was constructed over 400 years ago in the 1600’s and had some amazing craftsmanship work and even overlooks the famous Perfume river. It is the tallest pagoda in Vietnam standing an incredible 7 stories high (21 meters or 69 feet).

The second day we sat around the hostel and caught up on the blog and on the budget which we were writing down on paper until we found out about the amazing budget app Trail Wallet. You put in your expenses each day and it breaks it down into each category and averages out your total expenses. It also allows you to type in your expense in one currency and it automatically shows you what it is in your home currency (USD). So much easier than trying to keep track with pen and paper!

Later we met up with Craig and Olga for lunch and dinner who we met in Saigon originally. We found some amazing burgers just a short walk from the hostel and some not so good spaghetti that we had to wash the taste out of our mouths with some ice-cream! (can you tell we were trying to get some western food after all the noodles and rice we’ve been eating LOL)

On our last day the bus didn’t arrive until 5pm so we rented another motorbike through the hostel and drove out to “bunker hill”! We checked out a few old concrete bunkers with bullet holes from the Vietnam/American war that took place in the 1960’s and 70’s. As we walked around we spotted some monks that were studying and enjoying some tea while overlooking the Perfume river. On our way back to town we stopped by the Incense village when Cynthia learned the process of how they make the colorful incense sticks that are used for religious and traditional ceremonies.

On our way back to Hue from the American bunker hill we stopped to grab a bite to eat at a small local street food stand. There we walked up to a large group of students who had just graduated and were celebrating. They welcomed us over as they clapped and cheered as we sat down with them. They kept pouring us glasses of beer and shared there food with us as we exchanged conversation for a few hours with the few that knew some english as the others translated through each other and listened carefully. Hue turned out to be an amazing 4 days!

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Hoi An, Vietnam

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When we researched Hoi An, what caught my eye were the beautiful lit up lanterns that lined the streets at night and the bold history of the ancient town. It just looked like a really neat, cool vibe city.

When we arrived on our bus at 6:30am we walked around scoping out a place to stay for the next week. We found a nice family run homestay on a “quiet” street with a private room and A/C for just $8 US per night. (We negotiated price down $2 per night). What we didn’t know at the time was that the traffic would wake us up at 6:30am each morning, there was construction going on across the street, there was no blanket offered (just a flat sheet), we would be offered the same breakfast each and every morning (which after the second day the baguette, fried eggs and same fruit got kinda old) and the large family was pretty loud at night downstairs, especially their son who constantly cried (we were on the top floor and still were able to hear him with our door shut). One of the first days we were there we took a mid day nap and woke up to one of the ladies opening our door to clean the filters out of the A/C. No knock, just came right on in 🙂 And from what we were told by the room next door, they had suspicion someone was coming into their room and turning off the ac each time they left the home because it would always be off when they returned. After that we took our personal gear with us each day and kept just our clothing and basic stuff at the homestay. The hardest thing about our stay here was the language barrier with the owners, only one lady spoke english and seemed to be gone most of the time so when we had a question or needed something we had to wait for her to come back. We tried to use our translator app on the phone but they didn’t want to use it and insisted we wait for the lady to return. We planned on staying a week here but after a few days we were ready to move on, I don’t think Lucas would be able to deal with another morning of fried eggs, baguette and dragon fruit.

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Even though our homestay wasn’t everything we were hoping, the city ended up being really neat, especially at night when the town was lit up and the air was filled with the aroma of street food cooking. The center market was always in full motion throughout the day and night, and it hosted some of the cheapest food we could find in the area so we spent each day walking down there at least once as there was so much to see there.

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One of the top things in Hoi An that we wanted to visit was the My Son sanctuary, it was definitely one of the highlights of our trip here in Hoi An. We rented a motorbike for the day and drove an hour and a half one way to see the amazing abandoned hindu temples that were built. The scooter ride there was definitely a little more scary than our last rental in Da Lat as the drivers here in Hoi An are so much worse! 🙂  A lot of history there between the Vietnamese and the Americans, as thats were a few bombs landed during the war in 1960. You could still see one of the bomb craters on site and the ruins and exhibits are really fascinating to walk around. At one time, the site encompassed over 70 temples as well as inscriptions in Sanskrit and Cham languages which were showcased in the exhibition hall.

