Day 40. Fri 6/17
Kuala Lumpur ▶Siem Reap
Market browsing, Foot scrub, Massage, Blue Pumpkin, SLEEP
Foot scrub and massage
Taro ice cream
- Sausage Egg McMuffin and a hash brown from McD’s. Greasy 👌
Day 40. Fri 6/17
Kuala Lumpur ▶Siem Reap
Market browsing, Foot scrub, Massage, Blue Pumpkin, SLEEP
Foot scrub and massage
Taro ice cream
Day 39. Thurs 6/16
Ho Chi Minh City ▶Kuala Lumpur
Ben Thanh market, airport, street food, Skybar
And then there were five again. Josh, we miss you, but we know you’re going to have an above average time in Vegas at EDC ✌
Got a slower start this morning but before we hustled to the airport I got another pass through Ben Thanh market (more RayBans!) and grabbed breakfast from a cute little French cafe. I’ve been using data from a SIMcard while in Vietnam, but even without my phone navigation I’ve really gotten the hang of HCMC in the area near Thai’s place – this is a little tougher than it sounds because there isn’t any sort of grid system here for traffic. The streets are packed with food vendors, motorbikes and shops though, so I think that helps with landmarks, which is usually how I remember directions anyways instead of street names.
I knew that playing our Blood in the Streets anthem yesterday would being us good juju, and it came in the form of a Domino’s pizza stand at the airport and an almost empty airport check-in table. Nice!
We apparently hadn’t gotten enough of our taste of home because once we got to the Kuala Lumpur airport our eyes lit up and wallets emptied at the Garrett’s popcorn stand. I don’t even like thr Chicago mix, but it sounded good. Regretted how much we got about 4 handfuls in.
The Malaysian airport architecture reminded me of the Singapore airport because it was newer and had a modern design. It is also weird to be back in such a large city airport after almost a month, and we found not only multiple food stands that were familiar from the states, but also a full grocery store and a plethora of Ubers outside the gates. We grabbed one for the hourlong ride in to the city and chatted about what we should see with our 18-hour layover.
We three girls checked in and had a bunk-mate from Uganda that we chatted with. She had been travelling for 3 months and just returned from a 10.5 day meditation retreat 4 hours outside the city called Vipassana. My interest was peaked. Then we met a girl from Texas working at the hostel who gave us a few recommendations for street food to try and we set out – although none of us were too hungry after Domino’s. She told is that the market right below us was special and happening only until 7ish because locals were coming to buy food for after sunset to end their daily Ramadan fasting. We hustled downstairs and spent our ringgits on a number of foods, good (G) and some not-so-good (NSG), and watches.
After the market I took a little bit of time tt check out a mall across the street from our hostel. The only stores I recognized were H&M, Starbucks and Birkenstocks (first time I’ve ever seen a store).
Our friend at the hostel recommended we also try some street food at another market down the street so an hour after our first dinner we went to grab some more.
Day 38. Wed 6/15
Nha Trang▶Ho Chi Minh City
War Remnants Museum, Thai’s place, Tib, Glow
We had an awesome view of the sunrise as we drove along the coast of Nha Trang to the airport this morning. It solidified that buying a plane ticket to HCMC was a better option than the night train. Our flight was quick and easy and we swung by Hillary’s hotel and made it to Thai’s by 9am.
Hillary was scheduled to tour Tin Thanh’s facilities in the industrial district in the afternoon so we decided to visit the War Remnants Museum in the morning. It was a lot to process, and the photos were really powerful. A few of the exhibits really stuck with me.
It started to pour as we finished up at the museum and made for a perfect afternoon nap back at Thai’s. When we surfaced, a couple of us went to check out Ben Thanh market again and then get ready for dinner, a process that included showering and White Tiger beers (not at the same time), a new brew from one of Thai’s friends.
