A Piece of Pai, Northern Thailand

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Flying from Hanoi, Vietnam to Bangkok, Thailand we had a bit of a bumpy flight as I experienced my first mild turbulence. The last half hour before landing in Thailand I gripped the seat tightly not letting go for anything. During the landing I let out a big yelp as it felt we were landed wrong, but we made it! Later that day we had a second flight  from Bangkok to Chiang Mai which was a breeze! It felt so nice to finally be done with flying for a few weeks!

We landed in Thailand 9 days ago (can’t believe its already been that long!) and we are ready to take on ALL the adventures the country has to offer. First up is Pai, Thailand!

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After spending a few days in Chiang Mai and meeting back up with some friends we had made in Vietnam (Fin and Emily from England). We all hopped on a mini bus to the highly talked about town of Pai. The seats cost us 150 baht each (around $5 usd) and it took the curves much nicer than a big commercial bus, plus it got us there a lot faster too. When we arrived, the small town welcomed us with…. A BIG RAIN STORM! Quickly reminding us that we have landed with rainy season upon us, but of course we did not let that ruin our day!

As the rain let up a bit we walked down the street from the bus station, settled into our cute hostel/hotel (Hommy Camping Room) and began walking around town scouting out some eateries. We found a nice small local shop, ordered some curry and Pad Thai and chatted the rest of the day away. This was our first real Thai food that we had ordered since arriving in Thailand, and boy was it amazing!! After spending 5 weeks in Vietnam, the thought of Thai food made our mouths water, we sure were ready for some new dishes to try. For just 40 baht each (around $1.21 usd) our taste buds were thanking us!

Our second day in Pai, we woke up, enjoyed a nice cup of coffee and complimentary breakfast from our hotel. Our plan was to rent a motorbike for the day and visit Lod Cave and Sai Ngam Hot Springs. Lod cave was a bit of a drive from Pai, about an hour one way so we headed there first. Lucas, Emily and Fin all went into the cave, but I sat out as my fear of caves got the best of me. There are entrance fees to go into the caves (three caves total) You can just go into the first cave with a guide for 150 baht for up to 3 people. If you want to do the first and second caves with the guide it is 200 baht for up to 3 people. And lastly if you desire to do all 3 caves with a ride on the bamboo raft coming out of the caves it is 450 baht for up to 3 people.

 

 

On the way back down from the cave we took a pit stop at Sai Ngam Hot Springs. Again an entrance fee is needed to go to the Hot Springs. When you first turn on the road you will be stopped and asked to pay 20 baht for each foreigner and 20 baht per motorbike to enter into the Park, when you arrive at the hot springs further down the road you will then be asked again to pay another 20 baht to actually get in the hot springs. So for 40 baht each person, plus the motorbike fee its a nice cheap way to spend some time relaxing together.

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Pai has tons of activities to do, so instead of spending just a couple days like we had initially planned, we ended up staying a total of one week 🙂 Our favorite thing to do was to take the scooters out and to go up and down the backroads finding villages and sights we would not normally see in walking distance of the town. We spent two days just driving around the outskirts of the town taking in all the beautiful scenery.

Another thing great about the town of Pai is the waterfalls! There are multiple waterfalls to keep you busy although some do have admission fees. We hiked to a beautiful waterfall called Hua Chang (Free). The road getting here was absolutely beautiful and the 1 hour hike after parking the scooters was unforgettable! Don’t miss out on Pam Bok waterfall, it is also Free and is just a short 5 min hike or so once you park.

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A couple other main attractions are Pai canyon and the “Land Split”. The canyon was free  and had great views of the mountains. The “Land Split” on the other hand was a great find not because the big crack that was caused by seismic activity but because of the fresh fruit, tea, wine, and other snacks that were brought out by the owners of the land! It was on a donation basis and throughly enjoyed it, especially the Roselle tea!!!

We had planned to go the other Hot spring in Pai called Tha Pai Hot Springs, but when we arrived we quickly turned away after seeing the price for foreigners to enter, a whopping 300 baht per person ($9 usd)! Thai locals can get in for just 50 baht but the huge price seemed outrageous so we decided to spend our money elsewhere.

On our way back we stopped by Thom’s Elephant Camp and fed the elephants that were outside. Our first time being so close to an Elephant we were in awe of how huge, strong and beautiful they were!

Since we started planning the Thailand portion of our trip months ago we were dying to get a Thai massage which we did later that day. The four of us were walking around main street in Pai when we noticed a little massage place offering a one hour massage for only 150 baht (about $5 usd)! They happened to have four beds available at that time so we all opted for the traditional thai massage which was excellent and very relaxing.

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Our time in Pai has gone by so quickly, we would definitely recommend a trip over here if you are planning to go to Thailand. There are several foreigners and there is a huge night life/party scene if you are into that sort of thing. Most locals seem to know some english which is nice! The population of Pai is only approximately 4,000 with a big percentage being Expats (foreigners residing in an area). The town has so many creative shops, amazing food and cafes, and a great street market each night. I am sure your time in Pai will be wonderful as was ours!

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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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 BĂșn thit nuĂłng (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!

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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