Hello Cambo(dia)

Oct 24, 2017

I’m finally on my way to a new country, all by my lonesome. The past 7 weeks I’ve been traveling with people I’ve met along the way. I’ve met Liv & Josh literally my first day in Bangkok, it was all our first days and after speaking we realized we were doing the same route. We met Ida in Pai and Sam & Mike and Hannah & Charolette, the 2 UK duos on the slowboat to Lao which was basically 4 weeks ago. Now, after splitting, it’s a bittersweet moment for me. I’ve grown so attached to these people who’ve basically been my family. I basically don’t know how to travel “solo” without them. But, alas, this moment had to come and I was thrown to the wolves.

Just kidding. Sean was there the morning I left Saigon to say bye to me. At least I was able to transition slowly. We took the bus together and went to the new hostel together. The only real time I was alone was on the bus from Vietnam to Cambodia, and it really wasn’t bad. First off, this really cute little Vietnamese girl was very playful. She was playing with me for a good hour, and I gave her one of my animal erasers. She thought it would be a game to give it back to me and I would give it back to her. The game evolved to her taking the pieces apart and throwing them, then once she started to put the small little pieces in her mouth I told her no and her parents took back. I think they knew she was acting up but didn’t want to be rude to me and tell me to stop.

Anyways, the bus went smoothly. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories across the border. Apparently, the visa is only supposed to cost $30, but the bus facilitators usually say it’s $35. This is for their “service fee” because they basically do everything for you. We just fill out the papers, they give it to the peoples at the Vietnam border, get it stamped and shit, tell us to go to the Cambodian border, give all the paperwork, and all we have to do is follow orders. So, I guess it’s worth it since I wouldn’t be able to understand the Vietnamese/Cambodians since they don’t speak good English anyways. I’ve heard stories of people refusing to pay the extra $5, the bus people telling them to do it by themselves, then after it takes so long, they eventually get left at the border and the people left have to take a motortaxi to catch up to their bus. Moral of the story, it’s more efficient and easier if you just pay the extra $5 to get that shit taken care of than being left at the border to fend for yourself.

On the bus, I met the only other Westerner, another guy from the UK (wow, big surprise) named James. He asked me what hostel I was staying at, and said that he would share a tuk tuk with me to see if they had any space. Once we got to Phnom Penh we found a tuk tuk that took us to our hostel, Mad Monkey. I wasn’t feeling well at this point, I definitely had the common cold. So after finishing my blog in my room (which happened to be right next to the really loud bar), I went downstairs to get some food at their restaurant. I got BoBo (rice porridge, I know…big shock) because I needed something soothing for my throat, which was getting worse. James and I sat downstairs, just talking about life until I told him I needed to go upstairs and get some sleep. I was NOT feeling well and we needed to wake up semi early for the Killing Fields/S21 Prison we booked in the morning and I need to be mentally and physically prepared for that.

Oct 25, 2017

So, I didn’t eat eggs today (WOW). But that’s because breakfast isn’t really included in Cambodian hostels. Another weird thing is that they take USD here, and whatever is less than a dollar you get back in Cambodia Riel. This is a good and bad thing, it’s good because I brought a lot of USD here so I don’t need to withdraw anything and spend more $$ on fees, plus I know how what’s a good deal and what’s not (sorta). The bad thing is that they can charge way more than other countries because things are on the dollar. They can charge $1 and we can’t really go lower than that since no one really carries riel. So, poop on that. But I got a nice big fruit bowl for breakfast with yogurt. I woke up still sick, but I was determined to be productive today.

The tuk tuk driver that took us to our hostel from the bus yesterday picked us up around 10:30. Our first stop was the Killing Fields, the place during the Khmer Rouge where they took thousands of Cambodians to their death. Now, I’ve only recently heard about the Cambodian Genocide, I mean I remember briefly hearing about it in bits and pieces, but never really delving deep into what happened, why it happened, and the whole reasoning behind it. When preparing for trip, was when I actually realized that this genocide impacted the country HUGELY (out of 8 million Cambodians, ~2.5 million died in the genocide) that’s basically 1/3 or 1 out of 4 people that you know, gone.

So, the Khmer Rouge brought people here to die. From 1974-1979, Pol Pot wanted Cambodians to get back to an agrarian society, back to basics and farming, a classsless society. Anyone with light skin, a college degree, glasses, spoke a foreign language, had soft hands, or protested, he killed. Anyone he thought was going to overthrow his government, he brought to this and other killing fields to die. But, he didn’t kill them in any humane way. The Khmer Rouge used objects like axes, bamboo poles, machetes, sticks, farming tools, and tools alike to cause blunt trauma to the head (because bullets were too expensive) and slit their throats, then put them in a pile. They then sprinkled chemicals on them, if they were still alive, to finish the job. Here, at the killing fields, is where they explained what happened here and why (via audio guide). There were so many bodies in mass graves here, that from time to time, especially during the rainy season, bones, teeth, and clothes wash to the surface. There’s even a tree, where the Rouge would smash babies/infants/kids skulls on and throw them into a pit, named the “Killing Tree”.

We spent about an hour, hour and a half, just listening and taking everything in. We even bought flowers and incense to put at the memorial. At the stupah is where they showcased some of these skulls found in the pits, and how they died. You can see that a lot are cracked skulls, some have holes in them, and they put a marker indicating how they died. After there, we went to the Tuol Sleng Prison or S21, where they tortured thousands of people.

This prison, before the Khmer Rouge, was a high school. They turned the classrooms into makeshift jail cells and torture chambers. They basically made everyone write confessions about them being spies for the US and FBI. I’m not sure why they would make them do that even when a lot of Cambodians didn’t even know who the FBI were. The Rouge was really good at documenting their work, much like the Nazis. There are pictures of everyone who went through the prison, being displayed throughout each of the buildings. They killed everyone who went through these prisons, sparing only 12 people. One of the survivors, was an artist who painted the horrors that went on in the prison. He actually spends his days there, selling people his book and trying to educate people of the inhumane crimes went on at this prison.

Whew, it was a really heavy day. I was getting lightheaded while walking around. It was getting to me, the stories, I was also fatigued because of my sickness. So all of that combined plus we didn’t eat lunch made me a bit weak. Once we got back I scarfed down eggplant & minced pork which is one of their main dishes here (and absolutely fucking delish). I booked my bus for Siem Reap and went upstairs to take a nap. I guess I was really sick because I napped for 2 hours. I woke up, went to get dinner, then came back to my bunk to watch some Netflix before I slept again.

Oct 26, 2017

I had to wake up a little early today because my bus departs at 9:45, but I had to be ready by 8:45. I checked out pretty early, got a yummy breakfast wrap but couldn’t finish it because the shuttle picked me up to go to the bus. I took the luxury bus company, Giant Ibis, to go to Siem Reap because, treat yo self. I slept basically the whole time, it’s 6 hours from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap too. I only woke up when we stopped for lunch. I didn’t eat any of the over priced food and instead ate the other half of my breakfast wrap (hehe, I’m getting smart). I stayed up for about an hour after lunch then slept again until we got to Siem Reap. My sickness makes me really fatigued and I guess my body really just needs to nap and refuel.

Once in Siem Reap, I took a tuk tuk to my hostel, the Mekong Hostel. I was recommended this hostel by my friend Nicole, who stayed here. She said it would be really easy to meet people and it wasn’t a crazy party hostel. Since I was sick, I thought I wouldn’t be doing a lot of partying anyways, but I wanted to meet people to hang out with. I checked into my room (an all girls dorm) and immediately met Emily, a girl from Georgia (yay American), who was staying in my room. We talked, went downstairs and I got some fries to snack on. We also met another girl in our room, Kirsten (from SJ yay! Someone from the Bay). We decided to hang out that night and go to the night market. 

On the way to the market we stopped at this Cambodian Restaurant where I got Amok chicken, another one of their dishes. It’s chicken and probably some curry baked in a banana leaf, so tasty. At the market I did some souvenir shopping for my friends and family (and bought stuff for myself). Yenno how I said everything is in dollars, well it makes everything seem way more expensive, and it probably is. Kirsten wanted to look for pants for the temple while Emily bought this traditional skirt to also wear to the temples. Back at the hostel, we all just chilled. I was still sick so I didn’t want to go out. So we had an early night.

Oct 27, 2017

I wanted to sleep in because I thought my body needed it, but I guess sleeping in means before 10 (because my body is just used to waking up at that time now, even though there’s no free breakfast). Emily had to check out and was moving hostels, but we told her we’d tell her our plans for Angkor Wat at sunrise. Kirsten and I just chilled in the morning. She still hadn’t gotten her pants so we went to the Old Market by Pub Street to see if we could find some.

We first got food at a small Cambodian restaurant and I got curry chicken. We roamed around the market to see if we could find pants. The Cambodian sales people are really aggressive and if you even look at their product they’re swarming you. At one of the stalls, this really young girl was speaking to us like people (not like money bags) and her English was really good. We decided to give her our business and we both bought pants. She told us she was 15 and on her lunch break. She said she would go back to school at 1:30 and that this shop was her mom’s. So cute. After walking around a bit more I started to get sleepy, so we went back to the hostel. I took a solid 2 hour nap again. Which is weird for me because I don’t usually nap and for such a long time.

After laying around for a while, we decided to go to the Night Market again. We stopped to get food, this time I got chicken basil yum. My goal at the night market was to exchange a shirt I got for a friend (they made me pay an extra dollar to exchange, eye roll) and get some crystals from this British lady we saw the day before. I got this amazing looking Emerald Jadeite that called to me. At first, I didn’t want to get it because it was $45, but I could tell that it was calling for me so I bought it anyways.

We went back to the hostel pretty early. We had to wake up and check out before 4:30am, when our tuk tuk would pick us up. We also bought Valiums (40 tablets for $5?!?!?!) so we popped those once we got back to ensure we would get a good nights sleep and slept around 9pm.

Oct 28, 2017

Well, I guess the Valiums wore off around 2am because both of us woke up to the loud noise of the lady checking in at 2am! She wasn’t quiet at all. You’d think, if you got in that late, you would just put your stuff down and sleep. Well she didn’t and instead decided to be really loud putting things in different places, rustling about, being really noisy. We were knocked out from the drug but still happened to wake up. After she finally went to sleep her fucking phone kept going off with messages, and it wasn’t like it was on vibrate either, that thing was on full volume dinging and shit. To make matters worse, once I fell asleep again, our dorm mate decided to come in at 3:30am with her boyfriend or whatever and was talking really loud in the bathroom (because the walls are paper thin), mind you this is an all girls dorm as well. I was irate at this point and just as I was about to go tell them to shut the fuck up they left. 

So, I was already awake by the time our alarms went off at 4am. We had to check out as well so we lugged all of our stuff downstairs, where Emily was waiting. Our tuk tuk driver first brought us to the ticket booth and we could immediately tell that it was gonna be crowded (I guess it’s this way every day). When we arrived to the main temple, the actual Angkor Wat, there were so many people there already. It was hard to get a good place to see the actual sunrise, and I wanted to do a time lapse on my little cube but that didn’t happen. It was still very beautiful, a little cloudy but enough to see colors and the sun actually rise. The temple itself is so serene and magnificent. In these historical buildings I really like like to imagine it back in it’s prime. I was even blessed by a monk!

The rest of the day consisted of going to 5 different temples. The main Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple, and the one in the jungle were my favorite. The one in the jungle is the famous one with the trees growing in, on top of, and around it (that’s why a lot of it is in ruins because of the tree roots). These temples were really amazing, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to see them. It’s a bit pricey ($37 for one day) but we were tired and over it by the time noon came around. But, I can say that I saw the amazing Angkor Wat! (Quick fact: they didn’t destroy Angkor Wat during the Khmer Rouge because they thought it stood for Khmer prestige and a symbol of their power, or something like that).

Since Kirsten and I checked out, we went to our new hostel called the White Rabbit. It’s a cool, new hostel that has themed rooms and cool decor like in Alice in Wonderland. We got some food from their restaurant, I got BoBo (rice porridge) because I still didn’t feel a 100%, but definitely better than the days before. We walked around the area of our hostel, got a chocolate and lemon tart, then went back to the room to kind of relax. I did a lot of “admin”, some work for back home and took a shower and braided my hair (which takes forever but I’m finally getting so good). 

For dinner we ate at this delicious vegetarian restaurant and I finally got falafel, something I’ve been craving for forever. And we got ready to go out. Since everything is in dollars $1-2 shots didn’t seem like a lot (well I guess it’s because it’s not). We went out to Pub Street for the first time since we’ve been here. At one of the bars we put some cool glitter and face paint on. We danced and had a really good night out and it was just the 2 of us. I’m really glad I met Kirsten, she reminds me of my friends back home and it was a blast partying with her! We got back home, I somehow washed all the facepaint and glitter off (I don’t remember doing that) and smartly set my alarm before I drank (since I have to wake up at 5:45am for my 8:30am flight).

Traveling solo for the first time has been a really good experience for me. I’ve met cool people, even just for a day or two, and really got to know them and talk to them about life. I guess that’s the good thing about meeting different people (and being solo), you hear different opinions and stories. I think it helps you broaden your mind to different ways of thinking and doing things. You listen to their life story, their goals and aspirations, their reasons for traveling and wanderlusting, and it’s so cool to actually open up to complete strangers. I’m really glad that I’m traveling solo, being vulnerable in a sea of people in the same position as you can actually be a good thing. When you let your guard down and really be your raw, real self, you can really learn a lot. And, if you take something from everyone you meet, I guarantee that you’ll be a better, well-rounded person.

I’m now on a plane to Bali, I’ve spent a good amount of the morning still drunk from the night before (that’s why I’m really proud of myself that I got all my shit together and woke up to make my flight). I’ve spent 7 hours in the Kuala Lumpur airport and now I’m just really ready to get to Bali and sleep. So stayed tuned for my time in Bali and the next episode of MELISSA’S SOUTHEAST ASIA BACKPACKING ADVENTURE!

