Monday, December 31, 2012

Old things are awesome

In Nha Trang there is a group of towers that was built a long time ago. Like in 781(well, at least that's when the towers were founded, they've been built and rebuilt). I know, my mind is blown as well. They were built by the Cham people in Vietnam for a goddess. 

The weather was beautiful that day so instead of paying good money and compromising safety to a taxi/cyclo/moto we walked the 4 km. 

The light was perfect. How gorgeous are these buildings? There are still people that go there to pray so you have to be dressed appropriately and take off your shoes to go inside. 

It was beautiful and peaceful. That is until Gangnam Style started blasting and some of the people working there began to learn how to do the dance. Even those dressed very traditionally, which looked and felt weird (and wonderful!)

For more photos of amazing old buildings in perfect light clickity click on Mind the Ramp!

Today I am thankful for unexpected moments. And the sun. 


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Party Town, Excellent

 Nha Trang, beach and party town. It's really warm here and the beach is super beautiful. 

We got on a bus in DaLat.  The seats were 2 on one side and 1 on the other with a fold down seat in the aisle. The only seats available were at the very back. I sat on an actual seat but it was on the wheel so I was basically crunched into the fetal position and TJ got a dodgy fold down seat. They had loaded all the luggage through my window and just piled it haphazardly on the back seats. So that meant that everything was on an inverted triangle and was unsteady. Everytime we went over a bump (about every 2 minutes) the luggage would slide forward and try to land on our heads. Very frustrating. At one point we had got it wedged back up pretty well but the bus hit a HUGE bump going at a rapid speed. All 4 of us in the back row flew off our seats and the luggage rained down. We were not happy.

Then we got off the bus and there were so many people waiting to tell us about their good hotels. We hadn't booked but I told them all that we had. Since we had no idea where we'd been dropped off in the middle of town it was tricky to get our bearings, especially since there were people constantly hounding us. We decided to walk down the street a little to try to work out our map. This one guy kept following us and demanding that we stay at his hotel. I said no a zillion times. He kept coming back. We crossed the street, he came back. Made me crazy. He kept saying that it was a nice one (I looked at the leaflet later and discovered that the hotel was actually named Nice Swan... Not that is was a nice one). Finally TJ took the leaflet just to have him leave us alone. Even though we kept saying no he must have thought that we actually meant to come so he just followed us. 

I tripped over some broken pavement and fell and he laughed. So even if we didn't mind being harassed and followed, that clinched it. By the time we got to the hotel we wanted to stay at we were just so happy to be here and with no one trying to sell us anything...

TJ had the genius idea that we deserved massages. We priced out a few places and decided on the least dodgy. It was lovely. They served ginger iced tea and the facilities were beautiful. We wanted to make sure that we could have them at the same time so that neither of us would be waiting for an hour for the other. Maybe that didn't come across in translation so we had a couples massage. It was so wonderful and relaxing. TJ looked up all the definitions and decided that Swedish was the least painful and most relaxing. Totally worth the $18 each for 60 min. And that was pretty expensive compared to most. So wonderful.

Nha Trang was a bit too much of a party town for us. Maybe I'm just too old but drunk backpackers doing pushups in the street or banging on the bathroom door so they can vomit is not my idea of a good time. It's just a bit too much in your face selling for me. I really just wanted to go for a walk because I was having a small emotional meltdown. But it was not relaxing as every bar/restaurant we walked by people would shout at us to come in for happy hour. 2 for 1 buckets of alcohol... I just wanted to go back to the room and get under the covers. 

We took an overnight bus to Hoi An. These buses are not made for large Canadian people. 3 rows of 2 bunks. There is no place to put your carryon baggage. 13 hours with a 10lb bag on your lap is not so good. I think I managed to sleep a little but kept waking up when the toilet door would become unlatched and bang it's smelly smells all over. Not the greatest experience but we got there safe and sound. 

More photos at Mind the Ramp.

Today I'm thankful for public transport, even when it's not ideal. We are lucky to be able to explore this beautiful, amazing country. 


Thursday, December 13, 2012


Today we were on a 6 hour bus ride that took 8 hours. And this driver LOVED to honk the horn. I think there was maybe a total of 15 minutes of non-honking time. Seriously. And it seemed like no one on the outside could hear it but inside (and we were in the 1st seats) it was blaring. I may have temporary hearing loss. 