Thai treated us to a traditional Hue dinner at Tib’s family’s restaurant. We were spoiled with an array of beautiful and delicious dishes, and Thai explained the importance of different details and showed us how to eat them. My favorite was the soft shell crab but there wasn’t anything I didn’t like. I only got a picture of the crab and our dessert, but it was a meal I won’t soon forget. 🍴🍴🍴
After dinner we did a little pregaming and got to spend more time with Thai, who I’ve determined is the most interesting person I know. Also, he and Tib are a power couple that I’d say rank among the likes of John Legend and Chrissy Teigen. And Addison’s adorable (as are her stuffed animals) 😇 I couldn’t thank Thai enough for his hospitality (and laundry machine and air con and liquor cart) and he was absolutely the best part about Vietnam. We kept him up late even though he was jetlagged so around 10pm we played Blood in the Streets (Some People Say, check it out), said goodnight to Uncle Thai and headed to Glow, a rooftop bar that apparently has a dress code. Max swapped his flip flops for converse (mixed reviews) and we enjoyed some drinks/shots/absinthe with a cool view of the Saigon skyline.
War Remnants Gallery
Day 37. Tues 6/14
Sailing Club, Beach, Kids Play Zone, Mojzo Inn
After a good night’s sleep, I woke up still thinking about how good my chicken sandwich from the Sailing Club was last night. Kaija and Max had booked a diving trip this morning so they were gone, but the rest of us four wanted to spend a day at the beach so we thought the Sailing Club lunch was a good place to start. I tried buffalo (loved it) and Josh ordered two entrees (what else is new).
We were still at the Sailing Club when Kaija and Max returned so we got to hear about how awesome their dives were. The rest of us had decided not to go because the dive master mentioned a low visibility and potential bad weather – which had taken away from our diving in Koh Tao earlier. So of course the weather was gorgeous and they had a great time. I’m happy for them, but dang it! They got to see an inflated blow fish!
Hillary’s little caravan left for Ho Chi Minh City just after noon but the rest of us had declined the ride so that we could spend more time on the beach and avoid paying for a hostel by taking a night train. However, we realized that an early morning 1 hour flight was only $17 (the night train was $35+) and we ended up booking beds at Mojzo Inn just a five minute walk away. They had a free beer hour at 5pm so we figured we would just hang out at the beach until then to check in.
We soaked up the sun for a while and then got antsy. I had a noticed an area down the beach with inflatable structures and a trampoline. Josh, Mike, and I went to check it out and decided it was worth the $3 for something to do.
There were children playing on the trampoline so we made our way to the bigger structures in the deeper water. Mike and Josh pretty quickly scaled two of the floaties while I struggled to find a path up mine that didn’t have crucial hand/foot pieces torn or completely missing. Josh jumped off his first (pretty tall) inflatable into extremely shallow water and that should have been our first warning that nothing good would come from this adults playing on children’s toys. But we didn’t take the hint (20/20 hindsight) and continued to scale the structures and then slide down them – not fun – until the coveted trampoline opened up.
The tramp was connected by 2 ropes to an inflated rectangle landing strip, and we assumed that one person would sit on the end of the strip and the other would jump from the tramp onto the end of the strip, sending the other one flying (i.e. Jackass 3?). The hard part was getting to the strip. Josh held the rope to bring the strip closer (there was a small space between the two floaties) and Mike jumped from the trampoline and slid down the side of the strip into the water. The forward force sliced Josh’s fingernail as the rope slid through his grip 😫 I think that counted as strike 2. I decided to jump on to the landing strip much slower by sliding gently from the trampoline. A little too gently actually – I didn’t get on to the strip completely and then started sliding backward, about to fall through the space between the tramp and the strip. I panicked and tried to fall sideways but my feet had already gone in between while my top half went off the side. So I ended up draped over the rope and got a gnarly rope burn while trying to wiggle my way out. It all happened so fast and when I finally fell in the water the salt stung my fresh burn. We finally took the hint and evacuated with a burnt hip, ripped fingernail and torn dignity, heading back down the beach past all the parents and children who continued to play on the inflatables. Child endangerment much? I now understand my mother’s concern and refusal to let me or Kellen play on similar playgrounds when we were younger. I guess I had to learn my lesson the hard way at age 23. I wonder when Kellen will learn his…
The Mojzo Hostel turned out to be pretty awesome. We got our own room because they weren’t fully booked, the air con worked, the ladies at the front were extremely helpful with our travel arrangements for early in the morning and other recommendations, and we made it in time for free beer.
