A Travellerspoint blog

April 2012

Kunming, China

The asian hostel phenomenon

sunny 80 °F

Throughout Asia we haven’t stayed in many hostels because the hotels and guesthouses provide much more value for the same price point. Kunming was a perfect example of this phenomenon. We had great directions from the out of town bus depot to a popular hostel located in the middle of town next to the Zhong ai Archway, so we stayed there for our first night. When we looked for alternatives, we found for just $1 more a night, we could stay in a 14th floor business style apartment with our own bathroom, kitchenette, window, LAN line, shower, tea cups and more! So we ‘upgraded’ and moved into a building full of locals on East Renmin Road near the Yan’an Hospital.
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We really enjoyed our stay in Kunming; it’s relatively very clean and the traffic is divided into separate lanes so scooters and bicycles don’t have to battle with taxis and cars. Scooters are all electric, so there is little noise pollution. We have been super impressed with the activity level of people (especially elderly folks) in China. In the mornings and evenings, the parks and public squares are full of people dancing to music in what appears to be a form of exercise. It is quite peaceful to watch, especially when the older ladies use hand fans as a prop when performing synchronized motions. We love that the cities invest in public workout equipment and joined in the fun by doing our own little workout routine with Robin focusing on PT exercises for her healing knee.
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When touring big cities like Kunming, our route is generally defined by three things. First, we look for big green splotches on the map and hope they are green ways or some sort of park. Second, we make a shopping list so we have a few goals to try and achieve, and then we try to throw in a few touristy sites. For the shopping list this time, we wanted to find a market to buy Robin some new sunglasses, and find an electronic store to get some replacement earbuds. The streets here have a different feel than when we were in Vietnam; even though the streets were bustling and busy, the scooters were eerily quiet (cause they are electric), and made for an additional obstacle when navigating the streets since you couldn’t hear the scooters coming. While biking through the city we stumbled upon a street near Yunnan University that was similar to Berkeley’s Telegraph Ave. On this street full of cafés and youngsters we were excited to find some sort of Asian style burrito stall with lots of options we didn’t quite understand.
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We found sunglasses for Robin in a market that boasted being the biggest ‘flower and bird market’ of its kind and found earbuds in a loud and crazy electronic mall where each floor was dedicated to similar items; one floor for laptops, one floor for desktops, one for peripherals, etc… the baffling thing about these electronic malls are that they seem to be composed of independently owned stalls but they all sell the exact same stuff for the exact same price! How the vendors survive is a mystery to us…
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Green Lake Park was apparently THE place to be if you were over 50 and wanted some action. The island park was completely packed with dancing groups, battling bands and games. We seriously couldn’t believe how many performances were going on at one time; in an area the size of Lake Merritt’s Fairyland, there must have been 600 active people. 8 different 10 piece bands playing over each other, 15 different 20-30 people dance groups playing their own dance songs, people playing mahjong, old men flying kites, and lots of additional spectators. In the middle of it all was Kunming’s Water History Museum that Robin found quite interesting. There were pipes inside that were built in 1917!
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Navigating around isn’t so easy when all the streets are in Chinese characters and your map isn’t to scale… by the time we found Lotus Park, the sun was setting. We picked up a watermelon from a curbside vendor and enjoyed the sunset from the parks central pagoda. For dinner we ordered some rice “wine” and the waitress did a confusing double take and then brought the manager over to make sure we understood that the type of wine we ordered was 52% ABV. We insisted that this would be alright and couldn’t wait to see what this “wine” was like… turns out it’s a lot like Japanese saké . On our way home we were pleasantly surprised with how the city we saw by day changed faces with the night; all of the buildings lit up with neon colored lights and was very beautiful with reflections on the river waters.
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On another one of our explorations, we went outside of the city and rode a 40km loop to the Dragon Gate Scenic Park in the western hills that is littered with temples that overlooked the city. (Note: If you like turtles as much as Perlyberg does¬, we found the biggest turtle sanctuary ever in the Tai Hua Temple)
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Our route was planned purely by the roads we thought existed on the little tourist map we had… during this ride we must have seen every kind of road in existence. We battled a dust filled headwind on a dirt road trucking highway, we road through construction barriers and alongside the new train line that was being built, we cycled on what we would call a ‘no pedestrian freeway’, we followed a dirt path along a water canal for as long as we could, we cycled a posh waterside wharf and in a few different types of city lanes from separate bike lanes to mixed traffic tunnels. We didn’t realize it until we got to the mountain park and had a strange peaceful feeling and we couldn’t remember the last time we had been in a forest or seen so many trees! It was a pleasant break from the hustle and bustle of the city below and we actually saw local bikers in spandex for the first time in Asia! In this picture Kevin is pointing to where we started the ride:
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 02:30 Archived in China Comments (2)

