A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: tylerandshawna

That's a Wrap!

It’s been exactly one year since we returned from our travels, and what a year it's been. We adopted a dog, Howie the 30 pound Chihuahua, found out we were pregnant (it’s a girl!), sold our condo in South Beach, and moved into a home in Noe Valley. While it was difficult and expensive, Shawna and I are both glad we took a break from our lives to go see the world before settling into parenthood. This isn’t the end to our travels, but the considerations for subsequent trips will be different in the future; we’ll be optimizing for ease over adventure.
So, without further ado, we’d like to share some statistics from our trip:

Days travelled: 142 (Sept 3rd 2014 - Jan 22 2015)
Number of flights: 33
Miles flown: 36,123 mi (the Earth's circumference is 24,901mi so we went 1.450664632 times around)
Number of countries visited (not including layovers): 17
Bottles of free champagne for our honeymoon: 8.5
Number of pictures taken: 9,385

Vehicles travelled in:
Bullet Train
Bush plane
Sea plane
Bull cart
Safari truck
Long boat
Quad bike
Hot air balloon

If you’re ever presented with the opportunity to see a Unesco World Heritage site, take it. Without fail, they are always unique and amazing.

Unesco world heritage sites visited:
Okavango Delta - Botswana
Angkor Wat - Cambodia
Palace of Versailles - France
Notre-Dame - France
Banks of the Seine - France
Luang Prabang - Laos
Namib Sand Sea - Namibia
Sacred City of Kandy - Sri Lanka
Ancient City of Sigiriya - Sri Lanka
Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch - Switzerland
The Rock Sites of Cappadocia- Turkey
Historic areas of istanbul - Turkey
Ha Long Bay - Vietnam
Hoi An Ancient town - Vietnam
Central Sector of the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long - Hanoi - Vietnam
Victoria Falls - Zimbabwe

If you don’t know what a Swirly™ is, it's a thing shawna and I invented where you go to a nice scenic place, put your GoPro camera on a selfie stick, put your arms around one another with the camera pointed at your face and spin in circles a few times. Generally there is a crowd of onlookers making it especially embarrassing. We did it 44 times:

And the abbreviated version:

Posted by tylerandshawna 21:28 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Ending our trip in meditation and eating!

Koh Samui and Hong Kong

sunny 70 °F

Our final stop in Thailand was to the island of Koh Samui. Koh Samui is located along the east coast and is the second largest islands in Thailand. Samui is much larger than our tropical paradise of Koh Lanta and has a faster paced, busy feel (relative to Koh Lanta, it’s still Thailand after all). Our plan was to spend a few days enjoying the island before cleansing our souls at a week long yoga retreat on a remote part of the island.

Koh Samui has several beaches around its parameter, each with its own vibe. Some are busy party beaches where thumping techno music can be heard at any hour, while some are quiet and peaceful where all one can hear is the slosh of the ocean and the greetings from local beach vendors. We weren’t quite sure where we wanted to be, so we picked Bophut Beach along the northern coast. In the end it turned out to be a good fit for us. There are quaint restaurants up and down the beach. Fisherman’s Village has classier restaurants and bars but doesn't feel overrun with people. After visiting the rest of the island, we concluded the Bophut was the best place to be.

Our time in Bophut was particularly relaxing; the only time my heart rate went over 60 was when we rented jet skis for an afternoon. We would sit in the sun all day, eat at sandy beach restaurants and sip on fresh fruit smoothies. In the evening we would walk into Fisherman’s Village and find a spot on the beach for a sunset cocktail. Later we’d walk around the village until a cozy little restaurant piqued our interest; always Thai cuisine and generally very affordable. After dinner, we’d sit and listen to live music or poke around the shops before making our way home along the beach; watching as tourists launched floating candle lanterns into the sky above our heads. We made sure to live a decadent life for those few days as we’d both agreed to abstain from drinking and stick to a (mostly) vegan diet for our week of yoga.

Vikasa, our yoga retreat, was located on the south western part of the island. It was built into a rocky cliff; flight after flight of stairs allowed access to various parts of the resort. Our room was located at the bottom of the cliffs with the ocean sloshing around just a few feet below our room. With windows on three sides and a wraparound porch overlooking the sea, this room had one of the best views of our trip. The resort itself was a drive from any other place on the island save for a few restaurants located up the road. This meant that, for that week, we mostly hung around the resort, practiced yoga for a few hours every day and spent the rest of our time reading or going out for the occasional adventure.