One of the best things about our homestay was it was right on the river, so a night walk on the boardwalk was a great way to end each night (minus the humidity which made you sweat 5 min into your walk!) But overall our stay in Hoi An was a good mix of things, from relaxing at the homestay (when it was quiet) to site seeing during the days to nice strolls along the river at night.

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Our Experience in Da Lat, Vietnam

 

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As I sit here on this sleeper bus traveling from Nha Trang to Hoi An I’m supposed to be sleeping but my mind is racing a mile a minute while my eyes are glaring out the window at this full moon thats producing a mirror image on the ocean below it. I can’t help but to think of our time here in Vietnam already. Only one week has passed but we have gained a lifetime of memories and have met many new friends.

Two days ago in Da Lat I had the privilege to sit down and talk to a young man from Hanoi who was visiting Da Lat with his girlfriend. He was eager to learn some new English words to add to his vocabulary (he spoke some english very well already!) As the hours passed he showed me how loyal Vietnamese are to there country, the love he has for his country was beyond beautiful and you could hear in every word how much Vietnam meant to him. But also in his voice was sadness as he told us how he felt stuck knowing he would never be able to afford to travel outside of what he’s always known.

Right now Vietnams exchange rate for the US dollar is $1USD to 22,500VND. For them to travel to America or any other country it would be very difficult to get anything for their money in exchange. My heart breaks for the ones like him who dream of seeing the world but know that it is just that, a dream. But it makes me so happy that they see know just how beautiful a country they live in. People come from all over the world to experience what they see everyday.

Our time in Da Lat was incredible we initially wanted to spend a 2-3 days there but ended up extending our trip 2 more days because we fell in love with the family who was hosting us in their hostel. Da Lat is a much cooler and breezier part of Vietnam than what we were experiencing days before arriving, going from 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit in Ho Chi Minh to a cool 70 degrees during the day in Da Lat.

Our first two days in town we walked around trying different street foods and getting to know our way around town. We picked up some amazing Bún thit nuóng (Barbecue Noodles) for just 20,000VND per person, along with a few other cheap street foods. The vietnamese sure can cook and if you wait to walk around during peak eating hours you will be sure to find the local favorite spots!

Speaking of cooking, at our Hostel, Da Lat Happy Hostel, we were greeted each morning with a full home cooked breakfast, and took them up on their offer of dinner each night for 40,000 VND each. For the money each night we were given so much food that we always went to bed full and our bellies happy. (Quick side note, Lucas is already missing their Banana Cake! which was SOOOO good!) We even were able to try some fresh strawberry and avocado smoothies free of charge as well as some new fruit that we had never tried before like dragon fruit, lychee and green guavas! We spent 4 days there and left feeling like we had grown into part of their family. We instantly fell in love with their hospitality and how clean the hostel was, they treated us like one of their own and always made sure we were comfortable! The hostel had everything we needed and more for a comfortable stay including the option to rent a scooter for the day, which we took advantage of to go to Pongour Falls one day on our own. They also had tours available that they could call and arrange which we also signed up to do, after pricing all around town we could not beat the price given to us so we took a tour of the countryside of Da Lat seeing the beautiful Elephant waterfall, stopping at a silk production factory (which was a highlight for us both), visiting the Linh An Pagoda & Happy Buddha and a few other really neat places throughout the city.

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Pongour Waterfall
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Elephant Falls

Im not going to lie, I shed a few tears when we hugged goodbye on our last day, we truly enjoyed every minute spent with them and if we are able to make it back down to Da Lat this go around we will for sure visit them once more!

Our Final Days in Ho Chi Minh City

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After spending a whole day walking around the city, we began to get accustomed to all the traffic, sidewalks were crowed with vietnamese people offering to sell you anything and everything, asking if we want a taxi, sunglasses, magnets ect. We learned very quickly to just keep walking and not make any eye contact. Instead of staying to the main streets we also learned that some of the best tasting and cheapest options for food are down the alleys. We found a wonderful breakfast nook where we went during the mornings to grab breakfast and coffee with milk for just 90,000 VND ($3.96) for the both of us. As a coffee drinker, I instantly fell in love with vietnamese coffee so we came back each morning to have a coffee and grab some breakfast.