The Chinese Staring Competition

Adapting our natural instincts to fit in with locals

Adapting our natural instincts to fit in with locals

In China, there are many customs that are completely different to those that we were brought up with. None of them are right or wrong, we were just amazed at how opposite they were… here are a few examples:
• We have tanning lotion to appear darker, they have whitening lotion to appear lighter
• We are supposed to eat with our mouths closed and keep the food on our plate, they smack their lips and intentionally spit bones directly on the floor
• We don’t touch other people; their concept of personal space is nonexistent.
• We form lines at the bank or at the register, they frantically push and jump queue.
• Our toddlers wear diapers, theirs have a simple slit in the rear of their pants

Perhaps it is because we were not in major cities, because of our height, or because of our amazing good looks, but whatever it is, we get blatant stares all the time. Our favorite is when a kid walking by will look over, jump back a little bit as his jaw drops open and his eyes widen (think deer in headlights) then forgetting that he is walking will trip and fall over. Since we were initially taken back by this, we’ve tried a few different ways to approach ‘the starer.’

We first took the challenge and stared back! Sometimes we would even win the starring competition all together. Every bus ride was another chance for us to try something new. We tried frantically waving, we tried saying hello and offering a smile, we tried striking up a conversation (in English), we tried pointing at ourselves with the ‘who me’ look, we would walk over and stand next to them, etc… this was probably more for our amusement, but none the less we had mixed results. It turns out that the best strategy was to just ‘let go’ and ignore it…

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 08:32 Archived in China Comments (1)

Yuanyang Xinjiezhen, China

Rice Terraces

overcast 64 °F

Our bus ride to Xinjie (新街镇)was awesome! We continually stopped to add more people onto the bus, and with them came an assortment of interesting objects from 25 pound bags of old juicy onions to bundles of handmade brooms. Every time someone wanted to get on or off, they had to literally climb over the stacked up objects that filled the isle. There were only seats for 15 people but there was always room for people to sit on the juicy onions or stand on the door steps. It was a ruthless battle to obtain a seat; one old lady seemed to pretend to throw up out of the window to try to hang on to her window seat, but the boss man still yelled at her to move. There were multiple checkpoints with Chinese officers boarding the bus and checking IDs. One of these checkpoints consisted of a woman guard yelling furiously for 5 straight minutes at the guy sitting in front of us. It was quite the drama and we can thank the bus for entertaining us for the six hour bus ride with never a dull moment. At one of the pit stops we learned from the locals how to snack on dried tamarind. It looks like some kind of alien egg sack but tastes pleasantly like a sour version of fruit roll ups:
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The highlight of the bus ride was when Kevin dangled out of the window to buy 5 oranges from a lady on the mountain side for 10 Yuan (~1.5 usd), but everyone laughed when she came running back to the bus with a 5 kilogram big bag of oranges! Luckily, the oranges were the delicious kind with the easy peal!
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The city of Xinjie sits at about 1500 meters elevation and is a UNESCO World Heritage Sites site because of the amazing rice fields that were hand carved into the mountains by the Hani people. The lowest terraced paddies lay at 144m elevation and the highest at 2,939 meters. We stayed at the ‘Chen Family Hotel’ near the Bus Depot. It had awesome rooms with a view for the same price as all the dumpy hotels lower down near the square. It even had a comfy deck for a chilly morning breakfast, or a night cap :-) We met some Chinese tourists on the street who were also curious about what was going on with the street side tofu grills that were scattered around town. They joined us in the adventure of our first time eating “stinky tofu”… imagine eating ‘stinky cheese’ when you thought you were going to bite into mild cheddar.
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We saw a flyer for a café called ‘Window of Yuanyang’ that promoted hill tribe handicrafts and employed hill tribe women so they could learn English. The café also boasted free Wifi and offered help to arrange a driver to take us around the rice fields. We lucked out by scoring a super nice guide and after chatting awhile, one of the ladies ended up sewing Kevin’s ripped pants back together!

