The Not So Little Sa Pa

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After Spending 9 hours on a motorbike to get from Moc Chau to Sa Pa we were ready to settle down and spend some good quality time in one place to let our butts rest! As we drove into Sa Pa ready to get a goods night rest we realized just how large Sa Pa really was. Our first impression of the city from the short drive to our hotel was that tourism has really hit Sa Pa hard! So much construction has completely taken over the city, every corner you turn to there is new buildings going up, sidewalks being reworked, remodels of old hotels & restaurants and so much dirt and debris filling the air and streets. We stayed one night in the city and decided that it was too much for us so we found a homestay about 15km from the city where we could escape the hustle and bustle of the growing center.

Our homestay (Stunning View Homestay) was nestled in the semi quiet area across from Ta Van Village. (It was right off the road which was convenient but a little noisy) For the price we could not beat it as it was $7 USD for a private room with breakfast for both of us included (with coffee too!) One thing to note, we witnessed the housekeeping not changing sheets in between guests. When one guest checked out they simply dusted off the bed folded the blanket and invited the next guests in. After that we used our own sheets and blankets that we brought as we couldn’t trust how many people have slept on the same sheets without being changed in between. They are a newly opened homestay, so of course we mentioned to them some things they could change, which they appreciated.

The best thing about the homestay were the people we met and the food that was cooked.  We finally after a month on the road in Vietnam, met some ladies from America (Lexi from Washington & Jen from Oregon) and a sweet couple from England (Emily and Fin) whom we roamed about with during our 5 days in the village. We had a very eventful few days, exploring around the villages, visiting Silver Falls, walking around Sa Pa trying to find the best deals on outdoor gear for everyone, and eating our fair share of wonderful food and coffee.

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We took some time yesterday and stopped for an oil change and a carb clean on the motorbike before settling in for the night ( the shop was right down the road from our homestay) The gentleman was so kind and young, him and Lucas instantly connected and chatted away via google translate. As he finished up our oil change and carb clean he kindly invited us to join him and his family for a home cooked dinner, so of course we accepted. We sat around the table eating a delicious home cooked vietnamese meal laughing the night away with this sweet young couple and there 4 year old son.

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Today we went out for one last trek around the villages and had three young girls help us along the path to our destination, surprisingly they spoke english fairly well they made us crowns out of ferns and horses out of stems from the ferns. They were so sweet and very talented!

Our time in Sapa has come to an end today after 6 total days. We will surely miss our new friends but will forever remember our wonderful adventure in Sa Pa.

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Off on Another Adventure

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Arriving in Hanoi, it had been 17 days since we landed in Vietnam. When we first arrived in Ho Chi Minh we purchased open bus tickets to get us up to Hanoi, and now that we had used all of our tickets, it was time to plan the next phase of our trip here.

We had been doing some research for the last few weeks and kept tossing the idea of purchasing a motorbike in Northern Vietnam to get us around instead of hopping on the bus. Sleeper buses are nice and all but the routes in North Vietnam are very mountainous and pretty sketchy when traveling at night (most buses are night buses) so traveling via bus just did not appeal to either one of us as it was too much risk. So we searched for a hours and low and behold we are now owners of a Honda Win that we purchased for $175 USD. That same day we packed our bags, loaded our route on Google maps and made our first leg of the trip to Mai Chau.

3 hours into our ride as we were enjoying the wind in our hair and the wonderful scenery we were waved down by a man and his sister who were heading in our direction. Something was not right with our back tire, we felt something was off and stopped a few times to check it out but nothing caught our eye. This time when we pulled off, the man (named CJ) helped us communicate with the motorbike shop to check out what was wrong and help us fix it. So thankful he was able to translate for us.  Turns out the wheel needed to be re-spoked, so we sat and talked with CJ while the work was being done. Turns outs he and his sister were heading to Moc Chau, just a hour or so above our destination in Mai Chau. They kindly waited for our bike to get done so that we could make the forward drive together as it was getting dark (safer to drive in groups especially at night) They offered us oreos, milk and some great conversation making the time that we waited go by really quick. So 150,000 VND later ($7) and a newly spoked rim we were on our way to Mai Chau.

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Our first day in Mai Chau we ventured off and hiked 1200 steps to see the beautiful Chieu Cave, its amazing how much of a temperature change there was from outside the cave to the inside. After walking up and down that many steps we were completely worn out the rest of the day so we caught up on laundry, played some pool, and walked around the village we were staying in. We had planned to stay in Mai Chau longer but we hit the road the next day to meet up with our new friends CJ and Na Pham in Moc Chau for some camping and trekking.

On our way to Moc Chau, we had another issue from the same wheel/tire, this time it was flat! We limped the bike back downhill to the closest motorbike shop, and while we were waiting for that to get replaced Lucas played some soccer with the local kids who were waiting for school to start, and I helped the others with some english words which they were so eager to learn.

We yet again hit the road this time ready to put some miles in between us and Mai Chau but again were faced with another issue with the motorbike. Not even 15 minutes after we left the motorbike shop with a new tire, the bike lost power going up hill! We pulled over to find that oil was leaking out from the top of the motor (crankcase vent tube) We thought for sure our bike was toast and that we’d be hitch hiking our way back down to Hanoi but when we called our friend CJ to let him know we’d be late, he came to our rescue once more, he made the drive to us (about an hour round trip) and helped us translate once again to the shop what we needed and was there for us for any assistance.  A new head gasket was put in and we were on our way, we can not thank CJ enough for all his assistance the last few days with our bike, it made it so much easier to have him there and to help us translate as we would have been surely taken advantage of as most foreigners are but CJ made sure that we were taken care of, a true friend and a genuine good man.

Finally making it to Moc Chau after a full morning of mishaps, we were ready to take a break and spend time with our new friends. We had plans to camp in Pine Forest the first night which was such an amazing time. We drove out to the forest, set up our tents and hammocks, cooked dinner over the campfire and sat talking the night away. What a wonderful break from hotels and hostels!

We woke up from camping really early (5am) packed up everything and had big plans for the day to visit Pha Luong Mountain, which was from the pictures had an amazing lookout at the peak, and the scenery would be to die for! It is a natural boundary between Vietnam and Laos so you need to do paperwork at the station to be able to make the trek. But what we didn’t know is that since we are foreigners they do not allow you to go up there, unless you have the right paperwork, and that could take you up to 2 months! Sadly we were not prepared this time, we didn’t realize it was so hard to get the correct paperwork and the time it took to do so. The roads throughout the villages going towards the station were pretty rough especially on a motorbike I believe it took about an hour to go 2km. Sadly we had to turn around at the top but the drive out there was breathtaking and so much fun! When we came back down, we stopped by two waterfalls (Chieng Khoa & Ban Yem waterfall).

As we made our way to the hostel for the night, we all decided that our last night in Moc Chau we wanted to go camping again, we had such a wonderful time the first go around so why not at the beautiful waterfall we had just seen a few hours before! On our way back to the waterfall to set up camp the next day, we took a detour and visited a small village outside of Moc Chau. Even one of the buffalo were so surprised to see us, he kept starring at us and making these odd looking faces, it was hysterical!  It was a perfect end to a wonderful trip to Moc Chau. We had such a great time with our new friends, we will definitely miss them and all our CRAZY adventures 🙂

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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!