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Da Nang, Nha Trang, Ninhvana, Dalat, Saigon

Oct 18, 2017

So, my nice little blog post about Da Nang and the hostel gave me a night at Barney’s for free! I know my blog isn’t like a real travel blog, more like a journal blog for myself & others who are interested, but I guess it worked in my favor this time. For breakfast, some of us got the delish Mi Quang from next door (because EFF EGGS AT THIS POINT). I’m not sure of what the concept of breakfast is in Vietnam (or Asia in general). Local little restaurants seem to open by 8am and close by 10pm sometimes 12am. I don’t think there’s a lot of things that are quintessential breakfast, you kind of just eat whatever you want at all times of the day (I could be totally wrong here, but that’s what it seems from my observation).

Sam & Liv left early to take the train, the rest of us were taking a night bus to Nha Trang that wouldn’t leave until 4-5pm, so we had a little more time to explore Da Nang. We made our own walking tour and went over a cool bridge type thing, then to a market. The market was pretty cool, there was a shit ton jammed-pack into one building. The vendors are very aggressive but you just have to either ignore them or politely decline. If you show any inkling of interest, they’re on you like vultures. I got some pasalubongs (Tagalog word for souvenirs) and a really cute sushi shirt.

We walked back to the mall to get some essentials (and Jolliebee hehehehe). I got my usual spicy chickenjoy. The menu was a bit different since they didn’t have gravy (what am I supposed to dip my fried chicken in???) but it was still good, nonetheless. After the mall, we headed back to the hostel to wait for our bus. I worked on my blog for the majority of the time until the shuttle picked us up to take us to the bus.

The bus picked us up at a random side of the road. The schedule said that it would pick us up at 6pm and drop us off at 5am. It was just like any other night bus we’ve taken, except this time the TVs that usually aren’t on were playing some Vietnamese version of X Factor or something where performers sing and dance in front of an audience. I couldn’t really figure out what was going on. It was cool for like 20 minutes, but then it started to get annoying. Not because it was a Vietnamese show, but because they were BLASTING the music/videos so loud I couldn’t even drown it out on my headphones. I did more work on my blog until we got to our halfway point, which usually means food. I got some chao or rice porridge, but it was pretty watery and not that flavorful. I also thought it was a little more pricey than normal food, but hey you gotta pick and choose your battles.

We got back on the bus, where I played some of my DS again. I then popped 1 of my last 2 Valiums and fell fast asleep.

Oct 19, 2017

I was woken up by Mike around 3am, telling me that we were in Nha Trang and that we had to get off the bus. Exhausted and still trying to wake up, I hurried and got my stuff and got out of the bus. All of our stuff were waiting for us on the ground and we were all really confused. The time table on the schedule said that we were supposed to get to Nha Trang at 5am, which then we were going to head to Ice Coffee, where our shuttle for Ninhvana would pick us up at 8:30am. But now we were stranded at 3am in the morning in a town we haven’t been in before with no where to go.

We put our stuff in a cab and told him to take us to the Ice Coffee place, where we would hopefully find a place that’s open, like a hotel lobby or late night restaurant that would allow us to hang out there until the Ice Coffee place opened. The cab driver took us to the place where we told him, he saw that it was closed and kept driving. We came to this corner where there was an outdoor bar and food, where he decided to pullover. We walked over there, hoping they’d have wifi or could help us in any way. I asked the guy what time they closed and he responded “uhh like 6 o’clock in the morning.” Perfect, we thought. There was music playing, a lot of people outside. I ordered a pineapple and vodka, because…why not we’re stuck in this fucked up situation already, might as well enjoy it.

I was with Charlie, Josh, and Hannah. Mike, Ida, and Sean had taken another taxi and we tried to get wifi to contact them to tell them where we were at. After our drinks arrived we heard a scuffle and all of a sudden, these two boys were fighting in front of us, knocking over tables and creating a lot of noise. All I was worried about was the newly opened beer bottles sitting on the table in front of where they were fighting because, you know, priorities. So I grabbed those while Charlie screamed for me to get out of the way. It took like 8 dudes to finally break them up. All I know was that there were like 20 Russians and one non Russian, and one of the Russians were fighting the non Russian and it was messy. I think the non Russian had a switch because there were a few dudes bleeding with cut wounds. One of the Russian girls asked for vodka (because I guess if they poor vodka on it is all good). The Vietnamese bar owners were obviously fed up with it at this point. They apologized to us and turned off the music and everything. They stopped selling the Russians alcohol and looked like they were closing. I think they just wanted them to leave so that things didn’t escalate. 

Anyways, Mike, Ida and Sean (our new friend from the UK) finally found us like 15 minutes later. We all enjoyed some beers & cocktails. We played music off of our speaker, we were the only people at the bar basically since they kicked out all the Russians (side note: Nha Trang is full of Russians. All the signs are in Vietnamese and Russian. I guess Nha Trang is the only destination where there’s a direct flight from Russia to Vietnam).  So we basically chilled at this little outdoor bar for 3 hours, watched the sun go up, until they closed around 6am. We then walked to the Ice Coffee place where there were others who were waiting for the bus to Ninhvana, but their bus dropped them off at 5:30am. I ordered a matcha latte and spring rolls for breakfast whilst finally finishing my blog!!!

Liv and Sam met us right before the shuttle to Ninhvana came around 8:30am. I slept the whole way there because I was exhausted. Ninhvana is basically this all inclusive resort ran by Vietnam Backpackers Hostel, the chain of hostels we’ve stayed at in Hanoi, Hue, and Hoi An so far. It’s $100 for 2 nights that includes all you can drink booze (but they don’t give shots or doubles, it’s only one mixed drink), activities like stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, bicycle tours, yoga, and trekking, meals at specific times, free laundry service, and 1 spa treatment per day. They’re located in a small rural town of Ninh Van (that has no other tourist establishment other than Ninhvana).

Once there, we were all finally energized to start this amazing 2 days in paradise. For backpackers, this was an amazing place to be. We signed up for all of our activities: 1 manicure & bike tour for today, 7am stand up paddle boarding & 10am massages for the next day. I was also excited to workout because I’ve been reallly bad and haven’t worked out at all since Luang Prabang. It’s been really hard being with a group and always wanting to socialize or go out and do stuff. Anyways, we got some drinks, hung out by the beach. For lunch, they had a variety of really good food, some of the best we’ve had so far.

Our bicycle tour was a 3pm and it was me, Hannah, Charlie, Mike and Josh. We visited some local sites, one of was a shrine for 14 of the locals who died during the Vietnam war. Apparently this area was apart of the Ho Chi Minh trail, where a lot of weapons and ammunition was brought through the area. News got to the Americans that this ship was carrying weapons, and the American side was that it was shot and sunk, the Vietnamese version was that they all committed suicide. Anyways, since this town is so small, there’s a pretty big shrine on the side of the cliff to remember the soldiers. At night it’s lit up because they believe if you die at sea your soul is lost, so the light helps them return to their final resting place. It was really interesting to see all the care that they put into this shrine for only 14 people, but this community is very small so it makes sense that they would put so much effort into maintaining this shrine.

We cycled past schools and docks. We spoke to school kids and got local drip Vietnamese coffee at a makeshift “cafe”. Once we got coffee it started to pour down rain, none of us wanted to get back on those bikes haha. We were stalling for a long time, hoping that the rain would lighten up or stop, but it didn’t. So we just said fuck it and rode in the pouring rain. Our tour guide wanted to bring us to one more place, but it wasn’t even that interesting because we were all wet and couldn’t see/wanted to be there. So we got back to the resort, soaked and cold.

Since my only clothes I didn’t put in the wash were soaked, it was difficult to find clothes for yoga, my next activity. Since it was raining, we did it in the dining hall (that they don’t seem to use). There were a shit ton of people doing yoga today, and embarrassingly it was my first time ever doing it. Since there were so many people (guys included) we did a yen yoga. More of a relaxing, less strenuous yoga. It was so relaxing that I fell asleep for a good 10 minutes LOL (we had a long day ok?) and I really actually enjoyed it. 

After yoga it was dinner time, and it was yet another delicious meal (all I remember is there being a HUGE tub of gravy…that’s all I really cared about was the gravy). I kept going back and getting more things I could eat the gravy with, like bread and mash potatoes (carbs yay). But the food was SO GOOD. My drink of that night was gin with ginger beer and lime. We did another pub quiz (yay another one *eye roll*) and you’d think we’d be good at this by this point but we’re not. Our two teams got the lowest scores, but our team name “Smells like Vietnamese Spirit” (play off of Nirvana’s song, yenno bc the place is called Ninhvana) won best team name and we got free shots. The rest of the night comprised of trying to get drunk, dancing, and having a grand ol time. You’d think we would crash early since we barely had a night of sleep, but we didn’t and partied until 1am haha.

Oct 20, 2017

We were so smart and signed up for a 7am stand up paddle board time slot. There are only 4 slots and only 3x a day you can do it. So, I thought, “hey paddle boarding at 7am isn’t so bad, then I can even catch the 8am yoga sesh”. My alarm went off at 6am, sitting in a bag of rice. My drunkass last night not only dropped my phone in the toliet, but also set my alarm for 6am when paddle boarding was at 7am. I immediately caught my phone so it didn’t sustain any damage other than some screen blobs (very minor and this is my shit phone).

Hannah, Charlie, and I actually got up and made it in time for stand up paddle boarding, hung over and tired as fuck (remind you, we barely got sleep the night before after getting kicked off the bus at 3am). Our guide saw that we were hungover and struggling, so we actually only stood up for a cool 2 minutes before sitting down and paddling. It was a good thing we went really early, the water was calm, it wasn’t hot, and it was sort of relaxing (?). Once we got back, Charlie and Hannah went back to bed, I would have too but I thought, hey I’m already awake might as well do something productive. I ate some delish mango and dragonfruit to replenish myself before yoga. I chatted with Mia, the yoga teacher. We’d already spoken last night when she did the pub quiz with us, so it seemed like we were already friends.

No one else showed up for the 8am yoga sesh. She told me I get to pick what I want to do, but I told her yesterday was my first time doing yoga, so I’m not really sure of what the options are, but I would like to do some strength training. We did yoga outside, and I basically got a private yoga lesson for free. Mia is way over qualified to be teaching yoga to a bunch of party backpackers, but she saw this more as a paid vacation more than anything. She said she would be charging people a lot of money for a one-on-one yoga class, but I got mine for free (yay!). It made me feel good about myself because I was actually awake doing something productive. Mia also mentioned that she was surprised that I hadn’t done yoga before because I was very flexible, I guess it looks like I’ve been doing it for a while. Maybe I’m just that graceful (jk).

After my nice little productive morning, I went to get breakfast. They had little stations like an actual hotel buffet where you could get pho, pancakes, fruit, and eggs made for you however you’d like. Pho is my go to hangover dish back at home, so that was an obvious choice. I think I’d worked out so hard that morning that I was still hungry after one bowl, so I went back and got a second (lol). I hung out and chilled by the bar for a bit and got a smoothie. My massage was at 10am and I really couldn’t wait. I got a Bali massage (similar to a Thai massage I guess) but they never seem to be hard enough for my liking. I was so relaxed and tired that I ended up falling asleep the last 10 minutes (or longer, who knows). The lady had taken my braid out but she was so sweet she braided it back. 

So after my jam-packed morning I was so relaxed and exhausted. I immediately went back to my bunk and fell asleep. Josh woke me up at 1pm, and told me it was time for lunch. My massage ended at 11am, so I must have been sleeping for 2 hours. Lunch was so freaking good. The cook, Ganesh, cooked us a proper Indian meal, filled with different types of curry (including buffalo curry waaat) some veggies, nan and mint chutney yesssss. Everyone was so excited I think they all ate it too fast. Some had tummy aches after, but it really was that good. We went to the beach afterwards, I tried to go for a swim in the ocean, but once in I scrapped my leg on a lobster trap. The local people put sticks in the water to mark where their trap would sit. Well one of the markers didn’t sit above the water and I scrapped my leg on one. It didn’t bleed at first but then after I brought it out of the water, it started to oxidize and blood started pouring out of my cut. If you know me you know I’m hella scared of the water and what’s beneath it (mostly sharks, damn Sharks Week). So I waited in the shallows for like 5-10 minutes so my wound could get a proper cleaning.

I told one of the staff about my leg. She said I should shower first then she’d patch it up. It was bleeding a lot, a pretty deep cut, but it didn’t look like it was infected. Well that kind of ruined the rest of the time I could be in the water. I waited around until the 5pm yoga. We did some of the same stuff I did in the morning, but more core related and a bit more of strenuous poses, which was nice. Mia mentioned we should do hard stuff in the morning and more relaxing things in the evening.

For dinner we had almost like a taco bar, but it was more of a burrito bar. Ganesh told me that he and the staff handmade the whole wheat tortillas because you can’t buy them out there. It was another delicious meal, and I was really sad it was our last. After dinner, they put on I Love You, Man, the movie. They’d projected it onto the wall and it was a pretty chill night. At this point we’d learned to drink vodka and water for our drinks. Less calories, easy to drink, etc. It was an early night though, everyone was pretty exhausted. (Early means 12am haha).

Oct 21, 2017

I woke up early enough to get some good pho. We had to check out at 10am, the shuttle bus would then pick us up at 10:30am. I tried to sleep again on the bus, which was somewhat successful. We booked a bus to Dalat that would depart by 1pm. So we were dropped off at the bus station where they had a little restaurant next door. I had some bomb winter melon iced tea and spicy beef with rice.

