Aug 14, 2016
The ruins of Cambodia fade behind me. I have a flight departing Siem Reap at 7:15 PM that will arrive in Da Nang, Vietnam at 8:40 PM. This is about as close as you can get to Hoi An. From the airport you need a taxi ride that will take about 45 minutes.
This taxi ride feels like a trip. There haven’t been too many bright lights but Da Nang brings them. The place reminds me more of the lights in Vegas than anything else. Everything has flashing lights that change colors or display animations. Bridges. Ferris wheels. Buildings. Dragons. Everything for about a ten-minute ride is lit up in bright lights. It’s a weird feeling for me because I haven’t heard of Da Nang previously. I had no idea something like this was out here. The streets of the city are covered with people out grabbing bowls of pho or drinks. It feels very lively, which is odd given it’s only a Sunday night. I won’t be stopping in Da Nang on this trip but it’s a destination I would certainly check out if I’m ever back.
The taxi ride continues until the lights fade to darkness. The hallucination lasts about 10 minutes, which really makes you wonder if it’s real or not. I’ll have to check on the return taxi the following day.
The next half hour of driving is about as crazy as the first fifteen minutes. If you are distracted from the traffic patterns in the first part of the trip, they are obvious during this part. Vietnam has a strange way of driving. Passing on the left. Passing on the right. Going well over the center lane as though you are playing a game of chicken. And of course car horns. Everyone driving is in on the game though. There’s no way you’d be able to make some of the passes if the car in the opposite lane wasn’t friendly enough to move over for you. It seems like it’s been able to work for the country so far, but there’s no way this is a sustainable traffic pattern for the speed of the future.
It’s around ten at night by the time I check in. The guy at check in says he needs to hold my passport. I tell him that’s not possible. Apparently this is common in hotels for Vietnam but I could care less. No one is holding my passport for longer than a couple seconds for obvious reasons. He instead makes a copy and gives me back the original. I wouldn’t have been willing to stay at the hotel if they had to keep my passport. If I have to eat the cost of the night then so be it, but it’s just a risk I’m not willing to take.
I debate going out for a bit to see the city, but I decide on rest and to get a fresh start in the morning.
Aug 15, 2016
My flight is departing at 10:50 PM from Da Nang to arrive 12:05 AM in Hanoi. I have plenty of time to check out what I want to in Hoi An. The old town of the city is very beautiful. It’s full of tourists but there’s stuff to see and do. There are a million restaurants and coffee houses and places selling various items.
The Japanese Bridge is a popular sight in the town. Both sides of the bridge have places to explore. A bride and groom are taking wedding pictures here at the time that I’m there.
After walking through the entire city I stop for some food. I’ve been looking for the best bowl of pho I can find and I finally do so. It may not look like much in the picture but this bowl of pho bo is just perfect. It’s a little bowl of heaven. I’m not exactly sure of what flavor of the liquid is but it’s like this light sweet juice that’s full of umami. I could be completely wrong, but the cool thing these past few years has just been to taste something and say “wow, that’s great umami flavor,” so I’m just going to run with it.
I also add wonton crisps, a bowl of local Hoi An noodle, and a Vietnamese hot coffee to the meal. The crisp has the consistency of a light tortilla or potato chip almost. It’s extremely delicate but so beautifully fried. It breaks apart immediately but only at the parts you want. The local noodle is fantastic as well. It’s a great meal.
I decide I want some more coffee and to also cool off from the long bit of walking I’ve been doing. I swing into a coffee shop to work on the write up for the last blog post. The coffee house is a beautiful place that roasts their own bean. I ask for an Americano and it comes out iced. They seem to want to ice your coffee here every time, even when you sometimes specifically ask for hot. I guess it’s a bit hot out, but I prefer my coffee hot, even on really hot days.
After coffee I head out to stroll about the city some more. The bright hot sun of the earlier day has been replaced by a slightly cooler day. The city has turned dark. It’s beautiful to step out into the city like this. The coffee house has been a portal to almost an entirely different town. It’s as though I stepped out of a nice little city and stepped into this beautiful and charming town. The town starts to take a hold of my soul and does so for the rest of the night.
Hoi An lights up the city at night. It’s not as over the top as Da Nang but there are beautiful lights all over. You can add to the lights by purchasing a candle from one of the candle salespeople around the river. You can make a wish and then drop the candle boat in the river to make your wish come true. It’s beautiful to see these things along the canal in this setting, but I’m assuming it leads to lots of garbage in the water, which I’m not the biggest fan of. No wishes for me.
The sun sets over the town. At this point the empty town I walked many miles through is alive with people who were either out on excursions or trying to avoid the heat of the sun. The town continues to get packed with people as the night goes along. And yet its charm ever increases.