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While walking around the city we also found out that going directly to the source for bus tickets and for tour tickets is the best way to get the cheapest price. We found a company called The Sinh Tourist who we booked open bus tickets through which are bus tickets that go to our destinations and we can hop on and off when we wanted to. We bought 5 bus tickets (Ho Chi Minh > Dalat > Nah Trang > Hoi An > Hue > Hanoi) for $37 USD each and as long as we use them within a one month time then we are good to go! After pricing around tours in Ho Chi Minh we found this same company the cheapest so we also purchased a tour to go on the Mekong Delta River for only $17 USD for us both for a full day which included transportation to the river, a motorboat ride up the river, lunch which included Mekong river fish, tasted coconut candy and saw the process of how to make it, also got to try some fresh fruit and see a local band! It was defiantly a steal of a deal as Lucas would say! Lucas even took a shot of “snake wine” which he said tasted like vodka or ever clear. All in all the tour was about 9hrs total.

 

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Next up was the Chu Chi tunnels tour which i didn’t do because i’m deathly afraid of small/tight spaces. It was only a half day about 6hrs total and set us back about $10 USD total after entrance fee and tour cost. These tunnels were built during the American war by hand, which is mind blowing! As you can see in the pictures there wasn’t nearly enough room to standup in the tunnels. Lucas of course did the longest tunnel at 60 meters long. He had a guide the entire time and got to try a plant that was much like a potato and some really nice tea. After that we had the option to shoot an Ak47 but they wanted 50k VND per round of ammo plus it was only semi automatic, boo. Lastly he watched a short movie about the war which he felt was very one sided and made him feel a little uncomfortable blaming the U.S. government for killing innocents. Loading up in the bus with the long drive back and nobody that could speak english got him thinking of war and what comes with it…

After finally securing our transportation we walked around a little more stumbling across the Saigon Central Market where we found tons of really cheap food. We tried a thing or two from a few of the vendors and all of it was amazing. After our bellies were content Lucas headed off for his tour of the Chu Chi Tunnels. Tunnels are not my thing so I opted for a $2 pedicure and blog time instead 🙂

 

Ho Chi Minh/Saigon Vietnam Day 1

 

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We have waited for this day to come for what seems like forever but now that we are here in Vietnam, it is just as amazing as we thought it would be.

When we landed in the Tan Son Nhat International Airport we were surprised at how empty the airport was, then again it was 5:00 am! Being early had its perks as we quickly made it through the visa check in and customs and out to the front where we were able to convert our USD to Vietnamese Dong and get a sim card. After getting the right currency and having a working phone again we hopped on the Satsco Vé Xe shuttle bus (20,000 VND each, which is .88 USD ) and made our way to our hostel in District 1. Fifteen hours of plane flights and a eight hour layover we were more than ready to R&R, but unfortunately our room was not yet cleaned since it was rented out the night prior so we had to wait a few hours. They were nice enough to hold our luggage as we went out into the city to site see and grab some local food.

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Our first day in Saigon we spent a total of $10.38 USD on food for the both of us and that was even including a smoothie! Our budget per day for food is $10 so we went over just a tad but we made up the difference with how cheap the shuttle bus ended up being!

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As we ventured around the city we ran into a couple visiting from Europe who were looking for the same place we were, the Ben Thanh Market. We all decided to stick together and brave crossing the roads to get to this highly talked about market. The roads here are truly amazing! I could sit on the sidewalk and watch the drivers maneuver around all day. When they say you just have to pray and walk out to cross the street, thats exactly what you do. You take a few steps SLOWLY and watch as they go around you. Lucas finds it crazy that I’m fascinated by it but it really is remarkable how they pay attention to everything going on around them and not wreck into anything or anyone!

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Throughout our first day in Vietnam we were able to see the famous Ben Thanh Market, the Central Post Office which dates back to 1891, the Notre Dame Cathedral built in the 1800’s, the Bitexco Financial Tower featured in The Hangover and the Unification Palace.

Having our Hostel in such a centrally located part of the city was definitely a huge plus even if the hostel wasn’t everything we were hoping it would be. We still were blessed to have a working fan and an AC in our own private room for just $12 per night.

When we got to our room we unpacked our things, showered and decided to take a nap before dinner. Little did we know that we would sleep for 14 hours straight, waking up at 6am skipping dinner completely. I guess jet lag really is a thing!