The bus to Dalat was pretty smooth, because I mean, I slept basically the whole time. By the time we checked into our hostel it was around 5pm. The really nice reception lady said that they do a family dinner every night at 6:30 for 75K, buffet style. So we signed up for that, the people in our room said it was pretty good. We also saw that on HostelWorld (the website we always use to book our hostels) said that there’s free wine from 6-7pm. All the girls were really excited about it, and when I asked one of the nice ladies who worked there, they said yeah free wine would be from 6:30pm to 9pm. This was really good news.

Family dinner was scrumptious as fuck. They had Jerk pork, really tasty tofu, fried chicken with some garlic sauce (THE BOMB), veggies, spring rolls, and pumpkin soup that was also so so good. When they announced the free wine, we realized it was the rice wine (not that strong, not very tasty). All the girls were very disappointed, we knew it was too good to be true. But, I took shots of it anyways because I never pass down free alcohol (unless it’s beer because I don’t need that unnecessary calories or full bladder in my life ahah). 

We stayed downstairs, pregaming until they kicked us out at 11pm. We then were told to go to this place called the Maze Bar. So we walked there and realized it was a really cool looking bar (from the outside). I ordered a shot of rum (cheapest on the menu) and Liv, Sean and I went to explore. It was so dark in there and really freaking cool looking. There were so many corridors, stairs and it was really dark so we couldn’t navigate properly. We definitely got lost but it was so cool. It almost looked like a treehouse inside with fake vines, stumps and bushes, but then downstairs it looked like we were underwater with crab and squid figures along the walls. It was pretty freaking cool and even better being a little tipsy (still not a 100% drunk though, even though I drank so much of that rice wine).

The bar closed around 12, so we were forced to either go to another bar or go back to the hostel. I wanted to get food, so I went with Charlie, Hannah and Josh to find food. I told them I wanted Chao or rice porridge because I saw people eating it on the streets as we walked towards to the bar. When we stopped at the food stall where I saw people eating it, the lady screamed at us and told us no and took off the sign (not sure if it was it was closed or because we were “drunk” Westerners, but there were people eating sooo you make the call). We ended up taking a cab back because the cabs were so cheap there. When they dropped us off at the alleyway before our hostel, we realized there was a little restaurant that was service Chao (YES!!). So we ordered a bowl each. It was the girls first time eating it and they absolutely loved it. This one was the best I’d had in SE Asia overall (I’ve ordered it in every country to see if they’d compared to my Grammy’s jook, my favorite food as a child that my Grandma used to make me). While this one wasn’t as good as Grammy’s, it definitely was the best I’d had so far and I was elated. Not to mention it was only 15,000 (like less than a dollar). I went to bed extremely satisfied and happy.

Oct 22, 2017

We had to wake up really early today for our tour that was at 8:30am. I got fried eggs today (wooot eggs *eyeroll*). All of us successfully woke up and got ready by the time our tour guide picked us up. We picked the Countryside Tour, where we’d go to different sites in Dalat. Our tour guide, An or Annie, spoke really good English and it was the first time we actually had a proper tour guide that spoke good enough English who we could actually understand.

Our first stop was the cable car, that would take us across to see the whole Dalat countryside. Next we stopped at Datanla Waterfall, in order to get there we had to take a roller coaster down. Let me tell you, that shit was one of the funnest things we’ve done so far. Liv and I went in one car together, but basically it’s a little car where you can control the speed or brake when you feel like it. Well, we went first (after a big group of Asians, we thought were Malaysian, who were older and went slow), so we went really fast down curves then stop to wait for the old people go down at their leisure. I think the guy who worked there saw that we wanted to go fast, so he gave us the thumbs up or down when it was clear to go. For the last stretch we went so fast (I was in charge of the brake) and Liv got so nervous she kept telling me to brake hahah. It was definitely one of the best decsions we made. At the bottom of this roller coaster was a huge waterfall. We took some pics and left.

The next stop was the Chicken Village, a village of the indigenous tribes of that area. Annie told us the story of why it’s called the chicken village. There’s a huge chicken statue in the front of the village, with one thing special about it: one foot has 4 toes/nails, instead of 3. The tribespeople here had two villages that didn’t get along, but a girl and guy from the fueding tribes fell in love. In this culture, the girl asks the guys family to marry (instead of the other way around), they then give the guy a gift and he ends up living with her family. Well, they told her in order to marry him she needed to find a chicken with 7 toes. She went everywhere looking for a chicken with 7 toes, and ended up dying in the hills because she was exhausted and starved after endlessly searching for this chicken. The guy found her body, where he ended up dying as well, heartbroken. The villages then put their differences aside to make sure something like this would never happen again. The chicken statue is a symbol of the peace between the villages.

To many, this story reminded them of Romeo and Juliet. Me on the other hand, immediately thought of Avatar: The Last Airbender the series and the episode of the Forbidden Lovers. Oh good ol Avatar. The village itself was really small, we only stopped at a store where they showed their techniques of weaving and where you could buy a handmade gift. We didn’t spend too much time here since we were on a condensed timeline.

The next stop was the Pangou (not sure if this is the proper name) waterfall. A massive, beautiful waterfall that was absolutely breathtaking. Then it was time for lunch. We stopped at this local restaurant where Annie told us there was only one option to get served famil style for 80K. That was the wrong choice because the food was really below average for me. I wasn’t full and it was a bit pricey. After lunch it started to rain a little, and we walked to the next waterfall. In order to get there it was really slippery and I was wearing flip flops. When we finally reached the waterfall it was so wet and slippery. The water from the waterfall misted us plus the rain falling down led for a dangerous situation. We finally reached a safe (at least what I thought was safe) platform that gave a good view of the raging waterfall. I went to get a picture but before I could even walk anywhere, my flip flop suctioned onto the wood platform while I was walking and I immediately fell to the ground. Like bapped (slang for falling really hard) onto the wood platform without even catching myself or lessening the impact. I was sort of in shock but ok. I hit the ground so hard I was surprised I didn’t get a concussion or any other injury. All I got was a small cut on my elbow and my big toenail was hanging off (which hurt the most) but that was it. We decided to go back because it was a dangerous situation waiting (and kind of already) to happen. 

After getting patched up by one of the ladies at the waterfall, we went to our next stop the silk worm factory. Annie said I should stay in the van because it’s slippery out there, and I hurt my toe pretty badly. I wasn’t too upset about though because I was still trying to recover from my little fiasco. After the silk worm farm was the cricket farm where we tried crickets. It wasn’t that bad, they fried it with onion powder and lemongrass, but it wasn’t the best tasting thing I’ve had in my life.

Next and last stop was the Weasel Coffee farm. Annie gave us a little background about it, how it used to be really expensive because people would have to go find the weasel’s poop, which took a lot of labor and timing. Now that they have farms, they can harvest and feed the weasels without as much labor. The reason why it’s good coffee is because the weseal has the best nose, so they pick the best coffee bean to eat. There are 3 layers to the bean, so only the first layer is processed in the weasel’s stomach, then they clean and peel the bean. These weasels look like they’re well taken care of. Annie said that they need to be comfortable in order to eat and poo so they take them out for walks and give them space to run around. I tried one glass and it was ok, it was tasty but I’m not a big coffee fan anyways so it was hard for me to judge the taste. The best thing about this weasel farm was that they had like 15 dogs running around. They were all fucking fat!! They had this dog called Puggo (a Pug obvi) but it was so fat it looked like a big loaf of bread. They also had really big fluffers that were fat and probably well over 100 lbs.

That was our last stop, and some of the others wanted to stop at Crazy House. My lil injury was bothering me too much, so I went back to the hostel. The nice lady at the hostel told me to take a shower and she’d patch clean it up for me. She went to the pharmacy and everything and put some alcohol on it to make sure it wasn’t infected and cleaned it up. Everyone came back and got ready for dinner. The freaking lads wanted to watch their damn footie game, so we went to a random place to watch it while the girls and I tried to find cheaper food. Liv, Ida and I settled at this restaurant where I got deep fried fish yuuum. 

Back at the bar where the lads were watching their damn soccer match, I went to go order a cocktail before happy hour ended (we had like 7 minutes left). Ida and I order a Long Island Ice Tea during BOGO free. It took this dude like 10 minutes to make the drink, then the people at the bar had the audacity to tell us that happy hour was over and we’d have to pay full price for the drink. We tried to explain to them that it wasn’t our fault the guy took forever to make our drinks and that we ordered it before happy hour was over. They still weren’t allowing us to get it for happy hour price so I said fuck that, I don’t want it and left. It made me angry and so I refused to buy drinks from them for the rest of the night, I didn’t want to support them. Liv bought me a drink as my going away present haha (it was the last night I would be spending with everyone before going off on my own).

When the game was finally over we went back to the hostel where we bought bottles from the bar. We took them upstairs to the rooftop where we pregammed and spent time together. Josh, Liv and I had a moment, after all we’d been traveling together since the beginning, literally the first day we all arrived in Bangkok. Now 7 weeks later we were splitting up and I basically don’t know traveling life without them. So sad, I know, but at the end of the day we have to remember that we’re solo travelers with our own time table. I was only planning on staying in Vietnam for 3 weeks, then head to Cambodia for a week until I get to Bali to meet up with my dad. 

After all getting pretty drunk, we headed off to this pretty cool club called Rain Club, or something. They played house music, which is really not my dancing music but hey, it was my last night. Josh and Charlie left early, Josh had left his phone in the cab and he went to try to find it. Liv, Hannah and Sean left early because Liv didn’t feel well. So I was there with the lads and Ida, enjoying myself and trying to enjoy my last night (which I did). By the time we left the club it was pouring down rain. We stopped for banh mi but I didn’t want anything, I was hoping to get Chao at the food place by our hostel. When I went to go ask him for a bowl, he said no. I wasn’t sure if it was he couldn’t understand me or because they didn’t have any but I was really disappointed I couldn’t eat it.

Oct 23, 2017

Today, was the day I had to leave everyone. I woke up with 5 minutes left of breakfast, my alarm went off but it was too quiet for me to hear. I had an omelet for breakfast, woo switchin it up. Sean and I’s bus picked us up at 11:30. We were headed to Ho Chi Minh (Saigon) while the others wanted to stop at Mui Ne, a beach town. After a really sad good bye, I headed onto the bus.

The ride was actually really nice. The bus company was so friendly, they gave us water bottles, had a really clean facility, told us what to do, and had wifi that actually worked! I beat my Pokemon game, and after we stopped for lunch (where I got Chao Ga) I tried to sleep. I got a nice hour of sleep before waking up to honking of horns.

Sean booked us a hostel at the Hangout, which was a pretty cool hostel. We were really hungry and I was on the prowl to find some Bo Kho or beef stew. I asked the hostel if they knew where I could find it and they recommended a place that was right down the street. A little pricey, we ordered Bo Kho and Pho. I was in heaven. It was one of the best dishes I had out here and I was elated (probably because I was so freaking hungry). After exchanging Vietnam Dong for USD, I went back to the hostel where I just chilled. I didn’t feel good, a little sickly from probably a lot of partying and not enough sleep. I wrote a little bit of my blog and hung out, but I still couldn’t sleep. My damn insomnia gets bad sometimes, but luckily I was able to fall asleep around 4am (not good for someone who’s sick).

Now, I’m on a bus to Cambodia, traveling solo. This is the first time I’ve felt like I was actually traveling solo. It’s a good thing for me though, time to spread my wings and try something different. I can’t wait for the upcoming adventures–my dad is meeting me in Bali in Nov and immediately after that I’m meeting my mom in the Philippines where she’ll spend Thanksgiving with me in her native country! It’s so special that we get to experience this together. This will be only her second time in the Philippines since she left when she was younger and I’ve told her so many times I’ve wanted to go with her. I wasn’t expecting her to actually come meet me but she spontaneously bought a ticket and now I’m so excited! So stay tuned for my time in Cambodia, Bali, and the homeland, the Philippines and the next episode of MELISSA’S SOUTHEAST ASIA BACKPACKING ADVENTURE!


2 Days in Hue, 4 Days in Hanoi

Oct 10, 2017

I think I’ve just accepted the fact that I’m going to eat scrambled eggs every morning from now on. I mean, it’s the best option between that, pancakes & fruit. Despite that, I’m very excited for my morning tea–black with sugar/honey & milk. We woke up in Hanoi with the intent of finally going south, to Hue. I think we’ve stayed a little too long in the north (10 days), so I was very excited to take a sleeper bus that night, I’ve slept quite well in them so far.

After we checked out, Mike, Hannah, Charlie, Liv, Josh and I wanted to do a little “admin” (British word for chores) like get Charlie’s phone screen fixed, withdraw money, get some coffee and shop a bit. We ended up at this cool coffee shop where I got sencha milk tea (milk tea is my fav & I’m so glad they have it everywhere here in Asia, I mean I guess they should since it’s an Asian thing). After coffee/tea, Liv & I split up with the rest so we could withdraw money and shop a little. It was overcast and a smidge misty, but hadn’t started raining at this point. We walked to this clothes shop where Liv and I had went a few days before Cat Ba. She really wanted to buy these pants and I just enjoy shopping so I tagged along.

I didn’t end up buying anything at that shop, Liv was able to get her pants, but I did find these capris with this unique print I hadn’t seen before at another shop. At this point the rain started to come down a little harder, so we went to go find food to hopefully let the storm pass. We settled at this little restaurant where I ordered fried tofu (yessss, seriously one of my favorite dishes and the first time I’ve seen it on the menu) and rice. We were hoping during that time that the storm would either die down or stop…well it didn’t. We didn’t just wanna sit there and do nothing, we also didn’t want to bother buying a plastic poncho (because I’m trying to reduce my consumption of plastic here, even though it’s really hard since we can’t drink the tap water and they give everything in plastic bags). 