Our trip out to the rice fields was super fun….our driver avoided all of the built up tourist attractions (that charge $10 to take pictures, wtf!?) and took us to the local spots for exploring and taking pictures. We did a loop heading first towards Laohuzui then towards Duoyishu and finally Bada. We walked in and around rice fields, strolling through the tiny villages and huts. The roads were totally deserted until we bumped into what seemed like the only other group of tourists on the entire loop. We did a mini trek down the mountain together, and at one point the cameras were taking more pictures of us than of the rice fields!
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We took our time walking on the edges of the pools of water. The mud was hard and stable, but slippery when wet! Imagine walking on a gymnastic balance beam… if you slipped one way, you’d fall 5 feet into the paddy below, and if you slipped into the mud closer to you, you’d probably lose your shoe when trying to step out of the thick sticky clay. We watched in awe as the fog rolled in and out of the valley, sometimes wishing it were a sunny day, but also appreciating the quietness of having the place to ourselves. We saw many stages of planting; preparing the soil with a single hoe, plastic covered baby rice nurseries, flooding the paddies by diverting rivers, and hand transplanting rice plans into prepared paddies. Watering the terraces seems sorta like a game of dominoes, just water the highest one, and the water slowly trickles down to the rest :-) We can only imagine how many pairs of hands they will need for harvest season; the fields were vast and because of the fog seemed endless.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 08:21 Archived in China Comments (1)

Crossing the Border Between Vietnam and China

A path less traveled…

rain 69 °F

We were determined to visit the ‘world famous’ terraced rice fields of Yuanyang (Xinjiezhen) from the south even though the most traveled routes we could find were based out of Kunming, which is north of Yuanyang. Being in Sapa, we were only about an hour away from the Lao Cai border crossing into the Chinese city of Hekou, but after some asking around we figured that due to the time change when crossing into China, our chance of making the bus from Hekou to Yuangyang on the same day we crossed the border was slim to none. Despite online blog posts speaking horrors of Hekou (i.e. no hotels, and having to sleep on the street b/c they missed the bus out of town), we took our chances and headed for the border, hoping to catch a bus…

The first challenge was leaving Sapa since the mini buses drive in circles looking for more people to pick up, while assuring you that they are “leave now”... then once getting to Lao Cai we would have to figure out how to get 2 km outside of the city to where the border actually is. Luckily, with a bit of charade-style negotiating, we convinced our mini bus driver to take us closer to the border (this would be a lot less stressful if we actually trusted drivers to do what they say with our agreed upon price). The Vietnamese border officer must have known we were in a hurry because he flipped through every single page of both of our passports at least three times. After what seemed like ages, we were finally allowed to walk across the ‘friendship bridge’ into China.
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On Chinese soil, were greeted by a security guard who helped us with our entrance forms. After Kevin impressed him with his mad Chinese language skills (hello & thank you), he became very friendly and explained in broken English where to find an ATM and where to find a local bus that would take us to the long distance bus depot -- this was a huge score for us! Although we did not end up making our bus to Yuanyang, we learned a great deal about this not so traveled border crossing. We hope the rest of this entry helps set the conflicting online posts about Hekou straight and helps future travelers make the journey….