I took some time to run a few errands before dinner (read: buy shampoo and get pedicure) and then we took a cab to a street market the front desk ladies recommended. We got dropped off in an area that was completely dark and mostly deserted, with people cleaning up and creating big piles of stinky trash. We decided to take a detour to KFC. Which was out of chicken (???) so then we detoured to Baskin Robbins. Which had a buy one get one free. We win.
Day 36. Mon 6/13
Mud & Hot Spring Spa, Vinpearl Island, Sailing Club
Took a bath today in a pool of mud with 7 other people. I wouldn’t say it was the most fun thing ever (ya just kinda sit there) and it was kind of expensive (over $50), but my skin felt amazingg afterward. That’s not something I’ve been able to say for about 5 weeks 😊
After the mud bath, we went through a series of other baths, this time alternating between regular water, mineral water and then regular water again. All of the baths felt like hot tubs, and it didn’t help that it was also extremely warm and humid (as usual here) outside too. But we made it through the different levels of the baths, ran through a shower, and then proceeded to the swimming pool and waterfalls. The water pressure as it fell from the rocks felt so good, like a massage on my head and back. The pool was just as hot as the other water, which was weird but made it feel even better once you got out because then you got to cool off more. Even the “cool pool” was probably over 85 degrees! And then there were a bunch of Russians chilling (lol) in the jacuzzi hot tub… I really don’t know how they weren’t all melted into little human puddles 🤔
After a couple hours at the mud baths we were totally starving. Last night, Thanh had given us a recommendation to try nen nuong, a pork sausage dish and Trang found an amazing restaurant that served just that (and only that!). To eat it the way it was intended, you have to take rice paper and roll up a sausage, a crunchy fried thing (v technical, I know), greens, and some mango and cucumber slices. The pork was also delicious by itself with a little sweet chili sauce. Yummm.
We went back to the hotel and split up into a two groups. Max, Kaija and Josh headed to the beach while the rest of us decided to check out Vinpearl Island off the coast of Phong Nha with Trang and Po. We went late in the day when the waterpark section was closed because tickets were cheaper and got to take a cable car across the water as the sun set over the hills. The lift is over 3000 meters long and almost completely over the water of Nha Trang Bay. It was really pretty and the island didn’t seem too busy as we got closer. I would say the rides there were like a teenage version of Adventureland (so not too thrilling) but what we really wanted to try was the alpine coaster down the mountain. We had to hike a little away from the entrance and we realized once we got in line that the rest of the park seemed empty because everyone was in line for the coaster! It took almost two hours to reach the front, so we opted for individual cars to make sure we all went the speeds we were comfortable with. That and we’re huge compared to a lot of the population, so I’m not sure we could have comfortably fit two people in that little car anyway. Cue fat guy in a little car 🎶
The view from the top was cool, and you could see the cable cars lit up across the water, but the car in front of me wanted to go kind of slow, which was annoying. Instead of racing down the track I took in the views (and the nice breeze) and Hillary only rammed into me once 🤕😜
After the alpine coaster we rode a couple more rides with Po – Trang was not a huge fan – and then saw that the cable car line was growing fast. We hopped in and got pushed around by some older Vietnamese women (no sense of personal space here, I swear) and eventually got loaded onto a car after about 30 minutes.