At this point it was pouring, like raining buckets, but Liv and I just decided to run through it all. It was actually quite fun and like a game. Most of the streets were flooded with puddles, and most shops had awnings to protect them from the rain. We got pelted from these awnings with even heavier water because the shops were obviously protecting the things that were outside, and the only place that we could walk was where the water would drip down because the streets were so narrow. So we had a really fun time getting extremely wet. We picked up some sleeping pills from the pharmacy for the night bus ride and headed back to the hostel.

Once back, we were absolutely soaked. I sat in front of the fan so I could dry off while I blogged and chilled. The bus would pick us up at 6pm, so I had a few hours to work on my blog (but like I said this shit takes a really long time to write, so I need to dedicate a good amount of time to it). Sam & Ida were already at the hostel, and later on the others slowly trickled in. They were smart enough to wait until the storm died down more before they made their way back. I got some snacks and a banh mi for the bus ride ahead. There wasn’t enough time for me to eat it before we got picked up so I put it in my backpack for later.

The shuttle for the bus picked us up and dropped us off at this little office where the big bus would come in like 45 minutes. It was pissing down rain at this point and all of us had ALL of our shit. We couldn’t just sit outside the small little booking office, so some of us sat in there, some in the cafe next door, and others under the awning on the other side of the office. We were waiting for such a long time in the rain with all of our stuff, it was pretty miserable. Nevertheless, the bus finally came and we were able to get on the bus quickly.

The bus was just like the one we took to Sapa, with reclining seat/beds on the top and bottom. I got a top one just because I think it’s cool. The first thing I did was eat my banh mi while it was still semi-hot. I then tried to finish my blog, which was a really bad idea. I normally don’t get car sick, but after an hour of working on my blog I started to get a headache and feel sick. I think my concentration of the blog, mixed with the awful driving of the bus driver (which made me sway from side-to-side almost constantly), and the fact that I was on the top made my stomach turn. I mean, I guess it didn’t help that had just eaten as well.

Everyone was going to pop their Valiums (sleeping pills) and I wanted to make sure I used the restroom before I did mine so I wouldn’t have to go later. Once I got down from my bunk, the swaying of the bus made me feel even worse. Once I got into the bathroom I immediately puked into the toilet, which is weird from me because I almost always puke from alcohol, never for actually feeling sick. But, after that I felt A LOT better. I popped 2 valiums, blew up my neck pillow, put on some music and started to relax. Just as the valiums started kicking in, we stopped for like 20 minutes at a place we could eat or use the restroom. I was so vallied out at that point and did some nonsensical roaming/blabbering. I think I got some siopao (Filipino term) or bao (Chinese term for steam bun) and picked out the egg. We boarded the bus and I immediately went to sleep. 

Oct 11, 2017

I definitely had a very pleasant sleep. I woke up so refreshed and full of energy. We arrived in Hue around 8-9ish. We didn’t book anywhere and were kind of nervous that we hadn’t found a place. It’s also very intimidating to find transportation when all of the taxi drivers wait outside telling you to come with them and not letting you breath. But, there was a girl holding a red buffalo sign up, the symbol of the Vietnam Backpacker’s hostel, the chain of hostel that we just came from in Hanoi. I immediately asked her if they had room for 8 people because we didn’t book anywhere else. I think she made a call and came back and said yes, they definitely had room. This made everything a lot easier since 1) we could go with them without having to hassle/haggle with aggressive taxi drivers 2) not having to find a cafe that had internet so we could find a place to book 3) we could go to a hostel we were already familiar with and knew was good.

I FaceTimed my dad while others took showers because it’s HIS BIRTHDAY! HAPPY 28TH BIRTHDAY DAD! After killing some time, we were finally able to check in and move all our bags in. We were all able to get in a room together, which is always nice because it’s just easier to do things. Then Charlie, Hannah and I went shopping because we like clothes. They really cute matching rompers while I got this off the shoulder dress (finally a dress I get to add to my wardrobe). It was a little too long but the lady was very nice and immediately told me she could hem it in 3 minutes. So after that we were all hungry. There were a lot of expensive Western food places on our street, but we were all craving Vietnamese food. Luckily, we found this Vietnamese restaurant that served affordable food. I forget what I ordered but I remember that it was delishhhh.

The rest of the day consisted of roaming around and shopping. We wanted to go on a motorbike tour but not enough of us were confident in driving motorbikes–I’m definitely not confident, I’ve heard of too many horror stories of people crashing, seem too many people with crutches and bandages, cuts, bruises and scars, to be bothered to learn to drive a motorbike. But, Liv, Josh and Sam were the only ones that could possibly drive with others on the back. So they rented motorbikes to practice and see the rest of town.

Hannah, Charlie, Ida, Mike and I tried to find a good shopping area for clothes, so I asked the front desk where there the best place for a clothes market would be. They circled some place on the map that said “market” so that’s where we decided to go. On the way to this market, we found a cool hang out spot where teenagers probably go on their time off. It had a blowing alley, movie theater (cinema in British terms), arcade and boba! When we finally got to the market, we noticed that we were the only Westerners there. While, that’s not always a bad thing, we did get a LOT of stares. I think they judge me even more because I’m Asian with a whole bunch of white people and don’t speak a lick of any Asian language and have an American accent. It must be weird for them to see someone who looks like them but speaks like white people they’re used to seeing in movies and shows.

Side note: It is very interesting being Asian American in Asia. First off, if I’m by myself, I obviously look Western so I immediately say hi so they know that I speak English. Sometimes I get spoken to in either Vietnamese, Chinese, or Korean (mostly here in Vietnam since it’s more East Asian than Laos and Thailand). Also, every local that can speak English asks me where I’m from. I’ve learned that they means they’re asking basically my ethnicity. At first I used to say San Francisco or California but many gave me weird faces or inquired more of like “..but what are you” haha. So, I guess I would say I’m a weird hybrid for the people living here. I don’t get the stares like “oh you’re a white person” but more like “oh, you look like me but don’t sound like me” type of action. I also get complimented on my skin color a lot. Even though I’m no where as light skinned as I am back home (I’m pretty tan right now), I’ve gotten a few acknowledgements on how nice my skin color is. Light skin is considered very beautiful out here. They have whitening in almost all of their beauty products and when they do wear makeup it’s usually white powder and red lips. Just an interesting observation I’ve made out here.

Anyways, the market was way too local for our comfort, so we walked back. But on our way we stopped at a few shops so that Charlie, Hannah, Ida and I could go shopping. I got this REALLY REALLY cute romper, it had sharks all over it and I have a thing for rompers so all of that combined made me extremely happy. We met up with Sam, Josh, and Liv then headed over to one of the expensive Western restaurants for a snack. We knew we’d be eating street food later on in the night so we just wanted something to tie us over.

We’d booked this dragon boat tour for the night. The ladies at the front desk made it sound like you go up and down the Perfume River where you could sight see and they’d have traditional music on the boat for entertainment, then they’d drop you off at the street food area. Well, it ended up being this dragon boat that took you out to the middle of the river where you were stationary. Then they sang to you in Vietnamese with traditional music and dance, but everything, even the story telling was in Vietnamese so we didn’t even know what was going on/what the story was about the whole time. Everyone on this boat as well were Vietnamese so, it obviously wasn’t a tourist thing. It was cool to see, but also something we could have skipped and not spent money on. But we got to put some lanterns in the water, and even though they dropped us off at the place that we got on we were able to walk to the night market.

The first stall we saw served Bun Bo Hue, a dish that I’m really familiar with from home and I know the area is known for (duh, Hue). Me, Liv and Sam got it because the other had eaten at the Western place before we left for the boat thing. It was freaking delicious and I’m really glad I was able to eat it authentically. I also had this good dessert drink that reminded me of Halo Halo, it had crushed ice along with beans, jelly, pudding and crunchy granola on the top. After that we walked back to the hostel. We had another night of drinking where I spent way too much money on alcohol, again. But, I got drunk which was nice because it does take a lot of alcohol for that to happen.

Oct 12, 2017

Most of us woke up hungover, I just had a bad tummy ache, but I ate scrambled eggs anyways. It was raining in the morning, so we said no to the motorbike tour and instead decided to do the village tour, where locals take you on the back of their bikes to 5 different sites. It was a more sensible choice since most of us weren’t comfortable riding bikes and it was raining which made it worse.. Well, it ended up only raining in the morning and for like 5 minutes at a site but other than that, that was it. I was actually glad we rode on the back of motorbikes since I didn’t have to worry at all, the locals were perfect drivers. Two lads, Max and Toby also from the UK, joined us for the tour as well.

The first place we stopped at was the Imperial City. No one wanted to pay the fee to get in the actual city, it was a little pricey and we couldn’t even take pictures inside so we just walked around the fortress/moat. The second place we stopped was a pagoda, some cool temple looking thing, where it ended up flash raining for like 5 minutes. The next stop was a place where they make incense. The different colors symbolized different smells. Green was sandalwood, red/purple was cinnamon (when burned it helps deter mosquitos), and yellow is lemongrass. It’s made from bamboo and some type of paste (I forget what the paste was called), then rolled to make it cylindrical and straight.

After that we had lunch at a local restaurant. I had crispy noodles with veggies and it was absolutely delish!! Our next stop was an old American bunker from the Vietnam war. Hue was basically in the middle between the North and the South. Our guide let us know that thousands of people died in that area, it was actually really sad and the first time I heard something about the war from a local. 

The next stop was my absolute favorite place: abandoned water park. I have a thing with abandoned places, urban decay really intrigues me and I just couldn’t get enough of this place. I guess was abandoned in 2002 after a typhoon totally recked it and it wasn’t making enough money anyways. Basically, it wasn’t worth putting in the money to redo it since there wasn’t a lot of money coming in. All the buildings were cleared out of whatever used to be there, but in its place was broken glass, graffiti, and rubble. It was freaking awesome. The main building was a dragon where I guess it used to house an aquarium and probably a restaurant. There was an abandoned water auditorium that we weren’t able to see. There was an abandoned water slide area with a wave pool and kiddie arena. It was by far the coolest thing so far.

The last thing we went to see the imperial tomb of one of the last emperors of Vietnam. This emperor was the same one who popularized tiger vs elephant fighting (there was an arena we would have been able to see if we took the other tour where they actually fought). The interesting fact about these fights was that the elephant was a sacred animal in the Buddhist religion, so they often rigged these fights by declawing & drugging the tigers with opium before the fights so the elephants would win. The fighting was finally banned in 1904, in the 20th century, which is really hard to wrap my head around, but it’s definitely cool to learn. The tomb was pretty cool and intricate. Only Sam and I went into the actual tomb because the others didn’t want to spend money going in. I thought I might as well since I missed out on the Imperal City and I’m there to sight see so why not.

We got dropped off back at the hostel where I gave my driver a nice tip. I’m such a softie when it comes to giving good tips and helping people out. Especially because I know they don’t make a lot and it would really help their family if I gave a little more. I’M SUCH AN EMPATHETIC PERSON AND SOMETIMES I HATE IT. I gave the biggest tip out of everyone in our group, which everyone told me they made them look bad lol. 

I was so lazy to go out to eat so I got a pizza at the hostel where we played another pub quiz, we split into 2 groups so it would be more fun. This time we got our results back and we actually both tied so no one really won (in our group). Liv and I went to get Baskin Robbins because we were craving some good ice cream. I tried to go out that night but I couldn’t justify spending anymore money on alcohol so I went in for an early night.

Oct 13, 2017

Friday the 13th, DUN DUN DUN. We booked to go over the Hi Van pass today–Mike, Sam, Ida, Charlie, Hannah, and I spent more to hire a jeep to take us Hoi An from Hue. Liv and Josh decided to motorbike to Hoi An instead, so we would meet them at the Vietnam Backpackers Hostel there. Our driver picked us up at 10am, and he told us we would make it to Hoi An around 5pm. There were 3 jeeps that could take 3 people each, so Charlie, Hannah and I shared one while Sam, Mike and Ida were in the other (and some others from the hostel also did the tour that day). The tour guide introduced him as Music Man (I really thought his name was music but apparently he was making a reference to some UK nursery rhyme).

The jeep was a nice open jeep, almost vintage looking like the ones you use in safaris or what they used during the war. Our first stop was a coffee shop where I had a nice chat with “music” and had amazing drip Vietnamese coffee. Apparently, after the war his parents were very poor and had to drop out of primary school to work. But they saved enough money to send him to university where he learned English and Chinese. He was then able to get a good job in tourism that helped him pay for the rest of his education. He’s the now the breadwinner in the family, taking care of his parents, He’s also in charge of putting his younger sister through university when she gets older since his parents used all of their money to send him to college. It’s just really refreshing to have conversations with locals to remind yourself how great you really do have it in Western countries.

The ride in the jeep was so relaxing and enjoyable. Instead of having to worry about driving, directions, other drivers, and the weather, we could just enjoy ourselves and the beautiful surroundings. I mean it is rainy season here, so it’s not always sunny, but I quite like the overcast. It’s not as hot and I don’t have to worry about putting sunscreen on. Charlie, Hannah and I could also chat and have really good conversation. We drove through villages, by the coast, and finally stopping at a stretch of beach. This beach was amazing because we were basically the only people there. It was a beach hut, with tire swings, cute lights, little platforms we could sit on, and my favorite, beach dogs.

We swam and looked for crabs while they cooked us lunch. I got a tofu dish that was pretty interesting. After about an hour there we headed off again. This time we stopped at a bridge to get more pictures, then went over the Hi Van Pass. This curvy road gave amazing views of the Vietnam coast. At the very top we stopped at an old structure, used by the emperor for something that I forgot haha. But we took some more nice pictures (our tour guide was very adamant about taking our pictures everywhere we went & instructing our poses and shit LOL). After a nice photoshoot we were off again. Charlie and Hannah got pretty tired once we got to Da Nang and started nodding off.