1. Hekou is a pretty little city with great atmosphere, and is actually worth staying to explore for the day. Make sure to pick up some sugar cane from the market, its amazing!!
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2. It is very true that the main bus depot in Hekou has moved out of town by ~5 kilometers, but the good news is that there is a sweet little green bus that costs only 1 RMB and takes less than 15min to get to there. There are a few of these buses waiting to start the route only a few blocks from immigration (marked on the left of the below map with an ‘x’) but it seems like you just have to wave the bus down when you want to get on… we first thought we were on the school bus because apparently all the kids in town were getting shipped off to Saturday school:
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3. There is a Bank (noted on the map below as ‘ATM’) with an English speaking ATM (no joke, it talks to you!)
4. Right next to the bank there are several clean and cheap hotels. The cheapest one was right next to the ATM, and was a great deal for a border town (60RMB ~ $10). Our room had a view of the little green bus stop.
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5. The little green bus stopping in front of the hotel is super convenient (marked on the right side of the map with an ‘x’). There are only two busses that go to Yuanyang and both are early morning departures (6am & 9am).
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6. It is true that there is more than one Yuanyang! Within the county of Yuanyang, there are two cities that are both referred to as ‘Yuanyang’:
a. the New City = Nansha (which is on the foot hills of the mountains)
b. The Old Town: Xinjiezhen (which is about an hour up the mountain from Nansha) Make sure to specifically get a bus to Xinjiezhen or you’ll have to catch a mini bus taxi up into the mountains.

We had fun in Hekou and were glad we had the chance to stay there. People don’t speak a lick of English, but were super friendly. There are lots of little shopping streets to walk through, and two markets (one for ‘stuff’ and the other for meat and veg). We met a cool guy named Ernie who walked us through the food market and we watched as he picked out his fish and then went to get his veggies while they killed and de-scaled the fish for him. We weren’t able to find WiFi but there is a huge computer café up a set of stairs down the street from the market, and the giggling girls behind the counter insisted that we didn’t have to pay (perhaps because we were the highlight of their entertainment for the day).

Also near the market are streets lined with chefs ready to cook anything up for you… all you have to do is point out the veggie or the meat that you want and poof; they turn it into a dish with their propane stove. (Warning: each vegetable you pick out will go into its own dish, so don’t over order like we did!) Since the Chinese language is tonal, most people had no idea what we were trying to say. Our trick to ordering was to download a few pictures of Chinese food dishes (and a picture of a beer) to our smart phone. Then all we had to do was show them what we wanted!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 07:23 Archived in China Comments (1)

Sa Pa, Vietnam

Up in the hills

overcast 70 °F

Sapa sits at 1,000 meters elevation and is where rice and vegetables grow like crazy amongst the terraced hills. We were fortunate to find an $8 fourth floor hotel with a balcony view of the mountains. We enjoyed taking a break from the hard long days of being a tourist and spent our mornings with breakfast on the balcony and closed the day by squeezing fresh limes from the market in our cocktails.
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The town of Sapa is surrounded by hill tribes and many of the ethnic women have found that they can earn a living in the tourist industry. They flock the streets trying to sell miscellaneous items to fresh meat tourist. Their English is minimal, so they usually set the mood with “Where are you from?” and “What is your name?” (to this day, they probably still believe Kevin’s name is actually “No Thank you.”) If we had a Vietnamese Dong for every time we were asked these questions we would be traveling for another year! From the safety of our balcony, we could watch the women flock to the arriving tourist buses every morning.
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Sapa is famous for homestay trekking between local villages. However, because Robin is still recovering from the knee injury in Laos we looked for alternative ways to enjoy Sapa (her injury is most likely a torn meniscus as diagnosed through emails from our awesome doctor friends). We stumbled on Sapa O'Chau, a school for local hill tribe children and went to visit to see if they had any need for some volunteers. They asked us what our specialties were, and before we knew it, we had signed up ourselves to teach a two-hour session on gardening and water…. scary and exciting! We spent the next day and a half planning our lessons. We found that teaching, although really challenging, was very rewarding and probably the highlight of our stay in Vietnam.
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If you like mountains like we do, Sapa is worth staying a while. There are views everywhere you go, from restaurant balconies to easy day hikes or a scooter ride into the winding mountain roads.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 06:41 Archived in Vietnam Comments (1)