I’m a bit bummed I don’t have the best pictures of Hoi An, but I have to put the best I took here. Darkness leads to more lights and more action.
It’s almost like Hoi An wants to grow up and become like Da Nang. I hope it doesn’t. I doubt it ever could, but things like that beautifully lit up pink lotus blossom stand out in the same ways that some of the lights of Da Nang stand out.
Eventually my time in the city is up. I head back to the hotel. I’m pretty sweated up given the heat and humidity of the day and I have a flight to catch. It’s a bit lame going into flights all sweated up, and I guess the guy in the hotel lobby sympathizes with me. He offers to let me take a shower before I head out and I very happily agree.
He calls for a taxi and I get in. The shower certainly helped to make the flight more enjoyable, but I’m pretty much immediately back sweating once I get outside. The forty-five minute drive to the airport is done by some guy who is driving like he has places to get to.
Eventually we get to the area of the lights outside of Da Nang airport. It was all real. The lit up bridges. The ferris wheel. The art installations. All of it on fire, lighting the darkness up in the way that Vegas does.
The flight comes and goes, and before long it’s midnight and I’m in Hanoi, Vietnam. I want to book a trip to Halong Bay. I look around the airport but no one seems overly interested in selling me a trip. I’ll wait until I get to the hotel because I’m sure they’ll be able to help me out. I don’t want to book at the hotel and then have the bus not pick me up for some reason because of miscommunication.
While we’re waiting for bags an Egyptian guy comes up to me and asks if I want to split a taxi. We’re both going to the city center so I agree to save money on the taxi fare. On the forty-five minute ride we talk about what we do and about life and whatnot. He said he was going to school for engineering because his dad wanted him to. He eventually started a business and dropped out of school. He was out of school for a year and his business was successful before he broke the news to his father. We get to his hotel and the taxi driver drops him off. Another three minutes and I’m at my hotel.
I check into the hotel and ask them to book a tour of Halong Bay for the morning. It’s after one in the morning now. The guy doesn’t think there is any available. I tell him I’ll take anything. I just want to head out in the morning and see the sights. He calls around and gets me a tour on V’Spirit Cruises for an overnight trip like I want. It leaves the hotel around 8 AM.
Getting that tour booked was an example of how I know how to travel this area and without stress. It was difficult to book tours when I tried online. I knew that I would be able to get a tour once I got to Hanoi. Hanoi is a place where you will find a tour to Halong Bay. Either the airport, the town, or your hotel. I knew that I would be able to get a tour booked. I just knew it. I didn’t know how. I knew it might be difficult. But I knew I would be able to get it done. And I did. It was a good feeling.
I slid off to bed for a couple hours of sleep.
Aug 16, 2016
Before long I’m up. I eat a quick breakfast at the hotel and the tour comes to pick me up. We drive around Hanoi to various other hotels picking up other passengers for the trip. The city looked very gritty last night from the seat of the taxi. Graffiti and empty streets outside of a few shady characters. The daylight brings hustle and bustle that covers the darker image that the night portrays. Eventually when the bus is almost full of people we swing out for Halong Bay.
The ride to Halong Bay takes 4 hours with a rest stop in the middle. The tour guide gives us information on Vietnam, Hanoi, and Halong Bay. I spend the ride messing around with some pictures.
Eventually we get to the pier and onto the boat. The weather for the day goes much like the weather has for my entire trip. It’s a mix of clouds and sun. No rain for today, but there is the possibility. Weather changes quick during the rainy or storm season, and this is especially so out on the water.
We check into our rooms and head up to the main dining area for some lunch. The table is comprised of a guy from Boston that I end up making friends with. He was born in Korea but is serving in the United States Army. He’s on vacation and plans to head back to live in Austin after it’s over. The rest of the table is comprised of two Korean guys whom I don’t talk much with. One of them has a warehouse in Austin apparently.
Lunch goes well and I venture off to the deck to take some pictures. Halong Bay is unlike anything I have ever seen or even know exists. It’s comprised of so many little islands that jut directly up out of the sea. The cliffs of these islands are often covered in shrubbery although sometimes they are bare. The color of the water is this odd green color that is not typical of many areas that I have seen. And this scene repeats for what seems like ever in all directions. In front of you. Behind you. To the left and right. It’s just this landscape of these individual islands the completely surrounds you. I imagine it would be fairly easy to get lost here without any sense of direction outside of the landscape around you.
I shoot pictures off and on with the Bostonian. At one point we’re sitting down and just taking the scenery in. We end up talking with a French couple. They seem like they have been dating for some time, but really it’s only been a couple months.
I could have taken a million pictures here. The landscape is so gorgeous. But I restrained myself and only shot a couple.
