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:
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?”
Shane: “I have no idea what that is.”
Let’s get in the qway-way.
Did Moses like rice?