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Kauai’s abundant supply of Farmers Markets

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When we spent our year in Alaska it was hard to find fresh fruits and veggies without driving 45 min to Kenai in the winter, and 2 hours to Fairbanks during our time in the interior in the summer. We even tried out Full Circle when we spent our 6 months in Healy since we were so far away from a grocery store, it was great but pretty expensive. Now, we have taken a complete turn around! Every single day on Kauai you are able to find a local Farmers Market! Each one has different things to offer so each we try to visit different ones to try a variety of new fruits and veggies. You would be surprised at all the exotic fruits available!

Above are pictured Sour Sop, Mango Stein and Breadfruit, just a few of the exotic fruits we have come across. The sour sop might look intimidating but it is a amazing superfood that makes the most incredible juice I’ve ever tried!  We have yet to try a breadfruit, its next on our list to try but has tremendous health benefits and can be eaten and used in a variety of different ways. Now for the mango stein, it might look like an ordinary fruit, similar to the look of a plum but it is anything but ordinary! You open it up and eat the inside pods, they melt in your mouth and have a very sweet flavor, kind of like a mix between vanilla ice-cream, strawberry and a grape. They have amazing health benefits too!

One of the best things besides trying new fruits and veggies is being able to get some of our favorite fruits whenever we want! Pineapples, mangos, apple bananas and more! We have been completely spoiled!

Guava, Sugar Apple, Papaya and Star Apple (Custard Apple) are some other fruits we tried for the first time. Gauva is wonderful and makes fantastic juice. I enjoyed the Sugar Apple as it was similar to eating vanilla pudding or custard but Lucas didn’t care for it too much (more for me to enjoy ha!) We both agreed Papaya was not our flavor so we have yet to try it again to us it favored the taste of soap or very similar. The Star Apple was fun to cut into it and makes a really pretty picture but it was just so so, neither hated it or loved it, I think we were mostly turned off by the fact there were fruit larva in it so that was a fun first experience. We definitely LOVE the variety of fresh fruits available to try though, it makes it very exciting each week when we go to the markets to see what we end up going home with!

While fruit is an abundance, vegetables are too! Any vegetable you can think of, you will find at some market throughout the island. We have rarely purchased any fruits or vegetables from the big chain grocery stores which has been very nice for a change!

Fresh exotic flowers and plants are also available at most of the farmers markets too! These above are various types of flowering ginger 🙂

We are so spoiled on Kauai, with all the fresh produce available, it will definitely be one of the major things we will miss when we leave.

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Kauai’s Beautiful Beaches

As of now we spent a little over 3 months on the island of Kauai. We have been to a majority of the easily accessible beaches along with a few that require a little more work to get to.  Below, we have narrowed down our favorites that we visit on a regular basis. All listed with our personal pros and cons for each.

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• Kalalau Beach- Nice remote beach that is only accessible by hiking in (obtain an overnight permit) or via boat/kayak! Permits to do the Kalalau trail are consistently about 3-4 months out and most people make the 22 mile round trip hike regardless if they have permits or not. We obtain permits when we make the trek because it helps the state maintain trails and the facilities along the trails. They have two sets of bathrooms at the camp along with a nice waterfall to rinse off in and get water from which you will want to purify. The beach itself is sparsely populated with only a handful of people the times we went. Expect to find great company (sometimes naked or topless) and to relax on a nice quiet beach. The water clarity doesn’t appear to be quite as good as Ke’e or Tunnels beach on the north shore.

Beach Location– Northwest side of Kauai via the Kalalau trail or boat

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• Ke’e Beach – Great snorkeling and swimming area! Parking is usually the main issue with this beach and can be a headache. Water visibility is great in the summertime but due to high surf in winter the beach stays closed. Has a nice reef/shoal break for snorkeling. Does have a lifeguard tower which is a big plus especially if you have kids traveling with you. They have an outdoor shower and some restrooms. Be careful parking along the road especially where there is signs against it you WILL get a ticket. Great overall family beach and is very safe. NOT a good beach for surfing due to the reefs.

Beach Location– North shore as far as the main highway takes you. You will pass through Hanalei and about another 10 minutes and you will be there. Parking is the biggest pain and we would recommend getting there early to get a good parking spot.