Our daily routine started with a half hour of meditation early in the morning followed by an hour and a half of yoga. Then it was up eight flights of stairs to a buffet style vegan breakfast. Some days Shawna and I would head to the gym located across the street to get some much needed exercise. Other days we’d sit around and read, lay in the sun by the pool or make our way into town to explore. We would return to the yoga studio at six for our evening yoga session. After that we would head to the cafe for dinner and reading on bean bag chairs in the lounge until we were tired. We experienced some rain while we were there but it wasn’t really an inconvenience since we planned to meditate, practice yoga and get back to a healthy routine as penance for our gluttonous lifestyle the passed few months. One beautiful sunny day, we skipped yoga and rented a jeep to go tour the island. We started with the obligatory waterfall hike (this was our 138th waterfall hike of the trip). Then we drove the whole perimeter of the island with a final stop at our old stomping ground, Fisherman’s Village. For the most part, our stay on Koh Samui was uneventful, which is exactly what we had hoped for. Our next and final stop was the city of Hong Kong.

When we finally reached Hong Kong, the thought dawned on me that we would be heading home in a few days. We had been traveling for five months at this point and home was a distant memory, it ceased to be a real place. The idea of going home was, simultaneously incredibly exciting, sad and even a little scary. Would the world be different when we got home? Would we be different? Would it be impossible for us to go back to sitting in an office from nine to five after being in a new city every week for the past months?

I’m not sure Shawna would agree, but at this point I was looking forward to getting back to the real world and to moving on with our lives. The trip was an amazing experience but I was ready to leave the life of leisure and get back to being more productive.

Hong Kong turned out to be a great segue back to the western world. Hong Kong is an incredibly diverse city with gourmet food from all over the globe. It has a strong western vibe due, in part, to it’s colonial roots, but still feels like a part of Asia. We had plans to meet up with some of Michelle and Chris’s friends whom they had met during their time in Hong Kong. We hadn’t been in the city for more than half a day when, while wandering around the city’s many side streets, we ran into Clement, a friend of Michelle and Chris’s who we’d met at their wedding. He was very gracious to take time out of his Saturday to show us around for the afternoon. In fact, much of our time there was spent just wandering the many side streets and back alleys of old Hong Kong.

The food was also amazing; some of the best we had on the trip. I haven’t been able to get pork buns off my mind since. Aside from the numerous dining recommendations we received from Michelle, we were also taken to a local Szechuan restaurant by some of Michelle’s friends. Locating this restaurant on our own would have been impossible and exemplifies the advantage of knowing locals in a new city. It was located on the second floor in what appeared to be an office building. Amazing restaurants in Hong Kong can be found on any floor of any building throughout the city. Outdoor escalators take shoppers and diners up and down to the different levels of the city. I finally had my first non-lager ($19!!) beer in months at Yardbird, a trendy chicken only restaurant downtown; which was a welcome change.

Surprisingly, Hong Kong also has amazing hiking within the city limits. We hiked to the top of Victoria peak to find glorious views of the city below and, oddly, a shopping mall with a tram to take us to the bottom. We also hiked Dragon’s Back, taking us along the coast and down to the beach. The shoreline there strongly resembles Northern California.

Despite some hair raising turbulence on the way home, our trip back to the states fairly easy. We landed in the late evening and were greeted by some of our best friends. We stayed up late into the night drinking beers (anything but lager!), telling stories of our travels and getting caught up on everything we had missed the passed 143 days. It was good to be home.

Bophut Beach - Koh Samui


Vikasa Yoga Retreat - Koh Samui


Hong Kong - China


Posted by tylerandshawna 22:16 Archived in China Comments (0)

Happy 2015! Everything is better with friends part 2

New Years Eve in Bangkok, Holiday in Cambodia (Angkor Wat)

sunny 90 °F

We decided that Bangkok would be an excellent place to spend New Years Eve. We spent the day cruising around Bangkok’s extravagant shopping mall. It was quite a change from the island beaches of Thailand. The highlight of the day was going to the “knockoff” section of the mall where cheap shoes, T-shirts and ‘BS’ jeans could be purchased for cents on the dollar.