The drivers dropped us off at our hostel, another Vietnam Backpackers Hostel. This one was SUPER nice though, like an actual hotel (it was just built earlier this year). The only downside was that it was far from the center of town. After checking in I got a margarita pizza from downstairs, I guess I just can’t help myself. We also got into the pool and played some pool volleyball. Since this was our 3rd Vietnam Backpacker’s Hostel, we knew that their drinks were expensive and they wouldn’t allow us to bring alcohol in our rooms. So, we snuck it into the room that Josh, Charlie, Hannah, Mike, Sam, and I shared (a room all to ourselves). Ida and I split a bottle of vodka that tasted like legit rubbing alcohol (or nail polish remover or moonshine, whatever you wanna call it). I realized after this night that I just can’t drink vodka, it doesn’t work on me as much as tequilla or darker alcohol does. We did a lot of pregaming (predrinking in British terms) and waited until 11-11:30 when everyone would be going out to the actual town.

A lot of us were drunk as fuck at this point, unfortunately I puked everything out before I left. Not because I was drunk as fuck but because the alcohol was that disgusting it wasn’t agreeing with my stomach. So, I was pretty damn sober by the time we left for the night out.  We had to take a taxi in town, that’s how far it was from the center. A lot of drama went down that night, the most our group has ever really dealt with, but I honestly think it was because everyone was drunk and not really thinking rationally. But whatever, I didn’t really have a good night but I fell asleep fine so it was all good.

Oct 14, 2017

The cool thing about this hostel is that it has a buffet for breakfast. All the scrambled/fried eggs, pancakes, pineapple/watermelon, baguettes your heart desires. Woo (*says sarcastically). I had extremely runny eggs because it was the last of the scrambled eggs, yum. Most everyone woke up hung over, Liv didn’t even make it to breakfast haha. So we had a really slow day. We basically chilled in our little lounge on the bean bags for majority of the day. I FaceTimed mommy, I miss her to pieces!!! Liv and Sam went for a walk and we told that we’d meet them later.

Around 2-3ish we finally decided to find Sam & Liv and get some food. We settled on this small restaurant that only served Cau Lao & Mi Quang, both noodle dishes. I’m not sure what the difference between them are, I just know they have noodles, meat, and veggies. After we made our way to the beach. It was super windy that day and by the time we got there it was way too windy to swim (not like we were going to anyways). But, it was so windy that the loose sand would hit our skin and feel like little needles. We didn’t spend that much time there, just enough to say “we went to the beach”.

After making our way back to the hostel, I got in the pool with the homies. We made plans later to have a girls night and a boys night. The boys or “lads” (LMAO) wanted to go to the Irish bar to watch a soccer match, “footie game” and the girls wanted to have a lil dinner night. We walked to the river where there was a cute restaurant right on the bank. There was no one else there except us, and it was such a good idea. I got some chicken with lemongrass and chili and it was delish. 

Once back at the hostel we decided to have a movie night on our floor. The rep downstairs was nice enough to turn on a movie for us even though it was late (I guess they don’t turn on movies at night because of noise and there’s no one to turn it off?). We picked Lion and it was actually a really good film. I’m surprised I hadn’t seen it before and cried at the end haha. It was a really low key day since most people were hungover and it’s nice to have a relaxing day every once in a while, especially after a travel day.

Oct 15, 2017

After some really runny scrambled eggs, we’d planned to go on the Bicycle Tour of Ancient town. But we learned that it didn’t actually give us admission into all of the attractions in Old Town, so we decided to do it ourselves. We rented bicycles (not motorbikes because we’re not comfortable with alla that), I was pretty nervous since I haven’t rode a bike in so long. But after some practice (even on no so good bikes) I got the hang of it. It’s actually not easy biking around town even if it is not as busy as Hanoi or Hue. The motorbike culture here is crazy. People drive on the wrong side of the street, you have to dodge motorbikes in intersections, you basically just have to dodge motorbikes constantly because people here literally give no fucks. But that’s just the culture of their driving, and they’re all used to it so you have no choice but to deal with it.

We went on a mission to find ATMs that would give us more than 2-3 mil ($90-$140), but I was just forced to withdraw since I had basically no money left. At Old Town we bought a ticket that would let us visit 5 different historical sites. So we went to a few old houses and assembly halls. We only went to 3 since the other 2 we wanted to go to were closed. Old Town was a cool place to visit. Lanterns hung everywhere: across the streets, in front and inside stores, and in temples and homes. We also learned that during the rainy season, Old Town almost always floods because it’s right by the river. Some of the houses are made from really quality wood, that’s why it’s been able to survive floods and keep the house cool/dry during hot and humid days.

For lunch we ate at a food stall in the central market in Old Town. Josh and I split white rose (dumplings) and stir fried Mi Quang, two dishes famous in the area. It was SOOO good and we were really satisfied with our purchases. By this point we were over seeing historical sties (plus like I said the good ones were closed) so Liv and Hannah left to get an outfit tailored (something recommended to do in Hoi An) while the rest of us roamed around Old Town. We got some iced tea, shopped a little, and just tried to enjoy our surroundings. 

Finally we were ready to go back but the boys had brought their bikes to the area we were in and the girls left them over by the Japanese bridge. I really wanted a lift back so I stood on the pegs of Sam’s bikes as we rid through the streets. It was really funny because he didn’t have a bell on his bike and the streets were packed with people. It was a little hard for him to balance on the bike with me on the back so he couldn’t make sudden stops/turns. So my job was to let people know we were coming by yelling really loudly “MEEP MEEP” (like the cars and motorbikes out here) and it was actually so funny. The reactions of some people were either frightened, they laughed, or quickly got out of the way. Basically, my meeping worked and we got to my bike in one piece.

On our way back I decided to go off on my own to find the bank I passed on our way there. When I went to withdraw money from the ATM it said the maximum limit had been reached (the ATMs here run out of money usually around 4-5pm). So, I just said fuck it and went back to the hostel. On the way there, I was just on the side of the road, cycling minding my own business, when all of a sudden a motorbike almost ran into me from the left side. I had to do some impressive maneuvering in order for me not to get smashed by this incoming motorbike. Luckily the sidewalks here are curved so I was ran onto the sidewalk and ran into a planter that had a tree in it (probably the best scenario when I come to think about it, the bike was fine and I kinda hopped off before I could hurt myself). I turned around and said “what the fuck” because at first I thought these guys were just fucking around on bikes trying to mess with each other while they drove. But I realized that the guy that almost ran into me was in as much shock as I was. I realized that the guys that almost ran into him (or so I thought) were two guys on a motorbike with one guy on the back holding a bamboo stick. They were either trying to fish the guy who almost ran into me’s bag since he had a lot of luggage on him or get my bag from the basket in front of me and the other guy just got in the way by accident. I also realized it was a serious situation (not 2 guys just fucking around on bikes) when a few others motorbikes who were behind me stopped with concerned faces. A guy came out of the gate where I’d crashed my bike (after probably hearing me scream and yell at dude haha, typical me) and spoke to the people who stopped on their motorbikes. They weren’t concerned about me, they were more concerned about the people who got away, gesturing and pointing in the direction he went. Shaken but unscathed, I got back on my bike and peddled away, holding the strap of my purse in my hand. That situation could have been really bad, but I was very lucky and walked away not hurt and not robbed.

I got back to the hostel in one piece. We all chilled until we were ready to go out again for dinner. A rep (Western employee who works at hostels to help other Westerners) suggested this apparently really good restaurant that we had to go to. I love suggestions so I said sure, it was in the vicinity of the night market anyways so we thought we’d try it out. Everyone wanted to drink that night so we all bought alcohol next door. Liv and I split a bottle of rum, because like I said I can’t do that nasty moonshine anymore. I brought it up to her room and put it on the floor to go grab another small water bottle we could pour it in. When I came back I forgot to tell her it was on the floor and she accidentally knocked it over and it smashed everywhere. Sad but I reluctantly went downstairs to get more alcohol. It was cheap so I didn’t feel that bad buying another bottle. The lady was really nice as well and gave me 10,000 when I explained to her it smashed.

We put our alcohol in a little water bottle and in my purse so we could drink it by the river back in Old Town. Once we got to the restaurant we realized it was really expensive and definitely not in our budget (these reps must be delusional, we’re not at a resort, we’re on a freaking backpacking budget) so some of us went to the restaurant next door that was way more in our budget. I got delish eggplant (obergine in British terms) that was pretty fucking good. The rest of night we just drank by the river (‘we’ includes all 8 of us and Toby & Max), talking enjoying each other’s company and eventually making our way to a bar. Hannah and I got free balloons from some random dudes sitting on the side of the river, which was really nice of them but we dipped immediately after we finished haha. Everyone else went back except me, Liv, Sam, Ida, Toby and Max, but I mostly hung out with Liv and Sam and we actually ended up having a fun, successful evening.

Oct 16, 2017

I didn’t want to get up this morning. I was pretty hungover, and we’d gotten back really late. I also had a great convo with someone in the bathroom for a long while and didn’t end up sleeping until 3am. But, I dragged my ass outta bed to eat soggy scrambled eggs, yay. Everyone was pretty hungover and we asked them if we could watch a movie in our little lounge. They put on the Jungle Book (live version) and I tried to pay attention. For the most part I watched the whole movie, but then I immediately went back into the room and took a good hour nap. I needed that nap badly, but felt refreshed after it.

Liv, Sam and I decided to rent bikes to find an ATM. I did my research and found where the best ATM was (one where I could withdraw a good amount of money) and we found one where you could withdraw out 8 mill with no ATM fee (UNHEARD OF). After withdrawing a good amount of cash, Liv and I spotted a “silk” shop. One of my goals out here was to get a nice silk robe and she wanted a nice nightgown. We both found what we were looking for and very happy with our purchases. We realized that the tailor shop where Hannah was getting her suit fitted was right down the street and that she’d probably be there with Charlie and low and behold, they were there with Ida as well!

The girls wanted to shop (minus Liv because she went shopping the day before) so we stopped at some cute stores on the way back to the hostel. I ended up getting a cute romper and two halter tops. It was a really successful shopping day (but the question now is how to close my backpack…). For dinner, Liv’s friend who lives in Vietnam suggested this restaurant that served the best Com Ga or chicken with rice. We all took a cab to Old Town to hopefully try this place. When we got there, it was closed :(. I realized that it was Monday, a day I’ve noticed most businesses shut. It’s also like that at home, most Vietnamese/Thai places are closed on Monday’s, but it’s just so hard to pay attention to the days of the week when we’re out here.

We opted for the restaurant literally right next door that served the same thing. Josh and I split another white rose while most of us got Com Ga as our main meal. It was really good and I’m glad we got it. Some of us wanted to go out for a drink while others wanted to go back and hopefully watch a movie. When we got back to the hostel and asked the front desk if we could watch a movie, a different manager was there to tell us no. I was not happy because literally 2 nights before that we were able to have a great movie night. His excuse was no one would be there to turn it off, but the manager the night before said the TV would turn off by itself so it didn’t make much sense…ugh jerk. So most of us just chilled on the bean bags and chatted a little. Me and Liv were the last ones there and we had a nice, deep convo about life.

Now, the next day in my sequence of days (the 17th of Oct) was actually published before this post. I was told that if I wrote a blog post about the hostel and included a link I would get one night free. Since I’ve been procrastinating and delaying writing my blog post I tried to bang out 7 days in 4 hours, that didn’t happen since one day seems to take me an hour to write, so I wrote as much as I could until 12am when I realized I wouldn’t finish everything before the next day. So instead I just wrote/published that one day so I could show them the next morning and get my money back when I checked out.

I’m going to really try to start getting my blog posts out in a more timely manner because this delaying then dedicating like 5+ hours to writing isn’t cutting it. I’ll get better, I promise, this is my obligation (like homework) and I’ll just have to manage my time better. People ask me why I write such extensive blogs, but I really like getting all of my thoughts and all the details out in one place. If anything, this is more for me than anyone else. Sorta like a little outlet where I can really reflect on the things I’ve done, memories I’ve made, and experiences I’ve been blessed to have had. Most importantly, it keeps me humble, and reminds me how blessed I am to be on this journey because not everyone can do this, but it’s nice to know that I’ve done it completely and utterly on my own. This is a once in a life time experience and I want to remember every second of it.

Ok, that’s enough ranting. If you’ve read this far I really applaud you because I’ve just written damn near a whole week of shit that I’ve done and thoughts I’ve had. Please stay tuned for the next episode of MELISSa’S SOUTHEAST ASIA BACKPACKING ADVENTURE!


1 Day in Da Nang

Oct 17, 2017

For our last day in Hoi An, I ate scrambled eggs once again. I’ve found a trick to get the best eggs from our buffet at Vietnam Backpackers Hostel: ask for when they’re going to be refilled and wait until they refill them to get the freshest batch. Of course it took me 4 days to realize this, but hey, better late than never. We had to check out today, I mean we better because we’ve been here for too long already.

After packing and organizing our all inclusive trip to Ninhvana (what kind of backpackers are we damnit), we called a car to take us to our next destination: Barney’s Hostel in Da Nang. When I was looking through business cards at the hostel, this one was there, staring at me. Liv had also mentioned that it was the best rated/best looking hostel on HostelWorld, so we all booked it the night before to ensure we all could get a room.

We said goodbye to Toby & Max and headed to Da Nang. We were told it would be like a 45 minute drive from Hoi An to Da Nang, but it was really, really quick. Like basically a half hour if that. We arrived around 1:15pm, and even though check in was at 2pm, they were able to accommodate all 8 of us with no problem. The ladies at the front desk were so friendly and helpful (and spoke really good English, probably the best English I’ve encountered so far in Vietnam), they were able to book us a sleeper bus to Nha Trang so seamlessly. The first thing I noticed about this hostel was that it was very cozy, yet modern and inviting. The best part is that the rooms are How I Met Your Mother themed. The staff was nice enough to put me, Liv, Ida and Sam in a room, we’d all booked separately, and we got the Marshall room (yessss). It’s so funny because they have pictures of the show/quotes all around room. The room’s also the niceset room I think I’ve been in so far. The beds are wide and comfy, bathrooms clean and modern looking, and they even have a mini fridge!! It felt more like a bedroom/dorm from a college back home than a hostel. They even have a rooftop that has a great view of the river and beautiful bridges (it looks so cool at night since everything is lit up and the lights reflect off the water).