By the time we got to DaLat I was ready to tear my ears off and the Gentleman Caller was about to punch the driver. It was awful. He would honk if there was a car, motorbike or pedestrian on either side of the road, when he was passing on a blind corner while going up a hill, when saying hi to other buses, when he wanted to make his partner annoyed, when it started raining. In fact the only time he wasn't incessantly honking was when he was on the phone. And I understand it's important for get the motorbikes out of your way. But perhaps 1 toot is enough rather than a HOOOOOONNNNNNNNNKKKKKKK 8 times/bike. Rant over.

Since we got to Dalat we have spoken to many kids. They are so friendly and just want to practice their English. So there was choruses of HELLOOOOO! And what is your name? As we walked up the street. Really cute!

We took a gondola in the rain. Finding the gondola in the first place was nearly impossible. The map said to go one way, the wrong way. But we found in eventually. And then it poured. But on the up side we saw this gorgeous lake. And then it poured some more and we were over it. 

As always, Mind the Ramp has more photos. 

Today I am thankful for people who sell things that you need just as you need them. Such as rain ponchos. 


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Miss Saigon

It's hot here in Ho Chi Minh City. Really really hot. Last night, arriving in Vietnam, was super overwhelming. We got our visas ok, much less trouble than I expected. Then we got a taxi, he sort of spoke English but not really. He drove us to the address of our hotel. The drive was mental. People just drive here. It doesn't seem to matter if you have the right of way or anything. They just go. I think that the driver said that there are 50 million motorcycles in HCMC, I think I saw them all last night.

 Anyway, so we get out of the cab and all that I can see in the spot of the address we're meant to be at is a small, dark alleyway. So we hike up our bags and wander down it, looking for some sign that looks familiar. We had to ask 2 different people where to go. Turns out that it was down another smaller and darker alleyway. We were passing small houses with 10 people sitting around the living room and people cooking and washing up the dishes on the street. Or, I guess, in the alley. I could probably reach out both hands and touch the walls on either side. 

We finally found the hotel and it was really friendly. The family were watching tv and the children playing. Our room is really basic but does have a fan so HURRAH! And our own bathroom, where the shower is just a showerhead over the toilet. Still it's clean and secure and now that we know how to find it, easy to get to. The Gentleman Caller and I both were so so so thirsty but were too overwhelmed to go out, luckily the hotel sells cheap 1.5L bottles of water for 6000 dong (about 40 cents). 

In the morning we were up and out by 9am, which is very unusual! We decided to walk a bit to get our barings. Oh my goodness. This is the busiest place I have ever seen. Ever. Scooters everywhere. And there doesn't seem to be any rules, I mean they all pretty much stick to the right side of the road but turning left? Everyone just goes any old time. Crossing the first street this morning was a stressful event. Taxis, cars, buses and a million scooters are wizzing by. And there's not really any crosswalks, or there are but people don't stop. The trick is just to start walking at a steady pace and all the traffic will adjust a tiny bit to flow around you. So scary though. And there are women in high heels, sitting side saddle with their legs crossed, barely holding on to the driver. And I've seen a family of 4 on a tiny scooter!! 4 people! All looking relaxed and natural as they blend into the fast paced river of traffic. 

We walked to the Reunification Palace. I don't know much about Vietnam's history, I'm ashamed to say. We joined in on a free tour and it was really interesting to learn about which presidents lived there. The last president of South Vietman (before they were liberated by the North communists from the evil invading US, or at least that's how they spin it) was only president for 2 days. Then he surrendered to the liberation army. While we were waiting for the tour a Vietnamese girl started chatting to us and recommending where we should go in Vietnam and where we should eat for a resonable price. She was very friendly and it was nice to have a chat with her. She assured us that her home town of DaLat was the most beautiful place in the country. 

We decided to walk to the War museum only to find that it wasn't open yet. No problem! We wandered down the street to a coffee shop. And they gave us free iced green tea! So we played some cards to fit in with the group of Vietnamese men smoking and drinking tea while yelling at their card game. 

The War museum was very good, but very propoganda-y. History is written by the winners and so at this museum it's not called the Vietnam War, it's the US war in Vietnam and Communism is the right thing and Vietnam had to be liberated from the US. Very interesting. Very sad. From what I can tell it seems like everyone in that war was wrong. There were lots of photos and displays of the torture and destruction that was caused by the US army. And there was a whole section on Agent Orange. It's hard to believe that even through this happened in the 70s, there are still children being born today that are disabled or deformed because of it. Very very haunting and sad. I just can't understand how people can do this to other people. I'm glad we went but there were a lot of times that I almost started crying. 