The cruise has some activities for the passengers. The first is a walk through a cave called Hang Sung Sot. The cave is pretty beautiful. It’s hot out so I was hoping it would be cold like the underground cave I visited with my sisters out in Kentucky, but it’s an above ground cave. It’s a bit hot and humid in there but it’s not too bad. You just get used to dealing with the heat and humidity out here and get on enjoying the sights.
This cave is extremely liberal with their lighting choice. At most areas they don’t intend to keep the integrity of the cave with natural lighting. Instead they have various shades of color such as blue, purple, green, red, and yellow. The end result makes the larger cave appear almost alien. Halong Bay itself could definitely be from another planet, but this cave with it’s lighting is really out there.
At the end of the hike you are left with a beautiful view of the bay. This is one of the iconic views of Halong Bay that shows up when you google the site. I was pretty happy to be able to view it like this. Here’s an image of me ruining the beautiful bay for you courtesy of my favorite Korean-Bostonian.
And here’s a better picture of the bay. It’s a great view from up here.
We get back on the boat and change into bathing suits to get our kayaking on. I pair up with my buddy and in the spirit of the olympics decide to have a race with two Canadians. They’re from Toronto and are doing a similar trip around Southeast Asia. They’re bouncing around from place to place, actually awaiting a third friend to come to the area to meet up with.
I think we end up taking the gold for kayaking, but the desire to win any medals is taken over by the gorgeousness of the bay. We kayak through caves and get up close with the beautiful rock we’ve been passing from the height and distance of our boat. The rocks seem massive from these little kayaks, which bob up and down in the somewhat wavy water.
We reach what looks like a good turning around point but the Torontonians want to push forward to another cave. We decide to follow along for the ride. Eventually after a whole bunch of kayaking, we swing back to the dock. It’s been over an hour but we’ve lost track of time out there on the bay.
As the dock comes into view we see the little boat with all of the other passengers departing for the cruise ship. We wave to them and they jokingly tell us their leaving us behind. We figure we’ll catch the next ride when they get dropped off.
When we eventually arrive at the dock we see that the little boat was still filled with our fellow cruisers. Some of them have probably been waiting for a while for us to finish up having fun. And the Canadians are way behind. It takes them a couple minutes to catch up and we kind of wait around the dock out of sight of our little ship so that we can all get onboard together. When we finally do get on board it’s to a roar of applause, cheering for us being late. How American of us, and Canadian too I suppose.
After kayaks we head back to our rooms and get ready for dinner. It feels like a cruise. It feels like dinner is supposed to be fancy. I kind of want to throw a button down on, but instead opt for more of the same outfit I’ve been wearing on this trip. A black v-neck and shorts. It’s pretty much all I ever wear these days.
Our dinner table is myself, Boston, and the French couple. The French are, I am not making this up, deep in discussion over what wines to order for dinner. I tend to stick with beer, but beers on this trip are your typical beer. Tiger and Ha Noi Beer and the like. I join the French with a glass of local Vietnamese red wine. I want to order the red but am brought white. I wanted white with dinner as I anticipating more seafood and whatnot, but no worries. I drink the white and eventually order red with dinner.
Dinner, like lunch, is this massive 5+ course family style meal. The dishes come out to your table, you take a bit and eat, and then soon after another dish arrives. Some of the dishes are prepared in extravagant styles by lighting on fire and whatnot, which gives you a break in the pace. The pace is a bit fast though, so you have to make sure you eat quickly.
After dinner the bartender comes out to make some special drink that is made by waterfalling a bunch of alcohols down a bunch of glasses and like lighting them on fire and stuff. It’s for a very special birthday, which actually ends up being the French girl at our table. I had no idea who the drink was for so I was a bit surprised when it made it’s way over to our table.
Later after the meal is over I look for a double espresso but it’s too late to get one. Nonsense I think. This is France. There are always cups of espresso and desert to be had. But this isn’t France at all. This is Vietnam. About as far away from France as the United States is.
After dinner I head up to the deck to shoot some pictures alone and just soak in the beauty and serenity of the bay. It’s nice to have a night off from running around and trying to see the whole world. I stay up about as long as I can before heading down to the room to grab some sleep.
Aug 17, 2016
Morning arrives. Breakfast is early so I head back up to the main room to grab it.
The plan for the day is to have a beach day on Ti Top Island. There’s also a hike on the island that gives you a good view. The hike and the beach day mostly go to waste as it starts completely down pouring. The Canadian and American teams spend the day only a couple meters up the hike under an overhang talking about life in Toronto and Jersey. We also talk about app and website ideas. It’s still a good time.
After the beach it’s back to the hotel to shower up and pack up. Before leaving my room I snap a picture of the view. It’s a pretty gorgeous view from here.
