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Our Week in Vietnam, Part 2

Last week I started telling you about our week in Vietnam. I had to stop because it was getting somewhat long so here’s the second part!

Find Part 1 Here

After the two day tour with Hoi An Express, they dropped us off at another homestay in Hoi An. This one wasn’t along the beach but on a small island named An Hoi opposite of the old city area. As soon as we dropped our backpacks off, we headed back into Hoi An to walk around and find something to eat. Since it was a weekday the city was a little less calm but no less beautiful.

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The next morning, we walked around the daytime version of Hoi An for the first time. The old city isn’t blocked off from traffic during the day so there were a few more cars and motorcycles to dodge as we headed down to pick up some tailored clothes we had made. Halie was picking up 3 dresses and I a blazer. We ate lunch at what Anthony Bourdain has dubbed the best banh mi in Vietnam (it was really, really good but the only banh mi I had in Vietnam so not sure if I can make the claim). Then we grabbed a taxi to head back into Da Nang.

So Da Nang is an interesting city to visit. It’s fairly large. The third largest in Vietnam at 1.5 million people or so. But in the world of tourism, it’s not a hot destination. If you look up things to do in Da Nang, everything listed is outside the city (Hoi An, Hue, Ba Na Hills, etc.). After dropping our backpacks off at our AirBnb (down a quiet alley where an old man screamed “xin chao” at Halie so she screamed it back [the old man responded with a giant smile]), we started to walk through the city. If you read anything about Da Nang, rule number one is to not walk around. It’s hot, nothing is close together, sidewalks are sparse, motorcycles are crazy and cars are even crazier. Sounds like a perfect time to walk. We ended up at the beautiful Dragon Bridge, Cau Rong. My picture doesn’t do it justice for multiple reasons but mainly because I’m behind the dragon and the dragon is almost too big for the pic:

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We were walking across the bridge as it became dark. Suddenly, the dragon was illuminated! Then it changed colors! Then again! We looked like little children as we walked across the bridge awe struck at a few lights on a dragon.

A few kilometers of walking (and being looked at like purple aliens) and a few drinks later, we met up with some friends who work at Halie’s school. After dinner, we found a bar next to the beach and spent the rest of the night drinking to the alternating sounds of waves, a singer-songwriter performing, hip-hop and dance music, an incredibly drunk party and a small girl that sang “Let it Go” for some reason.

Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

Next morning we hit up a few markets around Da Nang, ate lunch and had a few more drinks along the beach with our friends. Then it was time for our flight to Ho Chi Minh City. As I talk about this city, I didn’t want to go through a chronology of events like I’ve been doing but wanted to focus on a few cultural takeaways.

First off, Ho Chi Minh City has one of the coolest vibes of any major city I’ve ever been to. It’s young and active and communal. There’s coffee shops, tea shops and bars everywhere you look and at all hours of the day you’ll find crowds sitting inside and out. If they’re sitting outside, the patrons will grab one of the short stools stacked by the door and use that as a perching place to enjoy their beverage. And side note, the coffee I had in Vietnam was some of the strongest and tastiest coffee I’ve ever had. If the sidewalks weren’t covered by people sitting on small stools, they were used as parking for the millions (and millions) of motorcycles. Our AirBnb was actually above a coffee shop (behind the torn sign):

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Morning Coffee in Ho Chi Minh City

Quick story about our AirBnb. The place was watched over and taken care of by the owner’s uncle. He was an old Vietnamese man that lived next door. Had absolutely no English skills but was incredibly welcoming and happy. So welcoming that each morning, as Halie and I were leaving the apartment, he insisted we take a shot of his moonshine from a clear plastic bottle. We couldn’t say no! The second morning, as we had drinks at the coffee shop and after our now customary shot of moonshine, he also offered us some fruit to eat. It complimented the shots well!

While we walked around Ho Chi Minh City, we saw the footprint of French colonialism, American intervention into war and politics and Vietnamese communism. We visited the War Remnants Museum, which consisted of gut-wrenching photography and military tools of destruction leftover from the Vietnam War. Although I was well aware of the propaganda-driven nature of the story the museum was trying to tell, it was still emotionally moving and heartbreaking to see the destruction the war cause in Vietnam. Whether it was photos and stories of citizens still dealing with the affects of Agent Orange dropped by American planes or the heroic stories of journalist who lost their lives to make sure people back in the states knew the horrors of war, it was all difficult to take in.