After that we walked to a market. Wow. If you make eye contact with any of the sellers or if you pause to look at their wares they are on you, selling like crazy. The Gentleman Caller needed some new shoes so the girl was trying to talk us into buying 2 pairs, we'd get an even better deal. I managed to say no and he managed to talk her down a little. The aisles were so cramped and piled high with stuff everywhere I turned. Sensory overload. And everyone asking 'what are you looking for? I have nice bags. Shirt for you, I have big sizes!' (thanks a lot!)

For more photos go to Mind the Ramp

Today I am thankful for new and totally different experiences. 


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Clothes Conundrum

When I first arrived in Australia I knew that I had packed completely wrong. I think I was trying for practical when I actually just brought things that I didn't like, didn't look good in, didn't feel good in and  had tiny holes from a crappy washing machine. 

In moving on from being settled and having a closet to lugging my backpack with me every couple of days, I tried to make better choices. I had to balance being hot in Cairns, cold & rainy in Melbourne, hot in Sydney, freezing, windy and rainy in New Zealand and hot & humid again in Southeast Asia. Drawing things out so I can see them in front of me helps me make decisions. 

Anything with a tiny X over it means that I got rid of it. Some to second hand shops, some to the take it if you need it box in hostels, a few to friends. 

I still have far too many things. Everyday I contemplate tossing a cardigan or jacket since I'm not using them anyway. But then I remember that sometime I will be returning to Canada, where the temperature will probably be -30. So I've just come up with a system of swinging my bag up and over to get it on... and apologizing to all helpful bus drivers who have to lift it. 


This has nothing to do with anything but I'm sitting on a covered balcony in a small seaside town in Cambodia. As we were swimming we watched the clouds roll in. It has been pouring for hours. POURING! Intermittently the power goes out. The Khmer family that owns the guesthouse is having dinner beside me, the children running around and being super cute. Through the rain I can see hammocks swinging under an awning and beyond that, hazily, the sea. And when I look up and just be for a moment? Wow... this is pretty awesome. I never knew, never imagined that I would be here. Wearing my warmest cardigan that I keep wanting to toss... 

Today I am so thankful for toilet paper. It's not replaced daily by the guesthouses and that means that I have to ask for it. And maybe I use too much but I have a touchy gut... So I'm thankful that toilet paper exists at all and that sometimes a store will sell it and there is sort of a freedom in being able to use the bathroom any time that you may need. You know?


Thursday, December 6, 2012


I went to Wellington too. But it was really windy the whole time. And mostly we went to Te Papa museum which was incredible and drank beer at a cool place called the Bangalore Polo Club with it's sumptuious red decor. So there weren't any photos of that particular adventure.

Auckland though... Full of very random events. Walking down the street we bumped into a performance art thing? There was dancing and acting and poetry. And there was also this celebratory statue.

Then heading down to the water the Gentleman Caller and I came across The Parkies! A parallel parking competition. I bet if my mom entered she would win hands down. Me? Forget it. We watched the finals. It was pretty neck and neck and all were on edge to see who would win. 

Weird, right? Totally. 

Pretty pretty water.

Pretty pretty Auckland. 

Today I am thankful for making plans. We chose Auckland as the city to fly out  of and then made the rest of the journey work. It was perfect. I love love loved New Zealand and will definitely be back one day. The air is so crisp and clean. The blues of the sea and sky are mesmerizing. The whole country is lush as anything but also so precarious since it's earthquake and volcano central. Just an outstandingly beautiful and friendly country. 


Monday, December 3, 2012


We had stayed for one short night at an awesome hostel that served free hot chocolate pudding every night. Sadly, we had been on the bus for about 13 hours (our original bus broke down and eventually we flagged down another bus company to shove us on theirs. The only seats available were at the back. Where someone had clearly vomited early in the day) and just needed real food. 

In NZ there was the cutest size of Coke. It's tiny! And actually the perfect amount. And it makes one feel like a giant, which is always a source of good times. 

The Interislander is the ferry that goes between the South and North Islands of New Zealand. And it's not a terribly creative name but somehow I really like it. The Interislander. Yup. 

The entire trip from New Zealand's south to north island was incredible. Such beautiful views. 

Today I am thankful for the colour blue. God, it's so gorgeous I could just fall headfirst into it.