• Tunnels Beach- Great beach with a view! Some of the best snorkeling on Kauai not to mention it has a lush green mountainous backdrop! Water clarity is very good here starting around April till around October. Winter swells are too big for snorkeling November till March. Unfortunately the reefs here are basically all dead from people touching them, BUT everywhere you look there is an abundance of fish and underwater sea life. The reef is very close to shore and would be great for beginners or advanced snorkeling/diving. The downside to this beach like most other beaches on Kauai is the abundance of people so if you would like a secluded beach then i would suggest Kalalau or Polihale.

Beach Location- North side of Kauai. The best access point in our opinion is parking at Haena state park and walking down the beach. If you are facing the beach from the parking area go right down the beach and walk for about 5-10 minutes.

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• Hideaways Beach – A secluded quaint little beach in Princeville. When we went there were only about 4 other people so we pretty much had it to ourselves. We went in March but sadly the waves were too high to take a swim so we just sat in the sand and enjoyed our amazing view. We have heard this beach is great in the summer months when its a bit calmer and can be perfect for snorkeling and swimming! The only con is that it can be tricky to get down as you have to go downhill while holding onto ropes, it can be a bit slippery if it has recently rained so just take your time and you will be fine!

Beach location: Drive up to Princeville and head towards the St. Regis Hotel , just before the hotel entrance there is a small beach access parking lot to the right, only about 8 cars can fit here so its probably best to head here early morning or later in the evening. There is a narrow path between the fences that you will take, leading you down to the beach.

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• Kealia Beach- This beach is probably the one we spend the most time at, mainly for the consistent surf conditions and it offers a good variety of things you can do. We always bring our body/boogie boards, surf board and our snorkel gear because you can always do one of those on any given day. This beach is right off the road and is always bustling with many people, but it offers a long strip of beach so you can space out where your not on top of everyone. There is also a restroom and outside shower to rinse off after your done. Another plus is its along the Kauai bike path so you also have the opportunity to take a stroll if you wanted to. Since this beach offers so much, its our “go to” when we want to take a day and hang out on the water.

Beach Location – Just past Kapaa on the right hand side of the road if your coming from Lihue, you can’t miss it! Plus there is plenty of parking 🙂

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• Poipu Beach- This is a great beach for snorkeling and a great place for children to swim as there is a natural wading pool here. To the right of the wading pool is perfect for boogie-boarding and surfing out past the reef. Each time we have been here, there seems to always be a monk seal or two! Our con to this beach is that its always really crowded unless you go late in the evening or early morning. Great beach if you don’t mind the crowds. There are restrooms and outside showers available to use too.

Beach Location- South shore at Poipu Beach Park

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• Shipwrecks Beach- So this beach is not quite a snorkel beach, but its great for boogie/body boarding, and more advanced surfers. We don’t have much surfing experience so we don’t bring our surf boards with us as the shore break is short and there are a bunch of lava rocks we’d have to watch out for,  but we do bring our body boards and catch a few waves that way. Its also great for swimming and there is the widely known cliff to the left that many people jump off of into the deep blue, (please do research on that before going out or ask someone who has done it before). But we want to mention that this beach has a bunch of lava rocks in the shallow parts of the water so you have to be careful, we have both left here with our fare share of battle wounds 🙂 The waves and current here are also pretty rough at times so just be weary of your limits. In between swimming and body boarding, we love to just sit back and watch the surfers and the amazing body borders who show off there tricks! Parking can be a little tricky but if you don’t mind walking a few minutes you can park along side the road.

Beach Location- Located in front of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, parking is just beyond the hotels main entrance.

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• Polihale Beach – Longest beach in all of the Hawaiian islands! Beach is pretty secluded and odds are you will only see a handful of people on this beach. They do have some good camping right near the beach which is a big plus. Amenities include outdoor showers, restrooms and a couple pavilions. No lifeguard on this beach! In winter time there are massive waves with crazy rip tides so be sure to swim with caution. Great beach to just walk around on and hang out with friends. Great spot to watch the sunset. Also known for great fishing! Main issue with this beach is the road getting there is ROUGH and seems to go on forever.

Beach Location– As far west as you can drive on the highway, past Kekaha. Dirt road on the left that says Polihale State Park. Long bumpy dirt road but well worth the drive.

As you can see we love spending our spare time on the beach when we are not out hiking and exploring! We have also been to many more beaches on this island besides the ones we listed, but these seem to be the ones that draw us back  so we thought we’d share them with you.