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.

 

Hihimanu Ridge Trail, Kauai

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The view from the top!

“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” – Edmund Hillary

Hihimanu Ridge. This hike has been on our list since we first landed on Kauai, we have crossed off every other hike on our list (minus 2 at the moment), putting it on the back burner because of my fear of heights. When i first saw pictures of this trail and the view at the top, I knew without a doubt I HAD to do this trail, after all it was my idea to put it on our list to begin with. But every time Lucas brought it up, “Hey what about Hihimanu today?” I would find another trail and another excuse to keep putting it off. Finally I agreed it was time. What was I waiting for?

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Those two sharp peaks you see, we hiked that! 

Lucas has done the Okolehao Trail dozens of times through his work, its the first part of the Hihimanu Ridge Trail, but this trail was completely new to me, I was excited, nervous, but ready to overcome the fear that had been holding me back all this time. We loaded our packs, made sure we had plenty of water, and we were off!

The Okolehao Trail begins in Princeville off Hanalei River. Take Ohiki Road, a one-lane road skirting the taro fields at the north end of Hanalei bridge, and drive about  0.7 miles to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service parking area. Across the street is a small bridge marking the trailhead.

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The first lookout 
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Our view from the second lookout

The first part of the trail is typically one of the muddiest sections mainly because it sees the most wild pig activity and foot traffic. After the fist one-eighth of a mile you will ascend a few hundred feet in elevation (this section is VERY slippery and fairly steep). The first lookout point is off to your right near the power lines it gives you a good view of Hanalei Bay and the beginning of the Napali coastline. It would be a picturesque view if the power lines weren’t in the way of the picture. After stopping there for a brief minute to take it in and drink some water we continued the trek up the trail. After a few hundred more feet of elevation gain and a little less than a mile up we get to the first major lookout of the trail where the Aloha bench is. This is where MOST people stop it gives you a great aerial view of the Hanalei river and Hanalei Bay. The Hanalei river is great to paddle board or kayak and is very calm and typically quiet. Over half of the river is actually in the Hanalei wildlife refuge so the wildlife and fish are abundant! At this point you have about another mile before the trail starts getting sketchy.

As you continue along the trail you will come across your first few ropes that will help you descend and ascend, this will become the norm the rest of the trip. Keep trekking along and they become a bit trickier and you must become more and more reliant on the ropes as the trail goes on. Before you know it your at the hardest rope climb on the trail, a straight up mud wall (roughly 80 degree angle) where you HAVE to rely on the ropes to make it up, if i had to guess it was about 60ft or so to the top, I thought for sure after this ascend we were rounding the tip top and we would be there, but the trail continued. We knew we were almost to the top because the trail became narrower, the drop-offs on each side became more pronounced and the views kept becoming better and better. We finally reached a top platform where we could easily see the two peaks we had to climb, so close! Lucas continued on from here, as I was completely content with the first peak, I had overcome so much and as Lucas put it ” You punched your fear of heights in the face.” I was so overwhelmed with the view and the journey we just took getting here that I just sat in awe while he continued his trek of the final peaks.

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As he hiked ahead I got our binoculars out and watched him complete the hike. What an amazing accomplishment for both of us. The two peaks were not that bad, you just had to be careful of where you stepped as part of the trail was about a foot or so wide before it dropped off on both sides. My views were stunning but his at the end were down right incredible. A completely 360 view, a very rewarding hike! This hike has quickly become our favorite on the island, next time I will push myself all the way to the last peak 🙂

The Kalalau Trail

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

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The Kalalau Trail is listed as one of the worlds most dangerous hikes, of course just the sound of that makes my nerves cringe a little bit but of course for my husband he wants to mark every hike on that list off 🙂 When we both decided we wanted to tackle this hike back in January we each had our different reasons. His of course was primarily because its on the list of worlds most dangerous hikes, but also because its the only land access to Kalalau beach and along the Napali Coast. This hike for me was not about marking a dangerous hike off, it was about facing fears of heights, and knowing that I can do anything that I set my mind to. After purchasing our permits, there was no turing back. So for the following 3 months we researched, planned….packed….unpacked…. and repacked until we had exactly what we needed narrowed down.

March 19 finally rolled around and we were passed ready to experience this highly sought after trail for ourselves. Lucas was extremely excited, so was I, but I also had some nerves growing the last couple weeks leading up to this day. I had a backup plan if I ever HAD to turn around but the second we began the trail, I knew I would be just fine! We had woken up to a beautiful, flawless weather forecast for the two days we would be on the trail, and I knew without a doubt that was God’s way of telling me that “I got this!” Because if we had any chance of rain in the forecast the trail conditions would drastically change and become very dangerous, making the trail even more frightening and technical.

We began the trail at 7:00 am and quickly made it to Hanakapei Beach (2 miles in). We have done this part of the trail numerous times and easily crossed over the river and took a break along the beach for a few minutes. This part of the trail and beach are always extremely packed so one nice thing about leaving out so early is being able to enjoy the trail by yourself.