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War Remnants Museum

Alright, I guess that’s about everything I wanted to talk about. We had a great trip, we’re ready to go back. Next time we plan on hitting Hanoi and Ha Long Bay in northern Vietnam. As last time, check out a few more pictures:

Google Photos album for Part 2

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Posted by on November 8, 2017 in History, Life, travel

 

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Our Week in Vietnam, Part 1

Hey everyone, sorry it’s been a while. We’ve been active but it hasn’t reflected in my blog. We had a long weekend in Kanchanaburi that I should have written about. Oh, well, what’s past is past. Let’s get to our trip to Vietnam.

So we planned a 6-day trip to Vietnam, starting in Central Vietnam and ending in the south. We had accommodations for the first two nights but left the second two open depending on what we liked about the few cities we’d visit and then we had two nights in Ho Chi Minh City.

Day One

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Lido Homestay. Hoi An, Vietnam

Flying in to Da Nang International Airport on midday Sunday, we wanted to go straight to the beach (more to get it out of the way than anything [I don’t really like beaches]). Our AirBnb scheduled us a private car to drive us the 30 minutes or so to the beaches outside Hoi An. Getting there, we were welcomed to the cutest little bungalow by the sweetest host I’ve ever met. The name was Lido Homestay and it was a one minute walk from the beach and incredibly affordable. After settling in, we headed to the beach. After lunch and a bit of time on the beach, we headed back to the homestay, had a shower then called a taxi to go to Hoi An Ancient Town.

As soon as we were dropped off, we fell in love with Hoi An. The old town is a beautiful blend of Southeast Asian and foreign architecture that was a major port from the 15th to 19th centuries. A large portion of the old town does not allow cars at certain times so it’s an incredibly enjoyable stroll through the city. Especially at night. Because of lanterns. Paper lanterns. Everywhere. Every. Where. I also found a Dr Pepper, so there’s that.

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Two-Day Tour

So we’re usually not the type to book fancy tours, especially not ones that cover multiple days. We travel at our own pace and spontaneity and don’t want anybody messing with that. That said, sometimes it’s just too difficult to figure out the logistics and a tour is the best option. This was us when I was trying to figure out how to fit in all the history in Central Vietnam (especially Vietnam War stuff). The traveling between locations was difficult enough. So we found and booked a two-day historical tour of Hue and the surrounding areas. It was a group tour that could have been as large as ten people but somehow it ended up being just Halie and I. Private tour for the win.

We were picked up early on our second day in Hoi An. We had a multiple-hour drive ahead of us through the mountains towards Hue. Our tour guide, Key, informed us we’d be taking the long route there up and over the mountains along the sea and then lagoon. Sounds good to us. And the sights were incredible:

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After the breathtaking drive through the mountain, our first stop was the tomb of the 12th Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, Khai Dinh.  He was a hated king that forced 10,000 people to build his tomb. During the construction, around half of the workers died! Unfortunately, his tomb is still an impressive sight to behold. I’ll add an album at the end of the blog that’ll have many more photos.

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Leaving the Emperor where he lies, we visited a serene pagoda on the edge of the Perfume River then took a short cruise down to the entrance of the Imperial City, which was the nation’s capitol and the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty from 1802 to 1045. Most of the city was destroyed during American bombing in the Vietnam War but the buildings that still stand and the bit of reconstruction that has been completed shows the splendor (and excess) of the Nguyen emperors.

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Back to the hotel, Halie and I indulged in a spa package (treat yo’ self). Then the tour guide picked us back up for dinner.

Day two was another early pick up by the tour guide because we had to head even farther north towards the old border between North and South Vietnam and the Demilitarization Zone (DMZ). We were first brought to an out of the way museum about the residual horrors leftover from the war, mainly in the form of land mines. Since the end of the war, unexploded bombs and landmines have caused more than 100,000 injuries and fatalities. But there are numerous organizations working their butts off locating and dismantling the bombs. We then headed towards the actual border, the Ben Hai River, that divided north and south and experiences the brunt of the violence.

After walking around the area and across the river, we then headed even farther north to see the Vinh Moc Tunnels. I first learned about these tunnels watching Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. For 6 years, the villagers in this area lived in tunnels while the insistent bombing from American planes made it impossible to be at the ground level. As America build better bombs that would penetrate deeper, the villages kept digging deeper. By the third level, they were 30 meters deep (almost 100 feet). Not a single villager died and even 17 children were born during these 6 years!!

