Thursday, January 31, 2019

Mekong Delta, Vietnam

To end our stay in Vietnam we took a 4.5 hour bus ride from Saigon to the Mekong Delta where stayed in a tranquil home stay right on an inlet. The Nguyen Shack was nothing short of amazing. The grounds are gorgeous and our shack backed to the water, a place where we could relax in hammocks at night, enjoy a few drinks and watch the fireflies go buzzing by. 

The Nguyen Shack is a great place to visit as a family with plenty of room for kids to safely run around and explore. The girls enjoyed putting their feet in an abandoned boat with toe nibbling fish. 

Crossing the "monkey bridge"...because one looks like a clinging monkey while crossing

At the shack we met people from around the globe, all here to see the slower pace of life along the delta. One of the highlights of our stay was the puppies and kitties that called the shack their home. We had a mom cat and her 1 kitten stay in our shack with us. 

Relaxing and catching the sunset with our kitty

The Nguyen Shack offers free bikes for touring the many little roads that wind their way along the delta. We couldn't get over how friendly everyone was to us. Kids would run after our bikes, screaming "hello" and wave at us. Men would yell from their boats, "Welcome to Vietnam". Having lived in China only 5 months, smiling faces, waving hands and warm people are almost foreign to us. I don't think we realized how complaisant we have become since moving to China. 

The Nguyen Shack took us on a 5:30am trip to the Cai Rang floating market. The market is up and running strong from about 6am- 7am.  This market is where local farmers come to sell their produce to people with smaller boats. It's the smaller boats that then make their way up the inlets and re-sell the produce to others. 

You can buy just about anything to eat or drink at the Cai Rang market. We bought some Vietnamese coffee from a couple in a small boat on our way to see the market. 

The easiest way to know what the farmers are selling is to look at the produce tied to the bamboo stick raised above the boats. If a boat had carrot, onion, cabbage, and taro tied to their stick, the locals would refer to that boat as a "super market".  Other boats sold melons of all sorts and pineapples. 

In addition to the Cai Rang floating market, we took a sunset boat tour through the delta. At sunset the tide is low and unfortunately the amount of trash thrown into the delta can be easily spotted. I don't understand why if a region relies so heavy on something such as the delta, why the locals trash it. I understand that at times trash is displaced, but this wasn't the case. On several occasions we saw people purposely throw plastic bags of trash into the delta and just walk away. Do they really think it just disappears? 

Irony~ a man bathes in the delta next to a bag of floating trash

We really enjoyed Vietnam, from the lantern festival in Hoi An to the Cu Chi tunnels and relaxing on the delta. But I can honestly say, we wouldn't come back. The amount of trash thrown all over the country is too much. From the trashed beaches to the 4.5 hour bus ride from Saigon to the delta where for hundreds of miles we saw trash to watching it float through every's too heartbreaking.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Hoi An, Vietnam

Before I get to the fun stuff. Let me tell you about the important stuff. Although Vietnam is a country that will issue a visa upon arrival you have to apply for the visa before you leave for your trip. 

It was in the Bangkok airport that the ticketing agent asked us for proof of application for our visas when we gave her the 'deer in headlights' look. We were clueless. Long story short, you can apply for a visa online while standing in the Bangkok airport, pay a fortune, and have your visa application expedited within 15 minutes. Once you receive the oh so very important email showing an application for visa, show the email to the ticket agent and they will issue your boarding pass.

Special thanks to the Air Asia ticketing agents who helped us through the process of finding an online visa application (he had to try 3 different websites), who hotspotted us with their personal cell phones (the free airport WiFi wasn't cuttin' it) and who got us on our plane with 3 minutes to spare. Don't worry about feeling like a boob if you make it to the Bangkok airport and have no idea about the visa hassle. Just look around at the dozen of other teary-eyed travelers who are also in fear of missing their flight. 

We caught our flight with minutes to spare and made it to the Hoi An Lantern Festival! The true lantern festival happens twelve times a year on a full moon.

For 300,000 Vietnamese dong ($11 usd) we rented a boat for the four of us and sent lanterns (wishes) down the river. Don't worry if you can't make it to Hoi An during a full moon, they perform smaller versions of the lantern festival every night. 

Hoi An isn't a very large town, yet packs in tourists from all over the world. The first few hours we were there our eyes were like saucers....we weren't the only expats in town. "Where did all these people come from?" A far cry from living in China.

In Hoi An spend a few bucks and get the museum pass which allows you to visit 5 different places of interest. The Hoi An Folklore museum was a great place to see exactly how the fine silk is made. At first we thought the silk spinning wheel was a prop, thankfully it had live silk worm cocoons in warm water producing silk, and the local woman was using the wheel. Don't expect too much from the museum or other points of interest and you won't be disappointed. 

If you're looking to avoid major crowds (this coming from someone who lives in China) then get out and see what you want before 3pm. We had the streets to ourselves each day if we started early enough.

Hoi An is a great place to shop and eat. Then eat and shop. Then eat some more and shop. Shop keepers will start at a ridiculous price, we start at a rock bottom price and hope to meet somewhere in the middle. Locals try to take advantage (and do) of the ridiculous exchange rate (23,000 to 1) knowing that most people can't calculate the exact price. 

Japanese bridge

In Hoi An definitely try to get lost walking through little ally ways tucked between buildings. I'm not one to take pictures of food, but the local Hoi An food is amazing. Cao Lau is a local dish, only found in Hoi An. Cao Lau is comprised of noddles, pork and local greens. Something we weren't expecting was how refreshing the local food was going to be. Dishes are made with mint, cilantro, lime, and cucumber. 

The Cao Lau in Hoi An is unique in taste and texture because it is made with water from a Cham well located near the city. For all we know, the restaurants used bathtub water.....still tasted great. I am not a sandwich fan at all but you have to try a banh mi sandwich if you come to Vietnam. Sandwiches made on a small french baguuettes with all of the fixins you want. If you eat a banh mi in Hoi An, you might as well go the restaurant featured on Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. Plug Banh Mi Phuong into your Google Maps and head towards the center of town.

Local eateries inside the day market

We chose to stay on the tiny island An Hoi which is separated from Hoi An by the Thu Bon river. We're glad we stayed out of the center of town and had some peace and quiet at night. Hoi An is a night city....the place starts to open up at 3pm and goes till 1am. 

Prices in Hoi An (which is expensive compared to other non touristy places) $1 bike rental, $1.50 plate of food, .17 cent beer for "fresh beer", .75 cents for beer, $10 for a (backdoor)North Face jacket, and $6 massage.  "Fresh beer" is less than desirable tasting "beer" that's poured out of a plastic bottle. One was enough for me. Backdoor North Face is said to be all the real North Face manufactured items that slip through the back door and end up in the night markets. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Tianping Mountain, Suzhou

For people that have lived in the tropics for the past 5 years, it was tough waiting for the opportune time to see colorful autumn leaves. The best time to see the leaves at Tianping Mountain is late November or early December, although the leaves in town start to turn in October. 

As with everything else in China, the place was crowded yet pleasant and worth the trip. Tianping Mountain is a walkable distance from the last subway stop on Line 1, Mudu. 

For less than $5 USD per person entrance fee, there's quite a bit to explore especially if you like to hike. A small hike up to the top will reveal fall colors with the tiny little village of 10 million people (sarcasm) of Suzhou in the background. 

So there you have it, fall leaves in China. Check that one off the list!