Since we’re adults now, we decided to celebrate NYE by dressing up for dinner and dancing while floating down the Chao Phraya river. The Chao Phraya river is a major water way in Thailand and splits Bangkok in two. The advantage of spending NYE on a boat is that the fireworks, launched from barges on the river, explode right above your head. It felt exciting and, in true Thailand style, a little dangerous. We actually saw a ritzy hotel on the bank catch fire due to an errant firework. A quick google search revealed that this is a fairly common occurrence in Bangkok.

After disembarking from our cruise, we made our way back to the hotel on Khao San Road. This particular road is known as a backpacker party hotspot and had proved itself so the night before. The previous nights festivities hadn’t prepared us for the aftermath of the NYE party. The entire block was a war zone. There were bodies strewn about the sidewalk, broken glass and garbage pilled high in the gutters, drunken revelers being dragged home on the shoulders of their friends. One girl was carried away by paramedics with blood spewing from her foot, no doubt caused by the abundance of broken glass on the street.

Coming from our elegant river cruise, the chaos was quite a shock. We took refuge in an outdoor club which charged a 50 Bhat cover. Its amazing how effectively a $1.50 entrance fee can filter out the riffraff. We danced and chatted until we’d had enough of the blaring techno music and made our way back, through the debauchery, to our hotel.

The next day was spent wondering Khao San, eating at the local restaurants and generally nursing hangovers. Chad, after much deliberation, invested in a “Selfie Stick”. A selfie stick is a long, hand held, telescopic stick which allows the user to mount their cellphone at one end and take pictures of themselves from a distance. Needless to say many a “selfie” were taken with this wondrous little gadget.

In the evening we met up with our good friend, Muffin, who had been living in Bangkok for some time. We bar hopped up and down the road all evening, eating street food and watching backpackers dare each other to eat an assortment of deep fried snakes and spiders sold on the street. Chad and Muffin went off to paint the town red later that evening while the rest of us headed off to sleep in preparation for a big day of site seeing.

Sadly this was to be our last day with Shane and Joanie. They were headed home early the following morning. We decided to spend it walking around the Grand Palace and the Reclining Buddha. The Grand Palace is the official residence of the King of Siam (and then Thailand) since 1782. It is over 200,000 square meters and every inch is layered in gold paint or tiled mosaic with spires shooting toward the sky. The gates are protected by 12 foot high stone guards. While it was breathtaking to see, the grounds were crawling with tourists and so we were relieved to get out when we did.

That night we took ourselves out to a nice dinner on Sukhumvit Road away from the party atmosphere of our neighborhood. We said our goodbyes to Shane and Joanie and loaded them up with souvenirs to take home for us.

The next day Shawna, Chad and I took a short flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Siem Reap is a small village that was put on the map due to its proximity to Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a Hindu and then later Buddhist temple built in the 12 century. The Wat itself sits on 500 acre grounds surrounded by a massive moat. The entire temple complex consists of thousands of temples stretching over 400 km^2.

We had reserved a two bedroom suite in a french colonial for only $60/night. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the accommodations were massive! It had its own kitchen and was probably over 1000 sqft (and oddly under furnished). After soaking up our lavish space, we headed down to Pub street to find some Amok fish, a local Cambodian specialty. The city of Siem Reap itself has become quite a tourist destination. The town is completely westernized; Mexican taquerias, cocktail bars and Sushi restaurants abound. The Amok fish, however, did not disappoint. After dinner we found a spot for a few nightcaps before heading off to bed.

We decided to skip the temples the next day and spend it exploring the town. We concluded we were all in desperate need of massages, after all it had been over a week since out last. We found a place that looked mostly legitimate near our hotel. While Chad seemed to enjoy his treatment, Shawna’s and my massages were a little questionable. I was scrubbed down with salt water and left to dry under a blast of arctic AC. This was followed by a massage where my masseuse kept one hand on me and the other on her cellphone the whole time. I suppose you get what you pay for.

Chad was feeling a bit under the weather and opted for a night of bed rest and room service. Due to a communication snafu, he ended up with four separate meals brought to our room. This wasn’t the first miscommunication of the trip. At one point Shawna ordered a bowl of rice and ended up with two bottles of Sprite. At that point, all you can do is thank the waiter and enjoy your unexpected beverage.