After we put our packs back on, we ventured up the hill to the next phase of the trail, beginning a new part of the path we have not yet explored. From here on out all the views and ridges were new to us so we took our time and paced along snapping photos and taking breaks when needed. The first few miles until you get to Hanakoa Camp (6 mile mark) are fairly easy, with the trail going up and down along the ridge as well as through the jungle. From mile 6 on it gets a little technical in some spots. Loose rocks, steep cliffs and of course “crawlers ledge”. For a few weeks leading up to the trip i did a lot of research on Crawlers ledge, probably watched way to many videos and kinda freaked myself out. I am not terrified of heights but am bothered by them a little bit so I wanted to be prepared. As we came up to mile 7 and were fixing to face crawlers ledge (actually a little past 7 miles) we quickly realized it wasn’t as bad as its made out to be. Sure its definitely a sheer drop off, and there is possibility of someone easily falling off if your not careful with your footing, but its no where near as sketchy as many make it out to be. I personally felt there were way worse parts of the trail where you could easily have slipped and fell, at least on crawlers ledge its solid rock instead of loose dirt and small rocks. Take it slow and watch where you put your feet, and of course if you want to look around make sure you stop first!

After mile 7 it felt like we were so close to being there, only 4 miles left and we would finally be able to enjoy the majestic Kalalau Beach, we were totally looking forward to jumping into the water! The shade along the trail began to get slimmer and slimmer and we were pretty much out in the open with the sun beaming down on us the rest of the way. As we neared “clay hill” we were greeted in the distance by the beautiful secluded beach we had traveled so far to see. Trying not to get barn fever as Lucas calls it, (where as you get closer to your destination you speed up unknowingly) we made our way closer and closer until we finally stepped foot on the sands! 7 hours of hiking and we made it! The feeling when you finally get there is unbelievable!

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We quickly found a spot to set up our camp and go check out the waterfall to cool off. Afterwards we headed to the beach to walk around and explore the caves! Such a neat place to be! Between the waterfall, caves, amazing beach and diversity of people, our experience will without a doubt be one for the books! We met some amazing people who each had there own reasons from making the trek. We met people from all over including a couple from Victoria Canada who were trail running along the way (totally impressive!), a super funny gentleman from Dubai who no matter what was going to find a way to not have to hike back out (he was hilarious and had such a fun personality!), and a super sweet couple from New Zealand which we hiked out with the next day just to find out they had no idea the trail was on the list of worlds most dangerous hikes, but they excelled on the trip and made it there and back no problem.

Our trip was one we will never forget. It was physically exhausting and mentally trying but the entire time we were surrounded by pure beauty. Every turn, every ridge (I believe there were 5) had its own unique setting, the further we went on trail the more beautiful the Napali Coast became, urging us to keep going, and we’re so glad we did because we will never forget it!

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More Waterfall Adventures…

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We have been on Kauai now a little over 2 months, being a small island you would think you’d run out of things to do and see but Kauai has proven to be quite the island for adventure. With its breathtaking beaches and the never ending list of hiking trails we have yet to run out of places to explore, which leads us to our most recent visits of two spectacular waterfalls!

Both growing up in the mountains of North Carolina we were spoiled with beautiful mountains and amazing waterfalls. Waterfalls have always been a love of both of ours so of course when we travel we are drawn to seek them out wherever we go! Kauai definitely has its fair share of waterfalls and you can bet that we will try to mark off as many as we can before our time on the island ends.

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The last couple weeks we had been scoping out the best kayak rental companies on the island so we can explore Wailua river and hike to “Secret Falls”, seems as everywhere we turned we were hearing about how stunning these falls were so we had to see what everyone was raging about, but the more we priced around the thought of spending $80-$100 on a kayak rental/tour to these falls the more we kept putting it off asking ourselves would it be worth that? So being the thrifters that we are, we started a plan B! We starting looking at thrift stores, craigslist and Facebook yard sale sites to find a couple kayaks that we could buy, use and resell, hoping to at least break even after it was all said and done. Well a deal finally slapped us in the face as we got a call about a 2 person kayak for $50! Of course we nabbed it up, the only thing we had to get now were a couple paddles which set us back another $5o, but having $100 into a 2 person kayak that we could use for the next few months and easily break even on after we were done was a no brainer win-win!

So now that we had our kayak, we set off to finally explore Uluwehi falls (Secret Falls). We put in near Wailua Beach and starting paddling up river, it was the absolute perfect day to be outside and we thoroughly enjoyed our trek up the quiet river. There comes a point in the river where you need to make a right turn, this will take you further upstream it becomes more narrow as you keep going, leading to a small beach area where you pull your boat up onto firm ground, you will easily spot the trail as its pretty well traveled with plenty of trail signs. The hiking portion is only about 20 min hike and can be slippery at times. Be prepared to get muddy! You will cross through a few streams, hike along the banks into the beautiful tropical forests and eventually be greeted by the amazing falls. It truly was a sight to see! Overall between the kayaking and the hiking (with about an hour at the falls) we spent a total of 4-5 hours on the adventure.

Another quick waterfall hike we did the following day were to the Ho’opi’i Falls. They are easily accessible just requires a short 20 min hike or so to the first falls. When doing research before heading out, many people found it tricky to find but luckily we had fantastic directions that we found on a trip advisor review and were able to find it no problem. I even talked my self into jumping off the rocks into this one (only about 15 ft or so) If you have desire to hike to the second falls (which we did) follow the lower trail that goes along the river pretty cool falls but In our opinion the first falls was our favorite out of the two.