We hadn’t had too eventful of an afternoon but by the time we got back to the mainland we were starving and settled for lunch at the Sailing Club just down the street from our hotel. I got a chicken sandwich, Hillary got curry, and Mike got a wrap; all were so delicious that I knew we’d be back for more before leaving Nha Trang.
Day 35. Sun 6/12
Hoi An▶Nha Trang
Clothes pick up, travel day
After a tough decision, we decided that the whole group would head to Nha Trang today. Originally Mike, Josh and I were going to catch a flight back to Ha Long Bay to take a cruise around the islands there and visit Catba Island, but we decided the hassle of traveling and trying to meet up with a tour group (who was coming from a different location) wouldn’t be worth the time and money when we could find things to do in Nha Trang too. Instead I put Ha Long Bay on my ever-growing list of places to go when I’m back in Vietnam next.
Before we set off on our 9 hour drive we made a stop in Hoi An at Tony’s one last time to finalize our clothes fittings and fork over some cash. We left with 2 huge boxes of clothes that were completely wrapped in packing tape – the postman had the packages all ready to ship and then informed us that it would be 350 bucks to ship them home. So we said “nah”, paid for the boxes, and starting planning on how to have Josh use his 2 free checked bags to take them home next week.
Hillary’s connections in Nam hooked us up with a 10-passenger van to take to Nha Trang, which was awesome because we had such hard luck with the trains and buses previously.
We left around noon from Hoi An and didn’t get to Nha Trang until about 10pm. During the car ride we mostly just tried to catch up on sleep, but it was still a pretty eventful day. Within the first hour we almost experienced our first motorbike accident – our driver slammed on the brakes, laid on the horn and dodged the bike and the huge crate of ducks (the Aflac kind) the bike was carrying. Our driver got out and helped the man up, and he seemed fine but the ducks were a little riled up. I hope that guy stops and looks both ways before pulling on to the highway in the future – it could have been really bad if our driver didn’t react in time 🙈
Our driver stayed alert by singing to some dance-y Vietnamese music (imagine the background music on a Kidz Bop track), intermittently honking his horn (just like everyone else here I guess) and chugging Redbull (and then tossing it out the open window). He also stopped to ask for directions about ten times as we looked for a place to eat lunch and then again as we neared the city.
I think Trang and Po wanted to give us an authentic lunch off the highway, but the first place we stopped was a little sketchy. Kaija and I had to pee so we snaked around the side of the restaurant and past a pig pen (with piglets!) to the nastiest bathroom we’ve encountered on this trip. We got back and decided to stop elsewhere, which ended up being better but still a little too authentic for my taste.
As night fell we worked on a crossword puzzle together and talked about some of the things we were excited to see in Nha Trang. And did some more sleeping. As we got closer to the city, we drove on a long stretch of highway with a ton of motorbikes – talk about a scooter gang – and then entered what was the largest city we had seen since Hanoi weeks ago. We hit up the Why Not bar for a late dinner because it was the only thing open (and why not?) and ran in to Thanh Nguyen, another Iowa Stater! What are the chances…
We checked in to an extremely average hotel, which when then checked out of and moved down the street to an apartment building/hotel the next morning. Although the hallways were an extremely inefficient use of space (pet peeve), the room was definitely an upgrade, and had a cool view of the city and beach of Nha Trang. I can’t wait to get my toes in that sand!
Day 34. Sat 6/11
Hillary arrives! White roses, Marble Mountain, Da Nang dinner, DEC
We are once again a group of 6! Hillary joined us this morning from her Euro trip, and with her she brought a little entourage, including a translatorand, photographer and driver. We are happy to have Hillary here even without these helpful people, but even happier because that means no more taking sketchy cabs! Well, at least until after Vietnam. Also, in other good news, Hillary didn’t mention anything about my black eye, so I think it’s finally healed. And the cough is still lingering, but definitely getting better.