Shawna and I went out for a night on the town and, after much deliberation, found a restaurant we could both agree on. We sat there for a while, drinking unappetizing martinis and watching tourists eat bugs (it really is that entertaining).

We woke early the next morning for our bike ride tour of the wats. Along with our group, we climbed aboard mountain bikes and headed off into Siem Reap traffic toward Angkor Wat. The ride to the temple itself was quite hair raising. When we encountered a busy intersection, our guide would attempt to hold off the flow of on coming cars with one hand while shepherding us across the road with the other, shouting “MORE QUICKLY, MORE QUICKLY!”. To my knowledge, everyone in our group reached the destination.

Once we reached the site, we traveled from temple to temple on narrow dirt paths through the jungle. While I found the ride quite exhilarating, more than one of our tour-mates was ejected from their bike into the jungle. The temples themselves were amazing. Its hard to imagine that people could build such massive stone structures without the assistance of modern machinery. Every inch of the temples are covered in Bas-relief carvings. Angkor Wat itself is in considerably good condition. Its imposing structure rises formidably from the jungle. The Wat and grounds are surrounded by a wide, glassy mote, reflecting the temple towers and sky above.

Our next stop was Ta Prohm, which is the temple appearing in the original Tomb Raider movie. It really does feel like a Hollywood set and was my favorite temple. Ta Prohm is in an advanced state of decay, adding to its mystic appeal. Giant trees grow from inside the temple, strangling it with their massive roots. In places, the dense root systems threaten to swallow entire sections of the temple. Carved stone faces peer out from the dense mass of roots. On one corner of the temple, there appear to be carved stone dinosaurs. A fact unexplainable by archaeologists. One can easily imagine Indiana Jones recovering some lost relic buried deep inside the aging ruins. Altogether we rode over 30 kilometers that day and visited several other temples. By the time we got back to Siem Reap we were all exhausted.

Despite our need for rest, we scrubbed the dirt and sweat from our faces and headed into town for some BBQ, Cambodian style. At the restaurant we selected, the kitchen area was situated right next to the dinning area and was all out doors. Patrons could select a fish or cut of meat from the array on display, select a BBQ style and watch it be prepared from their seat. We ordered round after round of various local dishes while sipping on large Cambodian beers. It was fun but the mood was a little melancholy because Chad would be leaving us the next day and this would conclude the friends portion of our trip.

The next day we flew out to Bangkok and said goodbye to Chaddles. We boarded a plane, off to our next adventure and the second to last stop on our ‘round the world travels: the island of Koh Samui and our week long Yoga retreat.


Bad in Plaid

The aftermath

Royal Palace
Reclining Buddha
Ridiculous signs


Siem Reap

Angkor Wat and Surrounding Temples
Laura Croft Temple

Posted by tylerandshawna 08:50 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Everything is Better with Friends, Part I

Saigon and Koh Lanta

85 °F

We were lucky enough to get to spend two weeks of our travels with some dear friends from San Francisco. It was perfect timing as we got to spend Christmas and New Years Eve together - we were also getting a little weird after months of being just us - we were starting to be able to read each other’s thoughts! It was definitely time for some socialization. Joanie, Shane (herein after referred to as “Shoanie”), and Chad (a.k.a. Chaddles) all met up with us in Saigon.

Shoanie had spent time in both Saigon and Bangkok, so they were able to show us around and find hotels in the best neighborhoods! It was a welcome break for us in terms of planning accommodation. We started our trip with 4 nights in Saigon. We stayed at a hotel that was a mere $25/night and was on a main road, clean, with breakfast and awesome wifi. It was great! We all met up at the hotel midday and decided to wander the city by foot. We walked along the Saigon river, souvenir shopped at the old post office, found a nice hole in the wall pho place, and had a cocktail on a hotel rooftop that overlooked the city. That night, we had dinner and turned in early as we were going to explore the MeKong Delta early the next day.