In the Suburbs of Hanoi

Off the tourist track

overcast 77 °F

We were lucky enough to meet and stay with the Snell family for a few days about 10 km outside of the CBD. Luyen is from Saigon and her husband, Robin, is from England. Their son Nicholas attends one of only two United Nations International Schools (UNIS) in the world. We attended the UNIS spring fair and learned a lot about teaching abroad while sampling homemade foods from the countries that attend UNIS. We listened to the middle school band and chorus and pondered what it would be like to be a traveling teacher or attend an isolated school in a completely foreign country.
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What interested us most about Luyen was that she owns and manages a bakery/café/sewing factory that employs disabled people. Her goal is to encourage people with disabilities and build their confidence by showing them that they can still be useful in the work place. We spent a couple half days trying to be useful at the bakery and picked up some tips for starting our own. After a morning in the café we would hop on a local bus to explore. On one trip we ended up at a lake (that reminded us a lot of Greenlake in Seattle) where we found a café with the best mango shake ever!
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After our stay in Hanoi we headed North West to Sa Pa via “sleeper” bus, however we weren’t so lucky this time… not only was the driver training for the large vehicle version of F1 racing, but the seats didn’t lay flat and seemed like there was only enough leg room for an Umpalumpa! It was still a fun adventure and we were able to score some seats together.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 10:00 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

On the Streets of Hanoi

Drinking beer and eating street food with the locals

overcast 78 °F

Rule of thumb in Southeast Asia: The smaller the chairs, the cheaper the food!
It has been over a month since both of us fell very ill to some serious food poisoning in Laos, long enough for us to regain confidence again in street foods. So we toured the streets of Hanoi tasting ‘fresh’ beer, coffee, bbq, bun chau, cha ca, and tofu dessert, all of which required sitting on the sidewalk, or in the street on little plastic chairs made for 4 year-old children. Eating on the streets is so much fun because you get to sit face to face (literally sometimes) with the locals, eat tasty homemade delights and drink delicious beverages all while watching the hustle and bustle through of the alleys of the Old Quarter in Hanoi. We enjoyed a few meals and beers with our new friend Chris (from sleeper bus).
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We rented bicycles to explore the city and entered into the chaotic traffic, the amazing thing is how the Vietnamese somehow resist any urges of road rage in a land where you are constantly cut off, beeped at, and nudged around. It actually became quite simple once we let go of all that we have learned about etiquette, good driving, and being courteous… sound familiar from our post on crossing the street in Ho Chi Minh? Using the red traffic lights only as a suggestion, there is only one real rule: Don’t hit what is in front of you. In essence, ignorance is bliss! You never have to look behind you, indicate that you are turning, or worry about whose turn it is at an intersection. If you did look, you would be risking “losing face” (which is a huge no-no in Asia) by knowingly cutting someone off. Kevin was photographed three different times by tourists, either because his bike was way too small (think clown in the circus), or because of the monstrous grin on his face. Organized chaos for sure, but quite fun.
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We have been trying to live without the existence of the ‘proper queue’ (i.e. standing in line for something). No one in Asia ever forms a proper line… it’s more like a battle to the death, and we think that ‘survival man’ TV series should forget about how to survive a plane crash in the desert and do a show on how to survive boarding a bus or buying a train ticket in Asia. One example that left Kevin’s jaw dropped was when we are at a bank; Kevin was clearly standing in front of a ticketing machine reading the options with his hand hovering over the screen when someone stepped next to him, reached around him, made a selection, took a ticket, and walked away! We tried to catch something like this on camera at an ice cream shop where Robin was determined to get a cone… note in the picture below that there is a hand waving money that appears to be poking out of Robin’s belly (that’s someone pushing and leaning on her from behind to try and jump queue) Luckily, she hung in there for our tasty desert.
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Although extremely touristy we do recommend the famous ‘water puppet’ show. Tickets are priced to sell and we found the 45 minute show pretty entertaining. There was a live orchestra and singers who talked to these indescribable puppets. Imagine a stage made of water with puppeteers standing in the water but hidden by curtains. Puppets connected to rods under the water would enter through the curtain and perform a story. We saw the puppeteers at the end of the show when they came out for a bow and they all had forearms bigger than Popeye AFTER he ate his spinach!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 09:35 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hue, Vietnam