We spent some time at the pool, which overlooks the Montgomerie Links golf course (s/o to airbnbs), before heading back in to Hoi An for our second clothes fitting at Tony’s. It seems like we always take a lot longer there than we plan, but there are six of us and only three – sometimes two – of them. The fitting went super well today, and they made a lot of changes that made me feel way better about how things were going to turn out. And I added a pair of sandals to my order.
After we finished we were pretty hungry, and after our failed attempt at last night’s dinner to try some of Hoi An’s specialty dishes we searched for a little place the women at Tony’s recommended to us, called Bo Bo’s Cafe. A little bit of a walk but sooo worth it. We were the only ones there so when we walked in she turned on the fans and pushed some together for us. Shop owners here end to do that – when there first customers arrive they turn on the AC, fans, lights, whatever. Otherwise they’re left off, I assume for cost savings. Unfortunately they also do this at some hostels and hostels – so when you arrive it takes a little while to cool down, which isn’t great if you arrive super late at night or have to climb a couple of flights of stairs first.
I ordered white rose – a shrimp dumpling made with a translucent white dough and bunched up to look like a flower – and also tried some of the pork and veggie wontons – they were essentially wonton chips with the toppings on top, kind of like nachos. Both were delicious! I’m really glad we gave it another try. When we went to pay I asked if we could use a credit card and the waitress (probably also the owner and cook) apologized profusely and said if we didn’t have enough cash we could come back and pay tomorrow if we wanted. We had plenty of cash so we paid then, but it was cool to say that we ate at truly a family-owned place with authentic Vietnamese food. And loved it ❤
Hillary, Mike, Josh and I decided to go check out Marble Mountain after we got back and ended up getting there just in time before the ticket office closed. We went up in an elevator and had a cool view with a sunset as we wandered around the caves and pagodas. And for the second time, a group of Vietnamese tourists asked Mike to take a picture with them. The first time this happened was in Paradise Cave, where they huddled around both Josh and Mike. They were speaking a different language but we could make out the words “basketball” and “NBA” 😂😂😂
We wrapped up our trip pretty quickly once we heard thunder and saw some storm clouds rolling in. Trang and Po, Hillary’s hosts, took us to a scrappy looking restaurant along the beach and we were pretty uncertain about things once we arrived and saw that half the floor was full of buckets of love seafood. We saw lobster, crab, fish, prawns, and other things I didn’t recognize. Instead of ordering individual dishes we had Trang pick out a few things for all of us to try.
We started our meal out with hard-boiled quail eggs (just like chicken eggs, but smaller) and then were brought a plate of fried squid, which I liked way more than I thought I would! Fun fact: you can eat the entire squid except this long strand (that looks like a string of plastic) that’s in the center of the body.
Next we were served clams, which I tried in Australia and liked, but didn’t enjoy so much here because there wasn’t much flavor. We also got king prawns – usually it freaks me out when they still have the eyes and legs but I dug right in after such a good experience with the squid. We finished the meal with snail, which Po had to teach us how to eat with a toothpick, and once again I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it!
After dinner we went to check out DEC, Da Nang Electric Carnival, that was just up the street on the beach. Once we calculated that tickets were $16 we thought we’d give it a chance. And once we found out beers were about $1.15 each we decided we could stick around a little while before heading home. About 11 o’clock Head Hunterz came on so we ended up staying until around midnight. When we got home Max couldn’t believe we spent our money and time on the festival. “Nothing like going to Vietnam to see a European DJ play.” I think he was just jealous.
Day 33. Fri 6/10
Pool transition, more clothes fittings
We thought we had it good at the last airbnb (and we did!) but as we rode up to our next place it was even nicer and on a golf course. We did have the nice beach at the Ocean Villas but Montgomerie Links had a pool that was deeper than 1 meter, 3 security guards (that all stopped us as we checked in with our motorbikes and backpacks) and really really nice beds (important).
We had some quality pool time at the Ocean Villas before we had to move and then we took a couple hours more in the new pool. Around 3 we headed back into town for our first fittings at Tony’s and to do a little shopping. Mixed between the tailor shops are also leather shops and we girls had our eyes on some purses and the guys were checking out some wallets and messenger bags (and balloons lbh).