After we unpack we head back up for a cooking class, which ends up being a simple how to roll a spring roll. It works out well because the chef spends some time making some absurd food art. Here’s a bird he made from a pear. This picture to me sums up a lot of Southeast Asia. Labor is cheap. This is only possible here because that is true. Our chef is also the captain of the boat. It’s another example of not just life on a cruise ship, but life out this way. To have such a variety of skills to make a living is remarkable.
After the cooking class we jam another five-course meal and head off of the boat. It’s kind of a slight chaos when we get off of the boat. There’s a bunch of different busses going back to Hanoi, so we end up being apart from the group that we came out here with. The French couple says goodbye. The Americans and Canadians are sticking together for one more bus ride.
We leave the dock around noon. It’s a four-hour ride to Hanoi. The bus driver sets up a taxi to take at some drop off along the main road. This saves us from heading all the way into the center of the city, which saves us some time in getting to the airport. Halfway into the bus ride we take a rest stop. This includes coffees, fruit juices, pineapples, oreos, and some random citrusy energy type drinks. It’s where we grab this sweet pic.
After the rest stop we get back on the bus. Eventually the drop off for the taxi comes. It’s time to wake up my fellow American and wish him well. I think he’s fallen in love with some massage girl in Hanoi, so I’m sure he’ll be fine in his time there.
I pile into the taxi with my two homies from the 6 (or is it the 9 now) and we head out to the airport. Before we left the docks I booked a ticket out to Ko Phi Phi. On the bus ride they booked a flight out to Laos. I probably should have followed them to Luang Prabang, but I was happy enough cutting out Laos from the trip to try to save time for Australia and New Zealand. I also want to slowly make my way home to get the next part of my life started.
The taxi ride ends quickly. Our time chatting about life and travel is at an end. Finally at the airport we say our goodbyes. What was once four has dwindled back down to one. It was definitely a fun time on the cruise getting to talk with people from all over and making some human connection. It was a nice break after the hours of grinding travel by myself.
My flight is set to depart Hanoi at 8:50 PM and to arrive at Bangkok at 11:00 PM. There’s going to be a layover. It’s a different airlines so I have to grab my bags, go through customs, leave the airport, and then reenter the domestic terminal and go through security and the check-in process again. Sounds rough but it’s not too bad. I grab another night of sleep in the Bangkok airport. It’s now my fourth time in this airport and my second night of sleep here in the last seven days.
Aug 18, 2016
This night of sleep ends up going better than the first time I slept here. I throw in ear buds with some relaxing music that I can turn up loudly enough to drown out the speakers and the absurd travelers that are just screaming conversation amidst a sea of sleeping bodies. I even combat the cold effectively cracking out my down jacket that I had tucked away for the trip. Eventually it’s time to depart Bangkok at 6:45 AM for Krabi to arrive 7:55 AM.
From Krabi it’s a bus ride to the ferry terminal. From the ferry terminal it’s a two-hour ferry ride to Ko Phi Phi. It takes a little while to get here but once I finally do it is all worth it. Ko Phi Phi is a glorious island.
In order to get to my hotel I need to hop on a boat. So that means that it’s time for another boat picture. I’m on a boat.
Here’s a shot of the beach outside of my hotel. This is about thirty feet from my room. It’s pretty glorious.
And a panorama because it’s just so glorious.
I end up spending the day laying out in the sun and hopping into the water to swim. Today is intended to be strictly a rest day. I think about possibly getting a massage later. I head back to the room around dinner time and take a nap. The plan is to wake up to grab dinner, and then possibly grab that massage. But I end up sleeping late and sleeping the rest of the night away. I don’t mind. This day is here to just relax and let myself catch up with everything.
Aug 19, 2016
Night turns to day, and sadly it’s time to slowly make my way out of this heaven. First I grab a breakfast from my hotel.
After breakfast I take the walk to town. I end up leaving Ko Phi Phi at 1:30 PM for a ferry to Krabi. The ferry gets in around 3:40 PM and the taxi doesn’t get to the airport until my international flight is boarding at 4:30 PM. The flight is supposed to leave at 5:10 PM flight so it looks like I might not be able to make it. Luckily I’m able to cut all of the lines and get on the plane only a few minutes before the doors close. I’m able to arrive 7:35 PM at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It’s only about an hour flight but the time moves head an hour.
So that’s about it. Have a bit more of Southeast Asia to go through and then the decisions will be made about Australia and New Zealand. It’s been a fast paced beautiful whirlwind through Southeast Asia but it’s been incredible so far. I’ve been having the best of time. I’ll have to find out how the Laos path ended up going, but last I heard there were two Canadians riding an elephant through Laos. So I think it’s safe to say both roads would have been fine to take.