We got up very early and hopped in our van to the MeKong Delta. Shoanie didn’t get to make it there last time, so it was nice we got to do something new for them. It was about a 3.5 hour drive. We boarded our boat and took in the views. As usual, the stops on these day tours include some encouraged souvenir buying, but these ones were at least interesting. We stopped at a cafe that made local honey and a variety of candies and teas. We then walked along the delta and saw coconut taffy and rice popcorn being made. It was actually really interesting, and fun to walk through all of the housing in the area. After this, we hopped back in our boat and went through the floating market. Unfortunately, this was underwhelming as most of the boat shops had closed for the day - apparently most action is seen in the mornings. We made another stop at a cafe where we had some local fruit and watched a thai singing and dancing performance, then boarded our boats to head to lunch. We got a whole fried fish to Chaddles delight, and were able to roll our own spring rolls! After this, we headed to a canal where we boarded small boats and were steered through the small canals that go through farmland and residential areas. It was pretty, but the water was low, so we got stuck a few times. We then hit the low point of the entire trip - Chaddles was robbed of close to $500 in cash while we were on the canals! We all felt so awful that this happened; it was a really sad way to end the day!

We headed back to Saigon and rested for a while. That night, we went out as a group and got dinner in one of the small alleyways near our hotel. Afterward, we went for a drink at a rooftop bar and took some great night photos! The nightlife and food life in Vietnam are so interesting. The street is filled with tiny red and blue plastic stools (about a foot off the ground). People squat on the stools and hang out in the street all night long, just chatting, drinking, and eating. If you sit there long enough, you will see the pattern of the chairs and tables morph and pulsate with different groups of people coming and going. As it gets later in the night, more and more chairs and tables trickle out in to the middle of the street. Joanie and I were pretty tired, so we turned in for the night after the rooftop. The boys proceeded to go out and have a blast in the street, not returning until 4:30am! There’s some pretty classic footage of the end of the night with Tyler dancing with a glass of champagne and a hookah.

The next day, we saw the more sobering aspect of Vietnam, and went to the War Museum. Tyler and I were both reading historical accounts of the Vietnam war at the time. We were of course aware of what had happened during the 60’s in Vietnam, but the museum was a very powerful and well presented reminder. The museum is 3 levels high (no AC), and has many powerful photo exhibits. One particularly tragic exhibit is the agent orange room, where they showed the devastating effects of our use of the chemical during the war, to human beings and the environment. There are still so many people with birth defects and other health issues due to this action, and many of the victims work in the museum. After walking through the museum in the heat, we were physically and emotionally drained, so headed back to the hotel to relax before dinner.

It was Christmas Eve, so we planned a spectacular Christmas Eve dinner - a back of the bike motorbike tour through the city to taste all of the delicious food! While waiting for our tour, we hung out on the streets of Saigon, and were lucky enough to catch a stunning sunset. Getting on the back of a motorbike in Saigon takes some courage. It’s hard to describe the traffic there, but try to imagine 20 million motorbikes crammed on to the streets of one city. Watching the streets from above, it looks like a school of fish swimming in the ocean. Here is a small example of the traffic we saw: large_traffic.jpg

The motorbike tour was our highlight of Saigon (thanks Michelle Tran for the recommendation!). We went from eatery to eatery, trying Vietnamese pancakes, Vietnamese pizza, crab curry, and many other delicious foods. Shane even bravely tried the Balut. My bike driver was hilarious. She was a crazy driver (we even hit a pedestrian!!) and she was telling me all sorts of crazy stories. She told me about how she still had the key to her ex-boyfriends house, so she went in there and stole his “perfume” and sprayed it on her pillow at home because she missed him. She then asked “Am I crazy??”, to which I swiftly changed the subject.

The next day was Christmas day. We spent the day at a rooftop pool, laying in the sun, reading, and relaxing. That night, we planned a delicious Italian meal. It was absolutely incredible. The food was perfect, and the ambiance was relaxed and intimate. We had a fantastic group meal. After dinner, we went to a rooftop and took in views of the city, then turned in early. It was a great last night in Saigon.

The following day, we boarded our planes to Koh Lanta, an island in Southern Thailand. We had a layover in Bangkok, flew in to Krabi, then had a 2 hour van ride to our hotel, taking 2 ferries. It was completely worth it. I think all of us agree that this was our favorite part of the trip. It was a new destination for us all, and a place where we could relax on an island and just enjoy nature and not feel pressured to cram in a bunch of sight seeing. Our accommodations were on the West side of the island, had a pool, and were stumbling distance to the beach. The beach there was speckled with all sorts of laid back hippie restaurants and bars, with lounge seats, soft lighting, and plenty of Bob Marley. We had 4 nights in Koh Lanta as well, but we all agreed we could have easily spent a whole week there.