We got to Tony’s and almost couldn’t believe after how much we ordered, everything was ready in a little over 24 hours and fit decently well. The guys suits only needed a little altering but Kaija and I had to adjust the legs and butt of our jumpsuits and pants a little more. I’m guessing it’s a lot easier for them to crank out men’s suits than women’s clothing because they took a lot more measurements of us and girls have more specific preferences about how they want things to fit. It made me a little nervous how many things I wanted to be tweaked, but it was too late to turn back. Keeping my fingers crossed that tomorrow’s fitting goes better 😬
Starved from skipping lunch, Mike Josh and I ordered food from what looked like an authentic Vietnamese place, and turned out just to be kind of disgusting. We ended up canceling one of the main dishes we ordered and just heading back home to order food from the resort. The calamari was a much better decision. I love how much seafood is on the menu here ❤
After dinner we went after some more of our precious Bundy and a little rum over a couple games of Irish poker. Pretty good end to the night 🌃
Days 31 & 32. Wed 6/08 & Thurs 6/09
Clothes fitting, beach time, movie night
In every major city we have visited in Vietnam there are constantly people burning trash outside their shops just in the middle of the sidewalk. Hoi was the first city where there were little metal tins that the fire was contained inside (safe??) but the scent of the fires were also noticeably worse. Cities here also lack trash bins – maybe this is their alternative? Maybe we’re supposed to throw trash in the burning piles? Who knows.
Hoi An and Da Nang two cities about half hour apart and along a highway that runs along the beach. We were excited to see Hoi An but also wanted some beach time so we opted for a little villa in between the cities and (surprise surprise) rented motorbikes to travel into town for the next three days. While we were in town we looked around a few shops (most were tailors where you can have custom clothes and shoes made for a reasonable price) and decided to come back the next day after doing some research on which tailors were the best.
Since our villa had a full kitchen we thought it would be kind of fun to get some groceries and cook dinner and lunch ourselves. However, we had a hard time finding groceries since most places were tiny little family-owned marts without clear signage. A local that spoke some English got our attention and led us to the mart that she apparently shops at – we racked up about a bill of over million dong (~$50USD) and she happily swiped her rewards card as we were paying. Then she tried to convince us to come buy marble souvenirs at her shop. No thanks 👋👋👋
After buying groceries we were so hungry that we decided to try out the resort’s restaurant (go figure) and it did not disappoint. It was o good that Mike Josh and I went back the next night and convinced Kaija and Max to join as well 🤑
The next day we headed into town – this time we only rented 3 bikes and Kaija and I rode on the backs – to Tony the Tailor, the top rated shop on Trip Advisor for clothing. We spent a good three and a half hours there flipping through magazines, picking out fabrics, and being measured. I wish I would have gone in with a specific idea in mind, because it is extremely hard to choose when you have literally every option you can imagine. Somehow, after much thought and deliberation, I decided on a suit, pair of pants and a jumpsuit.
On our way out of town back to the Ocean Villa we stopped for waters and found that the convenience store sold Bundy, one of our favorite drinks from Australia! We stocked up 😄
The fittings took way longer than we anticipated so we went home and were really excited to eat again. Then we spent a little time relaxing by the beach and pool before ordering dinner to our villa and settling in to watch a movie. I also booked myself a foot scrub at the resort spa and took a little me time. It’s nice to have an emptier to do list for the next few days so we can enjoy the good weather – finally! Also, I highly recommend the movie Predestination.
We only had one hiccup tonight and that was just before we started the movie. As we were picking up from dinner Kaija noticed a huge spider on the wall. Like, biggest I’ve ever seen in my life. We all freaked out and then Josh killed it but it left us all wondering how many other creatures were living in our apartment… and pretty glad we were transferring to a different airbnb the next day.