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.
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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. 🍴🍴🍴
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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.
Mojzo’s free banh mi breakfast on the road to the airport
Pizza Hut chyea
The most amazing meal of the trip by far at Tib’s family restaurant
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.
Buffalo steak with a carrot puree, grilled shallots, beets, and potatoes. V yummy
Baskin Robbins – chocolate love potion and Belgian waffle – because ice cream for dinner is allowed on vacation, right?
Chicken strips and French fries for fourth (technically third) meal #cultured
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.
Questionable “English breakfast”. I stopped eating after I found ants in my banh mi 😷
French fries while in line for the alpine coaster. Desperate times
Delicious Cajun chicken burger at the Sailing Club. Oh, and more fries 🍟
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.
Eggs from the resort’s restaurant. Average.
White rose and a banana shake
Fresh seafood dinner of hard-boiled quail eggs, fried squid, king prawns, clams, and snail. Things I never thought I would like – but so good!
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 🌃
More toast and jam
Awful shrimp wontons and a chicken dish that was the color of pork. Something was not right…
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.
Chicken pho in Hoi An alongside a mint chocolate milkshake. Turns out ordering a mint milkshake means they use crushed mint leaves in the blender
Lasagna from the villa resort restaurant. Hit the spot 👌
Homemade breakfast aka toast with jam
Eggs for lunch. Also added some hot sauce. They were bad so I also had some rosemary chips (my fave from Koh Phi Phi!) and apple cider bundy
Salmon salad and some sketchy Vietnamese chicken wings. At least the salmon was delish
I don’t think anything could be better than Sapa, but Phong Nha proved to be a close second today. The countryside in Vietnam is gorgeous and today we biked around a National Park where they are filming King Kong 2. Now that we have the hang of the bikes it’s relaxing and way more fun than taking a bus or taxi, where the drivers try to up charge you and drive like crazy people.
The first cave we visited was the Dark Cave. We ziplined to the entrance (less exciting than it sounds) and then made our way deeper. Sidenote: a great addition to Jungle Party and Full Moon Party would be Cave Party, amirite? We passed bats, walked barefoot on rocks and then slid through the narrow and muddy passages to get to the mud bath pool. We laid down and were super buoyant, floating along the surface like little bobbers on a lake. I was loving it until they had us all turn out lights off and it got really dark and quiet. We sat for what felt like a minute but I’m sure was only a matter of seconds and then I was the first to flick my head light back on. 😓😓😓
After we exited the cave we kayaked back and then messed around in the water with the mini zip line and rope swing they had. The water was freezing and felt soooo good after we have been sweating on the buses and trains the past few days.
Afterward, we continued around the park to the Paradise Cave, which was less fun and interactive but much bigger and brighter. The large open spaces had lights illuminating different features and there was a wooden walkway throughout the spaces to follow at your own pace. We liked it minus the 1k hike up to the entrance. We buggy’ed back to our bikes afterward.
In Phong Nha, we tried to make a reservation at the Easy Tiger Hostel once we arrived but they were already full bc it’s such a popular place. Instead they sent us across the street to a really nice hotel (basically Easy Tiger 2.0) that was less expensive. It worked out nicely, because we pretty much just used the place for beds and AC, spending all of our meals at Easy Tiger, where they had delicious food 🍴 For dinner, I had the Piggy pizza and somehow managed to finish the whole thing along with a couple onion rings too.
We realized they had a deal on beer, where you could buy a tower and get a free T-shirt. We worked our way through 2 towers before the bar closed and we wandered the streets for another bar or karaoke. It was a Monday, but we figured there would be something else going on. However, we went home after walking the entire street without any luck.
Breakfast tacos at Easy Tiger, with sausage, tomato, onion and eggs that were the perfect combo after our long night on the train
Ice cream treats at Dark Cave
Piggy Pizza (bacon, ham, onion, green pepper) with onion rings and potato wedges. Overpriced, but worth it
Oops! …we did it again. Back at it with the motorbikes 🏍 This time it was just 2 of us because the rest of the gang wanted some time to relax around the homestay and soak up some sun and hammock time.