Koh Lanta is the first place that we drove our own motorbikes. This would prove to be our main form of entertainment on the island! We wasted no time in renting them, and kept them for the entire time. Our first full day on the island, after a tutorial from Shane and Chad, we all hopped on our motorbikes and explored the island. It was SO fun!!! We scooted all the way down to the South Eastern portion of the island, where we stopped for a smoothie and some ocean views. We drove to the old town as well, where we had the best lunch of the trip. We ordered Larb at almost every meal, but the Larb we got here trumped them all. YUM. We scooted for another hour or so, seeing an elephant on the side of the road, and stopping at the points that looked pretty. It was such a leisurely and beautiful way to see the landscape. When you need gas, there are all sorts of tiny shops on the side of the road where you can just buy a bottle of gasoline. When we got back, we all took a dip in the pool to cool down. Tyler’s calves for some reason turned a fluorescent green color!! It was hysterical. That night, we went to a hippie bar owned by the hotel manager, and caught a fantastic sunset on the beach. The rays were peaking out behind clouds, and it projected the sunset in a perfect form. It looked like a painting! We ended the night with beach massages that were about $10 for an hour. Perfection.

We did book one excursion from Koh Lanta. The speedboats, ferries, and group long boats were all booked, so we ended up chartering our own long boat for a snorkeling excursion. Turns out, we booked the slowest long boat of all time. It was pretty hysterical - we got passed by every single boat, and it took us a couple of hours to get to the islands. The people manning the boat were a father/son duo that we assume was an acquaintance of our hotel manager, who set it up. We made our first snorkel stop, and discovered that the snorkel equipment was not so water tight. We still had a blast swimming around in the water though. The water was warm, blue, and where we were had some beautiful rock formations. After this stop, we went to the emerald cave, which is a hidden beach you can swim to through a cave. Our boat driver took us there, and gave us no explanation, so we just figured out where to go. Turns out, it’s good to have a guide, as it is pitch black and we had no flashlights. It was definitely cool once you got inside though. It apparently used to be a place where pirates hid their treasure, and what a perfect place for that! It was a major tourist attraction, so there were lots of groups there - we tagged along with a tour so we could use their flashlights to get our way out of there! We went to an island after this where we had lunch on the beach. We had the option to go to another spot to snorkel, but instead we stayed on the island for the rest of our afternoon, swimming, reading, and relaxing. Overall, it was a fun tour, but next time we would have planned ahead and booked a speed boat!

That night was yet another beautiful sunset. This time it was cloudy, but it created these beautiful pink and blue cotton candy skies. We had dinner on the beach and got some amazing fish. Tyler and Shane were very excited to find some grilled baked potatoes. Tyler talked about them for the rest of the trip. We caught part of the soccer game for Shane after dinner at one of the hippie bars, then the boys decided to check out a half moon party while Joanie and I went to bed. :)

The next morning, the boys were still sleeping, so Joanie and I got on our motorbikes and went in to town for some shopping and breakfast! The boys eventually met up with us for lunch, and we scooted around the island some more. During our scoot, rain started pouring down on us! We hurried back to our hotel, soaked all the way through. Since it was raining, we went and found a fun hang out spot on the beach and chatted, ate, and had some drinks. We eventually made our way down the beach for one last dinner and massages before we had to reluctantly drag ourselves from the island paradise. Next stop - Bangkok for New Years!

I have to mention - we did a LOT of laughing as a group on this trip, and had lots of inside jokes. As we are using this blog as a way to journal and remember everything we did, I am recording them here.

Shane: “hey guys, see that building over there?”
Us: “Yeah”
Shane: “I have no idea what that is.”

  1. istillgetjealous

Let’s get in the qway-way.

Did Moses like rice?