We were all really hungry, and the sweet ladies downstairs gave us a whole list of cheap, delicious local food that we could go to. Unfortunately, we were too hungry and these places were a little far away so we just opted for the Mi Quang place right next door. Mi Quang is a dish popular to the region, it’s basically wide rice noodles and meat/veggies with some good sauce. I’m not a 100% sure what the sauce is made from, but it tastes like garlic, fish sauce, a little chili and some soy sauce (this one even had peanuts in it, which gave it the perfect crunch). It was cheap, fast, and delicious and we were all really satisfied (did I mention it was right next door, so I could still use the wifi from the hostel in the restaurant).

Josh and Charlie went off on their own to site see while the rest of us wanted to have a beach day. We had to stop at the mall before heading to the beach because some of us had to withdraw money from the ATM there (the ladies at the hostel gave us a really good recommendation to go there, there were no ATM fees and we were able to get a lot of money out, something rare in Vietnam). But, while at the mall we got a little sidetrack and we shopped/ate spending a good 1-2 hours there, oops.

We then made our way to the beach, which was a 30 minute walk. By this time it was about 430pm, and we only had an hour or so left of daylight (even though it was already overcast). The beach was amazing. The sand was the perfect yellow, the water was warm and great for swimming (if you stay in the designated swimming areas). Anything outside the designated swimming area the rip curl gets a little too strong for most people. Sam and I were trying to find the best waves to body surf on but they were far and few between. It was still a pretty successful beach day I would have to say, even though we were only there for an hour before the sun went down.

We walked back to the mall where we ran into Charlie and Josh. We wanted to eat there because they had a pretty good food court. I got some amazing pepper steak and corn, it reminded me of Pepper Lunch, a restaurant we have back at home where the beef comes out raw but the hot stone cooks it for you while you stir everything together. I was very impressed with my dinner and really glad I got that. Jolliebee is also in the same complex but I decided I would save that for the next day for lunch (Jolliebee is MY FAV, but I checked their menu and they don’t have gravy or halo halo like back at home, but hey you can’t have everything).

After dinner we came back to our hostel, the mall is only like a 15 minute walk. Everyone was pretty dead and didn’t want to go out. I wanted to work on my blog since it takes a really long time for me to write. I enjoyed the lovely rooftop where I was able to admire the lights and river. The others caught up on their shows and reading, FaceTiming, etc. 

This is probably one of the best hostels we’ve stayed at so far. Not just because the facilities are so nice, or the views are great, but the staff is also incredible. If you’re ever in Da Nang and you’re not sure where to stay, I would definitely recommend  Barney Hostel. It’s affordable but upscale at the same time. And I can’t stress enough how amazing the staff is!!

I need to go to bed now, since I’ve been trying to blog for almost 4 hours now (the rest of Hoi An/Hue will be up probably tomorrow if not the next day, I’m getting so behind and procrastinating it’s actually so bad). But please feel free to ask me any questions if you’ve been following thus far. I’d be happy to recommend places and tell you more about my experience (not like I haven’t gone into so much detail already). So stay tuned for that next really long blog post and stay tuned for the next episode of MELISSA’S SOUTHEAST ASIA BACKPACKING ADVENTURE!

3 Days in Hanoi + 3 Days in Cat Ba

Oct 4, 2017

It’s been a while since I last blogged, so please forgive me for my lack of memory (hint: a lot of alcohol has also been consumed, so my memory’s a bit hazy). I always wake up just before 10am, so I can eat breakfast and savor every ounce of sleep I can get. I got eggs for breakfast (big shock) and made my morning tea (black with sugar and milk). Today was the day that the girls, Charlie and Hannah, would finally meet up with us! Their visas didn’t start until Oct 4th and they were taking the 24 hr bus from Vientiane to Hanoi.

After a slow morning, me, Liv, Josh, Jess, Mike, & Sam decided to explore. We went to Hien Kiem Lake, the famous lake around closest to downtown where apparently Hanoi was named after? The temple in the middle of the lake, which I forget the name of, is apparently a really sacred temple. We also had to cover up, no knees/shoulders shown. I had my sarong while Jess & Liv had to put on some very hilarious dress cover ups. There wasn’t really much to read/see, Vietnam doesn’t have very descriptive signs so we kinda just roamed around and enjoyed the sites.

I know this is really bad, don’t judge us, but we wanted to get some Popeyes for lunch. The Brits & Kiwi don’t have them in their country, and I had to show them why/how Popeyes was better than KFC. So, we got it right, and it’s so much different than the one in the States (go figure). It also didn’t make my stomach feel very good, probably karma for eating Popeyes in Vietnam. Liv needed to check out a different pharmacy that hopefully had bug spray with deet more than 10-15%. It was near the museum that we wanted to go to (The Vietnamese Museum of History), so we all walked with her that way. 

The pharmacy ended up being closed but there was a huge mall that had nice AC (very key after long walks) so we went inside and checked it out. There were really fancy stores like Dior, Louis Vuitton, etc in there so we really didn’t look around, we just went up and down the escalators LOL. It was also pouring outside, so we wanted to kill some time before walking in the rain again, or hopefully it would surpass by the time we got out.

Luckily it did, so we took that time to walk to the museum. I thought this national history museum would be a good one, something very informational (which I really really like). I LOVE learning about different cultures, it’s something I enjoy doing when I go to a different country. However, this museum was nothing like I expected. Instead of exhibits with descriptive signs, appealing artwork, and culturally significant dates, it just displayed a lot of rocks, artifacts of different time periods with maybe a small description of why it was important. I was kinda disappointed, but I can’t expect everything to be like the British Museum or Smithsonian’s in DC.

We were all really exhausted by the end of the museum. We’d already done a lot of walking and been on our feet the whole day. Some of us wanted to take a taxi back to the hostel, that’s how tired we were. But it was only .8 miles away, so we opted to walk again. I got some boba to kinda give me that little oomph of energy.  Please don’t mind me, I really forgot what we did the rest of the night.

I think we met up with the girls around 6, who said their bus ride wasn’t bad at all (stark contrast to Ida who had a bus ride from hell). They said they would do the bus if they could again, because their experience was that good. I don’t remember what I had for dinner, it might have been another Banh Mi. Liv and I went to go find alcohol. Our hostel gives out free beer from 6pm-7pm, so I think we had some free beers before going to find cheaper alcohol.

We couldn’t bring alcohol into the hostel, a stupid rule they give to so that we buy overpriced alcohol from their bar. Liv and I said FUCK DAT, she bought a bottle of wine while I bought a small bottle of vodka and drinking yogurt (for chase). We brought the alcohol in her room where we pregamed (or in British terms predrink). It was really funny because Liv didn’t have a cork screw for the wine bottle, so she took a pen and pushed the cork all the way through. I almost finished the whole bottle before we went outside where the rest of the gang was at. Across the street from our hostel, there are 2 Vietnamese older ladies who sit outside with a keg, selling beer for 5,000 dong. Josh, Charlie, Hannah, Mike, Sam, and Jess were all sitting there. Hannah gave me 2 more shots (after I nearly finished my bottle in the room), and I got pretty dang drunk.

I don’t remember the rest of the night, just snippets, but I know we went back to the hostel and danced. At around 11:30pm they have a “pub crawl” but really it’s just a fancy name for them to gather everyone and kick them out so other’s can sleep. So, at 11:30 we went to this “pub crawl” and they brought us to this random club. They basically just dump everyone at one place and leave because this club was the only place we went to that night. We were there for nearly 2 hours before it got so hot we couldn’t stand it anymore. It was so close to our hostel so we just walked back and I went to sleep.

Oct 5, 2017

I was a little hung over this morning, so instead of eggs, I finally mixed it up and got some fruit with yogurt (you had to buy the yogurt for an extra 10,000 dong but it was worth it). It was a slow morning but we all gathered together to go back to the Note Cafe, where we got egg coffee the first time.  The girls wanted to try it, so instead of getting an egg coffee I wanted to try their coconut latte. We all sat upstairs where we filled out more notes and fucked around till our coffee came. I was the first to order and the last to get my drink. It was like 20-30 minutes later, after I’ve repeatedly told the lady I got a coconut latte, where she came to me and told me she gave my latte to someone else by mistake and if it was ok that I’d take the egg coffee instead. I really wanted the coconut latte, so I was like, no thanks I really want the coconut latte. After waiting for another 10 minutes I finally got my coconut latte. It was pretty delish. 

So, don’t judge me again, but we were still really craving some Western food. We went into the same complex as the Popeyes and decided on Dominos. I had a yummy personal pizza to myself. We were all pretty hung over and tired, so after pizza all of us except for Hannah and Charlie went back to the hostel to chill on the 5th floor. The 5th floor basically a lounge with couches, bean bags, computers, a balcony, a TV and a bar. Most of us tried to nap/relax. I think I got like a 10 minute nap in, but I mostly just chilled for like 3 hours. Ida had also joined us, she was staying at another hostel before this and didn’t come to Sapa with us because she’d already seen it.

Around 6pm, we went back downstairs for the free beer. There was also a Pub Quiz at 7pm, so we just chilled in the lobby, drank some beers, ate fries (again with the Western food I know). The Pub Quiz was kinda fun. There were 4 rounds of 10 questions with different categories. But between each round, they would have like a 15-30 min break that lasted way longer than it needed to. They really just wanted people to buy more drinks during this time so I think that’s why it lasted so long. By the time the 4th round came, people were so uninterested because the breaks were so long and people just kept leaving. I don’t even think we got the results in because they tallied it up while we were outside drinking again. This time I split a big bottle of vodka with Sam. I have no idea what was in that vodka (or maybe it was the 4 mix drinks we had previously) but I got REALLY drunk. I think we went to the Prague Bar to smoke again (where I lost my precious fan) but I don’t really remember the rest of the night (I think we might have been the only people DRUNK).

Oct 6, 2017

I woke up around 9am since we had to check out today and the bus to Cat Ba would pick us up around 11am. I still had to pack, eat, and get ready. While this seems like an easy task, it was incredibly difficult because I woke up drunk. I have no idea why I woke up drunk or how, this has never really happened to me before (because when I usually wake up drunk it’s at like 5-6am and I can just go back to sleep and sleep it off). But, this time it was at 9am in the morning and it lasted all the way until I got in the bus. 

The bus to Cat Ba was so incredibly difficult. By the time I was on the bus, I started to sober up and felt really really sick. It didn’t help that I was on a moving, uncomfortable bus. So once we stopped I made myself puke (it was all liquid even tho I had breakfast) and immediately felt better. In order to get to Cat Ba, we would have to take an 1 1/2 hr bus to a harbor, take a 15 minute ferry to Cat Ba, then sit for another 45 mins to our hostel. The journey was interesting, but I was just happy to finally get to our hostel. We booked Central Backpackers Hostel, it was pretty far from town, something we didn’t put into consideration when we booked. It was also raining when we arrived, so we couldn’t do anything without transportation. 

Since it was far away from town, we just ordered food at the hostel’s restaurant. We heard that this dish “Bun Cha” was really good, so 4 of us ordered that. It was a super rich dish, that would’ve probably been better on the streets of Hanoi but I still enjoyed it. The rest of the night we just chilled and drank. I was feeling pretty ill from the night before (or morning???) and I tried to drink. But the first drink I had, I just couldn’t stomach it and thought it would be better if I just stayed in for the night and take a night off. The rest of the group’s plan was to take a taxi to town since the bars are open to pretty late. When they finally decided to book it, the front desk said that taxis usually don’t run after 12am. It wouldn’t make sense for them to go out at this point since it was like 10:45pm. I went up at this point to try and sleep while they all went into the pool, drunk.

Oct 7, 2017

So, I didn’t sleep like at all. I forgot that I had drank a whole pot of green tea at 9pm to help with my sore throat the night before. I sat awake all night trying to sleep, which I did finally at 6:30am. This always happens to me and I always forget to not drink caffeine after a certain time. My dorm was also the first one up the stairs from the lounge area, and the music and people echoed so loud up to my room. The music didn’t stop until 12am (the latest I’ve heard any hostel turning off their music) but people were well loud up until 1am (again, something not very common in most places because they usually kick people out around 12 at the latest). So I woke up in time for breakfast and ordered fruit and yogurt. I was super exhausted at this point since I’d barely gotten any sleep. It was pouring down rain at this point, so I told them I was going up to try and nap for a little bit longer.

Liv came in my room around 12pm to tell me the plan. We’d go to town around 2pm and just stay there for the rest of the night so we wouldn’t have to pay for another taxi. I got ready and gathered with everyone. I’d only maybe got an hour of sleep but I felt a little better (and less exhausted). Our plan was to go to this beach bar, but before we left most of us got food from the hostel. I had some spring rolls while we played Bullshit, a fun card game that I learned back in Chiang Mai.

We got a huge taxi for all 9 of us to take us to this beach bar. It was probably a bad idea because it was pouring down rain. When we got there we realized it wasn’t a good bar, and all the people there (maybe Chinese tourist) were all huddling in the bar for cover from the rain. We were there for a good 5 minutes before we reevaluated and decided to leave to Oasis Bar. So we paid for another taxi to take us from the beach bar to Oasis.

By this time it was already 4pm, and we were like well fuck we might as well stay here for the rest of the night (we heard it was the best bar in Cat Ba). The stupid thing was that we started drinking so early, ate, then tried to drink again but didn’t get drunk because we were all full from the food. I spent a lot of money because I split a bottle of wine with Liv, had a few cocktails with Sam, ordered fish which was expensive, and got a few balloons. Not very economical this time around…and I didn’t even get drunk (lame). We were all exhausted by the time 9:30-10 rolled around, so we just got a cab back.