Okay,  realized this blog is getting kinda long so I’m going to cut it off here. Link to Part 2 of our trip to Vietnam.

Here’s more photos from the days I’ve spoken of so far.

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2017 in Life, travel

 

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Thailand – One Month In

สวัสดี!
(Hello in Thai, pronounced “sawadee”)

Sorry it has been so quiet around here for a few months. We’ve been crazy busy with preparations for the move. We sold a lot of our belongings in Philadelphia. Packed what we wanted to store for a few years in boxes. Packed what we wanted to bring to Thailand in suitcases (Halie and I each had two rolling suitcases, a duffel bag and a backpack). Then we moved out of our Philly rowhome and spent a few days driving to Texas. We had four weeks in Texas to spend some time with our families, go on a quick vacation to Mexico, finalize last minute documents for visas and prepare for the big move. Finally, a month and a day ago, we loaded up on a Korean Air flight and headed across the world. One day later, July 23rd, we were in our new home: Bangkok (or in Thai: Krung Thep).

It has now been a month. We’ve moved into a condo downtown. I’ve set up my desk area at home for work. Halie has two coworkers that she shares a cab with every morning and evening for work. Next week the Thai tutor we hired will begin seriously teaching us the language. We are finally settling in to our new lives as farangs in Thailand.

So what does that mean, our new lives in Thailand? Well, we get up really early because Halie’s school is out in the suburbs and we live downtown. We walk to the end of our “soi” so Halie can grab a taxi for school and I can grab breakfast. This lady makes these incredible crispy pancake things with sugar and condensed milk on them. And they’re only 5 baht (15 cents)!! I start off every day with at least two. If I need to grab some water or cokes for the house, I go across the soi to another little shop for that. My walk back brings me across food stands selling prepared lunches and whole fish off a grill, past monks receiving donations from the devoted, fruit and vegetable stands and many other shops. All the while I’m dodging taxis, bikes, motorcycles, soi dogs and other vehicles. What a way to start every day!

In the afternoons we sometimes will meet other teachers for happy hour or dinner. We use the foodpanda app to order dinner some nights. Other nights we either walk to a restaurant or pick up dinner from a food stand. There’s one particular stand on our soi that for only 35 baht (a little over a dollar) you can get rice with two different dishes on top. My favorite Thai dish currently is the minced pork stir fried with basil and peppers, called pad kra pao. It’s so tasty and spicy and also good with chicken.

And of course, the weekends. This is when we really get to explore the city (or attempt to, it’s so freaking huge). The major road we live off of, Sukhumvit, is a perfect place to begin. One reason is because the BTS sky train is on Sukhumvit so using that (and it’s connection to the Airport link and the metro), we can reach much of the city. Sukhumvit is a shopper’s paradise. Everything from fancy, stupid-expensive malls to street markets line Sukhumvit from one end to the other. This is also a large expat area so any type of food at any price is just a few kilometers away. You can get anything you want and pay anywhere from 35 baht to 3500 baht (if you prefer). Farther down the BTS is also numerous Buddhist temples (called wats), cultural landmarks like the Victory Monument and museums aplenty. Many nights, we end up at a rooftop bar because they’re incredible for viewing the night skyline, there are so many of them and… we like bars.

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Day trips are also easily accomplished on weekends. We recently took a trip to Ayutthaya, the capital of Bangkok from 1350 until it was burned down by the Burmese in 1787. It’s a great collection of ruins of temples, stupas, royal buildings and much more. We also visited the current royal summer palace at Bang Pa-In then finished the day off with a riverboat cruise back to Bangkok. Here’s a collection of a few pictures I took that day. 

Another major reason for living in Bangkok is our close connection to the rest of Southeast Asia. Suvarnabhumi Airport is a major international hub with cheap flights all over SEA and the world. A second airport, Don Mueang, will get you places even cheaper. As we get settled in, we’ve been planning our trips around holidays and long weekends. In September, we have flights up to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. With a week off in October, we’re planning on spending most of it in Vietnam. October also has a three-day weekend that we want to go to one of the numerous islands along the Thai coast that contain some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

Anyway, I’m not completely sure what I was trying to accomplish with the blog post. I just felt obligated to give you guys an update and felt bad about not posting anything for a while. Hope you enjoyed my update and I’ll make sure to include more pictures next time. If you want to see pictures more often, be sure to follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat. I’ll post something somewhere…

Until next time!

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2017 in Life, Original Work

 

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