Posted by tylerandshawna 20:05 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Hoian City of Lights

Hanoi, Ha Long and Hoian

overcast 60 °F

Our favorite destination in Vietnam was Hoian. Hoian is a little old port town located at the mouth of the Thu Bon River on the coast of Vietnam about half way down the eastern seaboard. The old part of the city dates back to the 15th century and is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Dusk in Hoian is when things really come alive. The whole city glows with with soft light. Lanterns, candles and lights line the streets and illuminate the french colonial shops, giving the whole city a warm and inviting feel. Friendly locals invite you buy a t-shirt or have some clothing tailored while you wait. Hoian is known for its custom made clothing; a city of only 120,000 residents is home to over 200 independent tailors. It seems that the whole town is either t-shirt shops, tailor or restaurants.

Hoian is also known for its food, which prompted us to do a “back of the motorbike” food tasting tour. Two local college girls arrived at our hotel on scooters to show us what culinary treats Hoian had to offer. Shawna and I each hopped on behind our respective driver and off we went to eat. And eat. And eat. We hopped from restaurant to food stand to backyard eatery for three hours. We ate so much that, at one point, we had to stop and rest to make room for our next meal.

Notable stops on our tour included a bhan mi shop featured on Anthony Bourdain’s culinary show (it was delicious) and a stop to eat balut. If you’ve never heard of balut, brace yourself. Balut is considered the worlds top challenge food. Essentially its a hard boiled duck egg, but instead of being an unfertilized egg, its an egg which has been allowed to mature inside the shell. After being prodded by our two young drivers, I tried the balut. It wasn’t the flavor that bothered me, it was the concept that drew the most consternation. I forced down two bites before I called it quits.

The following day we decided to do a cooking class that included a bike ride into the farm areas around the city. Riding a bike in any asian city is a thrill. Cars come at you from every angle and there aren’t any rules of the road that I could discern. Once we were out of town, things went a little more smoothly. We rode past ladies in straw hats casting fishing nets for their next meal, water buffalo with young grazing in open fields and neatly laid out rows of herbs that seemed to stretch for acres. On our tour we saw how cao lau noodles are made, stopped at an herb farm and concluded with a stop at the open air market.

While the cooking class was fun, we both decided that we enjoyed the thai cooking class in Chiang Mai more. In fact, I enjoyed the food in Thailand more than Vietnamese which was surprising because the few Vietnamese dishes I’d had at home, I really liked.

Before Hoian, we spent several days in Hanoi and a night in Ha Long bay. We both felt a bit overwhelmed on arrival in Hanoi after our bucolic stay in Long Prabang. The old part of the city feels crowded and dirty, the sidewalks are full of scooters, merchants and popup restaurants, forcing pedestrians to walk in the gutters. We even saw a restaurant owner butchering dog meat on the side walk. At this point in the trip we weren’t too interested in site seeing so we weren’t sure what to do or where to go.

The highlight of Hanoi had to be our walking street food tour. Our tour guide brought us to crowded hole in the wall restaurants that we would probably have missed on our own. He also instructed us on how to assemble and eat the various dishes brought to us. We tried bahn cuon, salty doughnut, crab spring roll, pillow cake, fried sour hem, pho, bun cha, che, vietnamese coffee, and bia hoi (local draft beer for only $.30)! This was the best food we had in our entire time in Vietnam. Probably the most worthwhile lesson our guide taught us, though, was how to cross the street.

The large cities in Vietnam have an unending stream of motor bikes crossing intersections without regard for street lights, making traditional street crossing an impossibility. Our misguided approach was to run, stop and run again, trying to weave and dodge between the bikes, causing several near misses. The proper technique is to simply step out into the street, keep walking in a straight line, don’t slowdown and don’t stop. The scooters simply flow around you like a boulder in a river. This was quite a revelation to us and made the city much less intimidating.

After Hanoi, we planned to spend two nights on Ha Long bay. Ha Long is a collection of 775 limestone islets which jut up from the water and can reach 200 meters in height. Ha Long literally means ‘descending dragon’ and has its own Loch Ness myth about a sea dragon that inhabits the waters. With the gray mist floating amongst the cliffs and the abundance of sea caves in the area, one almost wants it to be true. Sadly our trip to Ha Long was cut short due to bad weather; we only got to spend one night on the boat before being bussed back to Hanoi.

While northern Vietnam was enjoyable, we were particularly excited about the next portion of our trip. Our friends Chad, Shane and Joanie were on their way to meet us in Saigon!



Ha Long

Posted by tylerandshawna 19:34 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 5 of 22) Page [1] 2 3 4 5 »