I was SOOOO tired because I didn’t get a good nights rest the night before. The hostel wasn’t as crazy this night but the music still blasted into our room. Everyone who was in our room actually was in for the night, and we all were talking around 10pm. I didn’t even realize that I fell asleep I was that tired. All I remember was talking with my roomies one second, and then the next waking up in the middle of the night for a drink of water.

Oct 8, 2017

So, I was really happy I got a good nights sleep because we had to wake up early for our tour that would pick us up at 8am. I was also really happy that I packed the night before so I wouldn’t wake the others in our hostel. I got semi ready (everything except brush my teeth) and went downstairs for breakfast. I got scrambled eggs again (so shocking, I know). We were all ready to go at 8am when the bus picked us up. We were really nervous about booking this tour since it’d been raining nonstop the first 2 days we were in Cat Ba. We didn’t want to stay on the island any longer, so we booked this tour hoping for the best.

When we woke up in the morning, it wasn’t raining and there were some blue skies behind the thick cloud coverage. Our bus took us to a harbor where we were to board a boat. This would be a tour of Halong Bay where we could kayak, snorkel, and hike. On the boat they took us through the fishing village of Halong Bay where the community literally lives on boats. It’s so cool to see: there are kids playing in the water, dogs on each house boat, tons of nets out (which also might be a bad thing since I heard something about overfishing), and people living and thriving on the water.

Our first stop was kayaking and I shared a PINK double kayak with Sam (it was the only pink kayak and I felt really special lol). When we got out onto the water it was also sunny! So sunny Liv even got sunburned (poor thing, luv ya Liv). It was so beautiful, kayaking through different tunnels and areas. It was peaceful and amazing at the same time. All I could do was take in the beauty (and paddle my ass/arms off). There was a really cool cave that we paddled through that even had bats flying around. The only negative to this beautiful place was all the trash (and quite a lot of it) that we paddle through. It just reminds me why I’m so eco-friendly and why to try my hardest to consume less. We’re polluting our planet at such a rapid pace and places like this won’t be beautiful anymore the more we consume/waste.

After kayaking we got on the boat to eat lunch. Lunch was included and they prepared a really nice meal for us. There was tofu, chicken and veggies, fish cakes (that were so gross and fishy), veggies, salty peanuts, and fried spring rolls. It was very yummy even though I couldn’t eat a lot of it (cuz I have a small tummy). We then made our way to the next stop which was swimming/snorkeling. Once there, we could jump from the top of the boat to the water. Most of jumped from the top. It was pretty scary but thrilling jumping from the very top to the ocean below. At first I grabbed goggles, but after I realized they sucked I gave them to Mike. So, I didn’t really snorkel but I swam and enjoyed the little beach with the others. The water was so warm but refreshing at the same time. 

Whilst this was happening, we still had great weather! We lucked out for sure, if it was pouring rain while we were kayaking I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as I did (I would’ve probably been a miserable, cold mess). We made our way to the next stop, Monkey Island. We were able to chill on the top of the boat as well, taking in the sights and sunshine. When we got to Monkey Island, we were told by our guide that we could feed the monkeys that live there, and also hike to the very top of the island where we could get a beautiful 360 view. There was also a beach if we wanted to swim.

Most of us opted to hike, except Liv (who was very sunburned at this point) and Jess, who was sleepy from the night before. We saw the monkeys immediately. Our tour guide was giving them nuts, literally handing it to them. We watched them for a little then made our way up the mountain. We thought it was going to be an easy hike…SIKE. It was basically rock climbing, you had to use all 4 limbs to stabilize yourself because it was steep and rocky. There was also only one way up and one way down. So if people were coming down you had to get out of their way so they can safely make their way down. There was also a wait at the top. It was that narrow that only a few people could sit at the very top at a time. But, alas, we all made it to the top. The worst part was getting down. The jagged rocks seemed steeper than they did on the way up. It took us way longer to get down than up, but we all made it.

Once we joined Liv and Jess, they discreetly told us that someone had been bitten by a monkey and another stung by a jellyfish. I didn’t feel bad for the girl that got bit by the monkey, it was the same girls that took 983747232347 pictures on the boat, on the beach, with the snorkel, in different poses, basically the whole time instead of actually taking part in the activities (who takes bum pics on the beach?!? I mean really come on). She was probably taunting them with the food to get a selfie or something (her poor boyfriend was taking all the pics too).

After they told us this, we heard a scream. I immediately turned around and saw a monkey running back to a tree and a girl grabbing her leg in pain. It looked like she got bit. I asked her if she got bit, and she showed me her leg. Our table was right by the first aid, so I felt compelled to help her. She had some band aids but I told her she needed to clean it. At this point she was either in shock or a lot of pain because she was in tears. I gave her the antiseptic ointment and she just shook her head as she sobbed. I was like (in my head), well fuck you need to clean it a damn monkey just bit you. So I took the initiative and put that stuff on a cotton ball, she still shook her head and said “no, no” like I was going to kill her or something. FInally after some encouragement from my friends she let me clean her wound. I then put two band aids on it. She was thankful (kinda), and then for some reason asked me if I worked there. LOLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL I know I’m Asian but there’s no way I sound remotely Vietnamese, I have a damn American accent. So that was a little racist but whatever. I just thought I’d be nice to her cuz she didn’t know what to fucking do. One of the Vietnamese guys that worked there told my friends that people get bit everyday because the monkeys get agitated and the tourist get a little too comfortable. I guess if you try and approach them with no food then they’re like “fuck you” and bite you.

So after that crazy fiasco, we were finally on our way back to Cat Ba.  We went through the fishing village again, a sight so amazing to witness. Once back at the hostel, we all took showers and changed. We wanted to go back into town for dinner and had to call another cab. We found this local Vietnamese restaurant (they lured us in with free beer). I got this delish fried rice dish with chicken and tomato paste (?). The restaurant was run by this super cute Vietnamese family who were eating dinner as well. They had 3 cute little boys and a black lab puppy chained out in front (soooo cuuuute).

After dinner we went bar hopping. We had one drink at Oasis again and ended up at Rose Bar, where we spent most of our time. I guess we were having too much fun there because we under estimated the time. At around 11:40pm we asked the bar to call us a cab, but they said the cab companies weren’t responding. Well fuck. So we walked back to Oasis bar hoping they could call us a cab. They said no one was answering. So, we were running around with our heads cut off trying to figure out how we’re going to get back to the hostel. It would be a 45 minute to an hr walk. Finally, some of the people in our group asked some dudes on motorbikes if they would take us back to our hostel. With a bit of convincing ($$), they agreed to take us. There were 4 people on our bike…a little sketchy but we made it. After, I packed a little, chatted with our roomies, and went to sleep.

Oct 9, 2017

I woke up in time for breakfast again (don’t ask me what I got because you already know). We chilled out before our van picked us up at 12:30 to Hanoi. It was the same company that took us to Cat Ba. So it was a van, to the ferry, to a bus. I was super tired so I slept majority of the time on the bus. It wasn’t full so I was able to sprawl out on one seat and get comfy.

So, that basically took most of our day because we arrived at Vietnam Backpacker’s Hostel Downtown (the same hostel we were at before we left) around 5pm. We were really hungry so we went on a hunt for food. The group was craving Banh Mi, while Sam and I wanted something different. Right as we were approaching the Banh Mi shop, there was a Pho Bo food stall that looked so delish.We decided to eat that while the others had Banh Mi. It was probably the best pho I’ve had in Vietnam so far. 

The rest of the night consisted of drinking across the street at the 5,000 kip beer stall, sneaking drinks in our room and drinking/having a great fucking time, and ending up at Prague Bar. Ida and I drunkenly got pizza downstairs hahaha. The rest got like 2 banh mi’s after Prague bar because they had the munchies. It was a great night that doesn’t need to go into much detail other than we got drunk and had a merry good time. We also we all in the same room which made it even better.

Thanks everyone for paying attention to my mundane blog. It’s a little hard to remember so far back but I’m trying really hard to remember all the best details. If anyone has any advice/comments/concerns please don’t be afraid to voice them. I would love to know what you feel/how you feel about my thoughts and if you have anything that you would change or do differently when it comes to what I put out. Thanks for reading up to this point, I love and miss you all! Stay tuned for the next episode of MELISSA’S SOUTHEAST ASIA ADVENTURE!

*P.S. My pics aren’t loading and I have hella more I can upload so I might do it later, just not now 😢

Last Day in Laos, Busy Hanoi, Trekking in Sapa

Sept 29, 2017

Our bus was at 9:30am, I had to eat breakfast, get ready, and finalizing packing. A pretty hectic morning. So don’t reprimand me when I tell you I forgot to check out of the hotel and lost 30,000 KIP (~$3.50). While that doesn’t sound like a lot, for me that’s 2 shots of alcohol, 1 meal, a nice souvenir…oh well, lesson learned. I realized that I’m learning a lot of small lessons every time I’m out here. It’s nice to then reflect on them via my blog.

We said our goodbyes to Hannah, Charlie, and Andrew. Andrew’s going to a nice resort while Hannah and Charlie are going to meet us in Hanoi a few days later. So it was me, Liv, Josh, Nicole, and Ida crammed into this mini bus with about 10 others. It took around 4 hours but we finally made it to Vientiane, the capital of Laos. We walked with all of our stuff to the Dream Home Hostel 2, where Mike and Sam stayed the day before. Kevin was in the lobby, he was taking a bus all the way to Cambodia, a journey that would take over 24 hours. He joined us as we searched for food.

Since Vientiane is the capital of Laos, it has more of a city vibe than the rest of the country. Granted, the most “city” like more than anywhere else in the country. It also has more of an international population, with a lot of Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese presence in the capital. So we settled on this Szechwan restaurant. Like everywhere I go, most of the locals try to talk to me like I’m supposed to translate things for them. However, I think they get really disappointed when I answer the in English (*slaps self on the wrist* Bad Melissa, such an ignorant American). I got my favorite, Mapo tofu and was very satisfied afterwards.

Back at the hostel, we just chilled for a little bit. Liv wasn’t feeling well so she just hung out once we decided to leave and explore the Vientiane night market. I was hoping to find more Laos souvenirs, but most of the stalls were rows and rows of fake Western clothes like Puma. Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Adidas, etc. I did get to get a fun quick workout in by the Mekong River. There were a bunch of ladies doing aerobics so I naturally joined in. We didn’t stay at the market for long since there wasn’t much for us to really see. 

We had dinner at a place close to our hostel. I finally order Larb, a dish Laos is really known for but a dish I normally eat at Thai restaurants back at home. It’s usually minced meat, herbs like Thai basil, cilantro, onion, tossed in fish sauce and lime.  I haven’t ordered it yet since it’s usually one of the more expensive dishes on their menu, but it was my last night in Laos and I had to use the rest of my money up. We walked back to the hostel and realized it was during the time they give free vodka (yessss, you know me and free drinks)! So I downed three glasses and walked upstairs. I wanted to sleep a little early, plus I didn’t want to be hung over for my flight the next day.

Sept 30, 2017

I woke up for free breakfast again (before 10). I was a little tired of eggs so I got toast, which wasn’t toasted at all, so I literally ate slices of bread. Our flight was at 2:40pm so we had a little time to kill before we left to the airport. I took this time to FaceTime the parentals. It’s sometimes hard to find time to talk to people back home, since California is 14 hours behind Thailand/Laos. We also had to say goodbye to Nicole, who was going to Cambodia, and Ida, who was taking the “24 hour” bus (I put it in quotes because it rarely ever takes 24 hours, usually anywhere between 30-40 hours). While everything here is “for the experience’, being crammed in a bus for more than a day seemed like an experience we could skip.

The security and immigration airport check in went smoothly. Vientiane’s airport is really tiny (3 gates) so it’s to safe to say we didn’t get lost. I got some really shitty and expensive airport food, but it’s fine I had to finish up my money anyways. The flight itself went by so fast. Liv, Josh and I weren’t able to sit next to each other and I ended up sitting next to this lady who obviously doesn’t fly that often. She kept elbowing me because she had to plug her ears with her fingers, so her elbow was chillin on my arm for a good 20 minutes. She also decided to take a picture out the window while I was trying to sleep and I felt her going over me the whole time. So I finally woke up and moved and she literally was taking a picture with her huge ass iPad and half her body over me.

We flew Laos Airlines, and they actually gave us a nice little meat bun snack for the ride. The flight was very quick, about an hour at most. At Hanoi airport, Liv and I went through immigration smoothly. She’d gotten her visa at the Luang Prabang Vietnam embassy while I got mine pretty quickly (and less costly) online. Josh, on the other hand, was waiting for his visa to be approved for almost an hour. I guess different countries have different visa processes and being from New Zealand made it difficult for him to get an online visa. 

Once we were all finally together again, we made our way out of the airport. We needed money so we withdrew a little from the ATM, just enough to get home and for lodging that night. A girl named Luka, from Germany, asked if she could get a cab with us since it was pretty expensive for one person. We reassured her, the more the merrier. It was 400,000 dong to get from the Hanoi airport to the Old Quarter and took almost an hour, but wow was it an interesting hour. The motorbike culture is INSAINE. First off, there can be up to 4 people on a bike. Second, they just go go go no matter if there are people, cars, dogs, you just need to get out of their way. Thirdly, they’re constantly beeping horns at all times, I guess to warn people/cars that they’re coming and not stopping. Lastly, there are thousands on the road at a given time! Going in all directions, beeping their horns, overtaking the streets.