Our new hot pot, jackets and a lovely river cruise

overcast 75 °F

The bus from Hoi An to Hue takes about 3-4 hours. As always, the bus ride was filled with unknowns and interesting events… one notable event this time was when our already full bus stopped to pick up a bunch of locals. Of course all of the tourists were very curious to see where they were all going to sit, but to our amazement a dozen or so small (4-5 inch tall) plastic stools appeared out of nowhere and they all squatted down in the aisles of the bus. It never ceases to amaze us how many people and cargo they can fit into a tourist bus. It seems as though we have single handedly escorted countless extra packages, passengers and miscellaneous boxes and bags of ‘stuff’ across Southeast Asia.

Using an excellent recommendation from WikiTravel, we had dinner with Mr. Cu at his Madarin Café and sampled his delicious banana crepes. At the end of our meal he handed us a city walking tour map and a postcard of his own photography (way cool)! Instead of walking, we of course toured around on bicycles, riding around the old Citadel, and stopping to have some Pho and coffee along the river.
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After blazing through the ‘walking’ tour on bikes, we explored some of the rest of the city and found ourselves on a street selling kitchen appliances and electronics. We really enjoyed Australia and New Zealand where there was always a kettle in hotel rooms, and were wondering if we could find something that could boil water but still be small enough for traveling. Well, we’d like to introduce you to the newest member of our travel family… our brand new $2 portable hot pot! Yes this violates our ‘go lite’ mentality however this bad boy is light weight, fits in our bags and has now served us up numerous cups of coffee, hard boiled eggs, and even steamed broccoli!
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During our tour around the city we tried on about a million different knockoff North Face jackets and ended up picking a couple up in anticipation for our travels at elevation in Tibet and Nepal.
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Hue is infamous for gaudy tombs of historic emperors that are located along the Perfume River. We joined a boat tour with low expectations but were pleasantly surprised by how relaxing the river cruise was.
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After a full day touring tombs and temples, we boarded our first ‘sleeper bus’ to Hanoi. The journey takes about 12 hours, and leaves in the evening, to arrive in Hanoi in the morning. After a long debate we requested seats at the very back of the bus where our beds would be joined… turns out our beds were also joined with another, which meant one of us would be in the middle with an extra sleeping buddy. Luckily, our sleeping buddy was Chris, who turns out to be an archaeologist from Portland!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 08:58 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hoi An, Vietnam