We had brilliant weather (the sun finally came out!) and again we set out after getting directions from Andrew that were seemingly straightforward. And once again, we completely went off the path – but had a great time all the same. The only hiccup was about ten minutes in when my bike stalled out after going over an extremely rocky hill and we could figure out how to start it again. The guy we rented the bike from came to the rescue and showed us a little trick to get the bike started if it happened again.
Andrew had said that we would have pretty decent roads to Ben Thung once we got out of his village, so we realized once we were on a rocky dirt road ascending quickly into the mountains through tiny villages that we probably took a wrong turn. At least we made a few friends along the way 😊
Once we were on the right road the sun came out almost immediately. It was a smooth ride and we made it to Ben Phung no problem, stopping along the way home for some of the most picture-esque scenes we have seen yet on this trip. I fell in love with the rice paddies and open road. When we said goodbye later that night (after another awesome dinner) I knew it wouldn’t be my last time in Sapa.
My usual scrambled egg breakfast. As usual, delicious
Dinner consisted of our favorites again (spring rolls, French fries and green beans) along with some pork wrapped mushrooms and chicken with vegetables
I absolutely love not having to set an alarm to wake up in the morning. I’m not one to sleep all day, but there is something so peaceful to me about being woken by the sun. It’s one of those little things that just makes me grateful when I wake up and that much more appreciative throughout the entire day.
Today I was actually woken up by Mi, not the sun, but it was around sunrise and so I slipped out from under my bug net and went to the wrap-around deck for a quick yoga flow and meditation. I was a little tight from yesterday’s hike, and there were some noisy farm animals next door (namely the roosters), but it was nice to have some me time nonetheless.
I was so calm that I ended up taking another nap until a half-naked Mi came charging up the stairs around 11am. “Hello!” she declared in her high little voice, and I was up and ready for the rest of the day. And breakfast.
We saved the longer of the two hikes for today because we got such a late start yesterday afternoon, but by the time we left the home today it was around the same time. Josh stayed back again to rest his leg and Saffy decided to enjoy his last few days of vacation from a hammock (he leaves us in 2 days 😢), so it was just four of us trekking today.
We were granted even better and drier weather – thank goodness! – as we wandered through rice paddies and rows of corn trying to reach a telephone pole on top of one of the mountains. Instead, we found a waterfall and called it a day to make sure we got back home before dark. Once we were back we realized how far off we were heading from the intended path – it was laughable. But we had a good time and we hoped to get back out again the next day.
Sapa is my favorite place so far that we’ve visited – it’s so much simpler and quieter than a city, where there are a million things to do and there are tourists everywhere and everything requires so much energy. Here we get up when we’re rested, explore some beautiful countryside, and then come home to a family, comfy couch, and a delicious dinner. Have I mentioned that I liked the food yet??
In reality, there are also some things here that make us feel less like we are in the middle of nowhere. Andrew has a decent sized TV and nice sound system in the main living room (last night’s feature film was Antman and tonight we voted on Lincoln Lawyer) and the bathrooms are nice and very clean. Also, not sure I could sleep any better than I do here, which is inside a mosquito tent thing (necessary to keep out the big beetles that roam at night) and with a fan directly on me. The perfect sleeping conditions.
Lanh’s special scrambled eggs again, this time with some tea to soothe my sore throat. The cough is getting a lot better, but a bit of a tickle still lingers
Milk & egg waffle cookies. Mike bought them before our hike as a little energy boost in case we needed them. We decided we needed them about 4 times because they were so tasty 👅👅👅👅
Somehow dinner tonight was even better: breaded chicken, meatballs, green beans, french fries and rice. All dipped in the sweet & sour chili sauce they have everywhere here – def on the grocery list once I get back to the states