We arrived at our hostel, the Hanoi City Backpackers Hostel, at around 6:30pm. We immediately saw Mike and Sam out the window. The staff at this hostel was amazing, they brought our bags in and gave us a fancy drink and told us that we could join our friends for beer hour (free beer 6-7pm). We joined Mike, Sam, and their friend from back home, Jess, for some beers. This hostel was definitely the most fancy we’ve stayed at so far. The beds were so big and comfy, the staff was super attentive and nice, and it was super clean (a big, big plus here). After dropping our bags off, we headed out in search for food.

At first, we stopped at this really crowded Vietnamese restaurant that we thought would be good. But after looking at the menu we saw that it was pretty pricey, it also didn’t help that most of the dishes were things like pig intestine, stomach, gizzards, feet and other different body parts none of us were used to eating. So, we settled at this outside restaurant with little plastic tables and chairs. Most of the people in this restaurant were not Western and it was a little hard to communicate with the servers since they didn’t speak any English. We just pointed to the thing that seemed the best Josh and I split this really delicious beef with celery and carrots dish.

After we went to explore more of Hanoi’s Old Quarter.  Let me tell you, the streets were incredibly packed, like packed to the brim. I was getting very overwhelmed since I hate crowds and tend to get claustrophobic in these situations. We settled on a side restaurant where we ordered some beers. Finally, we ended up at Prague Pub, where we got to smoke, had some wine, and balloons filled with laughing gas. It was definitely a good time.

Oct 1, 2017

I woke up for breakfast again (before 10) after getting a really shitty sleep. While the beds were comfy and private (curtains), it was so cold because they blasted the AC and we had a merely a sheet to cover us at night. I didn’t get much sleep because I was so freaking cold. I had some cereal and banana for breakfast. We only booked one night at the hostel since we were planning to do a trip up to Sapa the next day. Our overnight sleeper bus wouldn’t pick us up until 9pm, so we had the rest of the day to explore.

Liv had a spa day, so the rest of us went on a search for this infamous egg coffee. We stumbled upon this place called the Note Cafe, where we ordered the egg coffee. This cafe was so cute, it was decorated in sticky notes filled out by people who pass through. There were thousands of notes everywhere: on the walls, on the windows, chairs, tables, anything that had a surface. After a bit more exploring, we got some Banh Mi at another cafe that was delicious! Banh Mi is a traditional Vietnamese sandwich made with meat, carrots, cilantro and basically anything you want.

 We met up with Liv back at the hostel. I wanted to check out the Hoa Lo prison, a prison first used during the French Colonization period as a prison for political prisoners. It was later used as a prisoner for American pilots during the Vietnam War who were shot down. I guess it was dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton” by the Americans because of how nicely they were treated there.

We went back to the hostel and chilled again until we were ready to eat. Our goal was to get some pho, and we randomly stumbled upon a food stall on the side of the street. Most of these stalls only serve one thing, the dish they’re most famous for. We got some really delicious chicken pho (although I’m unsure of the actual name of the dish since they don’t speak any English here). We ended up at Prague Pub again because the boys wanted to watch the Aresenal football (soccer) game. One balloon and 2 glasses of wine later, we left in search for Banh Mi. Josh and I split a pork banh mi that had deep fried pork and fries, yuuuum.

Back at the hostel, we waited for the bus to pick us up. The bus picked us up around 9:30pm to bring us to the actual sleeper bus. We didn’t manage to get on the first one, so we waited another half an hour for the next sleeper bus to come. It was a mad dash to the front of the line – you want to get the best seats possible since you’re gonna be sleeping on it for over 6 hours. Luckily we were the first few in and picked our seats. I had one at the top. It’s basically a seat that reclines all the way back into like a bed. It wasn’t the nicest, but it worked for what it was. The only gross part were the little cockroaches, running around the back and on the sides. 

I really wanted to sleep on this bus, it would be around a 4-5 hour journey ride and I didn’t want a repeat of the sleeper train. So I blew up my inflatable neck pillow, put my eye mask on, stuffed my ear plugs in, popped 2 ibuprofen PMs and fell fast a sleep.

Oct 2, 2017

While it wasn’t the smoothest ride, I slept very peacefully. I guess I was the only – the others either barely got any sleep or only got a few hours. I slept the whole way, which was much needed. I think we arrived in Sapa around 4:45-5am, but they let you sleep in the bus until 6. However, this bus driver kicked us off around 5:45, saying that the police were outside and we needed to get off the bus…thanks a lot. We were all sort of confused since the guy literally just stranded us in this new town and didn’t give us any information of what to do or where to go. He also kicked us out early, so the people who normally wait outside weren’t there to guide us where to go.

Fortunately this guy in a taxi got out and showed us a list of names, it was all of our names. He put us in his taxi and took us to Linh Trang Hotel, where we were to drop our stuff off and eat breakfast (included). I got some fried noodles for breakfast because I am SOOOO tired of eggs. Chao came to greet us and said we should be ready by 8:30am and that we should only bring the things we need for one night.

After getting ready and packing our bags, we finally set off. Chao, our tour guide, said that we’d be trekking to lunch, and then our homestay. It was a 7KM journey (I don’t know how many miles that is, I’m so bad with metric conversion and realize that the system we use in the US is essentially useless outside of the country…WHYYYY). As we were making our way out of the city, more and more ethnic Hmong ladies joined our group. They are all so cute (and small) and they know the basics of English like “What is your name” “How old are you” “Do you have any brothers or sisters”. Chao by far knew the most English, and I asked her how she learned. She said by talking to tourists, that’s it. 

Our trek was a little hard in situations, you could slip pretty easily. So, the nice Hmong ladies who make it look easy (and do it in freaking slides) would grab your hand for assistance. We walked up and down mountains, through villages, farms and rice patties. There were water buffalo everywhere, along with pigs and piglets, chicks and chickens and of course doggies. At every rest stop, there were little Hmong girls that would sell you bracelets. They said it in the most sad way, knowing the right tactics to pressure tourist in giving them money.

We trekked for about 3.5 hours until we got to the valley where we would eat lunch. Once we sat down at the restaurants, the nice Hmong ladies that were helping us (only during the first half) of the journey all took out their merchandise from their basket backpacks and asked if we wanted to buy anything. Chao helped translate. It sort of took us all off guard, they were all really nice and helped us down the hill. They gave us a cute flower/plant heart that they made and took the time to talk to us. I was pressured into buying a scarf and bracelet for 300,000 kip ($13), when I surely could have gotten it for cheaper. I wanted to help them out and their families so I reluctantly bought it from them. We later find out that this is a tactic to get tourists to give them more money. It was such a coincidence that there were 6 of us and 6 of them. We didn’t know it before but we knew now why so many of them joined us while we walked. Lesson learned.

I got some noodle soup (again) for lunch. After an hour and a half we walked on the road to Ta Van, the location of our homestay. The village was really small and full of homestays. Our homestay was so cute! It was a orange house with a straw roof. The lady running it was so cute and sweet. They had a puppy named Bin, some type of Corgi mix who was definitely young. I notice out here that they chain the dogs up if they’re actually pets, to I guess make sure they don’t run away or nothing happens to them. Bin was a very hyper active dog. I guess sitting on a chain all day makes a dog go stir crazy, especially one that’s 7 months old and teething. He was very bitey but just wanted love. 

We got to the homestay around 3pm, so we had 3 hours before dinner to explore and hangout. So all of us except Liv (to keep you updated it’s me, Josh, Mike, Sam, and Jess) went down to the river. We got a beer, roamed around a bit, through some rocks into the river and just enjoyed the surroundings. Sapa is absolutely beautiful. The mountains are all carved to make for rice patties, the kids run around enjoying life, dogs wander with their tails wagging, and people hum by on motorbikes. It’s such a nice pace of life, and I was just in awe of everything. When we got back to the homestay, I couldn’t just sit inside on my phone. I went outside to enjoy the view and just appreciate my surroundings. I took time to reflect my thoughts and my trip.

My time here has been nothing but positive. The food, the people, the cultures, the landscape everything has been beautiful. The people I’ve met along the way have been lovely. Everything has gone so well so far, and I can see why people spend like a year here. I wish I had more time to travel and see more, but I need to get back to my career at home.

Dinner was served at 630pm. They made us a beef dish, chicken dish, cabbage, a tofu dish, and spring rolls. There was so much food and I stuffed my face until I was almost sick. When we went out earlier, Jess, Sam and I all split the cost of 2 bottles of wine, so we broke that out during dinner. There were others who were doing a similar trek as us, just with a different guide. We all played cards and drank. It was a great night. When we wanted to go to sleep, the second floor housed all of the beds. They were comfy mattresses all on the floor, with very thick blankets (Sapa is much cooler than Hanoi and valley regions, it can get really cold at night), and a MOSQUITO NET (we all know how I feel about them). I tucked myself in with the very heavy blanket, and fell asleep.

Oct 3, 2017

The roosters call woke me up around 5:15am. The homestay had open windows, bars were the only thing that covered the outside from coming in. I put on ear plugs then fell soundly asleep until around 8:25, when the sound of my roomies woke me up. We were supposed to be up and ready by 8:30am for breakfast, but it was a long start for all of us. They made us very thin pancakes, and gave us bananas and honey. The consistency of the pancakes were almost like crepes, so I made my own banana crepe.

Our next trek was to the waterfall. We were going to come back to the homestay, so I left most of my stuff except for my wallet and phone there. Since we got off to a late start, there were a lot more groups on the path than yesterday. Our pace was quite fast compared to the others, so we found ourselves stuck waiting for other groups to move faster. At each of our rest stops, there were more Hmong ladies, waiting for a group to follow. They followed us at this particular part, where the bamboo was dense and thick, and the path was muddy and treacherous. I had my vibrams (five-toe shoes) on, so I was able to easily hop from place to place. I did get my foot stuck in the mud though, but my shoes can get in the water with no problem, so I wasn’t worried about it.

We finally got to the waterfall, the place we were trekking to all morning. Chao warned us that it’s very slippery and to be careful. I washed my shoes off and slipped a few times in the waterfall. The waterfall sat on the side of the mountain, so it was very steep where we were. I thought I was confident, and walked around (and slipped and fell) in the waterfall’s little pool. I gave my stuff to Jess, who had a backpack, in case I slipped and drenched myself. After like 15 minutes, we told each other we should get back. When I was walking back, there was this one stream that I needed to cross before getting to the main part of the cliff. Instead of jumping over like most people, I decided to try and walk through and my foot immediately buckled and slipped. I was whisked away, sliding down the waterfall, when a man caught me and helped me up (there were a lot of people around this waterfall). It was in front of everyone, and if this man didn’t help me up I might’ve been washed all the way down. I thanked him, embarrassed, and said I was ok. I should have thanked him more, because I think he basically saved my life now thinking about it. If he wasn’t there, I’m not sure I would have been able to stop myself from the strong current. I was really embarrassed, and wanted to walk it off like it was no problem. Chao looked really worried, she had warned me before that it was slippery.

So, drenched and embarrassed, I walked down the mountain with the rest of my group. There were more Hmong ladies who tried to help Jess and Liv down, but we knew what their intentions were. We walked to this restaurant, where we all got pho. It was cloudy and a little cold. While we were waiting for our food, it started to rain. Like coming down cats and dogs rain. We got a little nervous that we’d have to walk back in the pouring rain, but when we finally finished it was coming down a little less intense. I was already wet from falling in the waterfall, so I just put my drenched sarong over me for cover. 

It was about a half an hour walk in the rain back to our homestay. There I took a shower and charged my phone (that luckily didn’t get wet from when I fell into the waterfall because I’d given it to Jess). We say goodbye to Chao and all gave her a tip – she was 7 months pregnant, walking all those miles in the heat and putting up with us. You could tell she was so humble because she didn’t want to except it at first, but after more encouragement she finally gave in. The lady who ran the hostel would accompany us to Sapa and our night bus (that departed at 4pm). She gave us all a snack for our journey – a baguette, banana, condensed sweet milk, and a water. We took a mini bus back to Sapa where we picked up the rest of our luggage from the hotel. 

We got onto the night bus no problem and said goodbye to the sweet lady who ran the homestay. We actually didn’t depart until 4:30pm, but this time we sat in the front of the bus. The road was really windy from Sapa, and I was writing my blog and watching outside when all of asudden this bus came from around a turn. Our bus didn’t stop and that bus didn’t stop and we ended up crashing the left corner or our bus into the side of their bus. After being stopped for about 30 minutes (and stopping traffic), we finally went on our way and I was able to see the extent of the damage. Our bus smashed one of the side windows of the other, but we all carried on as if nothing happened.

I tried to blog a bit, and ended up sleeping for a few hours when we finally ended up in Sapa. I did feel a cockroach run across my face, and had a bit of a problem with them. But after I flung it off my chair, I didn’t get have any problem with a damn cockroach. We made it to Hanoi around 9:30pm, where we took a taxi (who definitely went an extra long way to drive the meter up) to our new hostel, Vietnam Backpackers Hostel Downtown. When we walked in, it immediately looked like we were in a club. Apparently this was the biggest party hostel in Hanoi and we def felt that when we walked in.

Later, we had some 5,000 beer across the way ($.20) – I had about 4 before browsing for food. I guess everything closes at 12am here because the police were going around blasting their siren and the locals would look like their closing their shops. When the police passed some of the shops would open back up. We were able to get some kebab, which was so delish! After a wander around old quarter I headed up and went to bed.

I really enjoy Hanoi for some odd reason. I appreciate the culture, the different atmosphere than the rest of the Southeast Asian countries. I’ve also enjoyed being on my own and meeting people at my own speed. This experience has been nothing but positive and I’m trying to savor every little bit from it. I write extensive, detailed posts because I want to be able to come back and read my thoughts and memories. So, thank you to everyone who’s going through this journey with me. I’m trying really hard to be as descriptive as possible. Stay tuned for the next episode of MELISSA’S SOUTHEAST ASIA ADVENTURE!