Clothes tailors and ‘fresh’ beer

overcast 75 °F

Our travel paths crossed again with Daniel and Sam so we spent a few nights drinking fresh beer (at 20 cents a mug) on the water front while discussing the issues that come with hiring a local clothes tailor. Hoi An is infamous for its small walking streets lined with tailors who will custom tailor clothes for you based on only a picture. Robin decided to take on the challenging task of a buying a custom made Vietnamese style dress and a jacket, while Kevin opted out of what became quite the drama. Having clothes tailored can become slightly stressful when the clothes or shoes are not what you expected and the once nice accommodating sales person turns into an irate disrespecting biznatch. Both Robin and Sam had quite the test of patience but in the end, Robin got an amazing jacket, and a slightly see-through dress (think emperor’s new clothes). Robin was looking at a vietnamese style dress in Thai Silk, and selected an ivory material from the square inch of display fabric. Unfortunately the tailor forgot to mention that this color, in this type of fabric is see-through… oops! Getting Sam’s boots made is a whole other story, but eventually the two were able to walk away with some decent clothing, and the experiences to share and laugh about later.
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Hoi An is a UNESCO cultural site, so traffic is limited so our rental bikes came in quite handy. The bikes we had had an extra padded seat where you would normally see a rack for panniers so we could carpool to the bars! You can tell that Sam and Daniel are from the Netherlands because they have wicked biking skills:
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Hoi An is situated along the coast and has some beautiful beaches when the sun is out. The weather was such a nice relief from the heat and made riding out to the coast very pleasurable. Apparently it was too windy for other people so we enjoyed some coffee and the beach all to ourselves.
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We took scooters out to some temple ruins from the 12th and 13th century called My Son. These ruins were not that impressive after recently seeing Angkor Wat but it was still fun seeing the different architecture. More impressive was the humongous craters left by the bombs dropped on these temples during the war.
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The highlight of the trip to My Son was stopping along the side of the road to have some coffee with the locals. Vietnamese coffee is very different from what we0020are used to in The States, it is extremely strong and syrupy and made using a stainless steel dripper over a thick layer of sweetened condensed milk… we think this might be why they serve a complementary pot of tea with the coffee.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 08:28 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Our new favorite dish: pho xao!

sunny 85 °F

We stayed with Jerry, in his apartment on the outside edge of District 1 (the center of town). We had a hell of a time renting bikes in Ho Chi Minh and quickly learned that a 10min taxi can turn 35min with traffic :) His balcony had a lovey view and I’m sure the neighbors enjoyed us screaming ‘good morning Vietnam’ at the city every morning.
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Jerry took us to the best place for Pho, and introduced us to our new favorite Vietnamese food: Pho Xao (fried pho noodles). Unfortunately Pho Xao differs greatly from restaurant to restaurant, so you must go to 25 Nguyen Thi Minh Khai for the best Pho Xao in Vietnam.
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Seeing as Vietnam is infamous for coffee, we were eager to try some good coffee. We went to Jerry’s contact at the local market to buy beans and through her broken English it turns out (we think) that she has family in the Bay Area. We bought two different varieties of beans, some condensed milk, and attempted to reconstruct the market coffees at the apartment. We decided that although the famous Weasel Coffee (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kopi_Luwak) was good, it wasn’t that much different to for out such a heavy price tag, and we most likely had the chemically simulated version, rather than the beans eaten by the civets. For those who can’t be bothered to read about Weasel coffee, the image below summarizes it pretty well.
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The small world, and even smaller Asia travel circuit, amazed us once again when we bumped into the Canadians we met in Siem Reap (and ran into in the Phnom Penh market) while aboard a bus to the Chu Chi Tunnels. We spent a day touring around the Chu Tunnels and the War Remnants Museum, where we once again came face to face with the devastation of life and natural habitat that Vietnam endured during the US bombings. Life size pictures of birth defects that are still occurring today due to the chemicals (such as Agent Orange) used to destroy the jungle, are humbling, to say the least.
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The tunnels are fascinating, and definitely test your ability to deal with confined spaces. We went into both an actual tunnel used by the Vietcong and another one that spanned for 100 meters, with exits at every 20 meters. Although the diameter had been increase to accommodate fat foreigners, you could still feel the thin air and lack of oxygen.
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Wondering around the streets in Ho Chi Minh (after you have mastered the art of crossing the street, see previous post) is actually quite pleasant and fun! There are numerous parks, a beautiful post office, and a Grand Palace to roam around. We randomly found the hotel on an alley that Kevin and his family had stayed in 6 years ago! Ho Chi Minh statues and pictures are everywhere around the city, here you see him with Kevin at the Palace and Robin at the post office:
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 05:58 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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